May 13, 2020 – The HMAS Sydney (II) Memorial at Geraldton in WA has become a place of pilgrimage for 65,000 visitors each year, and a recent decision by the Chief of Navy has added a final special touch to the important commemorative site.
Some 20,000 arrive by sea on cruise ships that come to Geraldton specifically to allow passengers to visit the Memorial.
Many others come because of the reputation of the Memorial as an outstanding example of commemorative art.
It was designed by Western Australian sculptors Charlie and Joan Smith and opened by the then Governor of Western Australia, Lieutenant General John Sanderson, on 19 November 2001.
That was on the 60th anniversary of the loss of the Royal Australian Navy’s cruiser in battle with the German raider Kormoran off the coast of Western Australia in 1941.
The annual commemoration each November has become a major occasion in the life of Geraldton and attracts relatives of Sydney’s sailors, among many others from far and wide who wish to pay their respects to the 645 members of the ship’s company who died with HMAS Sydney (II).
Until April 2020, the flags flown at the memorial permanently did not include the Australian White Ensign.
Last month, the Warden of the memorial, Mr Don Rolston, made a special request to the Chief of Navy for permission to fly the Australian White Ensign at the Memorial, alongside the Australian National Flag, the State Flag of Western Australia and the flag of the City of Greater Geraldton.
Chief of Navy gave his permission for the Australian White Ensign to fly permanently at the entrance to the memorial.
It was duly hoisted by Geraldton’s Navy Cadet Unit TS Morrow in line with naval traditions in the presence of the Warden and Volunteer Guides, who fulfil an ambassadorial role at the Memorial.
Flying of the Australian White Ensign in the order approved by the Chief of Navy ensures that the protocols of the Royal Australian Navy and the Australian Defence Force are upheld.
The Warden, Mr Rolston, said it was an important addition to the Memorial.
“Permission by the Chief of Navy to permanently fly the Australian White Ensign at the HMAS Sydney (II) Memorial in Geraldton greatly enhances the status and relevance of this outstanding Memorial,” he said.
Mr Rolston, having been associated with the Memorial for more than two decades, was its initial Warden – a role he still proudly fulfils today.
“To see the Australian White Ensign permanently flying pays the highest respects to the 645 men lost and who are now at rest with their ship,” he said.
“The HMAS Sydney (II) Memorial in Geraldton was designed to memorialize those lost and is recognized as one of the most outstanding in its class.
“It converts its message and focus to all who visit both in-person and through various websites throughout the world.
“The Memorial is an absolute credit to the proponents of the Memorial, the Rotary Club of Geraldton and the creators and designers, Smith Sculptors – Charles Smith and Joan Walsh-Smith.
“Flying the Australian White Ensign adds the final touch so justly deserving of this Memorial of national significance as formally declared so by the Prime Minister of Australia,” he said.
The HMAS Sydney (I) Mast on the northern shore of Sydney and the HMAS Sydney (II) Memorial at Geraldton are two of the few places, outside the gates of a Royal Australian Navy shore establishment, where the Australian White Ensign can be permanently flown, by Chief of Navy’s permission, on land.
Pending the lifting of physical distancing requirements, there will be a major commemorative event at the Memorial on 19 November 2021 on the 80th anniversary of the loss of HMAS Sydney (II).