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Heavy Lifting

Managing the archival recording and preservation of a heritage item destined for removal—such as Sydney’s iconic Hammerhead Crane—requires sensitivity to the item’s history and significance.

Formerly located at Garden Island in Sydney Harbour, this iconic structure was the largest crane in the southern hemisphere up until the mid-1960s.

The crane was constructed over a seven-year period. From 1951 to 1996 it did heavy lifting, including gun turrets, boilers and warship engines of up to 250 tonnes. In the postwar period, the crane’s use declined due to changes in ship technology and dockyard facilities.

In 2014, risks to workplace health and safety, ongoing costs, and limitations on berthing options spelt the end of the crane’s operational life. Instead the space formerly occupied by the crane was to provide an area for ongoing training and logistic support, maintenance facilities and berths for current and future Royal Australian Navy (RAN) ships.

Following a Heritage Impact Assessment and extensive public consultation by GML Heritage, as well as thorough investigation by the Department of Defence (Defence), the crane was dismantled in 2014.


Figure 1  The Hammerhead Crane in 2014, prior to its deconstruction.

GML prepared a detailed record of the crane both prior to demolition and during the removal through a comprehensive survey of targeted photography, time-lapse photography and video recording. An important part of the deconstruction process, the archival recording captured not only the crane’s appearance and dockyard setting, but also the phases of its removal.

Once the removal was complete, GML worked with Liberty Industrial Demolition Contractors to select, salvage, conserve and return significant components of the crane to the RAN Heritage Centre at Garden Island. The removal process is documented in an insightful video developed by Liberty Industrial.
Figure 3 Video by Liberty Industrial documenting the removal of the Hammerhead Crane.

Visitors to the RAN Heritage Centre can see the hook block assembly (Figure 3), the large winding drum machinery and experience the interior of the driver’s cabin (Figure 4).

Figure 3  Installation of the hook block at the RAN Heritage Centre on Garden Island.


Figure 4  The interior of the driver’s cabin.