HMAS Yarra was a sloop of the Royal Australian Navy that served during World War, and was launched in March 1935. The year 1941 was busy for her as she escorted land forces to the Persian Gulf and bombarded shore positions. She joined the Mediterranean station on escort and convoy duties and in February 1942 was sent to Singapore. In early March 1942 Yarra, commanded by Lieutenant Commander William Rankin, was escorting a small convoy south of Java and met 3 Japanese heavy cruisers and two destroyers. Commander Rankin ordered the convoy to scatter and turned the Yarra to engage the enemy. Pitched against overwhelming odds, the Yarra defended the convoy for an hour and half, but was then sunk with the loss of 138 of her crew. There were only 13 survivors. It was more than five days before a Dutch submarine K1L rescued the men from the water and took them to Ceylon.
Australian War Memorial historian Daniel Oakman wrote that the defence mounted by the Yarra was "widely regarded as one of the bravest acts in Australian naval history".
A memorial to HMAS Yarra was built with the assistance of the Rotary Club of WiIliamstown. On 12 November 2000 this memorial was dedicated to the memory of all those who served and perished in this gallant ship. Some of the crew of the K1L attended the dedication.
A spur to the project was an address by Angus Walsh of Werribee, Victoria, (who served on the Warrego, a sister ship to the Yarra) when he was a guest speaker at a meeting of the Rotary Club of Williamstown. His account of the sinking and his research and advertising to find survivors struck such a chord with Rotarians that the Club was soon active in gathering support for the Yarra memorial. Help was sought and received from the Australian Army in preparing the memorial site and other Rotarians fashioned a depiction in bronze of the sloop and designed the memorial itself. Further assistance was provided by Smorgon Steel and local tradesmen.
Each year, on the anniversary of the dedication ceremony, the Rotary Club of Williamstown provides a barbecue for the attendees.