Following a setback caused by a $4 million fire during fit out in Seattle on January 25, 1982, HMAS Sydney (IV) went on to experience a long, interesting and varied career.

The ship achieved a number of firsts for the Navy; she was the first Australian warship to call at a Swedish port during a four-day visit to Stockholm in July, 1990.
This was almost immediately followed up by a voyage through the Panama Canal to San Diego, on 7 August, making Sydney (IV) the first Royal Australian Navy ship to transit the canal in 15 years.

On 11 July 1991, Sydney was the first Australian warship to visit the German naval port of Kiel.

The ship’s company was welcomed by survivors of the German raider Kormoran, which sank namesake, HMAS Sydney (II), off Western Australia on 19 November 1941.

In May 1995, Sydney (IV) was the first Australian warship to visit the Russian port of Vladivostok, supporting a diplomatic and trade mission.

Sydney (IV) was alongside in Suva, Fiji, on 14 May 1987, when the first of that year’s two coups d’état occurred. With her sister ship HMAS Adelaide alongside in Lautoka, she was instructed to remain off Fiji to assist any necessary evacuation of Australian citizens, which was the first component of what became Operation MORRIS DANCE.

Sydney deployed to the Persian Gulf on five occasions to in support of US-led coalition operations during the 1990-91 Gulf War, the war on terror, and the 2003 Iraq War.

On 4 November 1991, the ship was awarded a Meritorious Unit Citation, "For meritorious operational service in the Persian Gulf during enforcement of sanctions in support of UN Security Council Resolutions and the subsequent period of hostilities against Iraq to liberate Kuwait in 1990-91". Commander Lee Cordner was the Commanding Officer of Sydney when she received her citation. With a strike rate of just under three a day, Sydney completed her 200th merchant ship boarding in the Red Sea on 15 January 1992, with this becoming the then highest tally by any non-US ship in the fleet conducting UN sanctions against Iraq.

While on passage from Sydney to Lord Howe Island on 3 October 1994, the ship recovered wreckage from a small airliner which crashed into the Tasman Sea with all nine passengers and crew losing their lives.

In 1997, Sydney (IV) was one of several Navy Royal Australian Navy vessels placed on standby following a serious outbreak of political disturbances in Papua New Guinea (PNG), although ultimately no action was required by the Australian ships. The disturbances were part of the ‘Sandline Affair’, where the Australian government objected to a PNG government plan to employ South Africans as policemen to end the long-running Bougainville crisis.
Sydney was deployed to East Timor as part of the Australian-led International Force for East Timor (INTERFET) peacekeeping taskforce from 3 November to 19 December 1999, and received the campaign award 'East Timor 1999' for this deployment.

On 17 May 2009, Sydney (IV) and HMAS Ballarat provided aid to two merchant vessels in the Gulf of Aden, driving off two separate gangs of Somali pirates attacking the ships.

Sydney (IV) remained in the area to report the incidents to Combined Task Force 151, while Ballarat escorted an impromptu convoy of eight ships, including the two that were attacked, to safety.

Australia Post featured Sydney (IV) and Able Seaman Combat Systems Operator Rebecca Florance on a 60-cent postage stamp issued in June 2011 as part of the celebrations of the Navy’s centenary.

The ship also completed two round-the-world voyages during her long commission in the Navy