The Modified Type 12 frigates built for the Royal Australian Navy were generally similar to that of British Type 12 anti-submarine frigates, modified to incorporate improvements in equipment and habitability. They were later redesignated by the Royal Australian Navy as destroyer escorts
After her sea trials and workup, Yarra transferred to the operational and administrative command of the Flag Officer Commanding HM Australian Fleet on 1 November 1961 and became a member of the 2nd Division, 1st Frigate Squadron. Yarra exercised with her sister ship Parramatta for the remainder of the year and made her first operational visit to New Zealand in November and December.
A short refit at Williamstown in early 1962 was a prelude to service with the Far East Strategic Reserve between April and October, during which Yarra visited four Japanese ports plus Singapore, Hong Kong and Penang . After returning to Australia in mid-October 1962, Yarra spent the remainder of the year at Williamstown Dockyard.
Yarra again sailed for Strategic Reserve service in March 1963 and participated in the South East Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) Exercise SEA SERPENT during the deployment. The remainder of the year was spent in Australian and New Guinea waters. Yarra was also involved in the search for five missing junior officers from HMAS Sydney (III) in the Whitsunday Passage during October 1963 when a whaler on a training exercise was lost.
In June and July Yarra was employed on guard ship duty off the Tawau area. During this period she conducted shore bombardments as a deterrent against possible Indonesian incursions. Prior to this, and while on passage from Singapore to Manila in May to participate in the SEATO Exercise SEA HORSE, Yarra located the wreck of HMS Repulse about 45 miles to the north of Pulau Tioman. On return to Australia, local area exercises and training occupied the remainder of the year.
The period of January to March 1966 saw Yarra participate in Joint Unit Control exercises in the Sydney and Jervis Bay areas before departing for the Far East Station in late March. This was a three month deployment which encompassed the SEATO Exercise SEA IMP, escort duty for HMAS Sydney (III) to Vung Tau, Vietnam, and the usual port visits.
Yarra entered an eight month refit at Williamstown Naval Dockyard in July 1966. Work undertaken included the installation of the Ikara missile system. Post refit trials began in February 1967. The subsequent months were taken up with sea acceptance trials on the Ikara system. Following a period of self maintenance and final deployment preparations, Yarra departed Sydney in September 1967 on a six month deployment to the Far East Station.
During the deployment Yarra assisted HMS Ajax in the search and rescue of personnel from a Royal Air Force Shackleton which had ditched west of Sumatra, escorted HMAS Sydney (III) to Vietnam and visited the Indian Ocean. Yarra arrived back in Australia in March 1968 and after an intermediate docking at Williamstown participated in Exercise LONGEX 68 in New Zealand waters.
Due to a delay in replacing a gun mounting on HMAS Derwent (I), Yarra deployed for Strategic Reserve service in September; but was only away for six weeks before being relieved by Derwent (I) and returning home for Christmas.
The first half of 1969 was taken up with a refit at Williamstown, with sea trials and local area exercises occupying the period of July to October. Yarra departed Sydney on 10 October 1969 for the Strategic Reserve and participated in the SEATO Exercise PX41 before escorting HMAS Sydney (III) to Vietnam.
Her return to Australia in April 1970 was short lived and after a three month mid cycle docking Yarra again departed for Strategic Reserve service in September 1970. This deployment saw her proceed to the Far East via Guam and Kwajalein to Pearl Harbor where she conducted Ikara firings on the local United States Navy range. Escort duty for HMAS Sydney (III) to Vietnam and participation in Exercise FEBEX off Singapore in February 1971 followed. Yarra returned to Sydney via Western Australia in April 1971.
After several months of local area exercises Yarra departed Sydney for Hawaii in October 1971 to participate in the first of the RIMPAC exercises (RIMPAC 71). This was a prelude to a main refit which commenced in December 1971 and saw Yarra in dockyard hands until October 1972. Post refit trials and a visit to New Zealand for Exercise AUCKEX 72 completed the year.
Yarra departed for an ANZUK deployment to the Far East in June 1973 after a workup period and local area exercises. In August 1973 Yarra collided with No. 4 buoy on the approach to Victoria Basin in Hong Kong and had to undergo a starboard propeller change at Whampoa shipyards. Exercises in the Singapore area and visits to Thailand and Indonesia completed the deployment. Yarra arrived in Sydney in late November for a leave and self maintenance period.
July 1974 saw Yarra at Williamstown Dockyard to be fitted with Mulloka sonar. This refit lasted until early 1975 and Yarra was utilised almost exclusively for the remainder of 1975 and most of 1976 as the Mulloka trials ship. Preparations for her half life refit commenced in September 1976 and Yarra (III) decommissioned on 11 October 1976 for refit at Cockatoo Island Dockyard, Sydney.
Yarra recommissioned on 16 December 1977 under the command of Commander WSG 'Sam' Bateman, RAN. Shakedown trials and workup followed. Once again Yarra was almost exclusively used for Mulloka trials during 1978 and 1979, these trials being interspersed with Australian and New Zealand port visits.
Early 1980 saw Yarra depart for Exercise RIMPAC 80 which was conducted in both Hawaiian waters and during transit from Hawaii to the west coast of the United States. Visits to San Diego, Long Beach, Esquimalt, Vancouver and San Francisco followed and Yarra returned to Australia in June via Pearl Harbor, Suva and Apia. During July 1980 Yarra visited Port Vila for the New Hebrides Islands (Vanuatu) Independence celebrations.
Preparations for refit were commenced in October 1980 and Yarra began a ten month refit at Sydney in November. This refit was completed in September 1981 and the remainder of that year was taken up with post refit trials and workup. The first half of 1982 saw Yarra participate in local area exercises and deploy to Hawaii for Exercise RIMPAC 82.
On 27 July 1982 Yarra celebrated her 21st birthday. Her Report of Proceedings for July stated 27 July was the 21st Anniversary of commissioning of Yarra (III) by Lady McBride at Williamstown Dockyard in 1961. During these 21 years Yarra (III) was at sea on 1,808 days and steamed 612,270 miles including nine visits to Southeast Asia, five visits to the USA and one deployment in the Indian Ocean. The ship has undergone nine refits and 13 dockings. There had been 20 Commanding Officers of which 10 were still serving in the RAN.
Yarra departed Sydney on 23 August 1982 for a Southeast Asian deployment in company with her sister ship HMAS Swan (III). After port visits to Manila, Hong Kong, Singapore, Penang and Jakarta, Yarra (III) underwent a two week self maintenance period at HMAS Stirling before participating in Exercise SANDGROPER 82 with other fleet units. She returned to Sydney on 10 December 1982 after a four month deployment.
Early 1983 was an exercise period for Yarra, with participation in a Fleet Concentration Period and Exercise SEA EAGLE 83. A South West Pacific deployment followed in March and April, and in May Yarra departed for Southeast Asia to take part in a Five Power Defence Agreement exercise, STARFISH 3/83. Arriving back in Australia in July, Yarra underwent a five month extended Intermediate Docking at Williamstown before returning to Sydney on 20 December 1983.
The first part of 1984 was a repeat of early 1983 and Yarra was involved in Mulloka sonar trials and acceptance trials for the new Sydney degaussing range. The final Southeast Asian deployment for Yarra commenced in August 1984 when she departed Sydney as a member of Task Group 627.2. During the deployment Yarra was involved in a collision with HMAS Sydney (III) during a jackstay transfer and suffered minor damage. Visits to Balikpapan, Manila, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Bangkok and Surabaya followed before participation in Exercise SANDGROPER 84 off Western Australia. Further exercises with Indonesian naval forces were conducted in the Darwin area during November and Yarra (III) arrived back in Sydney on 29 November 1984 after an absence of 16 weeks.
The final year of Yarra's long career began with trials of the Sonar Acquisition Display System (SADS) with HMAS Otway (II). These were followed by participation in local area exercises. Yarra visited Brisbane in March 1985 as part of a combined Royal Australian Navy / United States Navy task group which had exercised off the Australian east coast.
Yarra visited Newcastle in July 1985 to participate in the commemoration of the 43rd anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea. Yarra's final overseas deployment commenced in August 1985 and saw the ship visit Port Vila and Port Moresby, the latter for the 10th anniversary of Papua New Guinea Independence. She returned to Sydney in late September.
Yarra's last day at sea was 8 November 1985, when she sailed for the day with seven survivors from HMAS Yarra (II) on board. She decommissioned on 22 November 1985 after a 24 year career and having steamed 714,054 nautical miles.