GALLERY: Remains of war effort still visible

Tomaree Head fort gun emplacement.
Tomaree Head fort gun emplacement.
Couple at Tomaree Head Lookout overlooking Zenith Beach.

Couple at Tomaree Head Lookout overlooking Zenith Beach.

US Soldiers charge on to Shoal Bay Beach from a large infantry landing craft as part of a training exercise.

US Soldiers charge on to Shoal Bay Beach from a large infantry landing craft as part of a training exercise.

Troops training at Shoal Bay for amphibious landings in 1943.

Troops training at Shoal Bay for amphibious landings in 1943.

PORT Stephens had a vital role in World War II.

Because of its proximity to Newcastle's port and steelworks as well as its relative isolation, it was identified as a defence hub and evidence of the area's war effort is still evident to this day.

A walk up Tomaree Head will take you to the gun emplacements that remain, and while the guns that sat atop them never fired upon an enemy, they were crucial in protecting our shoreline from Japanese invasion.

Fort Tomaree, a heavy battery artillery fort part-way up the headland, was built in 1942.

It included guns, mortars, rifle pits, a search light station, torpedo tubes and barracks that accommodated the 500 army, navy and air force personnel that served there.

The same year, a radar station was erected on the summit by the RAAF to detect enemy shipping and monitor flight movements with a 120-kilometre range.

It is understood to be the longest serving RAAF radar in WWII, operating until 1947.

Today only remnants of its mount remain.

The steep and often slippery walk up the headland will leave you out of breath and also offer a harsh reality check on the daily struggles soldiers faced as they walked supplies up to the top of the mountain and spent long nights on lookout protecting our vulnerable shores.

But it wasn't just the headland that had the hubbub of defence personnel; what is now the Port Stephens Community Arts Centre was once the sick bay for HMAS Assault, a naval training ground in Port Stephens that prepared soldiers for war.

More than 20,000 US and Australian troops carried out amphibious training manoeuvres on our shores as part of the Amphibious Training Centre.

Even Shoal Bay Country Club, founded in 1934, was requisitioned by the US military during the war.

HMAS Westralia provided accommodation to the many troops at HMAS Assault until buildings, including the sick bay, were complete.

By June 1945 the sick bay had become a small hospital ward of roughly 10 beds. However, in 1949 the Commonwealth Employment Service converted the site into accommodation for European migrant workers until 1953.

It was reopened as a hospital in 1956 and later closed in 1981. It was then that the Port Stephens Society of the Arts took ownership of the building and it later became the Port Stephens Community Arts Centre.

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