Many communities throughout regional Australia have prominent links to Australia’s military history, from cenotaphs and statues to parks and locations. This is particularly true of the city of Wagga Wagga.
For this city in the Riverina region of New South Wales, bonds to the ANZAC spirit and the Australian Defence Force are strong.
In Wagga Wagga’s Victory Memorial Gardens, the Australian Flag flies from an important Naval Historical artefact: a century-old 12 metre timber spar from the first HMAS Sydney.
The flagstaff was erected in the gardens in September 1931, and the first flag to fly was flown at half-mast in October 1931 - in memory of Sir John Monash.
The precious piece of naval history was officially handed over to the people of Wagga Wagga by the Department of Defence on Armistice Day 1931.
The spar was removed from the gardens four years ago for refurbishment, following the discovery of wood rot.
The refurbishment cost $20,000, with half paid by the Royal Australian Navy, while the Wagga Wagga City Council and the Wagga Wagga RSL shared the rest of the cost.
The spar has now been placed back in the gardens and a re-dedication ceremony was conducted recently.
Notably, the spar - which is from part of a derrick on Sydney (I) - has a splintered section where shrapnel hit it during the battle with the German Cruiser Emden.
Royal Australian Navy personnel from the RAAF School of Technical Training at RAAF Wagga worked collaboratively with the local RSL and City Council to support the re-dedication event with a ceremonial sunset.
A Navy ceremony is uncommon in the region, given it is so far from Navy ships and establishments.
There was a Mayoral Reception hosted by the city’s Mayor, the Honourable Greg Conkey.
In attendance was the Senior Naval Officer - Wagga Wagga - Lieutenant Commander Nabil Mikhail.
Director Navy Aviation Systems Program Office, Captain Steve Arney, also attended the event, along with the President of the Wagga Wagga RSL Sub Branch, Mr Dave Gardiner, and the Senior Australian Defence Force Officer at RAAF Wagga, Group Captain Iain Carty.
Following the Mayoral Reception, a ceremony to recommission the flag staff and remember the battle of the Cocos Islands was conducted by the Wagga Wagga RSL Sub Branch, where a description of the battle was given and the Australian White Ensign was raised.
Following the event, a Ceremonial Sunset was conducted to lower the Australian White Ensign.
The Ceremonial Sunset was supported by the Royal Australian Navy Band, lead by Lieutenant Brian O’Kane and Drum Major Chief Petty Officer Mark Ham.
The Guard for the ceremony was comprised of students undertaking Naval Air Technical training at the RAAF School of Technical Training.
The Navy contingent was coordinated by Chief Petty Officer Aviation Technician Airframes Stewart Edwards.
“The city has Kapooka Army Base and RAAF Base Wagga, but the Navy has a limited footprint here.
“All Aviation Technician sailors conduct their trade training at RAAF Wagga.
“It was a great opportunity for Navy personnel, both staff and trainees, to represent the Navy in the local Wagga community,” Chief Petty Officer Edwards said.
The contribution by the Navy to support the event was greatly appreciated by the community and was a fitting tribute to the action the Flagstaff represents.
“Connecting our sailors and locals with Navy’s history and culture through such a traditional ceremony to mark the importance of Sydney (I), and her victory against Emden, was a truly memorable event,” said Lieutenant Commander Nabil Mikhail, the Senior Naval Officer in Wagga Wagga.
“It was not lost on any of us ‘Birdies’ that Sydney (I) was the first Australian warship to launch an aircraft, which makes her Jackstaff mounted in the City of Wagga Wagga a fitting reminder to our future generation of aviation sailors of the vital capability they will bring to the fight,” he said.