The Varley Story – Part 16

A rare photo of the Japanese 121 submarine, believed to be the type of sub that attacked vessels in the waters surrounding Newcastle during WWII. The urgent need to repair damaged ships formed a large majority of Varley’s work during the war. Source:

As Japan entered World War II, Australia became victim to many submarine attacks right along our Eastern coastline, particularly in the Brisbane, Newcastle and Sydney areas. Both military and merchant vessels were sunk or severely damaged by enemy forces on a regular basis. As a result, Australia’s shipping industry became busier than ever, repairing many damaged vessels throughout the latter majority of the war.

Given the natural width and depth of Newcastle’s port, many ships would enter and dock for repairs, fuel, supplies and safety during their travels. All ships were required to travel in stringently scheduled conveys for the purpose of safety in numbers, which meant that any damaged vessels simply had to be repaired quickly and to strict deadlines in order to leave again with the same convoy. If a ship missed its convoy, it lost much of its group protection and safety and therefore was at a severe risk of being sunk by the waiting Japanese submarines.

As a major player in the Newcastle ship repair industry, this necessity put major pressure on Varley to perform at a far higher turnover rate than ever before. The Company strained every resource of manpower and machinery and responded magnificently to the demands of the nation. Varley staff worked overtime during every day and night throughout the war years, often in double and triple shifts.

1941 saw the formation of the Newcastle State Dockyard – a state-owned floating dock that offered the ability for additional mobile ship repairs in the port. This eased the strain on Varley somewhat, as it restricted and replaced many of Varley’s own mobile repair duties, however work remained intensely demanding and there was never a quiet moment at Varley during the several years that followed.

These years of strain, toil and dedication to the industry resulted in Varley and the Hunter region receiving a renowned reputation as experts in ship repair, metalwork and versatile engineering and manufacturing – an important reputation that Varley would both grow and rely upon for many years to come…


Stay tuned for more of the incredible Varley Story.