Fortress Newcastle Project Update

Visit to Fort Wallace, Stockton NSW

To all participants in the Fortress Newcastle project, here is a progress report from 2020 to 2021 to keep everyone in the loop.

Origin of “Fortress Newcastle”

The name “Newcastle Fortress” was the term used in official documents now lodged at the National Archives of Australia (NAA) relating to the Commonwealth’s defence installations and operations to protect Newcastle and its industrial complex during World War II. One of only two sites in Australia to be protected in such a way.

In early March 2020 representatives from the University of Newcastle’s Cultural Collections (now Special Collections) and the Newcastle Industrial Heritage Association (NIHA) met to discuss potential collaboration in a Fortress Newcastle project involving a number of heritage groups safeguarding elements of World War Two era defenses originally established to protect Australia’s industrial heartland.

Later that same month, COVID19 arrived on our shore, and much of the essence of protecting our home had re-emerged in the form of a virus. This inspired us to prepare a video and post entitled Newcastle: A Call to Action prepared with the assistance of University alumnus Bob Kear, his fellow members of the Newcastle Industrial Heritage Association team, and Greg and Sylvia Ray’s images.

Fortress Newcastle: A Call To Action

A inaugural meeting of the Fortress Newcastle groups was held (safely over zoom) on the 22 April 2020. It was decided that a narrative of what we were trying to achieve should be drafted. This was finally published as The Newcastle Fortress Project on the 12 June 2020 with help of a professionally made introductory film with interviews from Glenn Dormand and Tony Whittaker of Carnivore Films, who were currently working with the Cultural Collections/Hunter Living Histories team on the Stories of Our Town Project.

The Fortress Newcastle Project

During 2020 field trips to various sites were organised through the NIHA.

Tomaree Site Visit 20 October 2020


Tocal Field Trip

In October 2020 a Sydney based historian and heritage consultant, Peter Hobbins, was instrumental in organising (in collaboration with University of Newcastle, industry and community partners) and assisting the NIHA to draft and submit a grant application for the Fortress Newcastle Project to the Commonwealth Department of Veterans’ Affairs ‘Saluting Their Service’ grants. A meeting to the Fortress Newcastle groups was held in the grounds of the University of Newcastle’s University’s Delpratt Cottage, home of the NIHA, on the 10 November 2020.

Fortress Newcastle Meeting 10 November 2020

It was decided that an essential component was to video record the surviving veterans (now in their eighties and nineties) as soon as possible, a task for which both Glenn and Tony undertook immediately.

Valerie Blackett Newcastle Fortress Gunner, enlisted at age 18 to protect BHP, Lysaghts and the Port of Newcastle from enemy attack.
Valerie Ireland (nee Blackett) was an AWAS Anti Aircraft Gunner with Wave Battery at Stockton, N.S.W. Only 18 at the time of her enlistment in 1943. (Thanks to Karan Campbell-Davis for this information)

Mr Ford photographed with Tony Whittacker and Glenn Dormand 23 February 2021


John (a.k.a Jack) Risby former General Manager of the B.H.P. Steelworks in Newcastle


Richard Udy with Glenn and Tony


Carol Duncan’s Uncle Eric with film maker Glenn Dormand

The Saluting Their Service Grant application was submitted on 11 February 2021 with supporting letters. Another Newcastle Port Community Contribution Fund (NPCC) grant was submitted with priority aims being to produce a video of veteran interviews remembering the time, and a set of high quality exhibition panels and educational material to accompany a proposed exhibition.

Both grants came through, but not for the full amounts requested, so a scaling back of objectives had to be made. COVID19 again struck in mid 2021 hampering efforts for team to conduct their historical research and collect images from the National Archives of Australia, and working with University students and staff.

As of September 2021 we are making good progress towards our primary outcomes.

(1) The majority of granting funding is allocated to producing a large high-quality exhibition using portable display stands. This includes a VIP event where we can showcase this subject to regional leadership. This is intended to be set up at a large prominent venue for a period of time, to be finalised. The venue has not been decided yet, but Fort Scratchley has been suggested as a likely site. We are now certain we can have this ready by early next 2022. Each of the collaborating Fortress Newcastle groups have carried out research and/or provided information on all the industry and military sites. The NIHA now have a very large database of information and images.

There was a plan for a small team to spend some days in Canberra to look at over 60 folders of files at both National Archives of Australia and Australian War Memorial Archives, but this has been delayed by COVID lockdowns. The NIHA are negotiating with several people to employ a writer and graphic designer for the exhibition panels, and are looking at a range of panel styles for purchase. Very soon we will decide on the panel subjects and layout of the exhibition design, so that preparing the content can commence.

(2) The second major outcome is a video. Glenn Dormand and Tony Whittaker are producing an edition of their ‘Stories of Our Town’ series on Fortress Newcastle. See the other films in the series at: https://storiesofourtown.comThis has involved interviewing people who lived through WWII in Newcastle. So far Glenn and Tony have interviewed 11 people aged between late 80’s and up to 98 years old. Editing of hours of material has commenced and we expect the almost hour-long video to be completed late this year. It is looking exceptionally good already.Discussion on how to archive all the data online is yet to be resolved, but we will deal with that soon.

I propose that we all come together for a team meeting at Delprat’s Cottage, as soon as we are allowed.

More soon, in the meantime stay safe.


Bob Cook
President, Newcastle Industrial Heritage Association

P: 0419241731


The Defence of Newcastle 1939-1945
Newcastle’s World War II Sites of Significance (2009)

Newcastle Fortress Headquarters, Shepherds Hill
See: The Story of Shepherd’s Hill (Mort)
Amphibious Training Command Centre Gan Gan
Fort Tomaree Port Stephens
Camp Gan Gan
Camp Nelson Bay
Camp Shoal Bay
“HMAS Assault” Naval Training School Port Stephens
Nelson Bay – RAN Temporary Engineers Workshop Stockton Street
Port Stephens Boom Defence net – Salamander Bay
Port Stephens – United States Navy Landing Forces Depot
Royal Marine Camp, Nelson Bay
Salt Ash Air to Ground Gunnery Range
VHF D/F installation – Tea Gardens
Tank Traps – Stockton Beach
RAAF Fighter Control Unit  – New Lambton school
RAAF Base Williamtown
3.7 HAA guns Tomago
3.7 HAA guns Links battery Fern Bay
Fern Bay Armour Proofing and Testing Range
Fort Wallace Stockton
3.7 HAA gun Fort Wallace
3 pndr unit Carroboro Oval Stockton
Wave Battery – Stockton
U.S Army artillery Unit Williamtown
WAAF plane spotters unit
Fern Bay Rifle Range
Fern Bay Proof Range 1941-1957 (Prepared 11 July 2019)
Bob’s Farm Cadre Camp
Ash Island RAAF Radar Station
Australian Army – Greta
Australian Army – Largs
Australian Army – Singleton
Boomerang Park Army Camp – Raymond Terrace
Paterson Artillery Range
Fort Scratchley
Park Battery (Shepherd’s Hill)
Mayfield West HAA battery
Merewether HAA battery
Ash Island RAAF Radar Station
Camp Shortland Newcastle
7th Australian Casualty Clearing Station, Australian Army Greta
60 AASL Coy, Company Headquarters
Drill Hall in Percy St., Hamilton, Newcastle
Wangi Wangi RAAF Stores and Quartering Area
HMAS Maitland
RAAF Rathmines Catalina Base. See: Rathmines Air Base
Catherine Hill Bay Radar Station



Newcastle BHP Steelworks
See: Morris – A Review of the War-Time Activities of the BHP Steel Plant (1947)
See: 25 Pounder AP-17 pounder APC Shot (DO Morris)
Stewarts and Lloyds
Wire Rope Works
Commonwealth Steel
Morison & Bearby
Sulphide Corp
Cardiff Railway Workshops
Newcastle Chemical Co.
State Dockyard
Electricity Generation
Water Board
Coal Mining & loading
Agricultural production
Harbour Operations
Dehydration plant Morpeth
Uniform Manufacture Newcastle


One thought on “Fortress Newcastle Project Update

  1. This is a fascinating account re the input of the various steelmaking industries in Newcastle during WW2….my dad worked at Rylands but only towards the end of the war having returned injured from a crash landing of his Spitfire in England. Wonderful to read about all the contributions made during this time. Thank you …. as usual a brilliant job done!

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