This week, in honour of Remembrance Day commemorations earlier this week, The Past Present is examining a postcard of one of Sydney’s many coastal defences. The postcard above shows ‘Big Gun Practice At Middle Head’ and dates to the early 1900s. It shows troops practicing with the big guns at the coastal fortifications on Middle Head.
Early on in Sydney’s history, defences began to be built around Sydney Harbour, mainly to protect against foreign invasion but also to help in case of convict uprisings. Middle Head played a vital role in these coastal defences and in fact the first gun emplacement in Sydney was built at Middle Head in 1801, during the Napoleonic Wars. The main battery on Middle Head was built in 1871 and was designed by the colonial architect James Barnet. The fortifications were in a strategic position and additions continued to be made up until 1911. The aim of this fortification, and of those located on Sydney’s other heads, was to fire on enemy ships attempting to enter Sydney Harbour. Any ship entering the harbour had to go past North, South and Middle Heads and therefore, past the fortifications built there.
Although those visiting the site today see some of the fortifications above ground, the area was connected by a system of tunnels and there is a great deal more to the fort than what can be seen from the surface. Some of these underground rooms were even used during the Vietnam War to train troops, including training to withstand torture, interrogation and prisoner of war conditions.