A secret hidden wartime bunker in Sydney is set to be opened to the public for the first time.
Hidden inside a tiny camouflage-painted cabin nestled in bushland on Sydney’s North Head is a set of narrow concrete steps that lead deep down underground, to one of Sydney’s best-concealed defense mysteries: the North Fort Plotting Room.
The bomb-proof bunker of reinforced concrete lies eight metres below the surface down a narrow dark and musty passage, and was used as an information centre during World War II, for direction-finding and ranging.
The Australian Women’s Army Service worked inside the secret bunker in two rooms – the Fortress Plotting Room and the Battery Plotting Room – to provide target locations to a network of east coast gun batteries that defended Sydney during World War II.
The entrance to the North Fort Plotting Room, a concrete bunker that lies 8 metres beneath this tiny camouflage cabin guarding Sydney Harbour’s North Head. Picture: Harbour Trust
The east coast batteries, known as ‘Fortress Sydney’, were technically considered the front line in the war and stretched from Port Kembla in the south all the way to Port Stephens in the north.
The North Fort battery boasted 9.2-inch guns with a range of 26 kilometres, reaching as far south as Kurnell, north to Barrenjoey Lighthouse, inland to North Parramatta, and out to sea in the east.
Each heavy weapon was operated by nine soldiers with support from the underground shell and engine rooms, the Harbour Trust says on its website.
The servicewomen in the North Fort Plotting Room would pinpoint the targets.
North Fort Plotting Room, 20 January, 1944: The Australian Women’s Army Service working inside the secret bunker. The picture numbers the women 1 to 4 as gunners Joan Betty Cunneen, Miriam Kohn, Evelyn Barnett Cole and Joyce Eileen Carne
The North Head Plotting Room provided target locations for the defense of Sydney
The defense bunker will open to the public for the first time on Saturday, November 2
North and South heads are strategically important vantage points that have guarded the entrance to Sydney Harbour since the start of British colonisation and are riddled with underground war tunnels and gun emplacements.
The North Fort Plotting room is now being restored and is open to the public for the first time as part of the annual Sydney Open weekend organised by Sydney Living Museums, a group which cares for Sydney’s historic houses.
While the North Fort Plotting room tour has sold out, there are more than 80 other unique and historic sites around Sydney open to the public with guided tours and night-time events over the special weekend.
War tunnels run beneath North Head, a strategic defence point at the entrance to Sydney Harbour. The Harbour Trust runs tours of North Fort and its tunnels every Sunday
The public will be able to walk through hidden areas not normally open, such as the St James’ Church Bell Tower – where you can ring the bells.
St James’ Church was designed by Australia’s most famous architect, Francis Greenway – a convicted forger transported to Sydney as punishment.
Greenway ended up working for Governor Lachlan Macquarie as the British colony’s first government architect, designing many famous public buildings and being commemorated on the old paper $10 bill.
The church itself was built by convicts between 1819 and 1824 and is the oldest church in Sydney.
Visitors will be able to climb the tower stairs to the bell-ringing gallery and up to the roof above the bell chamber.
The public will be able to clamber through the Tank Stream beneath the Sydney CBD for Sydney Open. The stream was the first fresh water supply for the colony of New South Wales
More than 80 historic and architectural sites have been opened across Sydney for Sydney Open in the first weekend in November. The public can climb the tower and ring the bells of St James’ Church, a building designed by Australia’s famous convict architect, Francis Greenway
Also on display will be modern architectural eye-openers such as the double-helix stairway made of steel and glass at the University of Technology, Sydney.
Sydney Open will also run tours through the Tank Stream, the historic fresh water source running beneath the Sydney CBD which first supplied the fledgeling New South Wales colony with water.
For the first time this year, night tours are being offered to the public, such as to the supposedly haunted Justice and Police Museum.
Museum curator Nerida Campbell said the police corridor at night time can give visitors a chill.
‘One member of staff would only walk through the corridor wearing a motorcycle helmet,’ she told the Sydney Morning Herald.
Also on display will be modern architectural eye-openers such as the double-helix stairway that spans several floors in steel and glass at the University of Technology, Sydney
‘The atmosphere of the place makes some people feel uncomfortable. It just feels a bit spooky.’
One of Australia’s best-known bushrangers, Captain Moonlite, did time in the cells of the sandstone building at Circular Quay that now hosts the Justice and Police Museum, more than a century ago when it was the Water Police Station.
Captain Moonlight’s career included robbing banks, stealing gold and breaking out of jail while also helping others to escape.
Captain Moonlite – the Irish-born Andrew George Scott – was hanged at Darlinghurst Gaol in 1880 for shooting a police constable.
Captain Moonlite went to the gallows wearing made from hair of his best friend James ‘Jim’ Nesbitt, and asked to be buried in the same grave, according to the Museum’s website.
Sydney Open is on Saturday November 2 and Sunday November 3 and includes after-dark night tours. The North Fort Plotting Room tour has been sold out, but the bunker will be open in February.
Harbour Trust runs tours of North Fort every Sunday, and on Saturdays during Summer.
Tunnels running under North Fort, North Head, Sydney