National Memorial To HMAS Sydney II, Geraldton

Sorry for this lengthy post but we found it fascinating and wanted to share the details of the memorial to the HMAS Sydney II lost off this coast in World War II.

This memorial was recently voted the top tourist attraction in Western Australia. We followed a volunteer guide through the memorial and learnt some really amazing facts about the loss of the warship and the history of the memorial itself. It is located on Mount Scott, overlooking Geraldton and the Indian Ocean. The same ocean where HMAS Sydney II fought its last battle and was sunk with the loss of all 645 men. The original memorial contained four separate elements and since the discovery of the HMAS Sydney II on 17th March 2008, a fifth and final element has been completed. Each element has its own story.

The Wall of Remembrance encompassing the south-west side is a semi-circular wall, faced with Western Australian Black Granite, engraved with the names of the 645 men lost. This represents the ‘encircling Arms of the Nation’ welcoming home it’s lost loved ones. The exterior face of the wall is sculpted with a low relief motif emblematic of the eternal sea. At the Entrance Portal, historic photographic images of HMAS Sydney II, bring to life the reality of the tragedy.

The Dome of Souls, a stainless steel dome is comprised of 645 seagulls representing each of the 645 lost sailors. The concept was inspired by the incident, when a flock of silver Gulls swooped over the assembled crowd, during the Memorial Site Dedication Ceremony, 19th November 1998, while the Last Post rang out in the evening air, at sunset, the last recorded moment in time when HMAS Sydney was seen. Traditionally, the seagull personified the souls of lost sailors and in this context these elemental symbols form a link with the men of HMAS Sydney II, as spirits flying free between water and sky. The canopy thus formed, becomes an open filigree stainless steel structure, redolent of the sound of sea and wind creating a sense of disembodiment and peace, as a graceful distillation of the overall concept. The eternal flame, set in port and starboard lights within the Dome of Souls, was lit on November 19, 2001, 60 years after the sinking of the HMAS Sydney II off the Geraldton coast. The flame was lit from the “Eternal Flame” at the War Memorial in King’s Park.

The Stele – based on the historical symbolism of Standing Stones as grave makers, this vertical element in stainless steel, represents the prow of HMAS Sydney II, metaphorically in a single dramatic gesture, while providing a major focal point visible from many miles around. A spectacular component of the memorial, best enjoyed as you look upwards from a close distance. Interestingly, after the wreck was located, it was found that the Sydney sank with its prow actually separated, caused by the explosion of a torpedo.

The Waiting Woman – this sculpture represents the anxious mothers and relatives looking for the return of their sons serving on the HMAS Sydney II. A powerful picture of the bonds of love strained from the uncertainty of their fate, hoping against all odds that they will appear over the horizon. Again a fascinating fact – the sculpture was erected quite some time before the Sydney wreck was located but the sculpture is found to be looking directly towards the wreck location.

The Pool Of Rembrance, the fifth and final element, was added following the discovery of the wreck. The final concept is a simple, recessed pool, approached by circular terracing symbolically descending ‘down’ into the depths, as it were, evocative of the war grave where the ship now silently rests on the sea floor, 120 nautical miles off Steep Point. The floor of the pool is a map, 5 meters across, showing the location of HMAS Sydney II, embedded in coloured granite. A 2 meter high Stainless Steel gull is fixed to the exact spot where the Sydney lies, with the co-ordinates radiating out from this, both on the exact bearing towards the wreck site. 26 14 45 S – 111 12 55 E. A circular waterfall pouring out from under the bottom terrace dramatically reinforces the concept of ‘going down into the depths’ Inspired by the shadow pattern of the gulls under the Dome of Souls, the lowest step is formed in polished black granite into which is engraved images of 644 Silver Gull shadows, circling the pool and the ship. The 2 meter high vertical Silver Gull is Number 645.

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