(The fleet sets off)
Teddy Roosevelt watched proudly as his Great White Fleet set off from Hampton Roads, Virginia for its voyage around the world. Like Henry VIII, Roosevelt, the President of the U.S., thought that the prestige and power of a nation largely depended on its navy, and he wanted to impress people with his fleet of steel warships. The President especially wanted to impress Japan, because he feared that the Japanese wanted to dominate the Pacific. He had good reason for these fears, because the Japanese had recently defeated mighty Russia. This was largely because of the strong Japanese navy which wreaked havoc on Russia at Port Arthur in 1905.
Australia’s Prime Minister Alfred Deakin, also feared the Japanese, partly because Australia did not have its own navy. He felt that he couldn’t rely on Great Britain to defend Australia from the Japanese, because Britain made a treaty with heavily armed Japan. Evading protocol, Deakin decided to invite the Great White Fleet to visit the Great South Land, and outraged the Foreign Office.
A public holiday was called to celebrate the arrival, and almost the whole city rushed to the beautiful, tree-covered headlands and hills surrounding the city to view the American fleet, which contained 16 steam-powered steal ships and 14,000 sailors. The fleet sailed into Sydney in August 1908, led by the flagship USS Connecticut which passed North Head firing a 21-gun salute. The view of the white ships with their gilded bows must have been an impressive sight.
The festivities lasted a week with parades, reviews, balls, banquets and fireworks. The city streets were brightly illuminated at night. Huge crowds turned out to see a parade through the city and a review in Centennial Park where there was a parade of Australian and American the largest meeting place in the world. It also had three impressive galleries.
Apparently, Australians have not changed that much since 1908. They were determined to know whether the Americans liked Sydney, and they’re still inclined to ask visitors that question almost as soon as they get off the plane! One sailor became worn out by all of the festivities and these constant questions. He went to sleep in a Sydney park.
‘Not wanting to be disturbed, he posted a sign above his head which read:
“Yes, I am delighted with the Australian people.
“Yes, I think your park is the finest in the world.
“I am very tired and would like to go to sleep.”1.
The fleet also visited Melbourne, Australia’s largest city, and Albany in Western Australia. Soon afterwards, the Royal Australian Navy was formed, the first independent navy in the British Empire.