The arrival of the Royal Australian Navy’s fleet into Sydney Harbour on 4 October 1913 was a great moment in Australian history. Australia now had direct control of the seas around the continent and no longer had to rely on the British Royal Navy. One ship in that fleet was the cruiser HMAS Sydney (I).
The Royal Australian Navy (RAN) now provided a real sense of security for white Australians, long nervous about perceived threats from the ‘yellow hordes’ of Asia. Readers of others of my blog enries will be aware of how many Chinese were attracted to Australia by the lure of gold in the later 1800s.
Ironically, the first test of the RAN came not from Asia but from Europe, in the form of Germany, with the outbreak of World War I on 4 August 1914.
Whether fact or conjecture it is at least probable that the presence of the RAN in the region (albeit back under the control of the British Royal Navy for the duration of the War!) influenced the German decision to withdraw its East Asia Squadron to the eastern Pacific.
One German ship, the SMS Emden, was not withdrawn and continued attacking shipping in the Indian Ocean until it was crippled and run aground by HMAS Sydney near the Cocos Keeling Islands on 9 November 1914. Four Australians and 134 Germans lost their lives in that encounter while the remainder (apart from a few who escaped prior to transfer) of the Emden crew was taken as prisoners of war and transferred to British forces in Malta.
HMAS Sydney (I), though damaged in this encounter, survived the war and was scrapped in 1929.
A number of parts of the ship were kept as memorabilia including its bow which was set into the sea wall here at Milsons Point, in 1941, on the 27th anniversary of its encounter with the SMS Emden and when, sadly, Australia was once again at war with Germany, this time in World War II.
Just 10 days after this memorial was dedicated, HMAS Sydney II was sunk by the German Raider Kormoran in the Indian Ocean with the loss of over 600 Australian sailors. Talk about irony!
The fact that this memorial is the original ship’s bow makes it somewhat different from other memorials and thus especially interesting for me. And the location of the memorial, well you cant beat it!
If using public transport, easiest access to the memorial is via a short walk from Milsons Point train station or Milsons Point ferry wharf.
Address: Olympic Drive, Milsons Point