HMAS Sydney mast dedication — 80 years ago today

Darragh Christie, 24 November 2014 · # · ·

This year marks the 80th anniversary of the dedication of the HMAS Sydney Memorial Mast at Bradleys Head, Mosman. The ceremony took place on 24 November 1934, attended by thousands who watched from land and sea.

The mast1 was purchased from the Australian Navy scrap yards by a Queenslander with the intention of using it as a Memorial to Australian naval personnel and to commemorate the victory of the HMAS Sydney over the German raider SMS Emden at the Cocos Islands on 9 November 1914. The Mayor of Mosman, Alderman “Jack” Carroll — on the suggestion of a local resident, Norman Ellison2 — was able to acquire the mast on behalf of Mosman Council.

Letter to Mayor Carroll, mentioning Ellison’s suggestion re: HMAS Sydney mast

Letter to Carroll, mentioning Ellison’s suggestion, from R. D. Hadfield, State Secretary of the Returned Sailors & Soldiers’ Imperial League of Australia, 8 March 1934

Sydney’s mast was subsequently shipped from Garden Island and installed at Bradleys Head by a huge floating crane — aptly named Titan — under direction from Mosman Council’s Chief Engineer.

Installing the mast at Bradleys Head

Preparations for the dedication ceremony were thorough and important details such as the catering and liquid refreshment were not neglected.

Minutes of “SYDNEY” Mast Dedication Committee held on Sunday, 10.30 a.m., November 4, 1934 in the Mosman Town Hall.

The Daily (‘circulating in Mosman, Cremorne, Neutral Bay’) reported the day’s events.

Under weather that was “all that could be desired,” representatives of the 3 branches of military service, local school children, the Red Cross, girl scouts, boy guides and others witnessed a ceremony “which will remain in the memory of those that attended for a lifetime.”

The Daily, Tuesday 27 November 1934

Alderman Carroll finished a “short” but noble speech as HRH The Duke of Gloucester’s “gracious(ly) deviated” ship slowed as it passed by the memorial and mustered crowd, initiating the Last Post and Reveille and the “breaking of the flag” to the sounds of the National Anthem.

Carroll’s words, quoted directly, stated —

This mast of the ex-HMAS “Sydney” under the shadow of which we now stand, is dedicated with no militant spirit; with no idea of perpetuating the alleged glories of war, and, least of all, inculcating any sentiment of national boastfulness. Rather it is a dedication in a spirit of peace and of respect and gratitude to the great and many sacrifices of that silent but efficient service… My fervent wish is that the mast will become a treasured memorial for our people and one from which future generations may absorb inspiration and guidance to fulfill their destiny …

A few speeches followed including one by Capt. Pope who was on Sydney at the time of the engagement with Emden. He acknowledged and expressed his appreciation of Mosman Council “in causing the mast of our dear old ship to be erected here.” He also went on to say that ”it is fitting that the name of “Sydney” will be perpetuated in a very fine Cruiser which is now being built in England for the Australian Navy…” This of course was to be the ill-fated HMAS Sydney II that disappeared after a battle with the German raider Kormoran off the coast of Western Australia in WWII (and for which the memorial site was re-dedicated).

Finally, the president of the Royal Australian Historical Society gave a speech that was both high minded and patriotic stressing the importance of collecting, preserving and publishing “items of Australian interest” for the “progress of civilisation and for the cause of freedom and justice.”

Samuel J Hood Studio, 1934 (ANMM Collection 00024164)

It seems true that through her preserved and re-examine records, Sydney’s mast at Bradleys Head becomes not just a 80 year-old memorial to a World War 100 years ago but serves as a beacon — conducting and echoing the thoughts, memories, hopes, experiences and words of a generation whose legacy we can share in ways they could only have imagined.



1 The mast at Bradleys head is the upgraded mast Sydney sported at the end of the war, not the original of the time of the Emden.

2 See also transcript of an oral history with Norman’s son, Rodney Ellison — The mast of the HMAS Sydney – I always refer to as dad’s mast which is not quite accurate but I believe he was the person who first suggested that it would be an ideal spot for that to be there as a memorial to that famous ship. Norman Ellison served in the artillery in WWI.