Merredin Military Museum, Western Australia

 

Situated approximately 256 km (159 miles) east of Perth and roughly halfway to the goldfields surrounding Kalgoorlie, the town of Merredin was established as a rest stop for travellers making their way to the goldfield region. Being so far from the coast the town also became an important military base during World War 2 when military planners were establishing a defensive line in the event of a Japanese invasion. Merredin was considered distant enough from the coast to be out of range of carrier borne aircraft, close to major road and rail supply routes and in an area where there were good food and water supplies. As a result the town and surrounding district was home to several military bases during the war and since the early 1990’s, home to the Merredin Military Museum.

I had been wanting to visit this museum for some time and after giving the curator, Rob Endersbee a call to confirm that it would be open, I left Perth early on Friday morning for the three-hour drive. Because of its history during WW2, there are a number of military related sites around the area, so the plan was to stay in town overnight and make a leisurely drive back to Perth on Saturday or Sunday, checking out anything that took my fancy on the way.

Despite leaving quite early, I did get a little distracted on the drive when I passed an old service station in the town of Meckering, just over an hour outside of Perth. The gas station had been redecorated to look like a huge SLR camera and was now The Big Camera – Museum of Photography, a private collection of hundreds, if not thousands, of old cameras and photographic equipment that made for a nice little rest stop.

Arriving at the Merredin Military Museum shortly after 11am, I was met by Bill Beer, one of the volunteers and a little later, Rob the curator, both of whom were happy to talk about the exhibits and provide additional information about the pieces on display. The museum was established in the early 1990’s after three local collectors accepted an offer from the Merredin army cadet unit to pool their collections and set up a display in one of their sheds.

By 1998 and with support from the local shire the collections had been relocated to a new home, the old railway communications building less than 200m away from the train station and tourist information centre making it very convenient for any visitor arriving from Perth. The current location houses the three private collections as well as the museum’s own growing collection, so it is rather eclectic and as a result quite fascinating, including items that I had not expected to encounter in a regional town.

Very rare Australian 'Folboot' collapsible canoe used by Australian Special Forces operatives from Z Special Unit during World War Two. Photo: Julian Tennant

An extremely rare Australian Mk III ‘Folbot’ collapsible canoe used by Australian Special Forces operatives from Z Special Unit during World War Two. Photo: Julian Tennant

The first of these is in the main display room where an extremely rare Folbot (folding boat) canoe used by the Australian Services Reconnaissance Department’s “Z” Special Unit operators is suspended from the ceiling. This was the same type of canoe used by the two-man teams during OPERATION JAYWICK to paddle into Singapore harbour and attach limpet mines to the Japanese shipping. There is also a small display of other “Z” Special Unit items, including a detonator timer and a very rare Australian Army Stiletto (AAS) which is the Australian made dagger based on the famed Fairbairn Sykes design.

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Sten gun magazines with magazine filler and a very rare Australian Army Stiletto (AAS) issued to “Z” Special Unit operatives and members of the 2/6th Independent (Commando) Company. Looking at the detail of the knife, I believe that this is the pattern made by Gregory Steel Products in Melbourne. Photo: Julian Tennant

 

Newspaper and Type 95 Japanese NCO's sword brought back to Australia by Signalman Harold Hardy after the surrender of Japanese forces on Morotai Island. Photo: Julian Tennant.

Newspaper and Type 95 Japanese NCO’s sword brought back to Australia by Signalman Harold Hardy after the surrender of Japanese forces on Morotai Island. Photo: Julian Tennant.

Other rooms in the building feature an extensive selection of models and communications equipment, including an interesting display relating to one of Australia’s first surveillance units, the 2/1st Northern Australia Observation Unit, whose role was to carry out horse mounted patrols in the arid north watching for signs of Japanese invasion. There are also spaces dedicated to the local military history including several uniforms related RAAF personnel and the nurses who served with the 2/1st Australian General Hospital that was based at Merredin in 1942-3, as well as the Vietnam war, a weapons display and the WW1 Honour Rolls room. This last room reminds us that of the approximately 375 local men who left to serve in WW1, 70 were killed in action. A significant number for any small rural community of the time.

2/1st North Australia Observation Unit (NAOU) display. Nicknamed the “Nackeroos” or “Curtin’s Cowboys”, was created in mid-March 1942 and were given the task of patrolling northern Australia to look for signs of enemy activity. They operated in small groups, and most of their patrols were on horseback. The men made use of the knowledge of local Aboriginals and maintained coastwatching outposts. They were disbanded in 1945 after the risk of invasion had passed. Their traditions are carried on today by the Regional Force Surveillance Units. Photo: Julian Tennant

2/1st North Australia Observation Unit (NAOU) display. Nicknamed the “Nackeroos” or “Curtin’s Cowboys”, the unit was created in mid-March 1942 and given the task of patrolling northern Australia to look for signs of enemy activity. They operated in small groups, with most of their patrols were on horseback, taking advantage of the knowledge of local Aboriginals and maintaining isolated coastwatching outposts. They were disbanded in 1945 after the risk of invasion had passed. Their traditions are carried on today by the Regional Force Surveillance Units of the Pilbarra Regiment, Norforce and 51 FNQR. Photo: Julian Tennant

 

A very rarely seen RAAF Search & Rescue patch from the RAAF Base Pearce near Perth. Photo: Julian Tennant

A very rarely seen RAAF Search & Rescue patch from the RAAF Base Pearce near Perth. Photo: Julian Tennant

 

 

 

Outside and in the vehicle shed are a several military vehicles plus aircraft, some of which are undergoing restoration, including a working Mk III Valentine tank, an CAC Aermacchi MB-326H (Macchi) training jet built under license by the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation, a 1980’s era Toyota station wagon (something that for some reason I never expected to see in a museum) and an interesting Bren Gun carrier, officially designated the Universal Carrier MG, Local Pattern No. 2 (LP2),  that had been converted to carry a QF 2 Pounder anti-tank gun. Designated the Carrier, Anti-tank, 2-pdr, (Aust) or Carrier, 2-pdr Tank Attack, it is a heavily modified and lengthened LP2 carrier with a fully traversable QF 2 pounder anti-tank gun mounted on a platform at the rear and the engine moved to the front left of the vehicle. Stowage was provided for 112 rounds of 2pdr ammunition. Bill said that around 200 were produced and were used for training but he did not think that they saw operational service.

One of the more unusual vehicles undergoing restoration at the Merredin Military Museum. This is a modified Bren Gun Carrier which has been converted to carry a 2 Pounder Anti-Tank gun manufactured by General Motors in South Australia. Photo: Julian Tennant

One of the more unusual vehicles undergoing restoration at the Merredin Military Museum. This is a modified Bren Gun Carrier (Universal Carrier MG, Local Pattern No. 2) which has been converted to carry a QF 2 Pounder Anti-Tank gun manufactured by General Motors in South Australia. Photo: Julian Tennant

 

Chatting with Rob and Bill towards the end of my visit, it was quite interesting to hear some of stories surrounding the exhibits, but it also reinforced my respect for the people who keep places like the Merredin Military Museum open to the public. This is a private museum, running on a very tight budget, relying on donations and the goodwill of the public, plus its dedicated volunteers to stay afloat. When Rob heard that I was coming up from Perth for the visit, he told Bill, who actually turned up before the 10am opening time to make sure that somebody would be there when I arrived… which kinda made me feel bad for taking the break at The Big Camera in Meckering.

Rob also told me that despite a lot of information still stating that the museum is only open from Monday to Friday, it is NOW OPEN 7 DAYS PER WEEK from 10:00 until 15:00, but if you’re passing through Merredin and want to visit outside of those hours, give him a call and he will try to arrange to have it opened so that you can get in. That shows real dedication and I definitely recommend a visit the Merredin Military Museum as a day or overnight trip from Perth or if you’re making a trip to visit the goldfields around Kalgoorlie. Finally, if you are interested in exploring more of the sites related to the war history of Merredin and the wheatbelt region this RAC magazine article and this guide from the Merredin Tourist Visitors Centre are also worth reading.

The Merredin Military Museum

Great Eastern Highway
Merredin
Western Australia 6415

Phone: +61 (0) 429 411 204 (Rob Endersbee – Curator)

https://www.australiasgoldenoutback.com/business/attractions/merredin-military-museum

Opening Times                                                                                                               

Everyday 10:00 – 15:00  Or call Rob to arrange a visit

 

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Albany’s Princess Royal Fortress and National ANZAC Centre

Albany, located 418km south-east of Perth, is the oldest colonial settlement in Western Australia. Established in 1826 it was originally settled as a military outpost for the colony of  New South Wales as part of their plan to halt French ambitions in the region. In 1893 the first Federal fort, the Princess Royal Fortress, was built on Mt Adelaide and the town was the last port of call for Australian troops departing for service in the First World War. During the Second World War it was home to an auxiliary submarine base for the US Navy’s 7th Fleet in the event that the primary base at Fremantle was lost to the Japanese. So, with a long weekend giving me some spare time, I decided to take a drive down to Albany to check out the Princess Royal Fortress and the National ANZAC Centre.

Albany Barracks museum

Albany Barracks Museum at the Princess Royal Fortress

Albany overlooks King George Sound, one of the world’s finest natural harbours and during the 19th century the Australian states realised that the loss of this strategic port could be disastrous not only to Western Australia but to all the colonies. As a result, all the states agreed to pay for the construction of a fort and the British Government would supply the guns. The Princess Royal Fortress was dug into the hillside of Mount Adelaide with two gun batteries – Fort Princess Royal (2 x 6 inch guns) and Fort Plantagenet (1 x 6 inch gun) at nearby Point King. Neither battery fired a shot in anger and in 1956 the Princess Royal Fortress was decommissioned; the buildings initially being used as a hostel and holiday camp before being redeveloped in the late 1980’s as a heritage site. The fortress is now home to a number of interesting military sites including the Albany Barracks and Princess Royal Battery, the National ANZAC Centre, HMAS Perth Museum Interpretive Centre, Navy Heritage trail, the South East Asia Memorial, US Submariners Memorial and the Merchant Navy Memorial.

6 inch gun at the Princess Royal Fort

6 inch gun at the Princess Royal Fort

Albany Barracks museum

Artillery uniforms, circa 1890’s

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Cap and jacket detail of an artillery officer of the Fortress Princess Royal battery circa 1890’s

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Albany Barracks Museum

6 inch gun at the Princess Royal Fort

6 inch gun at the Princess Royal Fort

Princess Royal Fortress Command Centre built in 1942.

Princess Royal Fortress Command Centre built in 1942.

HMAS Perth Museum

HMAS Perth Museum & Interpretive Centre

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HMAS Perth Museum

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Royal Australian Navy (DPCU) uniform worn by CMDR Michael Manfield who had previously commanded the submarine HMAS Waller. HMAS Waller was the third Collins Class submarine to enter service. It was named after Captain Hector “Hec” Waller, DSO and Bar of the HMAS Perth I which was lost during WW2. HMAS Waller’s patch, seen on the right shoulder, features the Stuart rose which references Captain Waller’s service on HMAS Stuart whilst the Oak Leaves represent Captain Waller’s three Mention In Despatches during his career. The field of black and blue signifies the night battles at sea during WW2 in which his flotilla was engaged. I am not sure why the curators decided to add the Chief Petty Officer’s rank slides to the uniform.

Bofors and other artillery pieces on the Navy Discovery trail

Bofors anti-aircraft gun and other artillery pieces on the Navy Discovery trail

USN Submariners Memorial

USN Submariners Memorial commemorating the WW2 submariners who remain on eternal patrol

Entry to all the museums and sites, with the exception of the National ANZAC Centre is free and are definitely worth a visit presenting some interesting pieces of memorabilia at the various buildings and displays.

The National ANZAC Centre was opened on the 1st of November 2014, a century after the first convoy of Australian and New Zealand troops departed from King George Sound, bound for the Great War. Visitors assume the identity of one of 32 servicemen who served in the war and follow their experience of the conflict from recruitment through active service to their return (for some). Their stories unfold through interactive displays, artefacts, photos, film and audio recordings. The content, curated from the Australian War Memorial and the Western Australian Museum, is interesting and engaging. A visit to the centre is definitely worth the Au$25 entry fee.

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The National ANZAC Centre with the USN Submariners Memorial in the foreground.

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National ANZAC Centre

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New Zealand and Australian uniforms at the National ANZAC Centre

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Ottoman identity disc, 1915. Official historian Charles Bean recovered three examples of these identity discs in the Lone Pine trench system in 1919. This example has been cut into a heart shape, possibly by its owner. Unfortunately the low light made it difficult to get a really clear image with my iphone.

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Foreign service helmet, Pattern 1902. Often referred to as the Wolsley or sun helmet, this example was worn on Gallipoli by Ballarat farmer Sergeant Cuthbert Stanley-Lowe of the 9th Light Horse. Stanley-Lowe was hospitalised on 15 June 1915 with ‘rheumatism and headaches’ caused by ‘exposure and strain in the trenches.’ He was evacuated to Lemnos and Egypt before being returned to Australia as medically unfit in early 1916.

National ANZAC Centre, Albany.

This British 1916 Mk 1 helmet was worn by Major General (later Lieutenant General) Sir Joseph Talbot Hobbs throughout his service on the Western Front. He has fixed an Australian rising sun badge to the front of his helmet. Major General Hobbs, commander of the 5th Australian Division, is best known for orchestrating the night attack on Villers-Bretonneaux on 24-25 April 1918, which recaptured the town.

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German helmet, gas-mask, wire cutters and pistol on display at the National ANZAC Centre

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Australian trench raiders clubs and revolver at the National ANZAC Centre

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Interactive display relating the stories of individual participants in the Great War at the National ANZAC Centre

Princess Royal Fortress

Forts Road, Albany, Western Australia 6330, Australia

Ph: +61 8 9841 9369
Open 0900 – 1700 every day except Christmas Day.

Admission is free to all areas and buildings except the National ANZAC Centre which costs Au$25 for adults, Au$21 concession, Au$11 for first child (5- 15 years old) and $Au6 for every child thereafter.

National ANZAC Centre:
Ph: +61 8  6820 3500

info@nationalanzaccentre.com.au
https://www.nationalanzaccentre.com.au

Photos of the Princess Royal Fortress during WW2
https://www.ozatwar.com/bunkers/princessroyalfortress.htm

Albany visitor sites:
http://albanyregion.com.au/anzac-history/
https://www.amazingalbany.com.au/category/anzac/