They camped in sandstone caves on the harbour foreshore and lived on a diet of fish, possum and kangaroo, as well as native roots and berries. During the 19th and 20th centuries, industrial activity disturbed the land that now hosts Sub Base Platypus, and no evidence of Aboriginal habitation remains.
In the early 19th century, the areas surrounding Sub Base Platypus were known by two Aboriginal names – Wurru-birri, which referred to the western side of Kurraba Point, and Wéyé Wéyé, which referred to the head of Careening Cove. Although these names may have included the site of Sub Base Platypus, there is no official record of this.
Following the era of European colonisation, Sub Base Platypus went through several iterations.
In 1876, the Neutral Bay Gasworks was established at the northern end of the site. Eight years later, the North Shore Gas Company assumed control of it. Coal was delivered to the gasworks by ship and heated in large vessels known as retorts. The by-product of this process was coal gas, which the company sold for street lighting as well as home and business use.
By 1937, the ageing infrastructure of the Neutral Bay Gasworks had become inefficient. In order to meet increased demand for gas, the North Shore Gas Company closed the facility and opened a larger, more efficient plant at Oyster Cove, Waverton. The Sub Base Platypus site lay dormant until 1942, when Pearl Harbour was bombed.
In the wake of the Pearl Harbour bombing, the Commonwealth Government became concerned about the nation’s ability to retaliate in the event of an Axis attack. Located on the Harbour, a short distance from the existing Navy Torpedo Depot at Garden Island, the former Neutral Bay Gasworks was considered an ideal place to make and maintain torpedoes for use in the Second World War.
In March 1942, the Commonwealth demolished existing buildings on the site and constructed torpedo workshops with a speed that reflected the urgency of the situation.
In 1967, with World War II long over, the site was commissioned as the base for the Royal Australian Navy’s Oberon-class submarines and other visiting submarines. It was named HMAS Platypus, and provided the operational headquarters and communications base for the Australian Submarine Squadron.
When the Navy upgraded to new Collins Class submarines in the 1990s, the Commonwealth determined the site was inappropriate for these vessels. Consequently, the submarine base was relocated to Western Australia, the torpedo works were transferred to a missile maintenance facility in Kingswood, and the site closed in 1999.
In 2005, the Commonwealth Government announced the handover of the former HMAS Platypus site to the Harbour Trust for the purpose of rehabilitating it as a public park. The Harbour Trust consulted extensively with the community, and developed the Platypus Renewal Project.
The vision for the area is one that maintains the site’s distinctive heritage and cultural values, while allowing a mix of cultural, community and commercial uses. Income from the reactivation will contribute to maintaining the site, which was rechristened Sub Base Platypus in August 2017.
When Sub Base Platypus was officially launched in May 2018, it was the first time the site had been opened to the public in 150 years. Today, visitors can enjoy a shaded BBQ area with seating, a pocket playground, and a scenic overwater walkway that links to Kesterton Park and the North Sydney Ferry Wharf. Works to revitalise and enhance the site are ongoing, which mean that Sub base Platypus is destined to become a premier visitor destination.