Bertie sets sail again
By LCDR J. Earley
A piece of history was formally resurrected during HMAS BALLARAT's recent visit to Melbourne and the City of Ballarat. Both the ship and the city welcomed the much-anticipated return of a long lost shipmate, 'Ballarat Bertie'.
It was during the ship's operational deployment to the Middle Eastern Area of Operation (MEAO) last year that a search for a mascot was launched. After many debates amongst the ship's Welfare Committee members on what would suffice as a 'suitable' mascot, it was decided to ask what the original BALLARAT had adopted as theirs. Inquiries by the Executive Officer to the President of the Victorian Branch of the HMAS BALLARAT I Association, Mr Robert Herd (who had served on the corvette in WWII), revealed their mascot was an elderly gentlemen known as 'Ballarat Bertie'. Having not been privy to a picture of Ballarat Bertie prior to the conversation, the initial thought of having a greying and slightly bald old chap as the mascot of one of the RAN's newest warships failed to strike a chord with anyone onboard. Deeper investigation and discussion with Mr Herd revealed Bertie was infact the caricature of a cellar man who featured on the famous Ballarat Bitter beer label, holding aloft a pint of his finest Ballarat Bitter ale.
Funnily enough, once a picture of Bertie materialised onboard, the ship's company gave him unanimous approval and adopted him as one of their own. More importantly, it ensured the traditional BALLARAT mascot would once again serve at sea. After further research and fine-tuning of the icon's image, a stencil outline was produced which in turn, was used to engineer a three-foot high aluminium cutout of the cellarman himself. The finished Bertie, now stands proudly atop the bridge of the latest BALLARAT, manning his Special Sea Duty (SSD) position guiding the ship to and from harbour.
The resurgence of Bertie also had an interesting spin-off following a chance encounter with the Federal Member for Ballarat, MHR Catherine King, whilst in the Persian Gulf. Ms King had been visiting the ship in the MEAO as part of the ADF Parliamentary Program and was impressed to learn of Bertie's new role onboard. Further discussion on the history of Bertie led to the ship's company asking what Ms King described as one of her more 'unusual' requests as a Federal politician:
"While on the ship, we got talking about Ballarat Bitter and made the decision that I would contact Foster's on my return about doing a limited release of Ballarat Bertie for HMAS Ballarat and allowing some to find its way into the Ballarat market," she said.
"The Foster's president Trevor O'Hoy thought it was a great idea and they have done a lot of research in finding the original recipe. I'm just delighted that Foster's have come to the party."
The launch of the bitter was conducted at a cocktail party held on the flight deck of BALLARAT at Station Pier in Melbourne during the ships visit to Ballarat City. Ballarat Bitter was last brewed in the city in the early 1980s but sales of the bitter continued until 1991. The relaunched bitter coincided with Ballarat Bertie's 80th birthday with the Fosters Group having produced a limited run of just over 10,000 cartons of specially labelled cans for local hoteliers and publicans in Ballarat. Within two days of the ale's launch, all stocks had been exhausted - such was the popularity of Bertie's return to Ballarat. It is believed BALLARAT remains the sole owner of the last remaining cartons in existence.
In supporting the ship's request to have a limited supply produced, Foster's also pledged a donation of one dollar for each 24 can carton sold to the ship's charity, the United Way Community Fund of Ballarat. This generous pledge witnessed Fosters Group present a cheque to the Chief Executive Officer of United Way, Ms Suzanne Wallis, for $10,000 that would go a long way to helping those less fortunate in the Ballarat region.