Middle Head

Location: Sydney Harbour
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 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 Middle Head Fortifications consist of the Outer Middle Head Battery located at the end of Old Fort Road, the Inner Middle Head Battery located at the end of Govenors Road, and the Obelisk batteries reached by a path from the corner of Middle Head Road and Chowder Bay Road, Middle Head, Mosman, New South Wales. The fortifications at Middle Head formed part of Sydney Harbour's defences.

The first fort at Middle Head was built in 1801 and the last batteries were constructed in 1942. The majority of the fortifications were built between 1870 and 1911. The site contains the works of several periods and technologies, which remain in place for review today. Historically it dates from the time when defence was first moved away from Sydney Cove and towards The Heads.

There were three sets of fortifications built in Mosman and Middle Head in the 1870s, these were upgraded in the 1880s on the advice of British experts. These fortifications still exist and are now heritage listed, they are, the Lower Georges Heights Commanding Position, the Georges Head Battery and a smaller fort located on Bradleys Head, known as the Bradleys Head Fortification Complex.

The battery on Middle Head built in 1871 was designed by James Barnet, a colonial architect. The fort was built on a strategic location and received many additions until 1911. It formed part of a network of 'outer harbour' defences. They were designed to fire at enemy ships as they attempted entry through the Sydney Heads. The whole area is linked by an extensive network of underground tunnels, ancillary rooms, gunpowder magazine and a disappearing gun emplacement. The site has its own underground power room that is supported by iron columns. Rooms located below ground were used to train some of Australia's first troops who were sent to Vietnam in 'Code of Conduct' courses, which were lessons in how to withstand torture and interrogation, by simulating prisoner of war conditions.

In 1974 the Middle Head fortifications featured in the movie Stone. In 1979 most of the area became national park and the military has moved on to more strategic locations. The army base on site which included the transport group and 30 Terminal Squadron, left Georges Height's in 1997. The Headquarters Training Command section relocated to the Victoria Barracks in 2002.

The Officers Quarters

The Officers quarters is a Victorian Regency style building that was built on a rough stone base. It was designed by Colonial Architect James Barnet and is considered to be one of the most significant buildings at Middle Head. The site incorporates a defensive ditch or moat and includes a fortification wall. The house looking in the direction of Middle Harbour meant that it could be used for surveillance purposes as well.

One former resident was Major General Sir William Throsby Bridges KCB CMG, the first commander of the Australian Imperial Force and the commander of Australian forces at Gallipoli. Throsby Bridges was killed by a sniper whilst leading the forces at Gallipoli. His warhorse Sandy was brought back to Australia, seeing out its days in Victoria.

Primarily used as a residence this building originally housed two officers separately, a senior and junior officer. During World War II this building served as a Red Cross Hospital and later as accommodation for the Australian Women s Army Service. The house continues to be used as a residence. Extensive restoration work has been conducted by the 'Sydney Harbour Federation Trust' which has revived many of the old buildings.

Defending Sydney Harbour

Middle Head and its close neighbour, Georges Head, face the entrance to Sydney Heads, and because of this have played an important role in the defence of Sydney since early colonial days. In 1801, Sydney was visited by the French ships Naturaliste and Geographe, which were part of a French expedition of scientific discovery that had just completed a survey of the south coast of mainland Australia. It was the time of the Napoleon Wars, and though the expedition leader Thomas Nicolas Baudin and his offsiders Louis de Freycinet and Francois Peron were treated with every courtesy to which a cordial response was returned, 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 started work on a single rock-cut battery at Georges Head above Obelisk Beach facing the entrance to Port Jackson and another on Bradleys Head, just in case something happened. At this time there were still substantial Aboriginal communities living in the area, in fact it was land beyond the Georges Head fortifications which was given to an aboriginal family by Gov. Macquarie as an experiment to introduce them to the farming methods of the white man.

Due to its isolation and the fact that a French attack did not happen, the Georges Head fort was not actively garrisoned after its first year of operation and fell into disrepair when the Napoleonic Wars ended. The battery was enlarged considerably in 1781, when fears of a Russian invasion got the people of Sydney thinking about defence again. Though no records exist as to when the various fortifications now visible at Georges Head and Middle Head were built, it is believed that they are all from the 1781 and 1890s periods of construction and that none of the original 1801 fort on Middle Head survives.

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