Wednesday, August 20, 2014

HMAS Assault - A Legacy

With the anniversary of VP (Victory in the Pacific) Day being celebrated on 15 August, memories of war time in Australia come to mind.

There is a very significant piece of the Second World War history at Nelson Bay, New South Wales.

It is the site of HMAS Assault at Fly Point, which lies today in and around the Port Stephens Native Flora Gardens, off Victoria Parade

During the Second World War HMAS Assault  was commissioned as a Royal Australian Navy (RAN) amphibious training centre. It comprised buildings, machinery, water and  electricity supply, a slip, a jetty, stores and fuel,and including the armed merchant cruiser HMAS  Westralia, and the tender, HMAS Ping Wo.*

From August 1942 to October1943, it became the base for the Joint Overseas Operational Training School (JOOTS) established by General Douglas MacArthur. During this period there were some 22,000 United States and Australian defence personnel stationed at Port Stephens.

HMAS Assault was used in the training of landing crews, beach parties and signal teams of the allied forces who were preparing the to fight the Japanese advance in the Pacific.

When the JOOTS operation ceased on 12 October 1943, the RAN continued training its own boat and beach crews until August 1944. The base then went into care  and  maintenance  mode until April 1945 when it was handed over to the Royal Navy, for use as a Commando Depot for the Royal Marine units attached to the British Pacific Fleet.

After the War, the facility was taken over by the Commonwealth Employment Service and served a migrant hostel from 1949 to 1953.

The HMAS Assault sick bay served as a hospital during this time, and again from 1956 to 1981 when it was the local community hospital. The buildings were then handed over to the Port Stephens Society of the Arts and on 10 August  1981, the Port Stephens Community Arts Centre was born.

Today the Arts Centre is the only remaining building of HMAS Assault. The rest of the facility was dismantled in the late 1950s and turned into parkland. Various  concrete slabs, brick foundations and other infrastructure remnants can still be found.

With the help of old photographs and a map**, courtesy of the Port Stephens Historical Society, an exploration of the site gives us valuable information into the "then " and "now". 

 HMAS Assault Plan -
Port Stephens Historical Society
1) Entrance to HMAS Assault from Dieppe Road, as per above map, from what is now Victoria Parade near the music shell.

Photo from Port Stephens Historical Society

Probable site of the HMAS Assault gatehouse
today looking up from Victoria Parade.
  Photo taken March 2014 
2) Naval Athletics at the Assault Oval, now the site of W J Strong Memorial Oval.

Photo from Port Stephens Historical Society

W J Strong Memorial Oval - Photo taken May 2104

3) Accommodation Huts at Fly Point on the site of today's Neil Carroll Rotary Park.

Photo from Port Stephens Historical Society

View from Neil Carroll Rotary Park looking towards
 Nelson Bay - Photo taken March 2014

4) HMAS Assault Base Cape at Nelson Bay (western end of Little Beach) in 1943 and the site today with the newly renovated Little Beach Boathouse restaurant.

Photo from Port Stephens Historical Society

Overlooking Port Stephens today from The Little Beach Boathouse.
Photo taken January 2014
5) Brick foundations of a stores building in Tobruk Road as per above map

View of Stores building foundations looking towards Nelson Bay.
Photo taken March 2014

Alternate view of Stores building foundations looking north.
Photo taken March 2014
6) Brick foundations for buildings along Bruneval Road, as per above map.

Photo taken August 2013

Photo taken August 2013

Photo taken August 2013

7) entrance to HMAS Assault mid way along Victoria Parade in what was Algiers Road, as per above map. The remains of a gatepost is  visible in the foreground. 

Side Entrance to Port Stephens Native Flora Reserve - Victoria Avenue.
Photo taken March 2014

Concrete foundation for a gatepost in the foreground.
Photo taken March 2014

A closer view of the gatepost foundation.
Photo taken March 2014

Nearby to this entrance the remains of the  fuel tanks for the facility were located..  

Remains of a fuel tank - photo taken March 2014
8) Brick Foundations of a building, possibly the "ratings drying room" with the Port Stephens Arts Centre in the background.

Photo taken March 2014

Map of Port Stephens Community  Arts Centre.
 Photo taken March 2014
At the rear of the Arts Centre, there are the brick remains of what probably were latrines or ablutions buildings. These may well have been discarded to their present site when work was done on the Arts Centre, as they were once free standing.l

Photo taken May 2014

Photo taken May 2014
* Armstrong, John: Port Stephens The Ultimate Experience, 2006, page 35.

**Wartime photographs and map sourced from the HMAS Assault Room at the Inner Light Museum, Nelson Head, courtesy of the Port Stephens Historical Society. Photos of these taken by the writer.

All current photos taken and dated by the writer August 2013 - May 2014.

If you are interested in researching Australian history, go to our website at:

Blog prepared by Mary McGuinness

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Lone Grave - To whom does it belong?

View of Grave (fenced) looking towards Withers Road
In William Harvey Reserve in Sandlewood Close at Rouse Hill in northwestern Sydney, there lies a single unmarked grave with a granite headstone. It has a single large cross etched into the stone. 

The site of the grave lies high up on the banks of the nearby Caddies Creek, facing in a south-westerly direction, just off Withers Road.

View of grave on oval shaped mound 

View of grave with stones surround

View showing a large cross etched into the headstone

View of grave from the rear showing the rounded top and stone shoulders

Up until about 2001, the area was known as Gravestone Park. There are no markings to identify the possible inhabitant(s) of the grave. So who does it belong to? 

There are two possible explanations.

The signage at the site states that "the grave of adult size, was constructed between 1840's and 1860's,and is probably the grave of someone who lived and worked on this farm and was buried there as there was no cemetery in the area at the time". [The earliest gravestone  found in the nearby Rouse Hill General Cemetery is dated 1870].

An interesting reference and possible alternative explanation is found in the book, Newcastle Its First Twenty Years:The Irish Rebellion and the Settlement of Newcastle 1804. Narrated and published by John W Delaney, Stockton 2004 [page 57]

Delaney nominates the site as that of the battle of Vinegar Hill of 1804, and cites some local oral tradition of it being a mass grave for the Irish rebels who fell there in the 1804 battle. He postulates that during the battle a great number of unarmed Irishman fled in all directions and were killed on site. A traditional story is that over the next few days after the battle, friends gathered the bodies of the dead Irishmen, particularly at Caddies Creek and placed them in a mass grave, high up from flood level, in the soft mounds of Caddies Creek.


Blog prepared by Mary McGuinness

All photos taken 15 April 2014

If you are interested in researching Australian history, go to our website at :

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The White Hart Inn - Linking with the Past

During excavation work for the sky train section of the North West Rail Link near the intersection of Old Windsor and Windsor Roads at Kellyville in north-western Sydney, the ruins of an early 19th century colonial inn were uncovered.

As part of the heritage work on the site, an archaeological dig began in December 2013. Over the weekend of 5 and 6 April 2014, two community open days were held to allow public access to the site and showcase the results.

The inn has been identified as the White Hart Inn which was dated back to 1826 when it was built by convict labour, including one James Gough (per Earl Spencer 1813). William Cox owned  the land on which the inn was built. The first publican is listed as William Cross (1830-1831) [NSW State Records - Publicans Licences]

Site of archaeological dig at the
White Hart Inn Kellyville.
December 2013- March 2014

Plan of archaeological excavation of the
 White Hart Inn prepared by the heritage specialists,
plus artist' s impression of the inn circa 1840s.

The dig is impressive uncovering:
  •  brick and sandstone foundations of a building 20 metres wide and 15 metres long facing  Windsor Road:
View of Inn frontage facing Windsor Road with
 verandah and two winged rooms.

View of main body of the Inn to the rear with a
 possible cellar site to the right.

Cellar excavatiom
View showing brickwork for rear verandah
  • separate kitchen building, 13 metres long and 5 metres wide, at the north-east corner of the main building, with two possible fireplaces.
View of separate kitchen building

View of likely fireplace at
one end of the kitchen

View of another fireplace structure
at the other end of kitchen
  • cistern for drainage;
View of cistern
  • over 2000 artefacts:
Artefacts in situ

Selection of artefacts uncovered

Key - possibly to the main door?

1816 Coin with Roman image of George 111

Selection of bottles found.

Cherry toothpaste container with an
 image of Queen Victoria

Fragment of a ceramic plate

Salt container , inscribed "Western aand Westarlis
British Tabs Salt

The discovery of the White Hart Inn site and ruins is very significant. Firstly, it takes us back to the beginnings of the Windsor Road in the early days of the colony when it was the main road between Parramatta and Windsor. It tells us the story of an important watering hole and an overnight accommodation spot along the way .

Today, the site will stand as a link from the past to the new railway of the future. It is anticipated that the site will be buried later this year so it can be conserved. One of the proposed pylons for the sky train will now be relocated.

History Services NSW in its Hotel and Liquor Licenses Database, has a complete index of over 52,000 persons who were licensed in the New South Wales liquor industry from 1856 to 1900.

In particular, there is an index of publicans from 1865 to 1900. 

This records John Seath ( per Minstrel 1825) as the licensee for the White Hart Inn, Windsor Road from 1865 to 1870 and from 1871 to 1874.


Blog prepared by Mary McGuinness

All photos taken on site at the community Open Day, Sunday 6 April 2014.

For further information go to the website:

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Richard Webb Reserve - What's in a Name?

Our convict legacy is often found in geographical places name. For example Gladesville in Sydney, New South Wales is named after the convict John Glade; Redfern after William Redfern, mutineer, convict and surgeon; the Cotter Dam, Cotter River and Cotter Flats in the Australian  Capital Territory after the convict Garret (George) Cotter; and Thompson Square at Windsor after the convict Andrew Thompson.*

Richard Webb Reserve in West Pennant Hills in the shire of Baulkham Hills is named after Richard Webb. But who was Richard Webb? 

Richard Webb Reserve, Aitken Road West Pennant Hills.
 Photo taken March 2014

Richard Webb Reserve, West Pennant Hills - Deakin Place entrance.
 Photo taken March 2014

From the records of History Services NSW, Richard Webb was an English convict who was sentenced at Norfolk Assize to life on 20 March 1813, aged 17 years. His crime was burgulary. His occupation was a labourer.
  • He arrived at Port Jackson in the colony of New South Wales on 7 February 1814 in  the  convict ship General Hewitt; 
  • On arrival he was assiged to John Blaxland at Parramatta;
  • Webb was granted a Ticket of Leave. In the General Muster & Land & Stock Muster of 1822 he was listed as a sawyer living at Parramatta.  
  • 5 September 1826 He married Johannah (Hannah) Mocklar (nee Willdinson). They had nine children;
  • in the Census of 1828, Richard Webb was listed as a shopkeeper of Parramatta, aged 28 years, with a Ticket of Leave. His wife Hannah and son Richard were also listed;
  • He was granted a conditional pardon on 28 February 1834; and
  • an absolute pardon of his sentence on 14 October 1840.
After he was granted his conditional pardon, Richard Webb had a timber yard at Parramatta and then purchased land in the West Pennant Hills Valley. By 1840, he owned 260 acres of land  known as Webbs farms.

The bullock track which he made to connect his farm to Pennant Hills Road is today Aitken Road.

In 1989, in recognition of his success as a business man and farmer in the community, Baulkham Hills Shire Coucil named a reserve and playground in Aitken Road, West Pennant Hills, Richard Webb Reserve, after him.

Richard Webb died on 2 October 1881 aged 86 years and was buried in the historic St Johns Cemetery at Parramatta. He is interred in a family grave, with a distinctive white marble pedestal, in Section Two of the cemetery near the grave of John Blaxland.

Grave of Richard Webb, his wife Hannah Webb and other family members
at St Johns Cemetery, Parramatta.
Photo taken 16 March 2014

Headstone of the Webb family grave at St Johns Cemetery,
Photo taken 16 March 2014

If you would like more detailed information on Richard Webb or are researching your own convict ancestor, you should go to the History Services NSW website at:


* History Services NSW has detailed records for all of these convicts. Go to the website  at: 
Blog prepared by Mary McGuinness 

All photos taken taken  in March 2014