RING IT ON: Curator and manager of the Ballina Naval and Maritime Museum Ron Creber with the HMAS Labuan’s bell.
RING IT ON: Curator and manager of the Ballina Naval and Maritime Museum Ron Creber with the HMAS Labuan’s bell. Melissa Gulbin

HMAS Labuan a true piece of history

LONG before the 41-year-old flat-bottomed ship HMAS Labuan made its final call into Ballina last year, members of the Ballina Naval and Maritime Museum were set on getting a piece of the historic vessel for the museum.

Curator and manager of the museum, Ron Creber, said it was the "sheer doggedness" of the late museum president Clem McMahon that the bell was granted on loan to Ballina.

"He went straight to the top," Mr Creber said.

Inside, the bell is inscribed with the names of the children who were christened on the ship.

But it's a treasure that tells more than one tale.

Its famous Las Balsas raft rescue helped it earn a Freedom of Entry right in Ballina in 1988.

"From that day on it (the HMAS Labuan) became a regular visitor," Mr Creber said.

Freedom of Entry originated in medieval times, when a city would show its trust in a group of men-at-arms by allowing them to enter their walls with weapons.

The privilege to Freedom of Entry shows there's a special relationship with that military unit.

"It did nearly 41 years in service and it has now been gifted to the New Guinea government," Mr Creber said.

"It's a great ship to use around islands and things like that.

"Because of its association with the Las Balsas raft rescue it came to Ballina quite often. Because it was flat-bottomed, it could get over the bar quite easily."

A composite of the two surviving Las Balsas rafts is on show in the Ballina Naval and Maritime Museum.