I'm a Victorian freelance writer & photographer living in the Macedon Ranges north of Melbourne.
Published May 25th 2018
Gone But Not Forgotten
Geraldton's memorial to HMAS SYDNEY 11 is the dominant feature on the city's skyline, sitting atop an often windswept Mount Scott and offering panoramic views across Geraldton to the Indian Ocean. But this is a solemn place of remembrance rather than a scenic lookout.
An intricate dome formed by 645 stainless steel seagulls, one for each man lost on the SYDNEY, forms the centrepiece of Geraldton's memorial. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose PhotoBank
At the outbreak of World War 2 HMAS SYDNEY 11 was the pride of the Royal Australian Navy. A LEANDER Class Light Cruiser her keel was laid in July 1933 and she was launched on September 22nd 1934.
Well equipped and very heavily armed, SYDNEY arrived in Australia one of the most modern and formidable warships of her time.
Dispatched to the Mediterranean early in World War 2, SYDNEY distinguished herself in an epic battle with two Italian Cruisers off Crete.
The LEANDER Class Light Cruiser HMAS SYDNEY was one of the most modern and formidable warships afloat when she arrived in Australia.
She and her crew returned home to a heroes' welcome before taking on convoy escort duties off the Western Australian coast and making three official visits to Geraldton, the last in October 1941.
Less than a month later, SYDNEY was returning to Fremantle from the Sunda Straits when, at 3.55 PM on Wednesday 19th November 1941, she came upon an unidentified freighter off Shark Bay.
The vessel identified itself as a Dutch freighter the STRAAT MALAKKA, but was really a disguised and heavily armed German raider the HSK KORMORAN under the command of Korvettenkapitan Theodor Detmers.
Once instructed to display the STRAAT MALAKKA's secret signal code, Detmers ordered his crew to strike the Dutch colours and commence firing.
The German scored hits before SYDNEY responded with a salvo, which passed over KORMORAN, who then opened up with smaller rapid-fire guns hitting SYDNEY's bridge and control centre. KORMORAN also loosed a number of torpedoes at least one of which struck SYDNEY.
Ravaged by fire, her forward guns out of action, SYDNEY continued firing from her stern turrets and scored numerous hits on KORMORAN.
After a battle lasting less than an hour, the crippled SYDNEY limped off to the southeast before sinking to the bottom of the Indian Ocean with the loss of all 645 men on board.
KORMORAN drifted helplessly for another 6 hours, completely disabled and with fires raging, before Detmers set scuttling charges and ordered his surviving crew to abandon ship.
The black granite Remembrance Wall lists the names of all 645 sailors and airmen who lost their lives onboard HMAS SYDNEY. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose PhotoBank
The fate of HMAS SYDNEY 11 and her crew remained a mystery until March 16th 2008, when members of the Finding Sydney Foundation using high-tech Sonar equipment located the wreck on the floor of the Indian Ocean at a depth of 2468 meters.
Four days earlier, the same team had located the remains of KORMORAN. The two vessels were 12.2 nautical miles apart and just 10.5 nautical miles southeast of the site of their epic battle.
Originally dedicated in 2001 and declared a 'military memorial of national significance' in 2009, Geraldton's monument to HMAS SYDNEY 11 comprises 5 distinct elements.
The centrepiece is a dome intricately formed by 645 stainless steel seagulls, one for each crewmember lost aboard SYDNEY.
Seven pillars representing the 7-pointed Commonwealth Star on the Australian flag support the dome and it's said that using a seagull to commemorate each sailor came about when a flock of the birds flew over the memorial site during a dedication ceremony in November 1998. The birds are said to have appeared at sunset just as a bugler sounded the Last Post.
The circular floor of the dome is paved in Australian granite.
'The Stele' is a tall and slender stylised replica of SYDNEY's bow bearing the national flag. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose PhotoBank
The Stele combines with the Dome to dominate Geraldton's skyline.
Just a short distance away stands the 'Waiting Woman'. A life-sized bronze statue, the 'Waiting Woman', is leaning into a brisk wind coming off the Indian Ocean. She's holding her hat in place and gazing seawards representing all those women who lost a father, husband, brother or son aboard SYDNEY.
Ironically in 200,8 when the SYDNEY's final resting place was located it, was found that the 'Waiting Woman', set in place in 2001, was peering out to sea directly in line with the location the wreck.
Perhaps the most poignant of all the elements of the SYDNEY memorial is the Remembrance Wall, a semi-circular structure of black granite engraved with the name of each crewmember.
The final element of the memorial, the Pool of Remembrance was created after the SYDNEY was located in 2008, 67 years after the battle took place.
The Pool of Remembrance symbolises SYDNEY's final resting place with a seagull soaring up from the water, a wing pointing to the spot where the wreck lies. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose PhotoBank
Geraldton's memorial to the SYDNEY provides a fitting and moving tribute to the 645 young men who went down with the then pride of the Royal Australian Navy. Gone but not forgotten.
Getting There …..
The HMAS SYDNEY 11 memorial is located on Gummer Street, Mount Scott, just a short walk from the centre of Geraldton.
The Geraldton Voluntary Tour Guides Association runs an informative 30-minute walking tour commencing daily at 10.30 AM.
Why? Don't miss the opportunity to visit this world-class memorial dedicated to the everlasting memory of the 645 crew lost aboard HMAS SYDNEY, sunk by the German raider KORMORAN off the Western Australian coast.