The Garrison and its Model Soldiers

The Garrison Retirement Village is situated in a prominent position at the corner of Spit Road and Punch Street. The provenance of its title and of its very unusual and striking set of statues depicting Napoleonic age soldiers, is a source of much curiosity. There are 4 soldiers, standing perhaps 70cm high and kept protected in a glass-fronted cabinet. They are beautifully glazed, coloured porcelain.

No current residents at the Garrison know anything about the origin of the statues except for one person who remembers them being there when they worked at the Garrison Motel during the years before the Uniting Church bought the motel.

Prior to 1970, 13 Spit Road was owned by the Department of Government Transport, and was the site of the old Spit Post Office, a warehouse and a public car park. In 1970, RLM Group was granted a 99-year lease of the land.

RLM Properties Pty Ltd was a development company owned by Bob and Margaret Rose. “In 1971 they planned to erect a nine-storeyed motel of 64 units with military decor of campaign tables and Napoleonic prints” (Souter, G., 1994. Mosman a History, p.300). Council initially refused this application, but after several more attempts and many amended plans and problems, the motel, named The Garrison, was built and opened in 1973.

The Mosman Daily of 16th August 1973, p.3, reported on the opening of the “Military” Motel by Major-General Sir Denzil Macarthur-Onslow, “The decor includes military history artefacts on the walls of rooms and in reception areas”. It included a restaurant called The Armoury, and a cocktail bar called The Drum. Incidentally, the military theme was reflected on the opposite corner of Spit Road and Ourimbah Road where there was another restaurant called The Military Tattoo. Its name was probably influenced by the theme used at The Garrison.

So it appears the military artefacts used to decorate the interior were in place from the time of the motel opening in 1973. They included swords, campaign chests and pictures, although the soldiers are not specifically mentioned. They appear to have been part of the original Napoleonic themed decorations purchased by the interior designer on behalf of the developers, Bob and Margaret Rose.

RLM Properties Pty Ltd is now the very successful Rose Group (think Breakfast Point, Cabarita etc). Via their website, MHS emailed Bob Rose who built The Garrison. He gave the name of the interior designer they employed as Trevor Crump – he would have purchased the soldiers and would know their source. Apparently he lived at Palm Beach for many years but could not be tracked down.

The Garrison Motel operated for three years but ultimately failed. Shortly after it opened, a median strip was built down Spit Road, making a right hand turn into Punch Street no longer possible. This rendered the motel virtually inaccessible to potential customers travelling from the city towards the northern beaches. Also, it was independent and not part of a hotel chain so had no loyalty base. RLM Properties eventually went into liquidation and in 1977 the lease was transferred to the Uniting Church, who converted it into a retirement village.

A former resident of the village, Gerald McCallum, wrote an article for the village newsletter of 9 July 2018, titled ‘My Garrison – Soldiers Cabinet’. He proposed that each of the figures is clothed in the dress uniform of a different British regiment as his research concluded that a total of 25 British regiments served in Australia over the 82 years of 1788-1870. Mr McCallum’s estimate of 25 regiments is based on the manning requirements for all the different fortifications here. In 1830s, four sandstone fortifications were built on Bradleys Head and another was added after the Crimean War of 1850s when Fort Denison was built on an island to protect Australia from the perceived Russian threat.

To date, no one has managed to match up the statues with any documented regiment uniforms. The regiments possibly relating to the statues’ uniforms have not been identified here or overseas, nor have the artisans responsible for the statues’ creation. The mystery remains unsolved and the statues remain an intriguing delight.

P. Morris, K. Halstead, 2020


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