Commander Karl Eric Oom

Karl Eric Oom (1904-1972), naval officer, was born on 27 May 1904 at Chatswood, Sydney, fourth child of Gustaf Peter Ludwig August Oom, a draftsman from Sweden, and his English-born wife May Isabel, née Le Guay. In 1918 Karl entered the RANC, Jervis Bay, as a Cadet Midshipman. Noted for his individuality and physical fitness, he graduated in 1921. He trained at sea and completed courses in England before returning to Australia in March 1926.

Commencing his career in the RAN's Hydrographic Branch, Oom joined the survey ship, HMAS Moresby, in May that year. In July 1927 he was promoted Lieutenant. He gained respect for his initiative and ability to handle boats, and for the speed and accuracy of his work. These qualities led to his selection as a member of Sir Douglas Mawson's BANZARE (British, Australian, New Zealand Antarctic Research Expeditions) (1930-31), on which his surveys and cartography proved valuable.

In 1932-34 Oom was on loan to the RN, serving in HMS Challenger. He spent most of the next five years either aboard Moresby or with detached boat-parties, surveying Torres Strait and the seas off Queensland, the Northern Territory, Papua and the Mandated Territory of New Guinea. Again with the RN in 1939, he was posted to HMS Franklin. On 17 June that year at the register office, Hammersmith, London, he married Evelyn Margaret Stewart Mocatta, née Jeffrey, a 29-year-old divorcee; they were to remain childless. From February 1941 to January 1942 he commanded HMS Gleaner and performed well in anti-submarine and escort operations in the North Sea.

Returning to Australia, Oom was posted to command HMAS Whyalla in November 1942. He was ordered to produce reliable charts for ships involved in the Allied offensives in Papua and New Guinea. While off Cape Nelson, Papua, on 2 January 1943, Whyalla was repeatedly bombed. Spray from near misses washed survey sheets and the plotting board over the ship's side; the work had to be immediately and painstakingly redone. Oom transferred to Shepparton in May 1943 and was promoted Commander in June.

Two months later he was appointed Officer-in-Charge of the Hydrographic Branch and commander, Task Group 70.5, which was responsible for survey operations in the South West Pacific Area. He sailed in various ships to find and mark safe passages for Allied landings in New Guinea, the Philippines and Borneo. For his achievements he won the Gill Memorial Award of the Royal Geographical Society, London, in 1945, and was appointed OBE and to the United States of America's Legion of Merit in the same year. In March 1945 he conducted a survey off Zamboanga, Philippines, under enemy fire for which he was awarded the USA's Bronze Star Medal (1947).

After the war, Oom helped to formulate a new policy by which the Naval Board-through the Senior Officer, Hydrographic Service-became the charting authority for waters around Australia and the Territory of Papua New Guinea. From May 1946 he commanded HMAS Warrego. In November 1947 he was appointed to command HMAS Wyatt Earp and to take charge of Antarctic surveys. Captain WF Cook described him as a self-assured, imperturbable and splendid seaman, with an impish sense of humour; in other regards Cook found him an enigmatic man who kept his own counsel.

From April 1948 Oom again headed the Hydrographic Branch. He was passed over for promotion to captain in 1951 and in December returned to sea in Warrego. In poor health, he was posted ashore in February 1952 and invalided from the Navy on 30 October. A widower, he married Jean Miriam Kearney, née Wells, a 42-year-old divorcee, on 14 March 1955 at the Registrar General's Office, Sydney. They retired to the south coast. Oom suffered from cirrhosis of the liver. He died of pulmonary thrombosis on 22 June 1972 at his Turlinjah home and was buried with Anglican rites in Moruya cemetery. His wife survived him.

JS Compton