AFTER a long and enduring friendship, HMAS Labuan will finally bid farewell to Ballina after a five day port visit on the ship's decommissioning voyage.
Four decades ago, Labuan came to the rescue of 12 men who had drifted off course in small wooden rafts during the Las Balsas Expedition from Ecuador to Mooloolaba.
A storm blew the rafts south where they were towed into the Richmond River by the Navy landing craft and two local fishermen.
It was the assistance of Labuan in 1973 that would help earn it a Freedom of Entry right in Ballina in 1988.
Three things you might not have known about HMAS Labuan:
- HMAS Labuan is one of Navy's three remaining Balikpapan Class Landing Craft Heavy (LCH) ships.
- The LCH is a capable medium sea lift vessel and has been a workhorse for the Royal Australian Navy during many operations, exercises and training personnel.
- Over their 40 years of service, the LCHs have provided an important sea lift capability. They've been the backbone of many deployments to the Solomon Islands, Bougainville and East Timor.
HMAS Labuan Lieutenant Christopher Cockerill 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.
"Many years ago, fortified towns would ask men of arms to surrender their weapons before they entered the town," he said.
"The privilege to Freedom of Entry shows that there's a special relationship with that military unit, that there's trust.
"We draw our swords and unfurl our colours and have a band playing as we march through, and the city trusts us and doesn't feel threatened by us."
The Freedom of Entry parade kicked off on Saturday at 10.30am on the corner of Moon and Fawcett Sts before moving onto River St and passing the Anzac Memorial and finishing at the Ballina RSL.
The ship's crew were joined on the march by members of the Ballina sub-branch of the Naval Association of Australia and cadets from Training Ship Lismore.
During the parade, the crew presented a framed Freedom of Entry scroll to Ballina Mayor David Wright and local police who inspected it and let them pass.
Lieutenant Christopher Cockerill said it was the third time the ship had visited Ballina and the crew were looking forward to their five day stay.
"This is the highlight of our whole trip," he said.
"We're going all the way down the east coast, all the way around the South Pacific and all anyone could talk about the last week was Ballina."
On Sunday, HMAS Labuan was open to the public. Despite the rain dozens of people queued up to inspect the ship which will be gifted to Papua New Guinea after being decommissioned.