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Garden Island
SydneyNew South Wales
Garden Island from Sydney Tower.jpg
Garden Island from Sydney Tower.
Postcode(s) 2000
Location 2 km (1 mi) north-east of Sydney CBD
LGA(s) City of Sydney
Localities around Garden Island:
Port Jackson
Sydney CBD Garden Island Darling Point
Woolloomooloo Potts Point Elizabeth Bay

Garden Island is an inner-city locality of Sydney, Australia and the location of a major Royal Australian Navy (RAN) base. It is located to the north-east of the Sydney central business district and juts out into Port Jackson, immediately to the north of the suburb of Potts Point. Used for government and naval purposes since the earliest days of the colony of Sydney it was originally a completely detached island. It was joined to the Potts Point shoreline by major land reclamation work during World War II.

Garden Island today forms a major part of the RAN's Fleet Base East. It includes active dockyards (including the Captain Cook Graving Dock), naval wharves and a naval heritage and museum precinct. Approximately half of the major fleet units of the RAN use the wharves as their home port.

The northern tip of Garden Island is open to the public and contains the RAN Heritage Centre museum and an outdoor heritage precinct. Immediately south and above Garden Island on the Potts Point ridgeline is HMAS Kuttabul, the RAN's major administrative, training and logistics support establishment for the Sydney area. Although HMAS Kuttabul is administratively a separate facility to Garden Island the two names are often referred to by Sydneysiders interchangeably.


Garden Island was originally an island in Sydney Harbour, but extension of the base and the construction of a dry dock in the channel between the island and the mainland have resulted in its connection to the mainland shore at Potts Point from the 1940s. The wharves of the naval base now stretch the length of the eastern side of Woolloomooloo Bay, from the suburb of Woolloomooloo to the end of the original island.[1]


Garden Island before it was connected to the mainland, 1910-1928

Garden Island is so-called because it was planted in 1788, in the first months of European settlement in Australia, to serve as a kitchen-garden by officers and crew of the First Fleet vessel HMS Sirius.[2] Initials carved into a sandstone rock on the site are believed to be the oldest colonial graffiti in Australia, comprising the letters "FM 1788," representing Frederick Meredith who served as Sirius‍ '​ steward.[3] On 7 September 1811 ownership of Garden Island was declared to have transferred to the Governor's estate with produce dedicated for the exclusive use of Government House. The transfer had practical effect but due to an administrative error it was not formally registered, leaving the land in the legal ownership of the Navy which successfully sought its return in 1866.[4]

Sandstone fortifications, built on the island during the 1820s to protect Sydney from a much-feared Russian attack, also survive. Garden Island also boasts what is claimed to be Australia's first lawn tennis court. Built in 1880, it is still in use, although the lawn was replaced in 1960.[5][6]

Captain Cook Graving Dock[edit]

Captain Cook Graving Dock when flooded

The Captain Cook Graving Dock constructed between 1941–45 and opened 24 March 1945 and is one of the largest graving docks in the southern hemisphere. The Prime Minister, R.G. Menzies, told parliament on 1 May 1940: "A dry dock of a larger size than any in Australia has been an important strategic consideration since the size of capital ships has increased so greatly. I do not need to elaborate the great value to Australia of a dock capable of accommodating not only the largest warships but also merchant ships of great tonnage. The possession of such a dock would make Australia a fit base for a powerful fleet and would, in certain contingencies, enable naval operations to be conducted in Australian waters without the necessity for ships to travel 4,000 miles to Singapore for purposes of refit and repair. It is estimated that three years will be occupied in the construction of the dock." The construction involved the reclamation of 30 acres between Potts Point and Garden Island and the construction of the graving dock approximately 1,140 feet (345 metres) long, 147 feet (45 metres) wide and 45 feet (14 metres) deep.[7]

Hammerhead Crane[edit]

Hammerhead Crane prior to removal

Taking seven years to build between 1944 and 1951, the crane was at the time the largest crane in the Southern Hemisphere and was built to lift warship engines, boilers, gun turrets and guns of up to 250 tons.[8] The Sydney Steel Company Pty Ltd was contracted to fabricate and erect the crane to the design of Sir William Arrol, with Sir Alexander Gibb and Partners as consultants. All mechanical and electrical equipment came from England. All structural steelwork was fabricated and erected by the Sydney Steel Company.[9]

In August 2013 the Federal Government announced the removal of the hammerhead crane, that has been a landmark of Garden Island Naval Base for 60 years, at an estimated cost of $10.3 million.[10]

Tunnel System[edit]

There is a tunnel system under Garden Island that was once used by the Royal Australian Navy.[11] Within this tunnel system was a power station, offices and air raid shelters. This tunnel complex also had a command centre. Other tunnels also exist which headed further in towards Kings Cross.

The tunnels were used to move guns from one side of the island to the other. There are also older tunnels that were used to transport ammunition. The tunnels are now used for electrical wiring and communications.

The island also has a pit that was built in the 1800s and was used as a storage facility in case the island was ever attacked. The entrance to this pit has now been sealed.

Current Usage[edit]


The dockyard facilities are today leased to and operated by the defence contractor Thales Australia,[12] a part of the international Thales Group. They are used to service naval and civilian vessels.


Two Anzac class frigates at Garden Island

The various wharves that line Garden Island remain under the control of the navy and are used as the home port facilities for about half the Royal Australian Navy's major ships. The wharves on the western side of the island have sufficient depth of water to berth the largest United States Navy aircraft carriers.[13]

R.A.N. Heritage Centre[edit]

Royal Australian Navy Heritage Centre

The Royal Australian Navy Heritage Centre was opened in 2005 and is the official museum of the Royal Australian Navy. It includes the museum itself and a small number of the most important heritage buildings at the northern tip of the island. Amongst exhibits in the centre is the conning tower of one of the Japanese midget submarines that attacked Sydney Harbour in 1942, during World War II.[14] The centre is only accessible via a Sydney Ferries[15] service to a wharf at the northern tip of the island. The central and southern portions of Garden Island remain active naval and dockyard facilities and are closed to the public, blocking access to the heritage precinct by land.

Other Facilities[edit]

Various workshops and other buildings on the island are under the control of the nearby HMAS Kuttabul naval base and are used for training and other logistical purposes.

Future Usage[edit]

Queen Mary 2 berthed at the Garden Island naval wharves in 2007

Since 2000 the global cruising industry has been building a number of very large ships, some of which were too large to berth at the Overseas Passenger Terminal at Circular Quay. The Circular Quay facilities were later modified to fit the larger vessels[16] but in the interim a number of vessels berthed at Garden Island by special arrangement. Growth in the number of cruise ship visits since then has led to calls from the cruise industry for more permanent access to the navy facilities, and even for the navy to be forced to leave Garden Island so that the deep-water wharves can be redeveloped for cruise industry use.[17][18]

There have also been calls from the property development industry for the Navy to be moved and the extremely valuable harbourfront land to be redeveloped for residential housing.[19]

The navy has strongly resisted these calls, suggesting that the cost of moving and replicating the existing facilities at Garden Island (especially the Captain Cook Graving Dock and the deep water wharves) would be extremely high and that there are no other ports as navigationally suited and strategically located as Port Jackson.[20][21][22]

Historic buildings and structures[edit]

The first naval buildings on the site were minor structures, but in the 1880s the Admiralty (with financial incentives from the Government of New South Wales) began to invest more heavily in the site as a base for the Royal Navy in the southern hemisphere. A number of sizeable buildings were constructed (several designed by James Barnet) providing accommodation, office space, stores of various kinds and a sizeable steam engineering factory. These were later taken over by the Royal Australian Navy, and most remain in use today.[23]



Heritage Items
Date Description Details
1945 Captain Cook Dock Constructed between 1941–45 and opened 24 March 1945 as the largest Graving Dock in southern hemisphere. 1,139 feet long, 45 feet deep.
1888 Royal Navy/Royal Marine Barracks Northern & southern balconies added in 1892
1888 Kitchens/Laundry Meals were prepared in kitchens and taken into Barracks for eating
Detention Quarters Cell door bolted to wall behind Barracks. The only relic remaining of Detention Quarters
1942 Tanks/air raid shelter Underground water tanks for kitchens made into air raid shelters for 100 people
1928 Lubricating Oil Store Modernised and lift added in 1984 to become Dockyard Supply Centre
1893 Sheerlegs Crane Constructed by Easton & Anderson, then the largest crane in the world. Design Load 160T and Test loaded to 200T. Removed in 1940
1951 Hammerhead Crane One of only 15 still standing around the world, the crane has not been used since 1996. Department of Defence has announced removal.
1788 Original Gardens Gardens were first started on 11 February 1788 for crew of HMS Sirius and used by various ships till 1806. Hence the name Garden Island, given in 1788 in January
1893 Naval Stores Water hydraulics provides the power for the lifts and hoists
1893-c.1960 Standard gauge rail Tramway operated around the Island. It was extended to Dock in the 1940s. Steam crane locomotives provided motive power
1889 Chain & Anchor Store/Battery Shop Submarine batteries maintained. Fire station located at end of Store
1889 Spar Shed/Torpedo Store Early Church Services in upstairs Dining Room
1889 Sawmill/Factory Machinery in factory run by belts from a main steam driven shaft
1916-1960s Cable & Chain Testing Machine Used to pull cables & chain to test links and ends
1895 Coal Store Storage for nearly 500 tons of coal, with its timber Coaling Wharf at the front, serviced with rail lines
1913 HMAS Parramatta Bow Stern is located in a park in Parramatta
1924 Gun workshop and store Converted to the RAN Heritage Centre in 2005
Various Memorials dedicated to ships of the Royal Australian Navy
1893 Tidal Baths Closed in 1973 due to Harbour water quality and condition of the pool
1886 2nd Boat Shed Since 2005 the Dockyard Display for the RAN Heritage Centre
1896 3rd Boat Shed First boatshed built west of island in 1858
1893-5 Administration Building Originally with single story on each side. Extended in 1920s & 30s.
1942 H.M.A.S. Kuttabul Memorial The site of the sinking of the ferry Kuttabul with a loss of 21 lives
1887-9 Rigging House First major building constructed. Upper floor was a sail loft, lower floor-boat shed and

rigging house. The sail loft was used as a ballroom and function centre in the years after it was completed

1942 Slipways/ Air Raid Shelter Northern Slipway later used as an stell reinforced air raid shelter. The steel plate was originally for the HMAS Sydney which was lost in battle
1950 Tarakan Disaster Memorial Landing craft HMAS Tarakan petrol tanks exploded, claiming 8 lives
1905-1948 Detention Quarters Navy gaol with 20 cells. Closed in 1943, demolished in 1948
1884-1888 Original End of lsland Reclaimed from Hill spoil. Original end of lsland close to north end of Rigging

House. A rocky shoal extended south where Rigging House is now situated

1902 Coffer Dam Constructed to surround a basin to drain in order for the Dock to be constructed
1996 Church /Memorial Chapel Balcony inside had 20 partitions for prisoners from gaol to occupy
1885 & 1895-6 Residences Constructed for Supervisors on call, continued use till the 1990s
1880 1st Tennis Court Built around 1880 just south of the residences
1884 2nd Tennis Court Built around 1884 on the area south of the present fuel tank remained till c.1930
1788 Rock Carvings of Initials FM,WB & IR 3 men surveying Port Jackson landed and carved their initials
1902 1st Signal Station
1910 2nd Signal Station A 72-metre mast was constructed in 1912. Shortened flag mast now located at National Maritime Museum
1925 3rd Signal Station
1917 Oil Fuel Tank 5,000 Ton Oil Fuel Tank planned in 1913, excavations began in 1915, continuing till 1917 when tank was constructed for the new fuel oil burning ships



  1. ^ "www.gardenisland.info/docs/Naval_History.doc". 
  2. ^ Correspondence, Daniel Southwell, Midshipman HMS Sirius, 19 February 1789. Cited in Bladen (ed.) 1978, p.694
  3. ^ "R.A.N. Heritage Centre". Royal Australian Navy. December 2013. Retrieved 29 December 2013. 
  4. ^ "Story of Garden Island". Sunday Times (Sydney, NSW : 1895 - 1930)]] (Sydney, NSW: Hugh Donald McIntosh, The Sunday Times Newspaper Company). 2 April 1922. p. 13. Retrieved 30 December 2013. 
  5. ^ Elbourne, Sean (Winter 2006). "Wonderful Kuttabul – a long history of service" (PDF). Sea Talk (Winter 2006) (Royal Australian Navy). pp. 11–19. Retrieved 7 September 2008. 
  6. ^ "Island's tourism birth a date with history". The Sydney Morning Herald. 
  7. ^ Garden Island Community http://www.gardenisland.info/1-02-010.html
  8. ^ Mike Wright Melbourne Meccano Club Inc. http://www.mmci.com.au/articles/hammerHead.pdf
  9. ^ Mike Wright Melbourne Meccano Club Inc. http://www.mmci.com.au/articles/hammerHead.pdf
  10. ^ "Garden Island crane to be removed". The Sydney Morning Herald. 
  11. ^ "Potts Point Tunnels, Sydney, NSW during WW2". 
  12. ^ "Thales to continue operating Sydney's Garden Island". Asia Pacific Defence Reporter. 
  13. ^ "Guiding Home Kitty Hawk". Navy News. 
  14. ^ RAN Heritage Centre http://www.navy.gov.au/Ranhc
  15. ^ "Island's tourism birth a date with history". The Sydney Morning Herald. 
  16. ^ "Stopping Boats Stymies Sydney Visitor Arrivals". Government News. 
  17. ^ "Garden Island to Host Cruise Ships". The Sydney Morning Herald. 
  18. ^ "Our Crowded House is Bad For Business - Baird Wants More Cruise Ships to Dock at Garden Island". The Daily Telegraph. 
  19. ^ "Australia's Most Valuable Land is Garden Island Say Developers". domain.com.au. 
  20. ^ "Garden Island Naval Base Faces Closure Under Kevin Rudd". The Sydney Morning Herald. 
  21. ^ "Military Elders Warn Against Moving Navy HQ to Brisbane". The Canberra Times. 
  22. ^ "Experts Level Broadside at Naval Base Shift". The Australian. 
  23. ^ Coad, Jonathan (2013). Support for the Fleet: architecture and engineering of the Royal Navy's bases 1700-1914. Swindon, UK: English Heritage. 


  • Bladen, F. M., ed. (1978). Historical records of New South Wales. Vol. 2. Grose and Paterson, 1793-1795. Lansdown Slattery & Co. ISBN 0868330035. 


Coordinates: 33°51′58″S 151°13′31″E / 33.86602°S 151.22538°E / -33.86602; 151.22538

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