Navy’s biggest base celebrated a birthday milestone recently as HMAS Stirling marked 44 years of service to the nation.

The base, located 4km offshore from Rockingham on Garden Island, Western Australia, was commissioned in 1978 and named in honour of Captain James Stirling who established the Swan River Colony in 1827.

The island was originally selected as a temporary settlement for the colony until the Swan River region was explored and the fledgling colony was moved to the location of Perth six months later.

Commanding Officer Stirling Captain Gary Lawton said before the arrival of Captain Stirling, Garden Island played a significant role in the lives of First Nation people.

“This island was known as Meandip by the Whadjuk people, the traditional owners of the land, and played an important cultural part in their day-to-day lives,” Captain Lawton said.

“In fact, until around 6000 years ago and rising sea levels following the end of the ice age, this island was connected to the mainland and the Whadjuk people could walk across what is now Cockburn Sound.”

The Commonwealth purchased the island in 1913 and in 1966 began planning for a naval establishment to be built there.

In 1973, a 4.3km causeway linking the island to the mainland was completed and work began on Stirling, which was subsequently commissioned five years later.

Chief Petty Officer Physical Training Instructor Tim Ayling was present at the commissioning ceremony and is still a serving member today.

“In the early days, there were only a handful of buildings and a bus would come around and collect us to take us for lunch at the Junior Sailors Mess because the distances between buildings was so vast,” Chief Petty Officer Ayling said.

“The base has certainly changed a lot over the past 44 years with plenty more buildings, personnel, ships and, of course, almost the entire submarine force.”

To commemorate the day, the ship’s company spent the forenoon cleaning up the islands beaches, foreshore and green spaces.

The clean up was followed by a barbeque and the cutting of the base’s birthday cake by Captain Lawton and the youngest member of the ship’s company Seaman Amity Coyer, who celebrated her 18th birthday in June.

Garden Island is included on the Commonwealth Cultural List for its natural values.