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Southbank’s military link

13 Aug 2012

Southbank’s military link Image

It’s a five-hectare block of land that sits in Southbank yet, thanks to a high brick wall around the entire property, there is very little known about what goes on (and has gone on) inside Victoria Barracks.

Last month Southbank Local News was given a tour of the facility to discover what happens at the Australian Defence Force (ADF) site.

Many may be surprised to discover that the barracks is still very much an important part of the ADF and has around 1800 employees working on-site every day.

The base is now mostly made up of office spaces, which cover varying tasks. These include buying and maintaining defence equipment, management of defence logistics and co-ordination of defence employees’ health care.

Undoubtedly important tasks, but they pale into insignificance compared with the amazing history of the barracks. Construction on the premise started in 1856 because there was no permanent barracks for the growing military presence in the new colony to become known as Victoria.

Originally the site was allocated 68 hectares, but it was reduced to five in 1898 and remains this size today. The architecture inside the walls is a mix-mash of styles, as the buildings have been developed over the decades. The first buildings on the site (now known as F block and G block) were even built by the soldiers that used them.

The site was also used by Victoria Police late in the 19th century and included its head office, hospital and horse stables (the stables moved only 200 metres away and remain there today).

Walking into A Block and A Block New Wing gives the best sense of historical significance of the site. We make our way to the War Cabinet, where, during World War 2, our tour guide Peter says: “I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say the country was governed from this room during World War 2.”

Because Melbourne was made the nation’s temporary capital before Canberra was established in 1927, the nation’s military headquarters were established at the barracks and, due to logistics, remained in place during both world wars and up until 1957.

The base is by no means stuck in its glorious past and ADF is planning to moving its main entrance from the St Kilda Rd side of the land across to its Miles St entrance.

It is still the first military site many Victorian new recruits will see, as it is home of the fitness tests all recruits must undertake.

Clearly Victoria Barracks is a site of huge historical significance here in Victoria and Australia and will remain so into the future and it’s right on our back doorstep.

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