Clocktower's future is a nod to the past

Published on LEUT Sarah West (author), ABIS Chantell Brown (photographer)

Location(s): HMAS Creswell, NSW

Topic(s): HMAS Creswell, Naval Heritage and History

Mrs Joan Webber wife of Peter Webber with Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Timothy Barrett, AO, CSC, RAN, at the official opening of The old Clock Tower Gymnasium, HMAS Creswell. 

Mrs Webber's late husband's wish was to donate his Collection of 12 model sailing ships, which covers 400 years of sailing history, to teh base to be displayed. 
Mr Peter Webber passed away in 2005. (photo: ABIS Chantell Brown)
Mrs Joan Webber wife of Peter Webber with Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Timothy Barrett, AO, CSC, RAN, at the official opening of The old Clock Tower Gymnasium, HMAS Creswell. Mrs Webber's late husband's wish was to donate his Collection of 12 model sailing ships, which covers 400 years of sailing history, to teh base to be displayed. Mr Peter Webber passed away in 2005.

To any naval officer that went through initial training at the Royal Australian Naval College at HMAS Creswell, the Clocktower Gymnasium is iconic.

More than 100 years old, the original Clocktower building has been central to the life of the college from its earliest days.

A plaque over the door of the gym records the gift of £40,000 (known as the Dreadnaught fund) from the citizens of New South Wales, which paid for the construction of the college from 1913-1915.

The building has been used for a wide variety of activities over the years, including indoor sports such as indoor soccer, touch footy, fencing, basketball, gymnastics, boxing and badminton, as well as instruction, especially for drill and weapons. It was also used as an assembly hall, a wet weather alternative for Graduation ceremonies, a cinema and a chapel.

Late in the Second World War, a small hydro-therapy pool was installed and the gym was used as a Air Force rehabilitation facility for wounded airmen and returning prisoners of war.

Routine use of the Clocktower gym ceased when Creswell was redeveloped in 2011, when a new, modern gym facility, auditoriums and classrooms were built on the base.

Creswell Commanding Officer, Captain Stephen Hussey, said it was thanks to some innovative locals that the Clocktower had been given an important new function and would serve as a museum.

"The Clocktower will now serve as a conduit for the heritage of the Royal Australian Naval College and the Royal Australian Navy," Captain Hussey said.

"We are fortunate to be the custodians of the whole Peter Weber Collection of 12 model sailing ships, which covers 400 years of sailing history, and for the first time we have the space to display the models together, as was Peter’s wish before he died in 2005."

The museum will also display seven more recent models of ships including HMAS Canberra I, a Fremantle class patrol boat, a Charles F Adams class destroyer, and an Oliver Hazard Perry class frigate, as well as a cannon from the Boxer Rebellion, and a Second World War 'Link Trainer' flight simulator.

The project was completed by Ms Ailsa Chittick, Curator of the Fleet Air Arm Museum, Lieutenant Commander Dave Jones, Royal Australian Navy Reserve Historical Collection Officer, and volunteers Warrant Officer 'Tiny' Warren (Retired), Captain Laurie Watson (Retired) and Captain Geoff Cole (Retired), with the support of the leadership and staff of HMAS Creswell and the Fleet Air Arm Museum.

Lieutenant Commander Jones said that he had been associated with the Naval College since 1990 and was proud to be a part of the team that brought the project to fruition.

"I am pleased that the collection will now have a permanent home in this historic building," he said.

Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Tim Barrett, officially opened the new Clocktower heritage collection on 3 December, and said it was an important addition to the Royal Australian Naval College.

Lieutenant Commander Henry Hall Rtd. at the official opening of The old Clock Tower Gymnasium, HMAS Creswell.

Lieutenant Commander Henry Hall Rtd. at the official opening of The old Clock Tower Gymnasium, HMAS Creswell.



"The collection here is about the essence of the Navy, the sea and the sail," he said.

"It tells the story of the development of sea power, which underpins naval culture today, and there is perhaps no more important story for our trainee officers to learn," Vice Admiral Barrett said.

"While today's Royal Australian Naval College trains officers for the 21st century and beyond, the values, practices and strategies are gleaned from the past, and if we are wise, we apply those lessons to the future.

"Much of the ingenuity, resourcefulness and resilience embedded in the stories told here have influenced the navies of the world, their language and culture.

"This display also reinforces our connection with the community.

"It will not only be viewed by staff, trainees and visiting Defence personnel, but also their families and friends, local community groups and interested individuals, and special visitors such as veterans and descendants of the College.

"They will all gain a better appreciation for life in the Navy, past and present, through the stories told in these exhibits."