The State’s regions have long been part of military action and harbour many reminders.
With more than 13,000km of coastline, vast economic resources and volatile northern neighbours, regional Western Australia has always been “militarily interesting”.
From Australia’s first recorded battle — the Batavia mutiny — through to world wars and the Cold War, this curious blend of geography, history and vulnerability is showcased in some outstanding regional museums and sights.
Below are some of the best...
On November 1, 1914, an antipodean armada assembled in Albany’s Princess Royal Harbour. On board were thousands of Australians and New Zealanders. For many, it would be their last Australian sight, sound and scent.
Today the National Anzac Centre overlooks that harbour and explains the Anzac story with an impressive array of multimedia tools.
The centre is part of the wider Princess Royal Fortress that rests inside 260ha of bushland, nature trails, monuments and lookouts.
The fortress also has an excellent military museum, just opposite the Anzac centre.
From now until Anzac Day this year, 16,000 multicoloured “lights” illuminate the Avenue of Honour in memory of the Anzacs. This artwork known as The Field of Light has attracted more than 100,000 visitors.
In early 1942, after the Japanese overran the Dutch East Indies, Broome with its port and air links became an Allied lifeline for civilian and military personnel.
On March 3, at 9.30am, the war came to Broome when nine Japanese Zero fighters launched a withering attack.
In nearby Roebuck Bay, where amphibious aircraft were crammed with Dutch refugees, dozens of men, women and children perished in the bombardment.
Today, if you combine your visit with the bay’s lowest tides, you can see the remnants of those bullet-ridden planes. The Broome Historical Museum is the place to learn more about Broome’s military history.
Twenty kilometres east of Bunbury, in an area more known for its dairy and beef farms, is an astonishing rural heritage collection: 6500sqm of structures that house row after row of tractors, bulldozers, farm tools, machinery, vintage cars and countless other curios.
It is all part of the impressive Dardanup Heritage Park. Within the park is the relocated Bunbury Army Drill Hall. Once inside you enter a military enthusiast’s heaven, complete with a 40-tonne leopard tank!
How that got here is one of many stories the curator will happily share. The drill hall is only open on selective days. Check with the heritage park for opening hours.
Beyond the guns, explosives and death machines, there is a softer side to wartime.
It’s in the homesick letters to mum, the evocative diaries, the old photographs, the Red Cross parcel. Sadly these items are often lost, destroyed or locked away. However, there is a private collection available for viewing that’s staggering in its depth, warmth and detail.
The collection is the pride and joy of the Shapland family. Their assemblage of uniforms, medals, emblems, curios, reference books and rare items is so thorough and interesting it attracts historians and biographers.
With the backdrop of a relaxed rural setting, this is a great addition to any Great Southern trip. Viewing is available on request.
Geraldton has become synonymous with HMAS Sydney. The Sydney visited Geraldton on four occasions and there are four local sites honouring the men on “eternal duty”. The HMAS Sydney 2 Memorial includes the Dome of Souls, where 645 steel gulls represent the Sydney’s 645 crewmen.
The Geraldton Museum’s exhibit includes a 3-D film of Sydney resting 2.5km below the sea. The Birdwood Military Museum has a Sydney collection and some moving tributes to the region’s military history. The Geraldton War Cemetery has a grave with the remains of a man exhumed from Christmas Island. It is almost certain he was from HMAS Sydney: he was reinterred in the cemetery in a moving ceremony in 2008.
Opening last month after redevelopments, the Goldfields War Museum is dedicated to telling the stories of local men and women who have served in Australia’s defence.
The collection is on display at the Boulder Town Hall, an historic 111-year-old building that in its heyday attracted such notable performers as Nellie Melba and Joan Sutherland.
Boulder has a pace and feel of its own. As locals say “We’re closer to the beach here”. This is a region especially proud of its history and with good reason.
The museum is open Monday to Friday with tours of the town hall available on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Kojonup was the home of Brig. Arnold Potts, who commanded frontline Australian forces in 1942 on the Kokoda Trail. Potts, a partially disabled World War I veteran, ignored orders to defend indefensible positions and instead began a tactical retreat (under murderous fire and conditions) that exhausted the enemy.
A sculpture of Potts and a Kokoda Trail display is in the main street. Kojonup is also home to a 173-year-old building that was once the district’s colonial military barracks. Today it’s a museum with a number of military artefacts.
West of Kojonup is the Muradup War Memorial, a sombre example of regional WA’s sacrifice to Australia’s war effort.
The Wheatbelt is a region of secrets. In 1942, when a Japanese invasion of WA appeared imminent, the Wheatbelt was quickly and covertly transformed into the next front.
Merredin Military Museum covers this time and other war theatres with a massive collection of machinery, equipment and memorabilia.
Nungarin, a 30-minute drive north, was another World War II secret with the construction of a huge ordnance depot of workshops, storehouses and related buildings.
The Nungarin Heritage Machinery and Army Museum is in one of those buildings. Such an inspiring and important collection is testament to the region’s character. Opening times for both museums can be found on their websites.
(Top image: National ANZAC Centre in Albany.)
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