The gunfire paused on March 12 as staff, students and local community members gathered at West Head Gunnery Range in Flinders, Victoria, to celebrate 60 years of training weapons operators and maintainers for the Fleet.
First used by Australian Colonial Forces in the 1890s as a shore battery to deter a possible Russian invasion, the rugged cliff faces of West Head were then again used by the Australian Army during the Second World War.
It was in only 1958 that the Royal Australian Navy took ownership of the picturesque yet occasionally hostile coastline, and converted it into a permanent live firing gunnery range.
The West Head Gunnery Range was officially opened by then Minister of Navy, John Gorton, in 1959.
When opened, the firing grid consisted of two 4-inch cannons and one anti-aircraft 40/60 Bofor gun.
West Head was permanently manned by uniformed personnel, accompanied by a range dog for security.
The overnight duty watch shifts at West Head are a long-held memory for many Cerberus sailors. Cold nights spent patrolling the perimeter were offset by the always good food and good company, which balanced the task.
Between 2008 and 2009, an extensive redevelopment was conducted to replace the increasingly ramshackle buildings with brand new facilities.
The redeveloped facility was officially re-opened by Rear Admiral Steve Gilmore in 2009, ushering in a new era of training using the Fleet’s modern close range weapons.
Although the facility looks vastly different to how it did in the early days, the sounds and smell of gun smoke are more familiar.
The Officer in Charge of West Head Gunnery Range, Lieutenant Commander Peter Arnold, said remembering the history of the facility was important.
“It’s important to learn your history in order to know where you’re going in the future,” Lieutenant Commander Arnold said.
He said West Head had a proud history.
“Over the last 60 years, West Head has enabled more than 50,000 sailors and officers to learn the intricacies of naval gunnery in a live-fire environment.
“These skills have then been taken to operational environments, ranging from the gun line in Vietnam to security patrols in the Straits of Malacca and on operations enforcing United Nations sanctions around the world,” Lieutenant Commander Arnold said.
“This 60th Anniversary of West Head Gunnery Range is a fitting opportunity to reflect on how far we have come as an institution and more importantly, how much further we can go,” he said.
West Head Gunnery Range is staffed by approximately 25 uniformed members and seven civilian staff and the tradition of having a permanent range dog continues to this day.
‘Ruby’, as she is affectionately named, is the current range dog and Cerberus’s mascot.
Last year, more than one thousand officers and sailors conducted training at the bustling faculty, a record for West Head Gunnery Range.
Additional imagery is available on the Defence Image Gallery: http://images.defence.gov.au/S20190516