Revitalizing vision surfaces for repurposing a closed submarine base in Sydney, Australia

Sub Base Platypus is located in North Sydney, NSW, Australia. which is Cammeraygal Country (the indigenous peoples who were forcibly removed from the land.)

Formally know as HMAS Platypus, it’s a former Royal Australian Navy (RAN) submarine base, with moorings in Neutral Bay.

Now, in October of 2018, the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust has unveiled their vision for its redevelopment. Opened in May 2018, HMAS Platypus is currently in Stage 1B of a $23.8 million (AUS) transformation that will eventually result in the site’s being fully open to the public for the first time in over 140 years.

This first stage of redevelopment is being designed by the architects at Lahznimmo and by the landscape architects at Aspect Studios. It comprises a new public promenade along what used to be a submarine wharf, plus an boardwalk over the water that links the site to Kesterton Park.

It now boasts a new recreation area, with barbecue pits and a submarine-themed playground. The boardwalk also connects the site to the North Sydney Ferry wharf.

The revitalization will eventually repurpose and renew several defunct buildings on the site, turning them into performance spaces, studios, workshops, exhibitions and/or fitness facilities.

Sub Base Platypus was located upon the site of the Royal Australian Navy Torpedo Maintenance Establishment (RANTME). The Fleet Intermediate Maintenance Activity (FIMA) Workshops building on the site was originally used for torpedo assembly and storage during World War 2. It was later modified for submarine maintenance and repair, with a steel tower added to the northern end of the building for testing, cleaning and maintenance of periscopes.

HMAS Platypus was commissioned on 18 August 1967, conjointly with the Australian Fourth Submarine Squadron as the eastern Australian base for the six RAN Oberon class submarines. The first of the Australian Oberon class submarines arrived from the United Kingdom the day Platypus was commissioned into the Royal Australian Navy, HMAS Oxley.[1][2] Over its years of operation, Platypus has provided home base for Oxley (II), Otway (II), Ovens, Onslow, Orion and Otama, as well as HM Submarines Trump, Tabard and Odin.[3]

Platypus, which was referred to as “Plats” by the ship’s company, was the only dedicated submarine base in Australia. Engineering workshops, medical facilities, the submarine school, communications centre and administration were all housed at the base providing the operational support required for the six submarines and their crews. While the submarines operated from the waterfront, the RAN’s torpedo workshops occupied the southern part of the site.

In 1999, HMAS Platypus and the torpedo workshops closed down when the Australian Government relocated its submarine base to HMAS Stirling in Western Australia. HMAS Platypus was decommissioned on 14 May 1999.[3]

The site was handed over to the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust (SHFT) on July 23, 2005, after which it was partially opened to the public. The SHFT has carried out extensive works on site since 2010 including remediation of ground contamination and buildings. The first stage of the remediation project included above ground works, demolition of the three-story Administration Building at the north of the site and part of the wharf, removal of hazardous materials, repairs to the seawall and remaining wharf.

A large odor control enclosure, an emission control system and water treatment plant were constructed for the remediation works. Around 3,000 tonnes of tar–containing materials were excavated and removed by barge for off–site disposal. An additional 27,000 tonnes of material remained for on–site treatment and stabilization.

The remaining material was then used to backfill the excavated area and to create a mound capped with clean soil, forming the base for the public park at the northern end of the site. In May 2018 public access was provided to the foreshore areas and northern park via a new pedestrian walkway from Kesterton Park to the south, and a new staircase linking to Kiara Close at the north of the site.

The Trust’s board approved the Platypus Management Plan in December of 2016, and the site is being remediated and refurbished to allow future public access.[4] In August 2017 it was announced that the site will be opened to the public in mid-2018, to be known as Sub Base Platypus and “providing a range of facilities and venues for cultural performances, function areas, cafes and restaurants, as well as offices and commercial spaces”.

Over the past decade, the SHFT has consulted extensively with the local community to breathe new life into the former torpedo factory, submarine base and gasworks. In May 2018, the site was relaunched as a vibrant waterfront recreation hub. It’s located at the junction of the Parramatta and Lane Cove Rivers and takes approximately 10 minutes by ferry from Circular Quay in Sydney.

Redevelopers and businesses are now being solicited to partake in this visionary new waterfront business hub, now called Sub Base Platypus, North Sydney. Trust representatives state, “We’ve spent the past decade breathing new life into this once-hidden gem, formerly a submarine base. In May, we unveiled a vibrant public domain, linked to North Sydney Ferry Wharf by a scenic over-water walkway. Now, Building 2 – Submarine School and Building 10 – Fleet Workshops are available for lease with spaces ranging from 120m² to 1660m².”

They continue, “This is an exciting opportunity for fast-growing businesses, including SMEs, across a range of industries – from cafés and restaurants through to fitness, creative and commercial. Owing to its stunning setting, public facilities and close proximity to transport links, Sub Base Platypus is emerging as a popular visitor destination, which speaks to the site’s commercial potential.”

All images courtesy of SHFT.

See Sub Base Platypus website.

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