Just a few weeks back, we presented the story of the radio station on board the Australian motor vessel “Kanimbla” [see Wavescan 384]. On that occasion, we mentioned that the ship was built in Belfast, Ireland and that it was the only ship in the world into which a radio station was installed at the time when the ship was constructed.
The Kanimbla sailed for Australia on April 26, 1936, and it made four radio broadcasts each day throughout the entire voyage. One month later, the inaugural broadcast was made for listeners in Australia, with a nationwide relay on the ABC mediumwave network.
From that time onwards, the passenger liner travelled the Australian coastline, frequently sending out entertainment programs over the 50 watt broadcast transmitter VK9MI. In those days a VK callsign indicated an experimental station, not necessarily an amateur station as is the case these days. These hour-long broadcasts in the evening were presented by the station announcer, Eileen Foley, and they were picked up by local mediumwave stations in the AWA commercial network and relayed to local audiences.
The final broadcast from VK9MI on the Kanimbla went on the air right at the beginning of September 1939, and when war was declared the broadcast station was silenced forever. Station VK9MI never radiated another entertainment program.
We could ask the question: What happened to the Kanimbla after that?
One of the really fascinating aspects about research into the history of radio broadcasting is this. When you think that you have completed research into all of the available information on a particular station, then, unexpectedly, new information becomes available.
This is the case with the story of the radio broadcasting ship Kanimbla. For much of this additional information, we are indebted to Dr. Martin van der Ven in Germany, who maintains a website on the story of radio broadcasting from ships. His website is
Just one month after the outbreak of the European conflict, the Kanimbla was taken over by the Royal Navy and the ship was commissioned as HMS Kanimbla, that is, His Majesty’s Ship Kanimbla. The Kanimbla then made its way to Hong Kong for re-outfitting as a navy troop transport.
Acting as a navy vessel, the Kanimbla carried troops and supplies to allied forces in the Pacific and Asia. During this era, the ship was operated by the Australian navy on behalf of the British navy.
Nearly four years later, HMS Kanimbla was re-commissioned in a ceremony in Sydney, and it joined the Royal Australian Navy as HMAS Kanimbla, that is, His Majesty’s Australian Ship Kanimbla. The ship served a similar role in the Australian navy for a period of six years, after which it was de-commissioned in Sydney in 1949.
At this stage, the Kanimbla was re-outfitted again as a passenger liner and then returned to its original owners when it rejoined the passenger traffic. Then, in 1961, the ship was sold in Asia and renamed the “Oriental Queen” for passenger traffic in Asian waters. Three years later again it was placed under charter to a Japanese company, and after three more years, they purchased it.
In 1974, just 40 years after it was built, the glorious ship Kanimbla was unceremoniously broken up for scrap. That, then, is the end of the long and interesting saga of the Kanimbla, the only ship in the world that had a radio broadcasting station built into it at the time when the ship was constructed.
However, there are two more items of interest. There was a soldier in the American army by the name of A. J. Haley. A few years ago, he read an article about the Australian ship, the
Kanimbla, in the American radio magazine “Popular Communications”. He wrote to the editor of the magazine stating that he rode the Kanimbla during its era of service as a troop transport vessel in the Pacific. After his demobilization, Haley entered the radio world himself in an amateur role with the callsign K8UJW.
The other item is this. In recent time we have received several batches of old QSL cards for the AWR Historic Collection. One of these cards is an original QSL card from VK9MI for a reception report dated August 5, 1937 and it was signed by the announcer, Eileen Foley herself.
Another QSL card also verifies a reception report on a transmission from the Kanimbla, and it was during its time of service under the Australian navy. The callsign was VLFS and the ship was calling the maritime station VIS in Sydney at the time on 12380 kHz. The date of reception was May 30, 1946.
From: Wavescan 397, August 4, 2002