Garden Island, New South Wales

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Garden Island
SydneyNew South Wales
Garden island.jpg
Garden Island, before it was connected to the mainland, circa 1910–1928.
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. It is located to the north-east of the Sydney central business district, jutting out into Port Jackson immediately to the north of the suburb of Potts Point. Associated with government and naval use since the earliest days of the colony of Sydney, it was originally a completely detached island. It was joined to the shoreline by major land reclamation work that greatly expanded the naval dockyards on the site during World War II.

Garden Island is today an major component of Fleet Base East of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN). 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 part of Garden Island is open to the public and contains the RAN Heritage Centre museum and an outdoor heritage precinct. It is only accessible via a Sydney Ferries[1] service to a wharf at the nothern 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.

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.[2]


Fleet Base East from highest point on Garden Island

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.[3] 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.[4] 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.[5]

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.[6][7]

Captain Cook Graving Dock[edit]

The Captain Cook Graving Dock constructed between 1941-45 and opened 24th March 1945 is one of the largest graving docks in 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.[8]

Hammerhead Crane[edit]

Garden Island Crane prior to removal
Demolition of hammerhead crane in progress in July 2014

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.[9] 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.[10]

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.[11]

Tunnel System[edit]

There is a tunnel system under Garden Island that was once used by the Royal Australian Navy.[12] 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.

R.A.N. Heritage Centre[edit]

The Royal Australian Navy Heritage Centre at Garden Island was opened in 2005 and is accessible to the public by ferry from Circular Quay via Watson's Bay services. Amongst other exhibits is the conning tower of one of the Japanese midget submarines that attacked Sydney Harbour in 1942, during World War II. [13]

Heritage Items
Date Description Details
1945 Captain Cook Dock Constructed between 1941-45 and opened 24th 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. ^ "Island's tourism birth a date with history". The Sydney Morning Herald. 
  2. ^ "". 
  3. ^ Correspondence, Daniel Southwell, Midshipman HMS Sirius, 19 February 1789. Cited in Bladen (ed.) 1978, p.694
  4. ^ "R.A.N. Heritage Centre". Royal Australian Navy. December 2013. Retrieved 29 December 2013. 
  5. ^ "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. 
  6. ^ 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. 
  7. ^ "Island's tourism birth a date with history". The Sydney Morning Herald. 
  8. ^ Garden Island Community
  9. ^ Mike Wright Melbourne Meccano Club Inc.
  10. ^ Mike Wright Melbourne Meccano Club Inc.
  11. ^ "Garden Island crane to be removed". The Sydney Morning Herald. 
  12. ^ "Potts Point Tunnels, Sydney, NSW during WW2". 
  13. ^ RAN Heritage Centre


  • 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