Georges HeightsLocation: Middle Harbour
Georges Head is a prominent headland in an area known as Georges Heights on Sydney's Harbour's Lower North Shore. Being strategically located at the entrance to Port Jackson opposite Watsons Bay, Georges Head become a military base with forticiations soon after the colony of New South Wales was settled on Sydney Cove in 1788, and has remained a resctricted-access military reserve until recent times, when it was returned to the people of Sydney for recreational use as part of Sydney Harbour National Park.
The fortifications remain and are the centrepiece of this section of the National Park. Walking paths like the various historic sites and give access to the forts, headland lookout and former military facilties at Chowder Bay and Middle Head.
The point of Middle Head is riddled with a network of lookouts, gun placements, and ammunition stores, all interlinked by tunnels and passages. Most were constructed in 1871 and remained untouched until the second world war. Spurred on by the Japanese midget submarine attack on Sydney Harbour, the Middle Head Fortifications were re-opened and upgraded. The nine guns mounted at Middle Head were never fired in anger, but four men were killed in April 1891 in the accidental detonation of a mine.The batteries were dismantled during the 1950s and the site became part of the Sydney Harbour National Park in 1979. The National Parks and Wildlife Service hosts guided tours of the fort.
About 100 metres in length, Obelisk Beach is off the beaten path looking out into Sydney Harbour. Little known among tourists, but known to locals in the Mosman district, this beach gets low traffic and tends to be quiet and tranquil. Officially sanctioned as a clothing optional beach, it is not uncommon to find bathers and beach-goers completely free of swimwear. The beach is frequented by quiet, respectful, and friendly people who enjoy an open and accepting setting. The beach is attended predominantly by homosexual men, and is considered a 'gay-friendly' beach by some.
In 1801, Sydney was visited by the French ships Naturaliste and Geographe, which were part of an expedition of scientific discovery that had just completed a survey of the south coast of mainland Australia. It was the time of the Napoleonic Wars, and though the expedition leader Thomas Nicolas Baudin and his team were treated with every courtesy, their visit left the colonists feeling somewhat vulnerable should France decide to extend its interest in Australia beyond scientific discovery.
Before Baudin's ships had sailed over the horizon on their way to check out the coast of Tasmania, Governor King had started work on a single rock-cut battery at Georges Head facing the entrance to Port Jackson. A decade later, the land behind it was given to an aboriginal family by Gov. Macquarie as an experiment to introduce them to the farming methods of the white man. The settlement was abandoned in 1822 and the area remained unoccupied until the 1870s when it became a key part of new fortifications designed to protect the entrance to Sydney Harbour. Remains of these fortifications, located at the highest point opposite the Harbour entrance, still exist and can be accessed via a walking path from Chowder Bay.
Most of the tunnels, lookouts and gun emplacements seen today above the rocks between Obelisk Bay and Georges Head were constructed in 1871. No road existed into the area at the time and it was considered too difficult a task to bring the guns ashore from ships and drag them up the rugged outcrops of Georges Head and neighbouring Middle Head. A decision was made to offload the cannon at a Neutral Bay jetty and roll them through the bush. It was a marathon effort in which local residents were paid 10 shillings each to help clear a path through the bush using whatever implements they could find to knock down trees, dig up roots and do whatever was necessary to make access possible. The track they cut through the bush was known as the Military Road by which the armed forces stationed there gained access to their forts. It remains the major thoroughfare through Mosman today.
Beehive Casemate gun ports on Obelisk Bay
With the development of armour cladding and steam power, the battery was considered obsolete by the time it was completed. In an effort to update it, an ingenious and advanced designed Beehive Casemate battery became a key part of the fortifications at Middle Head. They were built to the design of Colonel Scratchley between 1882 and 1886 in accordance with the 1877 recommendations of Sir William Jervois. It originally housed three 18 tonne 10-inch rifled-muzzle-loading guns, two of which were transferred here from Georges Heights and one from Middle Head in 1886. These guns were housed in three giant chambers built of mass concrete with walls and roof about 1.8 metres thick. Each chamber was provided with a magazine and shell store and opened at the rear to a covered roadway.
The original guns were replaced in 1892 by two types of guns, two 6-inch breech loading guns and one 6-inch Quick-firing gun, which were mounted onto the existing carriages after modification. A submarine minefield observation/firing post was erected when the guns were replaced, along with torpedo lines across Port Jackson. The guns that had been installed in 1892 were themselves removed eleven years later, after which time the casemate was used for storage until after World War II. During World War II (1942) a range of other structures were built including a quick-firing anti-submarine gun emplacement with adjacent observation tower and numerous associated structures such as machine-gun emplacements, staff quarters, water tanks and a piezo-beam station near the waterline along with tracks and steps linking them. They are located on the east side of Chowder Bay Road around Obelisk Point close to the cliff escarpment.
When the fort was handed over to the newly established Commonwealth Government in the 1900s, the guns were updated. During World War II a submarine net across the harbour to Watsons Bay and new quick firing guns were installed, however Japanese submarines penetrated them in May 1942 before they were complete. The batteries were dismantled during the 1950s. Military involvement in the area all but ceased and in 1979 the unused portions were incorporated into the Sydney Harbour National Park and are now reserved for recreational purposes. The underground chambers have been sealed from general access as a result of cracks appearing in the concrete walls but the site is still accessible.
UBD Map 217 Ref. H 11. Chowder Bay Road, Georges Heights.