plotting room bunker on North Head is now accessible to the public


It is one of more than 80 historic and new buildings accessible to the public for Sydney Open weekend on November 2-3.

The women of the Australian Women’s Army Service (AWAS) provided and received target
locations to and from the coastal batteries stretching from Port Stephens to Port Kembla –
collectively known as Fortress Sydney.

They filled key wartime positions at North Head, which was technically considered the
front line. The bunker was the information centre for ranging and direction-finding for the defence of Sydney, with 9.2 inch gun batteries with formidable ranges of more than 25 kilometres.

Volunteer guide Barry McDonald in the almost renovated former plotting rooms for the North Head artillery.

Volunteer guide Barry McDonald in the almost renovated former plotting rooms for the North Head artillery. Credit:Nick Moir

Such is the enthusiasm for the chance to squeeze through underground tunnels and experience the musty smells of historic and possibly haunted buildings, that many of the Sydney Open tours have already sold out. Sadly the plotting room is among them, but it does open for regular visits in February.

A feature of Sydney Open for the first time this year is the chance to visit some properties after dark. One such building is the Justice and Police Museum, formerly the Water Police station and courts. It lays claim to being perhaps the most haunted tour. There is also the chance to watch a new 20-minute film on the work of former police scenes of crime photographers.

The entrance to the bunker on North Head.

The entrance to the bunker on North Head. Credit:Nick Moir

One character who once walked its corridors was the infamous Andrew George Scott, also known as Captain Moonlite, an Irish-born Australian bushranger and folk figure. His crimes included bank-robbery, passing false cheques, stealing gold – and leading a gang of outlaws until he was eventually caught by police. He was tried in Sydney in 1879 and executed in Darlinghurst Gaol in 1880.

Another villain (also of Irish descent) who appeared before the court’s magistrates was George Dean, who made headlines in what became known as the lemon syrup case. Dean was a ferry master and said to be courteous to his passengers, but was less kindly to his wife.

On March 8, 1895 he was arrested and charged with having poisoned his wife with intent to murder. It was alleged that the poison, arsenic and strychnine, was concealed in lemon syrup, cups of tea and medicines. Dean was convicted and sentenced to death, but the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.

The museum’s curator, Nerida Campbell, said the police corridor at night time often gives visitors the creeps.

“One member of staff would only walk through the corridor wearing a motorcycle helmet,” she said. “The atmosphere of the place makes some people feel uncomfortable. It just feels a bit spooky.”

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The executive director of Sydney Living Museums, Adam Lindsay, said he was amazed at how quickly some Focus Tours had sold out, which was testament to how popular Sydney Open had become.

“There are still plenty of places for people to enjoy, in particular the stunningly adapted Marrickville Library or the recently opened Taronga Zoo Institute of Science and Learning, both new to the Sydney Open program,” he said.

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