At the end of Potts Point is the naval base of Garden Island and it extends along the foreshore to Woolloomooloo. Sailors in the street are a common sight around here and form another aspect of the color of The Cross. Over the years I have seen many ships tied up at Garden Island including giant aircraft carriers. Several times I have taken my boys on tours of navy ships on open days, there is usually one every year.
Taking a cab from The Cross to the city via Cowper Wharf Road means passing by the ships that are in port that day. Because the water is so deep the street passes just a few metres away from the ships. It can be quite breath taking. I have always had a love of ships, and navy ships can range from the simply impressive, like the aircraft carriers, to the quite beautiful like the sharp nosed frigates.
Garden Island has a giant crane, a relic of World War 2 that a local politician agitates to remove. It is visible in the top right photo. he thinks it is ugly, but to me large engineering like that has great beauty from the simple and functional lines. I hope it stays, I love it.
Because the ships tie up right beside the public areas they are part of the community more so than if they were hidden away. The facility sort of grew out of the practical needs of the war, and remains important as much because of the depth of the water just here as any other reason. If it had been planned today it probably would be much more hidden away for security reasons. But because the ships really are such an important part of our scenery around here I for one would be very sorry not to be able to enjoy the naval presence in our back yard and so close to the densely packed housing of Potts Point and Woolloomooloo.
The closeness of the navy base was apparent in 1942 when 3 Japanese mini submarines made a daring attack in the harbor. Torpedo's were launched, it seems a US vessel was the target but they missed and sank a ferry the Kuttabul with the loss of 55 sailors who were on board. The explosions woke up the artist's (such as Donald Friend) who were living at the time in Elizabeth Bay House. Two of the submarines were sunk in the harbor, the third got out to open sea, but sank off the northern beaches. Its remains were discovered just recently. The mangled remnants of one of the subs is in the Garden Island naval museum, and remains from the Kuttabul are elsewhere on the base.
Everybody has a love affair with Harry's Cafe de Wheels. Harry started selling pies to sailors from a caravan back in 1945. When i first came to The Cross his old silver caravan was down at the end of Cowper Wharf Road near the main gate to the navy base. In the 1980's sometime he moved to a purpose built kiosk near McElphone Stairs. It still had wheels attached but no way could it still be called a caravan. The wheels probably satisfied some city ordinance. In the 90's he moved again to an even more substantial kiosk that has even less relationship to a caravan and it is now across the road, at the water's edge near the Finger Wharf. Late at night Harry's is crowded with people buying pies and hotdogs then sitting on the edge of the quay and eating to the sound of the water lapping against the stone wall. Harry's Cafe de Wheels is a piece of living history.