For more than 130 years, the Moorebank area served as a training ground for various branches of the army and has played a significant role in Australian military history. Over 200,000 men and women have trained and lived at the Moorebank camp prior to military service.
Liverpool’s military connections date back to 1811, where British troops were housed in barracks near the new township. From the 1890s, annual training camps for NSW citizens’ forces were held in the Liverpool area including infantry, light horse, artillery, engineers, signals training and mock battles. In 1910, Prime Minister Deakin invited British Field Marshall Kitchener to inspect the operations of Australia’s land defences. After visiting the Liverpool training area, Kitchener recommended the establishment of the Australian Imperial Forces (AIF) and a site specifically for military field training purposes. The government purchased 54,000 acres along the George’s River for the Liverpool Field Training Area in 1912, covering parts of Moorebank and Holsworthy, east to Heathcote and south to Eckersley. Along with basic military facilities, the site was equipped with a remount depot for the Australian Light Horse Regiments. Before the outbreak of the WWI, around 2,000 troops slept in tents at the training area.
View looking east from the railway line across the George’s River to Liverpool military camp, 1910-11 (Campbelltown City Library)
Easter encampment at Liverpool camp, 1913, World War I (Wollongong Library Collection)
A group of soldiers stand outside their hut to bid ‘bon voyage’ to reinforcements who are leaving their camp in New South Wales before embarking for service overseas.1916 (Australian War Memorial)
During WWI, a permanent barracks replaced most army tents together with a field hospital, railway, kitchens and weapons stores. The camp was used as an initial training ground, with 125,000 new recruits and 40,000 horses passing through Moorebank before they were sent overseas to war. Conditions at Moorebank were difficult, and construction could not keep up with the growing number of recruits and visitors to the camp. Up to 17,000 troops occupied the camp at a time, with weekend visitors swelling numbers to 32,000 – more than double the population of Liverpool at the time.
“We went to Liverpool camp, where we were stacked 18 men to each tent for the time being… the first few days in that wilderness of dust and humanity were misery for the average boy. No privacy at all; washing and other conveniences were appalling – so different from the later days at Liverpool, when huts were used and even warm showers were possible… From physical drill and route marchings, we graduated to dummy rifles, and at last came the day when proper uniforms were issued…”
The diary of Lieutenant B.W. Champion 1st Battalion AIF, 1915
A ward in an Australian Army Field Hospital with patients in beds and staff standing by. 1914-1918 (Australian War Memorial)
Group portrait of members of D Company, 18th Battalion, taken in Liverpool camp shortly before the troops embarked to take part in World War I. 1915 (Australian War Memorial)
NSW Lancers at Moorebank camp, 1914, Wold War I. (State Library of South Australia)
During World War II the Liverpool military camp at Moorebank underwent further developments, and a number of new units were established including the School of Military Engineering (home to the Corps of Royal Australian Engineers), the School of Signals, the Armoured Fighting Vehicle Trade Training Centre, the Royal Australian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, and the Australian Women’s Army Service. During the 1940s new ordinance stores and workshops were established as facilities at the camp expanded. Over the course of WWII, 40,000 troops were trained at the camp, and 7,450 students were educated at School of Military Engineering.
An overturned tank being recovered by a recovery tank at Land Headquarters Electrical and Mechanical Engineers School.1944, World War II (Australian War Memorial)
Members of the Senior Officers Course, Land Headquarters School Of Military Engineering erecting a commercial box girder bridge.1944, World War II (Australian War Memorial)
Private F Angelini, at 8 Advanced Workshop, Corps of Australian Electrical And Mechanical Engineers, handling an engine which is being boxed for dispatch.1945, World War II (Australian War Memorial)
SME site, 1950s (Australian Army Museum of Military Engineering)
Since WWII, the Moorebank site has supported Australian involvement in more recent conflicts. During the Vietnam War (1962-1975), a mock Vietnamese village was built to familiarise troops with guerilla warfare tactics and military raids, and a nuclear, biological and chemical warfare wing was constructed. In 1953 a specialist military dog training facility was established. Within the grounds. Commemorative tributes, such as Vietnam War memorial, gardens, memorial entrance gates, a chapel and a military dog cemetery were built.
As the School of Military Engineering expanded to include new training services, it was renamed Steele Barracks in 1999 after Major General Sir Clive Steele, an army engineer who played a key role in WWII. Many of the buildings on site were renovated throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, and continued to be used for their original functions until the Royal Australian Engineers, the Army Museum of Military Engineering and other units on the site were relocated to the Holsworthy training area in 2015. The Australian Army Museum of Military Engineering now at Holsworthy holds an extensive collection of materials.
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