When part of our country’s history is felt on a personal level we become more passionate about who we are, where we came from and why we are here. The more we explore this history the more we want to share it. This is just one story. A story, a place that has great significance to our family.
The state is Western Australia, the town Geraldton, the mount, Mount Scott.
The attraction, the HMAS Sydney II Memorial.
Geraldton is a port in the Mid West region of Western Australia located 424 kilometres north of Perth. It has a population of around 27,000 and has great weather all year. We were told that in summer they experience cool sea breezes, autumn is balmy, winters are mild and in spring the wildflowers take your breath away. It is one of the sunniest locations in Australia in January with over 11 hours of sunshine per day on average!
After flying from Melbourne to Perth we hired a car and drove to Geraldton planning to stay the night. Well worth a visit in Geraldton is St Francis Xavier Catholic Cathedral. Building commenced in 1916 and was completed in 1938. A magnificent building, but not our focus for this trip. Taking my husband’s almost 90 year old parents we were on a trip of remembrance.
Remembering and getting to know a little bit about my father-in law’s brother who was lost at sea on the HMAS Sydney II in November 1941 at the age of 21. None of the 645 aboard survived.
The memorial on Mount Scott is very symbolic with a number of features.
The entrance path is guarded by two old bollards from the Port of Geraldton. The Sydney was most likely tied up to these on the last visit to Geraldton in 1941. The path leads to flagpoles, set in real bronze ship’s propellers and then to a bronze figure of a woman looking out to sea. The centrepiece is ‘The Dome of Souls’ set on seven pillars representing the seven states and territories of Australia. The dome is made up of 645 silver gulls. One for each life lost.
A bronze figure of a woman waiting for the return of her loved-one, stands at the end of another arm of the path. ‘The Waiting Woman’ looks out to sea grieving for her lost father, husband, brother or son. She stares at the horizon looking for the ship, HMAS Sydney II which was never to return. She stands overlooking the Indian Ocean looking directly at where the ship was discovered in 2008. She ‘sees’ what was lost for 60 years. Through her eyes we remember, we honour those who lost their lives on HMAS Sydney 11.
The Wall of Remembrance bears the names of the 645 men who lost their lives.
We had an emotional visit as the sun set. I returned alone the next morning at sunrise to experience the ‘quietness’ and to reflect on what life might have been for a young sailor. I wanted to be alone with the ‘Waiting Woman’. As a family we returned later in the day to be greeted by a local, volunteer guide. His pride in the memorial was obvious. My father-in-law’s emotion was as if his brother had just gone missing although it was many years ago. Finding his name on the Wall of Remembrance meant that he had not been forgotten. He was not only remembered by his family but also by the nation. Our visit also never to be forgotten.
Without this story we would not have visited this part of Western Australia…yes it is a personal story to us but it is also a story with great meaning, with a message for all Australians and a message to all who visit…those we love are never forgotten, their lives affecting all who knew them and those who know them only through the stories and remembrance of others.
On February 6th 1942 a raft containing the body of a dead seaman washed up on the shore of Christmas Island. It was believed that this body came from HMAS Sydney II. In October 2006 the remains were exhumed and due to initials on a boot for some time there was a possibility that this was my father-in-laws brother. This has since been ruled out. But he was someone’s brother, son, husband and friend.
My recommendation for travelling in this area. Take your time. Do some research. Perhaps choose a sailor who was aboard HMAS Sydney and visit the area in his honour.
This trip enabled us to see other parts of this area as well….each with a story to tell but not here as I believe that this story should stand alone.
You can read more about the discovery of the HMAS Sydney at the Australian War Memorial blog.