Remembering the loss of HMAS Sydney

During our month in Western Australia (WA) in September this year, spending a few days in Geraldton was high on our wishlist.  Our love of wildflowers (see the previous post) was enough reason to visit the Coral Coast region.  The rugged cliffs of the coastline and the national park south of Kalbarri were both far more spectacular than we had expected.  WA friends often mentioned this region as a holiday attraction – and now we understand why.  And we didn’t even have time to stay in Kalbarri and to explore its river and gorge country.

Geraldton itself is a modest-sized and workmanlike seaside railhead and port city of some 40,000 residents which has grown only in more recent years, and we didn’t find it particularly interesting or beautiful.

But both of us were greatly impressed and quite moved by our morning at the city’s memorial to the 645 Royal Australian Navy (RAN) servicemen who died when the second HMAS Sydney (commissioned in 1935 and one of the RAN’s largest ships at the start of WW2) was shelled and sunk by the German raider Kormoran in November 1941.

Many if not most Australians know that this World War 2 naval war loss was the RAN’s single greatest, followed just 3 months later by the sinking of Sydney’s sister Perth, also resulting in great loss of life.  I won’t repeat the poignant story of the Sydney’s loss here but clicking here will recount it as well as giving you many details and pictures of the ship and its memorial site.

While many memorials are just that in a fairly predictable sense, this one struck us as one of the most thoughtfully designed and beautifully constructed we have seen.  We were fortunate to be able to join the hour long guided tour which normally starts at 10:30 am daily: our volunteer guide gave us a personal and detailed account of the ship’s links with Geraldton, the memorial’s genesis in 1998, the rich symbolism of the memorial’s design, information about the ship and its crew and their loss, and the discovery of the wreck site some 300 km NW of the city.

Some readers will recall that I am a shiplover, but Helen was as touched and impressed by our time at this site as I was!

It was the thoughtful planning, artistic imagination, and a few chance decisions that have made this memorial very special.  It is a fitting tribute to the bravery of Australian service men and women and to the inevitable tragedy and in many ways futility of war.

The approach to the Memorial is through the wall that lists the name and rank of all the RAN personnel lost
The approach to the Memorial is through the wall that lists the name and rank of all the RAN personnel lost. The bollards are from the Port of Geraldton and were used by HMAS Sydney before its loss.
The dome is made up of metal seagulls representing each of the sailors lost. The flagpole reproduces the bow (front) of the ship in full scale.
The dome is made up of metal seagulls representing each of the sailors lost. The flagpole reproduces the bow (front) of the ship in full scale.
Our guide beside the sculpture of a mother, wife, sister, friend etc of a missing sailor. When the ship's remains were discovered it was found this figure faced the exact location.
Our guide beside the sculpture of “the waiting woman” – a mother, wife, sister, friend etc of a missing sailor. When the ship’s remains were discovered it was found this figure faced the exact location.
The Pool of Remembrance is one of the memorial's 5 elements and also includes much symbolism.
The Pool of Remembrance is one of the memorial’s 5 elements and also includes much symbolism, including seagulls, a map and depth of water.
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