Garden Island - where conservation meets capability

This article has photo gallery Published on LEUT Will Singer (author), LSIS Bradley Darvill (photographer), CPOIS Damian Pawlenko (photographer)

Location(s): Fleet Base West, WA

Topic(s): HMAS Stirling, Fleet Base West, Naval Heritage and History, RAN Heritage Centre

The shore line from Beacon Head to Entrance Point on Garden Island, Western Australia. (photo: CPOIS Damian Pawlenko)
The shore line from Beacon Head to Entrance Point on Garden Island, Western Australia.

There is often something charming about an older building, but if one truly feels like it might be from another century, it may be time to consider some improvements. But what happens when heritage value and modern warfare combine?

Navy’s home in the west, Fleet Base West at Garden Island has a thought-provoking history but is about to get a significant series of upgrades that need to take into account the value of documenting past use.

Having boasted numerous military installations as part of the fixed defences ‘to keep the enemy at bay’ for the Port of Fremantle during the Second World War, there is much to conserve, as work is undertaken.

Mingled almost undetected amongst the flora are unique military landmarks, reminders of a long military presence, with the Australian Army occupying the island during both World Wars.

Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions Ranger - Steve Booth said that one of the most significant features on Garden Island was the Army’s Scriven Battery, fitted with two breech-loading 9.2-inch MKX naval guns, initially manufactured for armament on armoured cruisers.

“The Scriven Battery located on the western side of Garden Island was built in haste under secretive conditions during 1942 when Australia was under the threat of attack from the Japanese,” Mr Booth said.

“Around the same time building began on a complex of underground tunnels and rooms, included search-lights, shell stores, magazines, pump chamber and powerhouse, plotting room and command post, and battery observation posts.

“The war shifted up north, and the batteries were decommissioned in 1962 and the guns scrapped, and all that remains are the battery platforms and degraded buildings.

“The remains of the military buildings have been left to integrate with the island’s flora as ‘ruins to landscape’, Mr Booth said.

Fleet Base West Base Support Manager - David Marshall, said that the upgrading and refurbishment of existing infrastructure on Garden Island would meet the operational and support capabilities of the expanding fleet in the West.

"HMAS Stirling is at the beginning of a major infrastructure redevelopment project designed to bring our existing infrastructure including power, water and sewerage up to contemporary standards,” Mr Marshall said.

But for many Navy people on the base, the historical charm can be all part of keeping fit to fight.

Stirling’s Adventure Training Manager Chief Petty Officer Communication and Information Systems Alan Clark said mountain bikers were discovering the sites as they traversed the island, and getting a bit of culture with their cardio.

“We stop to explore historical landmarks like Cliff Head which is near Captain James Stirling’s first settlement - known as Sulphur Bay as well as the gun batteries,” Chief Petty Officer Clark said.

“The landmarks are a welcomed rest-break on the challenging fire trails throughout the two and a half hour 22-kilometre ride around the island,” he said.

The base was named Stirling, to recognise the first settlement location.

HMAS Stirling is adjacent to Rockingham in Perth’s south and is home to submarines, major fleet units and a clearance diving team.

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Defence has a strong commitment to minimising the impact of activities on the environment wherever possible.