Monday, June 25, 2012

Sydney's Defences in World War Two - North Fort

View from North Head looking down Sydney Harbour - June 2012
On Sunday afternoon, we went on a most interesting tour of North Head Sanctuary on the northern headland of the entrance to Sydney Harbour.

The tour was sponsored was the Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales and was conducted by two volunteers from the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust which now has responsibility for this section of the Headland.

The present day history of this area began in the 1930's with its fortification as part of the Australian coastal defence network established in the build-up to World War Two.

North Fort was built with a battery of two 9.2 inch Coastal guns and four 3.7 inch heavy artillery anti-aircraft guns. There was a extensive network of underground tunnels; a plotting room to interpret any intelligence received; a Shell Store and Engine Room - all concreted some 6 metres underground. It was one of the most heavily fortified sites in Australia in World War Two.

The following photos are from the gun battery complex:

No 2  Gun Placement- North Head June 2012

Cross Section of the Gun Complex

Site of the Gun Placement

Shell Store - could hold  250 shells when fully stocked

Underground tunnel - North Fort June 2012
Above ground again, we came upon:

The Close Defence Battery Observation Post which was manned generally at night or for close defence actions and could be used in conjunction with searchlights mounted in the cliff face on North Head.
Close Defence Battery Observation Post

The Avenue of Honour - a cobblestone avenue created in 1928 as a memorial to local soldiers killed in the First World War. It was originally lined with Norfolk pines and today straddles a stone perimeter fence built in the Great Depression.

Avenue of Honour
The second major pre-war establishment on the North Head site was the Army Base for the gunners serving at North Fort. It consisted of a huge barracks, a Sergeants' Mess and other auxilliary buildings, an oval and a parade ground. The Art Deco style entrance to the Barracks is shown in the photo below. 
Main Entrance to the Barracks Building
At the end of the War, the Army Barracks complex became the School of Artillery which remained there till 1998 when it was moved to Pukapunyal in Victoria.

The old North Fort today houses the National Artillery Museum which was established in 1990.

As a postscript to the day, we saw the Chilean Navy tall ship Esmeralda sailing out of Sydney Harbour on a training voyage.

Esmeralda sailing out of Sydney Harbour - 24 June 2012

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Monday, June 11, 2012

Balmoral - Of Temples and Trams

Edwards Beach, Balmoral, looking towards Sydney Heads, May  2012
Standing on Edwards Beach at the northern end of Balmoral, on a beautiful Indian summer day looking out to Sydney Heads, it is fascinating to discover that this was once the site of a Greek Doric temple?

This was the Star Amphitheatre built in 1923/24 for the Order of the Star in the East (OSE). It was a white painted concrete structure which seated 2000 and had standing room for a further 1000 people. It had a stage, a chapel, a meeting room and a library.

It was the vision of Dr Mary Rocke, a prominent theosophical worker in Sydney in 1920's. The OSE intended to use the Amphitheatre for a 'new world teacher', Jiddu Krisnamurti, to address his audience. He did so only once and subsequently rejected his role. The OSE was dissolved in 1929.

It was an urban myth at the time, that there would be a Messianic coming through Sydney Heads, even of the Lord Jesus. But this did not happen either.

The Amphitheatre was sold and subsequently used in the 1930s for concerts and plays and as a mini-golf course. Nothing of this this piece of Sydney's history remains today except for the stories.The structure was demolished in 1951 to make way for what was one of Sydeny's first  block of home units, Stancliff.

Another piece of Balmoral history of which there are few remnants today, is its tram service. The Balmoral line was opened a branch line of the Georges Heights line in May 1922. From Middle Head Road, the line swung left into Gordon Street and  zig-zagged through a steep descent across Mulbring, Plunkett and Beaconsfield Streets, to emerge through a narrow rock cutting into the Lawry Plunkett Reserve. The trams then continued along The Esplanade to the terminus at the corner of Mandalong Road. (Photo below)

Old tram shed a the terminus of the Balmoral Tram Line, The Esplanade
May 2012 
The route through the Lawry Plunkett Reserve was opened as a public walking track in 2004. (Photo below). Several tram items have been donated by the Sydney Tram Museum and are on display in the rock cutting, including sections of former tram tracks and sleepers, a tram wheel and a pair of cast iron brake shoes, a tram brake wheel and a typical section of overhead span wire fittings used to hold the copper overhead wire.
Old tram route through Lawry Plunkett Reserve, Balmora,l May 2012
We did discover some original rosettes attached to the sandstone walls of the cutting, used to support the overhead tram wires.

Tram rosette, Lawry Plunkett Reserve, Balmoral, May 2012 
Tram rosette, Lawry Plunkett Reserve, Balmoral, May 2012 

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