"MV Bulolo" was built in the Barclay Curle & Co. shipyard Glasgow,and launched 31 May 1938. A twin-screw motor vessel she was 413ft long, had a 58ft beam and was of 6267 gross tons.The ship was needed to enable Burns Philp to continue to honour the contract between the Commonwealth Government and the company for the mail steamer service between Australia, Papua, New Guinea, Solomon Islands, New Hebrides, Norfolk and Lord Howe Islands.
MV Bulolo commenced trade between Australia, Papua and New Guinea ports on 19 November 1938 and had completed eight voyages by the time the Second World War started. 0n 22 September 1939 she was taken over by the British Ministry of War Transport on behalf of the Royal Navy. On 21 October she was taken in hand for conversion to an Armed Merchant Cruiser, the conversion completed January 1940. Her armament consisted of seven 6 inch and two 3 inch anti aircraft guns as well as equipment for depth charges and several types of small arms. At 12 knots HMS Bulolo had an endurance range of 9300 miles and at 15 knots the range was 7700 miles.