Drive over the causeway to Western Australia’s Garden Island and a number of Navy vessels sheltered along the island’s eastern side come into view, contrasting the pristine beaches to the west.
These beaches wouldn’t be too different from what Dutch explorers saw in the late 1600s or what the French witnessed when they named the island "Ile Buache" about 100 years later.
Royal Navy Captain James Stirling arrived in 1827, renaming the island and returning two years later to found Western Australia’s first European settlement.
Captain Stirling successfully argued to establish a city and Navy base in Perth, with access to the Indian Ocean trade routes and a moderate climate to support naval operations.
The island had a town, anchorage and cargo disembarkation area until Fremantle’s inner harbour was completed in 1897.
It became a holiday resort after World War I.
Coastal defence batteries were mounted during World War II and the island was used for training by soldiers of Z Special Unit.
After the war, Garden Island again became a holiday resort and the home of the RAN Reserve Fleet.
It was first earmarked as a major naval base in the late 1960s and the causeway was built in 1973.
Base construction finished in 1978 and the site commissioned HMAS Stirling in the Royal Navy captain’s honour, with a crest based on his family's coat of arms.
Also referred to as Fleet Base West and incorporating all of Garden Island, Stirling is the Indian Ocean Fleet base, under Australia’s 1987 two-ocean basing policy.
Today, this 10km by 1.5km slither of land is home to 12 major fleet units, including five Anzac-class frigates, six Collins-class submarines, an auxiliary oiler and a clearance diving team.
The base provides services such as ship repairs, logistics, research facilities and training.
More than 70 other units and functions are based at the island, including the Submarine Training and Systems Centre, a helicopter support facility, Defence Communications Station – Perth and Joint Logistic Units – West.
HMAS Stirling and Fleet Base West pictured from the air, showing the surrounding pristine natural environment. Photo: Chief Petty Officer Damian Pawlenko
Commanding Officer HMAS Stirling Captain Ainsley Morthorpe said the base’s proximity to Perth made it an ideal location.
“A key strategic benefit for supporting the fleet here and hosting a workforce of more than 3600 staff and their families is our ready access to a modern and thriving city with its associated heavy industry, shipyards, schools and other sophisticated facilities needed for modern ships and families,” Captain Morthorpe said.
Navy’s second and final Supply-class Auxiliary Oiler Replenishment ship HMAS Stalwart will replace HMAS Sirius at Garden Island.
The first Arafura-class offshore patrol vessel, HMAS Arafura, will also call the base home, along with Navy’s new Hunter-class frigates.
The works to support these new ships have begun, including a 156m extension to the existing armaments wharf to support the loading of explosive ordnance on to ships. It is due for completion midway through this year.
New accommodation, logistics, maintenance and training facilities are also being built to support the Arafura-class vessels.
Works to support the Hunter-class frigates should start in the middle of the decade, comprising upgrades and extensions to existing wharves and structures, along with additional accommodation and training facilities.
“From an environmental perspective, I am also pleased to say that all our development plans will be focused on the already built environment as we fill in work space,” Captain Morthorpe said.
“This will allow Defence and Navy to not only develop a modern and exciting 21st century naval base, but also protect the stunning natural environment which is a jewel of Cockburn Sound, of which I am constantly amazed and proud to be a steward of.
“While I am unlikely to personally enjoy the combined benefits of the final outcome, it will be a dynamic, inspiring and modern workplace for someone like my daughter, who is also in the Navy, to serve in.”