On Friday my father who is in town visiting, Edward and I went to the Royal Australian Navy's Heritage Centre at Garden Island, Sydney.
Garden Island contains the RAN's Fleet Base East and the Garden Island Dockyard and as such there is restricted public access only to a segregated area on the North-eastern tip of the Island. Access is achieved by taking the Watson's Bay ferry from Circular Quay, which stops at Garden Island after a 6-minute trip around the Sydney Opera House.
Entry to the museum style gallery is free for kids, and costs $5 for Adults.
The Gallery has a large display which is drawn from some 300,000 artifacts which the RAN holds in its extensive archives which are otherwise unavailable for public viewing - so whatever goes on display must of necessity be a carefully chosen sample. I'll mention a few items and make some commentary.
Although there was no identifying curator's plaque, this is a Naval Surgeon's amputation kit (incomplete). Made by Arnold & Sons, a British surgical instrument maker. The handles appear to be cross hatched ebony. The long bladed knives at the front are Liston knives; their use is for cutting through muscle during amputation. They were developed by a Crimean War (1854 - 1856) surgeon, Dr. Liston. This dates the kit as being from after that period. The work of Joseph Lister (different spelling) in 1867 led to revelations that porous material should not be used for the manufacture of handles on surgical instruments due to their propensity to harbour germs. Hence this kit can be safely dated between 1854 and 1870.
The whole kit is contained in a chest made from mahogany with brass reinforcements.
These cap tally bands include one for H.M.A.S. Shopshire and at bottom a simple H.M.A.S. without a ship's name. Both are as worn by my father in wartime. This latter type was worn by sailors during wartime as a security measure to reduce intelligence on ship movements available to the enemy.
Here is a pic of the oldest person in the gallery picking up the youngest person in the gallery to have a look through the monocular eyepiece of the periscope. The other end of the periscope is about 13 metres above through the roof of the building and may be rotated through a full 380 degrees. It's the real deal.
This large brass plate displaying the word "SHROPSHIRE" is not described by a curatorial plaque, and an identical large brass plate also appears in another part of the gallery again, not described. My father believes it dates from post-WWII, as in wartime all identifying names were removed from the outside of the ship for security reasons.
Some slightly more modern technology was also on display like this Radar indicator Azimuth Range SRA-66 from a guided missile destroyer of the Charles F. Adams class (DDGs) such as HMAS Hobart, Perth and Brisbane, each of which saw action in the Vietnam War. You can see that Edward was keen to test his ranging skills. He also spent some time on the torpedo aiming unit from a submarine which can be seen in the left of the pic, and the sonar unit out of frame to the right. All of the controls on these units are in working order, however they are not connected to any power source. Edward could turn the wheels and flick the switches. Having been built to naval specifications they are quite hardy.
Here is a mock-up giving an idea of ship-board living conditions. I asked my father if he actually slept in a hammock aboard ship, he confirmed that he did so, but said that it was preferable to sleep on a bench like the one beside this meal table or if a sailor was lucky enough to have a mattress, he would sleep on the deck.
On the night of 31 May 1942 three Japanese midget submarines entered Sydney Harbour and engaged in what became known as the Battle of Sydney. One of the subs torpedoed HMAS Kuttabul, sinking it and killing
21 RAN sailors 19 RAN and 2 RN sailors. As a boy I visited the Australian War Memorial in Canberra and remember seeing a hull section of one of the midget submarines on display in the AWM forecourt. I should have wondered where the conning tower section of the sub was located, but never did. The RAN have been holding onto it all these years, and now it is on display here. it's worth noting that the display about the Battle of Sydney and the conning tower of the Japanese Midget Sub are on display in the large entry hall to the building, and as such are available for viewing without paying the $5 entry charge to the Gallery,.
Somewhat amusingly, later in 1942 sections of the two captured/salvaged Japanese midget submarines were taken on a tour around Australia to raise money for the Naval Relief Fund, and parts of the sub were sold off.
In an otherwise admirable curatorial job in the Gallery display, my father did spot one factual error.The medal miniatures of Rear Admiral George Carmichael OLDHAM are on display, noting his award of the Distinguished Service Cross whilst aboard HMAS Shropshire during the Leyte Gulf Operations (He at that time held the rank of Commander). The accompanying curatorial plaque incorrectly identifies his service as "RN" (to denote Royal Navy), however it should be "RAN" (to denote Royal Australian Navy).Perhaps the error occurred in confusion with Captain R. W. OLDHAM who was of the RN, and who was the first Captain of HMS Shropshire when she was launched into the Royal Navy on 5 July 1928. A digital image of Rear Admiral G. C. Oldham's service card may be viewed online at the National Archives of Australia.
I know that there is a good deal of interest in Siebe Gorman diving suits and equipment around the world, because the blog post I wrote about Siebe Gorman perinnially gets lots of hits. The Gallery has an outstanding example of a Siebe Gorman diving suit, again with a six bolt helmet complete with the machinery to supply air to the suit and the electrical voice communication set.
During World War II, the RAN's biggest ships were the Heavy Cruisers HMAS Australia, HMAS Canberra and HMAS Shropshire. They were each armed with eight 8-inch guns, and here is an example of one of the gun barrels from HMAS Australia. The gun barrel is just over 10 metres long. Depending upon the charge and projectile used, the maximum range was about 28 kilometres.
In summary, this is a great litle museum... I'd even call it Australia's best small museum. Even the journey to Garden Island is via a memorable Ferry trip passing between the Sydney Opera House and Fort Denison. Visiting the museum with a 4-year old boy, I appreciated the fact that he could enjoy mucking about with the Radar Indicator unit (pictured above), and I contrast that with the environmentt on the USS Missouri Battleship Memorial where it is monstly a look but don't touch situation, pictured below.
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Here's a photograph of the Naval base at Garden Island taken between 1880 and 1900 which of course pre-dates the 1911 formation of the Royal Australian Navy. (photo from Tyrrell Photographic Collection, Powerhouse Museum on Flickr)
Note that the island is truly an island at the time this photograph was taken. Nowadays it is joined to the mainland at Wooloomooloo, as can be seen in the Google Maps image at the start of this blog post.