Birdwood Military Museum – Geraldton, Western Australia

The Birdwood Military Museum, Geraldton, Western Australia.

Birdwood Military Museum Geraldton-01

One of the earliest known purpose-built Returned and Services League (RSL) halls in Western Australia is also home to one of the state’s regional military museums.

Built in 1935, Birdwood House in Geraldton, was named in honour of much respected soldier, Field Marshal Sir William Riddell Birdwood, who commanded the ANZACs at Gallipoli and I ANZAC Corps in France until he was succeeded by Lieutenant General John Monash in May 1918. It is still used by the local RSL but some rooms have also been set aside to showcase their collection, which is a constantly-evolving depiction of Geraldton’s and the Mid West’s military history.

Geraldton Volunteer Rifle Corps 1890
Geraldton Rifle Volunteer Corps camp at Separation Point circa 1890. Established in 1877, the Corps served in the Boer War in 1899 as ‘A’ Company 16th Battalion and was one of the most active in the State. The Corps, later renamed the Geraldton Rifle Club, continued to use the Army rifle range at Separation Point until the late 1940s. During World War II the Army called on local members of the Rifle Club to perform voluntary military roles in the town. Photo Courtesy Geraldton Regional Library – GRL, P 851

Like many RSLs, Birdwood House features various military artifacts spread around the building that reflects and reinforces the connection between the members and its history. At Birdwood House this includes a ‘rogues gallery’ of some of their members, past and present including interesting characters such as Derek Andrews, who after serving as an infantryman with 3RAR in Vietnam, travelled to Rhodesia in 1976. Derek first joined the Greys Scouts and then transferred to the Selous Scouts until he discharged in 1979 with the rank of sergeant. In 1981 he moved to South Africa and served as a pathfinder in the 44th Parachute Brigade alongside well known former SAS soldier and author of  Beyond No Mean Soldier by Peter McAleese who mentions him in the memoir. Derek returned to Australia in early 1984, then moved to Victor Harbor in South Australia in 2001 where he became a member of that RSL Sub Branch.

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Geraldton RSL’s ‘rogues gallery’ picture of 54909, Ronald Lindsay Gammie who served with SASR, completing a tour of Borneo with 1 SAS Squadron and 3 SAS Squadron’s first tour of Vietnam in 1966. Some of his personal items are also in the museum. Photo: Julian Tennant

The bulk of the Birdwood Military Museum’s collection on display is contained in two rooms that are packed full of artifacts including uniforms, photos, medals, weapons and personal effects. There are many more in storage and Treasurer Glenn Law says that display space is an issue, particularly as the number of items being donated by local veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts continues to grow.

The number of items crammed into a small, volunteer run, museum has created challenges for display which can create a sense of disorder. But the ‘staff’ are very knowledgeable, enthusiastic and happy to answer questions about specific pieces. Look closely and there are some fascinating treasures to be found such as the Darnley Dixaline.

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The Darnley Dixaline (Mark IV) made by Signalman Walter Darnley of the 2/28th Battalion during World War 2. Photo: Julian Tennant

This unique handmade banjo type musical instrument was made by Signalman Walter Darnley, who served with the 2/28th Battalion during World War 2. Sig Darnley made what he called the Darnley Dixaline (Mark IV) from battlefield remnants, including the skin from a discarded drum, wooden crates, and toothpaste containers. His wife, Thelma, sent the strings to him. The instrument, believed to be the only one of its type in the world, was crafted sometime between 1941 and 1942 and is believed to have been used at Tobruk. It is signed by all 29 members of Sig Darnley’s platoon and has a further 12 signatures of men from the battalion.

Naturally, being located in regional Western Australia, units such as the 10th Light Horse, 11th, 16th and 28th Infantry Battalions which recruited from the local population base, are well represented in the displays. But there are also some interesting pieces from as far away as the British Army of the Rhine and souvenirs brought back by returning servicemen.

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10th Western Australian Mounted Infantry beret and badge. The 10th W.A.M.I. was formed in 1949 and equipped with Staghound Armoured Cars and Canadian Scout Cars. In 1956 the unit was re-designated with its previous title, the 10th Light Horse. Photo: Julian Tennant
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Post WW2 Australian paratrooper’s beret. This beret quite possibly belonged to a member of the early SAS Company based at Swanbourne who wore the maroon beret and RAINF badge for a time after their formation in 1957. The ‘dog tags’ appear to be unrelated to the beret. Photo: Julian Tennant
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Composite ‘Vietnam’ Australian SAS uniform which includes a US ERDL camouflage shirt used by Corporal Ron Gammie who completed a tour of South Vietnam with 3 SAS Squadron in 1966-67. Photo: Julian Tennant
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Insignia belonging to 5/588 Corporal K.C. Burgess who served with the Royal Australian Regiment in Korea. Note the IRVIN parachute pin which was often presented to individuals who had undertaken parachute descents using rigs made by that company. Photo: Julian Tennant

The Royal Australian Navy is also reasonably well represented, and the displays include two very detailed scale models depicting the HMAS Sydney and German auxiliary cruiser/raider Kormoran (HSK-8) which both sank after an epic clash off the WA coast on 19 November 1941. A very impressive memorial to the HMAS Sydney is located on the hill about 900m away from the museum and a visit is recommended, along with the Museum of Geraldton which also includes a 3D film of the wrecks, detailed information about the battle as well as other artifacts and aspects of the city’s wartime history.

For those with an interest in military history visiting Geraldton, a trip to the Birdwood Military Museum should be on the agenda but it is important to plan ahead. Formal entry times are restricted as the ‘staff’ are volunteer members of the RSL however if you do wish to visit outside of the times noted below contact them and see what can be arranged. If possible, try to visit on a Friday evening as this coincides with their BBQ night which is also a good opportunity to meet with some of the local veterans for a feed and a beer or two. If you are visiting Geraldton and have some flexibility with timings, try to arrange your trip to coincide with the third Saturday of the month as this is when Leane’s Trench, which is run by the Geraldton-based 11th Battalion AIF Living History Unit, is open to the public. The trench is about 30km outside of the city, just off the road to Mullewa. Unfortunately, my Geraldton stop-over did not coincide with the opening times for the trench visit, but it has given me the incentive to plan another weekend away from Perth.

Birdwood Military Museum
Birdwood House
46 Chapman Road
Western Australia 6530

Phone: +61 (0)8 9964 1520 (Mon. and Thurs. 0900 – 11400) / 0427 612 479 or 0408 222 653 (all other times)

Monday 0900 – 1400
Thursday 0900 – 1400
Friday 1700 – Late
Sunday 1200 – 1500
Other times by arrangement

HMAS Sydney II memorial Geraldton
H.M.A.S. Sydney II Memorial overlooking the Geraldton town centre and waterfront. The memorial is less than a kilometer away from the Birdwood Military Museum and can be reached within a few minutes by car or about 10 minutes if walking.
Geraldton 11 bn Leanes Trench
Members of the 11th Battalion AIF Living History Unit and visitors to ‘Leane’s Trench’ near Mullewa. Photos: Ken Lawson
Members of the the 11th Battalion AIF and the Gallipoli Trench P
Members of the the 11th Battalion AIF Living History Unit, Dr Stewart Adamson, Ian Wright, Mark Long, Phil Eather, Karl Edwards, Chris Cox. and Michael McGilvray. Photo: Elise Van Aken/Geraldton Guardian


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Author: juleswings

Military insignia collector / researcher, with an interest in airborne and special operations units, para wings & badges.

One thought on “Birdwood Military Museum – Geraldton, Western Australia”

  1. You certainly get around, my Friend!
    The Rising Sun Trench art is a fine piece of jewellery
    I assume that all the weapons have unfortunately been rendered “permanently inoperable”.

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