House of Representatives Committees

Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade

Report on the Loss of HMAS Sydney

Chapter 9


9.1    The final matter contained in the inquiry's Terms of Reference involves what 'measure[s] ... should be taken to protect and honour the final resting places, if and when located, of HMAS Sydney and KSN (sic) Kormoran'. The issue of protection of the wreck sites has been discussed in the previous chapter; this chapter considers what would be the most appropriate way, after the passage of so many years, to honour both ships, and in particular the 645 Australians who died in the engagement.

9.2    The Committee thought it appropriate to examine what commemorative activities had already been undertaken, before assessing whether these were adequate. The Committee then considered what might be appropriate in the future, including some consideration of the various options available, depending on whether or not the wrecks are located.

9.3    Although the Committee was asked to consider commemorative activities that might involve the Kormoran, it felt that specific action to commemorate that ship was more appropriately the responsibility of the German Government. However, it is obvious that mention of the Kormoran and her crew will be inevitable in some of the commemorative activities envisaged, and where it is appropriate the Committee has commented on these.

Commemoration to Date

Physical Memorials

9.4    The Department of Defence was most explicit in its view that:

9.5    The Department of Veterans' Affairs, while less blunt in its assessment, noted that those who died on Sydney have been officially commemorated:

9.6    While it is correct that there is a memorial at Bradleys Head in Sydney, it is a memorial to all four ships that have borne the name Sydney, not just HMAS Sydney II.5 In addition, for a number who made submissions to the inquiry, the commemoration in Plymouth was not seen as sufficient recognition:

9.7    The Committee is aware that there is a memorial to the Navy in Anzac Parade, Canberra. Officially opened in 1986, it is dedicated to 'all those men and women who have served or are serving as permanent or reserve members of the Royal Australian Navy', not as suggested by Defence to 'all naval personnel who have been lost at sea during the wars'.7

9.8    Smaller memorials exist at a number of locations around the country:

9.9    Sydney is commemorated in smaller, but no less important ways, for example with a memorial plaque in the Naval Memorial Garden in Adelaide.8 Services have been held at various times around Australia to honour the Sydney, and a number of naval historical presentations have been established.10

9.10    The continued interest in Sydney is reflected in plans for a memorial to be constructed in Geraldton, by the Rotary Club of Geraldton, with the support of the Geraldton City Council, the RSL Geraldton Sub-Branch and the Batavia Maritime Heritage Association.11 The Rotary Club explained why a memorial to Sydney was most appropriate in that location:

9.11    The Rotary Club has advised that it has received 'phenomenal' community support for the project. It is conducting a search for input into the design of the memorial and will be conducting a fund raising exercise through all Australian RSL Clubs. It is considering, in addition to the Mount Scott Park memorial, 'a Sentosa Island (Singapore) type display at the nearby Marina housed in the Maritime Museum'.13 The final form of the development is not yet decided.

9.12    The Western Australian Maritime Museum has also advised that a new Maritime Museum and enhanced maritime precinct is to be developed at Fremantle. The new Maritime Museum will contain 'a substantial naval and wartime element, part of which will include the activities of the RAN and other navies ... on this coast. ... With respect to the loss of HMAS Sydney, and its crew in waters off this coast, there is a desire and indeed a need for the new Maritime Museum to treat the demise of the vessel in the context of its entire career, of the RAN and of the "war on our doorstep" in general'. The WAMM went on to stress that these aims 'do not preclude the strong support of the Museum for the initiatives presented by others to the Committee with respect to a specific-purpose "real" or "virtual" memorial specific to HMAS Sydney and its crew or for the establishment of archival databases and the like with a similar aim in mind'.14 The potential certainly exists, and would be supported by the Committee, for an integration of the efforts of the Trust and the WAMM towards appropriately commemorating the Sydney.

9.13    Various views were expressed to the Committee (by those who felt existing memorials were not sufficient), as to how and where Sydney should be commemorated. Suggestions of possible memorial sites ranged from Quobba, Carnarvon, Geraldton, Christmas Island, Fremantle and Canberra. Each location has particular strengths and disadvantages. The idea of a tripartite memorial was raised with the Committee: a three point memorial, covering Fremantle (the last point HMAS Sydney's crew were on Australian soil); Christmas Island, marking the body believed to be from Sydney; and Quobba where two lifeboats of Kormoran survivors landed.15 While this idea has significant merit, the Committee believes that as there is already a small memorial on Quobba, and with some expected permanent marking of the Christmas Island grave (see Chapter 7), it is not necessary to proceed along these lines.

9.14    The Committee notes that many of the smaller memorials are a result of public interest in the fate of Sydney and a desire to mark the passing of those on the ship in some form or other. After considering whether a further memorial should be erected to Sydney, the Committee concluded it would be appropriate for a major memorial to be erected in Fremantle, the port from which Sydney sailed. The Committee believes that the memorial should be jointly funded by the Commonwealth and Western Australian Governments, and that it be dedicated on 19 November 2001.

9.15    The Committee recommends that:

9.16    While the Committee acknowledges the role that such memorials play, in giving a focus to commemorative activities, there are also other ways in which the memory of those who died on Sydney will live on. The Committee has some sympathy with the views expressed thus:

9.17    The Committee supports this desire to commemorate Sydney, not only through a physical memorial but also through a 'living' form of memorial. The Committee supports the establishment by the RAN of a research grant scheme in the name of HMAS Sydney, through which the memory of those lost on the ship will be remembered. It would be appropriate for recipients of the scheme to be either civilian or military, but the scheme should support research into aspects of Australian naval history, and operate along the lines of the Army History Grants Scheme. The scheme should be administered by an appropriate body such as the Australian War Memorial, with broad criteria to encompass both university and community based research. The Committee believes that a sum of $50,000 should be made available per annum for this purpose, with bids being made from individuals and groups for funding within this overall amount.

9.18    The Committee recommends that:

Other Activities

9.19    The HMAS Sydney Foundation Trust, in its first submission to the inquiry, indicated that its long-term aim was 'to achieve a wider and enduring remembrance of those who gave their lives. The Trust considers this a matter of honour, and aims to achieve a "spiritual homecoming" for those whose whereabouts for so long remained a mystery'.17 The Trust is considering two forms of commemoration:

Each of these is discussed briefly in this section.

Virtual memorial

9.20    The Trust has argued that, as the physical remains of Sydney and Kormoran will remain where they are after they have been located, one way to create a suitable memorial is though the creation of a 'virtual memorial' site on the Internet. It will provided educational, historical and cultural information, including design specifications and plans of both vessels, information about the equipment on each, the living and working conditions on each vessel, details of the crews, reconstruction of the engagement, information about the search for the wrecks and so forth. The Trust notes that 'The database will include digitised copies of papers and reports from the archives, and it will therefore depend on cooperation from the Australian Archives, the Australian War Memorial, the Western Australian Maritime Museum and other bodies in Australia and overseas ... The final product will be accessible on the World Wide Web in both English and German'.19

9.21    Funds will be needed to develop the software for the virtual memorial, to fund maintenance and system development over an initial three year period, and to allow acquisition of equipment and rental accommodation suitable for the public access sites in Fremantle and Sydney.20 While the Committee questions the need for rental of public access sites (given that a virtual memorial would be accessible from any computer linked to the internet), the Committee believes it appropriate that the funds raised by the Trust through a public appeal (see paras 8.83-8.96) be directed not only to the search, but also to the memorial aspects of the Trust's work.

A documentary

9.22    The Committee has no in-principle objection to the making of a film about the search for HMAS Sydney and HSK Kormoran and their discovery, provided that the film is made in a suitably respectful manner. Any profits from the film should be used by the Trust in its commemorative activities.

A Memorial Service

9.23    Commemorative services were held immediately after the loss of Sydney, although not all relatives were able to attend.

9.24    The year 1991 was a significant year for those interested in the fate of Sydney, as it saw the 50th anniversary of the battle, with a number of memorial ceremonies and dedications being held. It would be fitting if, by the year 2001, the 60th anniversary of the loss of Sydney, that some form of larger commemorative activity be undertaken, most probably in concert with the search for the wrecks, but also in connection with the commemoration of a new memorial in Fremantle (see para 9.15).

9.25    Should the site of the wreck of HMAS Sydney be established, the Committee believes it would be appropriate for the Department of Defence to co-ordinate a service at that location. Mrs Glenys McDonald has argued that such a service be held, even if the exact site of Sydney final resting place is not known, at an area of 'most likely occurrence':

9.26    The memorial in Fremantle should also be a focus of commemoration in 2001, with commemorative activities also being undertaken in Sydney for those on the east coast unable to travel to Western Australia.

9.27    The Committee recommends that:

Future Research

9.28    The Committee is well aware that the level of interest in Sydney and her fate is so extensive, that regardless of the outcome of this inquiry, individuals and groups will continue to research the topic and expound on their various theories. This is to be welcomed, if it is undertaken with an openness to the information available and a willingness to listen and to take into consideration opposing views.

9.29    During this inquiry, the Committee was concerned that research into Sydney may be being hampered by animosity between the various 'groups' with an interest in the matter. For example, there have been claims that the Trust has been less than forthcoming in sharing of information:

9.30    One of the main benefits of this particular inquiry has been the pooling of knowledge and opinion into one consolidated source, available to all who are interested. This process will obviously cease when the Committee has reported, but the Committee would like to see some means by which this information sharing might continue. The 1991 Forum on Sydney, organised by the Western Australian Maritime Museum was a successful and productive venture. Unfortunately the 1997 Forum was less so, but the concept of gathering researchers together is a valuable one.

9.31    The Western Australian Maritime Museum has indicated that, should the inquiry seek it, the WAMM is willing to assist in continuing to fill the vacuum currently being filled by the Committee.23 The WAMM has played a most constructive role so far in encouraging scholars and other institutions pursing Sydney-related research, and a number of papers have been published by the Museum on this subject. The Committee would encourage the WAMM to continue in this work.

9.32   It is important that information and theories be shared and examined. The Committee strongly believes there is a need for all involved in the Sydney debate to move beyond animosity and antagonism and find common ground. No one group 'owns' Sydney, or has a monopoly on truth. The Committee hopes that in future researchers will rise above the personal acrimony and suspicion that has marred so much of the debate thus far. The 'dialogue of the deaf' that characterises so much of this debate is counter-productive. An exchange of differing views is a positive process, and can only lead to a better understanding of the events of November 1941. HMAS Sydney deserves no less.

Senator David MacGibbon

1 .    McDonald, E, Submission, p. 3172.
2 .    Burnett, R, Transcript, p. 537.
3 .    Department of Defence, Submission, p. 1860.
4 .    Department of Veterans' Affairs, Submission, p. 346.
5 .    Department of Defence, Submission, p. 3199.
6 .    Aylott, Submission, p. 1322. Emphasis in original.
7 .    Department of Defence, Transcript, p. 21.
8 .    Gascoyne Historical Society, Submission, p. 1144.
9 .    Craill, Submission, p. 3732.
10 .   See for example Davey, Submission, p. 3917.
11 .   Rotary Club of Geraldton, Submission, p. 4495
12 .   ibid., p. 4497.
13 .   ibid., p. 4499.
14 .   Western Australian Maritime Museum, Submission, pp. 4059-4060.
15 .   Poprzeczny, Transcript, p. 313.
16 .   Collins, J J, Transcript, p. 353.
17 .   HMAS Sydney Foundation Trust, Submission, p. 819.
18 .    ibid., p. 829.
19 .    ibid., p. 838.
20 .    ibid., p. 832.
21 .    McDonald, G, Submission, pp. 182-183.
22 .    Kennedy, Transcript, p. 461. See also Kennedy, Submission, p. 2304.
23 .    Western Australian Maritime Museum, Submission, p. 4059.

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