Fortress Newcastle Project Update

Visit to Fort Wallace, Stockton NSW

Here is a summary of all Fortress Newcastle Project activities from 2020 to 2021 to keep everyone in the loop.

Origin of “Fortress Newcastle”

“Newcastle Fortress” is the description used by the Australian Government for its defence installations and operations established to protect Newcastle from enemy attack during World War II.

Australia protected only two sites in this way; Newcastle was one of them because it was the site of the nation’s armaments manufacturing industrial complex.

The official records of the “Newcastle Fortress” are lodged with the National Archives of Australia (NAA). A sample listing is below.

Official documents relating to the Newcastle Fortress held at the National Archives of Australia


The Birth of the Fortress Newcastle Project

In early March 2020 representatives from the University of Newcastle’s Cultural Collections and the Newcastle Industrial Heritage Association (NIHA) met to discuss potential collaboration in a Fortress Newcastle project involving a number of heritage groups.

Some of these groups were activily involved in safeguarding World War Two era defence sites originally established to protect Australia’s industrial heartland, and so had a great working knowledge of their operations.

Later that same month, COVID19 arrived, and we were again forced into a “fortress mentality” to protect our home, therefore Fortress Newcastle had re-emerged in the form of a war against a virus.

This inspired us to prepare a short video and Hunter Living Histories article called Newcastle: A Call to Action. This was achieved with the assistance of University alumnus Bob Kear, and his fellow members at the Newcastle Industrial Heritage Association. Greg and Sylvia Ray also kindly provided photographs to illustrate the article.

Fortress Newcastle: A Call To Action

The First Meeting of Fortress Newcastle

The Fortress Newcastle groups met for the first time, over zoom, on the 22 April 2020.

Everyone agreed it was very important to tell the story and explain what “Fortress Newcastle” was all about, as well as what we were trying to achieve through the Project.

This introduction was published as The Newcastle Fortress Project on the 12 June 2020. An introductory film was also produced using interviews recorded by Glenn Dormand and Tony Whittaker of Carnivore Films; the film makers currently working with the Cultural Collections/Hunter Living Histories team on the Stories of Our Town Project.

The Fortress Newcastle Project

Field Trips to the Fortress Newcastle Sites

During 2020 field trips to various sites were organised through the NIHA to better familiarise everyone with the remnant installations.

Tomaree Site Visit 20 October 2020


Tocal Field Trip

Fortress Newcastle Grants

In October 2020 a Sydney based historian and heritage consultant, Peter Hobbins, in collaboration with University of Newcastle, industry and community partners, helped the NIHA draft and later submit a grant application to the Commonwealth Department of Veterans’ Affairs ‘Saluting Their Service’ grants.

The Fortress Newcastle groups met 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

The Fortress Newcastle Film Shoot Begins

It was decided that video histories with the surviving veterans, now in their late eighties and nineties, be made as soon as possible. A task for which Glenn and Tony took up 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 Geoffrey Hyde 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

Grant Applications Submitted

On the 11 February 2021 we submitted our “Saluting Their Service” Grant application. We also submitted another application to the Newcastle Port Community Contribution Fund (NPCC).

Both grants were successful, but not for the full amounts, so we scaled back our original objectives to better meet the budget constraints.

Our main objectives were to now make a film telling the story of Fortress Newcastle through the memories of veterans, and to prepare a set of high quality exhibition panels and educational materials to accompany an exhibition.

The Outcomes

As of September 2021 we are making good progress.

(1) Exhibition. The production of large high-quality exhibition using portable display stands. This includes:

  • A VIP event where we can showcase Fortress Newcastle to regional leadership.
  • Locating it in a large prominent venue for a period of time. The venue has not been decided, but Fort Scratchley has been suggested.
  • Having the collaborating Fortress Newcastle groups all carry out research and provided information on all the industry and military sites.
  • Sending a team to Canberra to view 60 folders of files held at the National Archives of Australia and Australian War Memorial Archives. Unfortunately, this has been delayed by COVID lockdowns.
  • Deciding on the panel subjects, layout of the exhibition design, so that preparing the content can commence.
  • The NIHA negotiating to employ a writer and graphic designer to prepare the exhibition panels, and looking at a range of panel styles to purchase.
  • Being ready by early next year, 2022.
  • Archiving the very large database of information and images online.

(2) Fortress Newcastle Film. The second major outcome is a video documentary which involves:

  • Glenn Dormand and Tony Whittaker producing film on Fortress Newcastle as part of their ‘Stories of Our Town’ series.
  • Interviewing 11 people aged from the late 80’s and up to 98 years old; all veterans who lived through WWII in Newcastle.
  • The film is nearing completion, with the early drafts looking exceptionally good already.
  • The other films in the ‘Stories of Our Town’ series can be viewed here:

A team meeting will be held at Delprat’s Cottage as soon as we can. In the meantime, stay safe.


Bob Cook
President, Newcastle Industrial Heritage Association

P: 0419241731




This post was compiled from emails and documents received across 2020-2021 by Gionni Di Gravio, OAM University Archivist & Chair, Hunter Living Histories.

3 thoughts 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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