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Memorial HMAS Sydney II - Denham WA

Artists Concept

HMAS Sydney Memorials: Geraldton-Shark Bay: a shared heritage


As the artists who designed the HMAS Sydney Memorial at Mount Scott Geraldton, we are now in the process of completing the final phase of the design of ‘the Fifth Element’ for the Memorial. This is actually in commemoration of the finding of the wreck of the Sydney, on the 18th March 2008 and as such, is a very sensitive design process, which we are keenly aware has a wide range of implications and potential influence on those who visit the Sydney Memorial at Mount Scott.

We were also asked to design an icon memorial at Denham for the Shire of Shark Bay, also to commemorate the finding of the Sydney, Steep Point being the nearest landfall in the Shire of Shark Bay and Denham being the nearest town. We would like to take this opportunity to explain the reasoning behind our design processes and particularly the connection which we, as the designers are incorporating through symbolic elements into both projects. We believe it is of the utmost importance in presenting a cohesive understanding to the general public of this major event in Australian History.


The design for our concept in Denham was inspired by our experience at the first commemoration ceremony of the finding of the Sydney on the 19th of November 2008 which was also the eighth anniversary of the dedication of the Sydney II Memorial, on Mt. Scott in 1991.  We were inspired by the incredible outpouring of community spirit on this occasion, particularly the coming together of all members of the HMAS Sydney ‘family’ from all over Australia as well as the general public, at this commemoration.


 We drew upon one particular event as the genesis of our concept for the Shark Bay Memorial. That was the experience of the families of the lost Sydney crew, who journeyed out to the wreck site and performed an extremely moving ceremony at sea.  This involved casting poppies into the ocean and watch, as they sank slowly down through 5 kilometres of water, to find the resting place of their loved ones, far below.  This vision became the birth of our concept for Denham, which provided also a very strong spiritual link with the Geraldton Memorial, the wreck site itself and Shark Bay.  This was particularly powerful and emotionally evocative, as the relatives sailed to the wreck site from Geraldton and we were amongst those on shore when they returned, realising we were most privileged to be there, to gather their experiences at first hand.


As such we see these two memorials as being members of the great’ HMAS Sydney family’, connecting these two particular communities, as well as the greater community of Australia, spiritually and physically, to the symbolism involved in the images we have created for Denham: ethereally floating poppies sinking down through the sea, to mingle with the actual names of those lost so tragically. The 645 names seem to drift in the water, superimposed on the shadowy outline of the HMAS Sydney ship itself seen not as wreck but in all her former glory.


On a more practical level it would also be our intention to include a graphic physical link with the Shark Bay Memorial, within our 5th element commemoration feature at the Memorial in Geraldton.  The ‘Fifth Element’ is based on a pool of remembrance and focuses particularly on the map and the exact location where the Sydney was found off Steep Point in Shark Bay.  The floor of the pool of remembrance on Mt, Scott consists of a granite map of the West Australian Coast, featuring Geraldton, the site of the wreck and Shark Bay, all engraved into the granite.  See images attached. The wing tip of a single Silver Gull, touching the water, marks the actual geodesic location of latitude/longitude, which is also engraved into the granite. The Stainless Steel Gull sculpture will stand over 2 meters high and is an exact replica of the gulls forming the “Dome of Souls’ behind.


 This forms a powerful triangle which, taken as a whole, becomes a special map, encouraging a way- finding process that would bring communities together in their common quest to commemorate and remember Australia's greatest single tragedy in WW II and by that process to form a permanent link which would reach out into the greater community as well.  In this way we see the whole Sydney experience as being an important bonding element in our society today which has experienced so much fragmentation in modern times, On all levels, every family can understand and share the experience of bereavement and grief, symbolised so powerfully by the loss of so many in a few hours on this tragic evening, in 1941 in the Indian Ocean.


A recent development has been the inclusion of the wreck site, Steep Point and Geraldton in the itineraries of Cruise Ships. This now includes lectures about the Sydney tragedy on board, a sweep past Steep Point then out to the wreck site where a solemn ceremony of remembrance is performed, then back to Geraldton where over 1000 passengers disembark to visit the Memorial on Mt. Scott. A further example of how communities are brought together through the Icons of sacred spaces and shared memory.


Ultimately, the waters that encase HMAS Sydney and her crew lap up onto the shores of Geraldton, Steep Point and Denham, reminding us all that 'the sea, is indeed, everywhere.'


Charles Smith & Joan Walsh-Smith

20th February 2010 







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