A tour through WA's military history reveals sites with poignant stories
Despite the isolation or maybe because of it, Perth has accumulated a myriad of intriguing wartime stories, curios and artefacts. This military history is remembered in a number of outstanding sites. And once you’ve been to them, you may find yourself saying, as I often did, ‘Why have I never heard about this?’
On February 12, 1916, at 38 Kalgoorlie Street, Mount Hawthorn, 200 ‘tradies’ backed by the local community donated their time, skills and materials to build a four-room, brick and tile cottage in one day. The cottage was then given as a civic gift to an invalid Anzac and his young family. The project stirred emotions locally and interstate where it inspired similar schemes across the nation. In 2018, another community project turned two nearby bus shelters into art works, complete with Anzac murals.
Anzac cottage has strong ties to Vietnam veterans. The cottage is open to the public on selected dates. Check their website for further information.
Australian Army Museum of Western Australia
Western Australia’s premier army museum is located in the historic Artillery Barracks in Fremantle. This is the only complete example of an early 20th century Army Barracks in Australia. The army museum interprets the story of West Australians in the army, and the army in WA. The themed galleries take the visitor from British settlement through to recent operations in Afghanistan. Storyboards, audio-visual installations, uniforms, equipment, medals, insignia, weaponry etc. are all exhibited. Outside, on the parade ground tanks, armoured cars, artillery and a variety of military vehicles are on display. The museum is open from Wednesday to Sunday (inclusive) from 10.30am to 3pm, last entry is at 1pm.
Aviation Heritage Museum
In the unobtrusive suburban streets of Bull Creek, is a museum with enough curios, uniforms, artefacts, and aircraft to keep anyone enthralled for hours. From an original Lancaster bomber to parts of the Red Baron’s aircraft, it’s all here. Owned and operated by the WA Division of the RAAF Association, the storyboards on display tell one amazing story after another. You can learn about the famed Catalina’s and their “double sunrise” flight from Perth to Ceylon, that in 1943 was the world’s longest and most arduous non-stop air route. You can also learn how one inspired woman, Robin Miller, flew solo across outback WA to land on creek beds, cliffs and dirt runways to administer 37,000 polio vaccinations. Who knew that Perth Flyer, Paul Royal, was part of the mass breakout immortalised in the Hollywood classic, The Great Escape. You can see his escape map here —it’s that kind of place.
Kings Park attracts nearly six million visitors a year with its most prominent landmark being the War Memorial precinct. The memorial’s position was inspired by a returned soldier remarking that the park’s cliffs resembled some he’d seen at Gallipoli. The memorial’s cenotaph, an 18-metre high obelisk, was described by WA architect and World War I General, Sir Talbot Hobbs as “symbolic of the stability of character, determination and endurance of the Australian soldier”. 2019 is the 90th anniversary of the War Memorial’s opening, where it will again be centrestage for Australia’s most attended dawn Anzac ceremony.
Leighton Battery Heritage Site
In 1942, with Australia’s northern bases under constant attack, Perth and Fremantle looked to be next in line for a Japanese raid or invasion. To counter this Fortress Fremantle came into effect. As part of that defence, heavy gun batteries, such as Leighton Battery at Buckland Hill in Mosman Park were installed. It was here that engineers, many of them Goldfields miners, carved 300m of subterranean tunnels. From this top-secret installation shipping could be observed, monitored and if necessary fired upon. Servicewomen were a vital component of Fortress Fremantle and especially so here.
Today, you can go back in time and join guided tours that run every half hour, every Sunday.
From 1838 to 1931, approximately 3700 Aboriginal men from across WA were imprisoned at Rottnest at various times. This history of incarceration continued in 1915, when 1000 German and Austro-Hungarian citizens were briefly interned here. In the 1930s two massive guns and a network of tunnels, observation posts, radar towers, signal stations were installed. The army barracks was expanded with workshops, canteens, storerooms, light rail and a hospital. By 1942, 2500 “defenders” occupied the island — no small operation. An island tour and/or visit to the Rottnest Museum is highly recommended.
St George’s Cathedral
In 1918, two brothers walked solemnly through what was left of the French village of Blangy-Tronville. In the hamlet’s church, now a charred ruin, they found fire-scarred timber. Fashioning the timber into a cross, the brothers took it to nearby Villers-Bretonneux where the West Australian 51st Battalion had triumphed, but at tragic cost. The grief stricken battalion adopted the cross and used it in services and as a marker for their dead. Today, this very cross, resides in the Soldiers’ Memorial Chapel, within St Georges Cathedral. The chapel also holds medals (including a Victoria Cross), mementos and plaques dedicated to those who served.
WA Maritime Museum
The museum has set aside a gallery for naval history where you can learn how the Perth metro area was, and indeed remains, a critical hub in the planning, training and launch of Australian naval operations. During WWII, the heroes of HMAS Sydney, Perth etc., departed from Fremantle as well as American, British and Dutch submariners. HMAS Ovens, an 89m, Cold War Australian submarine, rests alongside the museum and is available for tours. Another ‘war’ is also celebrated here, the one for the America’s Cup, complete with Australia 2.
John Point lookout gets a facelift
Infrastructure at Cape Peron, at Rockingham Lakes Regional Park, has been upgraded to reflect its historical significance as one of Western Australia’s coastal defence sites during World War II.
The area surrounding the heritage-listed observation post has been resurfaced with limestone concrete, new steps installed and the existing balustrade has been replaced with galvanised steel.
The John Point lookout at Cape Peron has also been upgraded to include a limestone retaining wall, limestone concrete surface and an aluminium marine-grade balustrade.
The gun emplacement has been enhanced with a limestone retaining wall and bench seating.
Interpretive signage will be installed later this year.
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