Daily Bulletin


News

  • Written by Alexander Mitchell Lee, PhD Candidate, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

Australia built a number of coastal defences to help protect the country from any enemy attack during the second world war. Now, almost 80 years later, some of the physical remnants of those historic facilities lie forgotten and decaying.

These monuments to the nation’s home defence are in desperate need of preservation. While their condition varies greatly, too many have faded into obscurity.

Read more: What happens now we've found the site of the lost Australian freighter SS Iron Crown, sunk in WWII

In defence of Wollongong

For example, if you take a drive through the city of Wollongong today you could be forgiven for thinking the city played no role in the war. There is little indication this city was once heavily defended against a much-feared Axis attack.

If you take a 15-minute drive south of the city centre you’ll find some remnants of the city’s home defences. The well-developed Port Kembla Heritage Park, with its cluster of tank traps and ruined gun instalments, alludes to the history of a city that was once extremely important to Australia’s war effort.

Small concrete pyramids designed to stop tanks. The pyramid tank traps at Port Kembla. Brian Yap/Flickr, CC BY-NC

This site, known as Breakwater Battery, was the first, smallest and weakest of three interconnected strongpoints designed to defend the industry of the Illawarra region of New South Wales from attack.

But this raises the question: where are the other two stronger points of Wollongong’s defensive network?

Our hidden defences

These sites still exist but are hidden. If you head to the leafy suburb of Mount Saint Thomas or Hill 60 Park in Port Kembla, you will find the more impressive remnants of the city’s defences.

Mount Saint Thomas and Hill 60 Park once hosted the military centres of Fort Drummond and the Illowra Battery respectively.

Dug into the hillside in both locations are impressive concrete casemates that once housed powerful naval guns. Hundreds of men and huge amounts of Australia’s limited wartime resources were dedicated to building and staffing these sites in the wartime period from 1941-1942.

The Illowra Battery, sitting right on the coast, was designed to replace Breakwater Battery as the pivot of local defences. It was strengthened over time with barbed wire, radar and tunnels deep in the hillside.

In the case of Fort Drummond, the 9.2-inch coastal guns were originally slated to be installed in Darwin in the Northern Territory, but were diverted south to strengthen the defences of Wollongong.

The prioritisation of the defence of Wollongong over Darwin, which was bombed, shows just how important protecting this southern region was.

The three strong points were designed to operate in concert to defend the region from an attack on Australia’s manufacturing core.

The industrial Illawarra was an economic behemoth for wartime Australia, producing everything from bullets to aircraft parts. It exported the materials of war across the British Empire, as far away as England and Singapore, and alongside Newcastle (in NSW) was the heart of Australian industry.

Yet, despite their important role in the war, these monuments are now overgrown, slowly being reclaimed by nature.

An overgrown site of one of the coast al defences. The Illowra Battery exterior: the entrance is heavily overgrown and the path to the site is undeveloped. Alexander Lee, Author provided

Read more: Lest we forget our other heroes of war, fighting for freedom at home

Kept in the dark

In the 1960s and early 1970s, the dark tunnels of Fort Drummond were converted to mushroom farms, not military history attractions.

As for Hill 60, instead of being developed as a tourist attraction the place has appeared on lists of the most haunted places in the Illawarra.

Reports five years ago that Hill 60 would be redeveloped, opening the tunnels, adding signage and highlighting the area’s Aboriginal history, have come to nothing.

Such stories of neglect are repeated at other defence sites across Australia.

Significant sites in Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Newcastle are dilapidated and eroding.

Even in areas of historical significance to Australia, where the country’s colonial history has been well preserved, such as the Sydney suburb of La Perouse, the nearby second world war artillery battery sites and lookout posts are neglected.

Considering these sites are often in idyllic locations and — by necessity at the time they were built — boast impressive ocean views, it is odd their value, even as tourist sites, remains unrealised.

There are other sites across Australia that have received investment in preservation, such as Fort Lytton in Brisbane and Fort Scratchley in Newcastle. These are now tourist destinations.

Read more: The Cowra breakout: remembering and reflecting on Australia's biggest prison escape 75 years on

With relatively small investments the neglected sites could be made more accessible. The public would then be able to learn and understand their history and significance.

Signposting, basic repairs and publicising these important relics of our wartime history would be easy first steps to revive public interest in these locations.

The educational and touristic values of Australia’s second world war defences are readily apparent. All they require is a little bit of attention after so many decades of neglect.

Plenty of graffiti just inside the coastal defence site. Inside the Illowra Battery graffiti covers the walls next to the tunnels, visible behind metal bars. Alexander Lee, Author provided

Authors: Alexander Mitchell Lee, PhD Candidate, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

Read more https://theconversation.com/left-to-ruin-we-must-preserve-our-forgotten-wartime-defences-149435

Writers Wanted

How the stunning abstract art of Hilma af Klint opens our eyes to new ways of seeing

arrow_forward

Home quarantine for vaccinated returned travellers is extremely low risk, and won't damage their mental health

arrow_forward

Boom in Aussies buying up restaurants, pubs, hotels and bars in regional centres

arrow_forward

The Conversation
INTERWEBS DIGITAL AGENCY

Politics

Prime Minister interview with Karl Stefanovic and Allison Langdon

Karl Stefanovic: PM, good morning to you. Do you have blood on your hands?   PRIME MINISTER: No, it's obviously absurd. What we're doing here is we've got a temporary pause in place because we'v...

Karl Stefanovic and Allison Langdon - avatar Karl Stefanovic and Allison Langdon

Prime Minister Scott Morrison delivered Keynote Address at AFR Business Summit

Well, thank you all for the opportunity to come and be with you here today. Can I also acknowledge the Gadigal people, the Eora Nation, the elders past and present and future. Can I also acknowled...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Morrison Government commits record $9B to social security safety net

The Morrison Government is enhancing our social security safety net by increasing support for unemployed Australians while strengthening their obligations to search for work.   From March the ...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Business News

Boom in Aussies buying up restaurants, pubs, hotels and bars in regional centres

With international borders closed, regional Australia is seeing a dramatic surge in popularity as people move out of the cities and into their quaint communities. City slickers are looking for new...

Tess Sanders Lazarus - avatar Tess Sanders Lazarus

5 Signs Your Business Needs Onboarding Software

Onboarding software is the technology that automates a smooth transition for new hires from before the interview to the first day on the job. High-quality onboarding platforms feature a digital da...

Onboarded - avatar Onboarded

What Is COVID 19 Risk Assessment for Vulnerable Workers and Why Your Business Needs it

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, governments strongly advised people to just stay at home as a critical effort to stop the spread of the virus. This led to many businesses temporarily s...

NewsServices.com - avatar NewsServices.com