Middle Head



Location: Sydney Harbour
The point of Middle Head is riddled with a network of lookouts, gun placements, and ammunition stores, all interlinked by tunnels and passages. Most were constructed in 1871 and remained untouched until the second world war. Spurred on by Japanese midget submarine attack on Sydney Harbour, the Middle Head Fortifications were re-opened and upgraded. The nine guns mounted at Middle head were never fired in anger, but four men were killed in April 1891 in the accidental detonation of a mine.

The Middle Head Fortifications consist of the Outer Middle Head Battery located at the end of Old Fort Road, the Inner Middle Head Battery located at the end of Govenors Road, and the Obelisk batteries reached by a path from the corner of Middle Head Road and Chowder Bay Road, Middle Head, Mosman, New South Wales. The fortifications at Middle Head formed part of Sydney Harbour's defences.



The first fort at Middle Head was built in 1801 and the last batteries were constructed in 1942. The majority of the fortifications were built between 1870 and 1911. The site contains the works of several periods and technologies, which remain in place for review today. Historically it dates from the time when defence was first moved away from Sydney Cove and towards The Heads.

There were three sets of fortifications built in Mosman and Middle Head in the 1870s, these were upgraded in the 1880s on the advice of British experts. These fortifications still exist and are now heritage listed, they are, the Lower Georges Heights Commanding Position, the Georges Head Battery and a smaller fort located on Bradleys Head, known as the Bradleys Head Fortification Complex.



The battery on Middle Head built in 1871 was designed by James Barnet, a colonial architect. The fort was built on a strategic location and received many additions until 1911. It formed part of a network of 'outer harbour' defences. They were designed to fire at enemy ships as they attempted entry through the Sydney Heads. The whole area is linked by an extensive network of underground tunnels, ancillary rooms, gunpowder magazine and a disappearing gun emplacement. The site has its own underground power room that is supported by iron columns. Rooms located below ground were used to train some of Australia's first troops who were sent to Vietnam in 'Code of Conduct' courses, which were lessons in how to withstand torture and interrogation, by simulating prisoner of war conditions. In all, about 360 men, mainly soldiers, took part in the Code of Conduct program. When the Army Intelligence Centre was transferred to South Australia in 1968, they left the tiger cages in their gloomy cavern.

After Australia withdrew from the war in Vietnam, the Australian School of Pacific Administration produced 'kiaps' (patrol officers) at Middle Head for the difficult job of running Papua New Guinea as an Australia Territory. On the second day of each two-week intelligence course, fifteen "Asians' would burst into the lecture room firing blanks and throwing thunder-flashes to create noise, smoke and confusion. They would blindfold the students with pillow cases, frogmarch them to covered vehicles, drive them around erratically for a while, then hered them into one of the undersround chambers of the old gun emplacements. After being made to fit into ill-fitting clothes, they were exposed to 80 hours of unnerving experiences intended to simulate what it was through might happen if captured by the Chinese or Koreans. This included solitary confinement in total darkness, the playing of loud Asian music and periodic interrogation. The prisoners were held in the tiger cages at least once during their ordeal. The tiger cages are still there, a reminder of the bizarre military conduct that once took place there.

In 1974 the Middle Head fortifications were featured in the movie Stone. In 1979 most of the area became national park and the military has moved on to more strategic locations. The army base on site which included the transport group and 30 Terminal Squadron, left Georges Height's in 1997. The Headquarters Training Command section relocated to the Victoria Barracks in 2002.


ASOPA buildings

ASOPA Buildings

During World War II, Middle Head was home to an internment camp for Italian nationals. Later, the group of 15 weatherboard barracks buildings, which are the first buildings passed on your right on the way to the historic fortifications, were set within lawn areas and connected with covered walkways. They were used as accommodation and training for the Australian School of Pacific Administration (ASOPA). The next collection of buildings, opposite Middle Head Cafe, known as '10 Terminal' was first established in 1941. The Army Intelligence Centre was located in 10 Terminal's barrack area. The 10 Terminal regiment (The Royal Australian Army Service Corps) and The Australian Women s Army Service were located in the complex. IIn 1968 the Army Intelligence Centre transferred to South Australia, after which 10 Terminal was used as a Transport Depot by the Royal Australian Corps of Transport and workshops of the Royal Australian Electrical Mechanical Engineers.


ASOPA complex building

In 1973, the year in which Australia granted self-government to Papua New Guinea, The Australian School of Pacific Administration was redesignated and restructured as the International Training Institute (ITI) within the Australian Development Assistance Bureau, a division of the Department of Foreign Affairs. ITI provided management training for professionals from developing countries in the Pacific, Asia, Africa and the Caribbean. A final restructuring - and change in name to Centre for Pacific Development and Training - saw the Middle Head campus used as a base for consultants operating in the South Pacific until this role came to an end late in 1997. Today the old Army huts on Middle Head are empty, but they have been heritage listed by the Commonwealth Government and now await refurbishment and regeneration into another role.



The Officers Quarters

The Officers quarters is a Victorian Regency style building that was built on a rough stone base. It was designed by Colonial Architect James Barnet and is considered to be one of the most significant buildings at Middle Head. The site incorporates a defensive ditch or moat and includes a fortification wall. The house looking in the direction of Middle Harbour meant that it could be used for surveillance purposes as well.

One former resident was Major General Sir William Throsby Bridges KCB CMG, the first commander of the Australian Imperial Force and the commander of Australian forces at Gallipoli. Throsby Bridges was killed by a sniper whilst leading the forces at Gallipoli. His warhorse Sandy was brought back to Australia, seeing out its days in Victoria.

Primarily used as a residence this building originally housed two officers separately, a senior and junior officer. During World War II this building served as a Red Cross Hospital and later as accommodation for the Australian Women s Army Service. The house continues to be used as a residence. Extensive restoration work has been conducted by the 'Sydney Harbour Federation Trust' which has revived many of the old buildings.



Bungaree's Farm

On 31 January 1815, on the occasion of his 54th birthday, Governor Lachlan Macquarie inaugurated a settlement of 'friendly' Aboriginal people on the peninsula of Georges Head and Middle Head overlooking the Heads at the entrance to Port Jackson. Macquarie selected Boongaree or Bungaree, from Broken Bay north of Sydney, to be his first Aboriginal 'chief'. He erected huts for Bungaree and his people to 'Settle and Cultivate'. They were given a fishing boat, clothing, seeds and farming implements and assigned some convicts to show them how to farm the land. Macquarie presented Bungaree with a metal gorget or breastplate engraved with the title: 'Boongaree  Chief of the Broken Bay Tribe 1815'.

At the end of March 1815, in a letter sent to Earl Bathurst, Macquarie advised that 16 adult natives had been settled on the farm 'where I had comfortable Huts built for them, and they and their families appear to be perfectly Contented.' Despite his efforts, Macquarie' Experiment towards the Civilization of these Natives' was a miserable failure. Bungaree, who had circumnavigated Australia with Matthew Flinders on HMS Investigator in 1802-03, soon lost interest in being a settler. In December 1817 he volunteered to go to sea with Phillip Parker King in the cutter Mermaid on a survey of north and western Australia. Although Bungaree did spend some time there, the other families quickly abandoned the farm and moved elsewhere. By the time Gov. Macquarie had completed his term as Governor of New South wales in 1822, there was little left of the settlement. Macquarie asked his successor, Brisbane, to protect and look after this group. Brisbane gave them a fishing boat and net. A pathetic remnant of their people, Bungaree and his family moved to the Governor's Domain in 1828 and spent their days giving exhibitions of boomerang throwing, doing odd jobs, and begging for bread, liquor, tobacco and cash.



Defending Sydney Harbour

Middle Head and its close neighbour, Georges Head, face the entrance to Sydney Heads, and because of this have played an important role in the defence of Sydney since early colonial days. In 1801, Sydney was visited by the French ships Naturaliste and Geographe, which were part of a French expedition of scientific discovery that had just completed a survey of the south coast of mainland Australia. It was the time of the Napoleon Wars, and though the expedition leader Thomas Nicolas Baudin and his offsiders Louis de Freycinet and Francois Peron were treated with every courtesy to which a cordial response was returned, their visit left the colonists feeling somewhat vulnerable should France decide to extend its interest in Australia beyond scientific discovery.

Before Baudin's ships had sailed over the horizon on their way to check out the coast of Tasmania, Governor King started work on a single rock-cut battery at Georges Head above Obelisk Beach facing the entrance to Port Jackson and another on Bradleys Head, just in case something happened. At this time there were still substantial Aboriginal communities living in the area, in fact it was land beyond the Georges Head fortifications which was given to an aboriginal family by Gov. Macquarie as an experiment to introduce them to the farming methods of the white man.

Due to its isolation and the fact that a French attack did not happen, the Georges Head fort was not actively garrisoned after its first year of operation and fell into disrepair when the Napoleonic Wars ended. The battery was enlarged considerably in 1781, when fears of a Russian invasion got the people of Sydney thinking about defence again. Though no records exist as to when the various fortifications now visible at Georges Head and Middle Head were built, it is believed that they are all from the 1781 and 1890s periods of construction and that none of the original 1801 fort on Middle Head survives.

HMAs Penguin



Commissioned in 1942, nearby HMAS Penguin is the last active military presence on the Middle Head Peninsula. One of the Navy's main training establishments, its sick quarters were upgraded in 1946 to accommodate patients and staff from Cannonbury Hospital in Darling Point, which was closing down. The hospital facility became known locally as the Balmoral Military Hospital. In addition to its role as a depot, HMAS Penguin served as a base for the motor launches responsible for patrolling Sydney Harbour.

HMAS Penguin remains one of the RAN's primary training establishments, with a responsibility for providing trained specialists for all areas of the navy. Its specialist training schools include the ADF Diving School (ADFDS), the RAN Hydrographic School and the RAN Medical School. As well as this, Penguin is the home of the Submarine and Underwater Medicine Unit (SUMU), the RAN Recompression Chamber Facility (RCCF), Maritime Operational Health Unit (MOHU), the ADF Centre for Mental Health and the Penguin Health Centre.



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