The Artillery Barracks is located on the southern side of Cantonment Hill, a prominent limestone rise near the mouth of the Swan River and overlooking the Port of Fremantle.
Between 1906 and 1908, coastal defence batteries were commissioned at Fort Arthur Head near the port and Fort Forrest a few kilometres north. The barracks were built between 1910 and 1913 to provide a home for the gunners from the Royal Australian Garrison Artillery (RAGA) who manned these forts.
The first buildings constructed on the Cantonment Hill site in those years were two double storey accommodation blocks housing up to 100 gunners, four houses for married Non-Commissioned Officers, two larger houses for married officers, a Gymnasium, a small hospital (later converted into the Sergeants’ Mess), a Quartermasters Store, a horse and cart shed (the Artillery was not mechanised until 1939), an Orderly Room and Guard Room (with two cells) flanking the entrance gate. A large grassed area on the northern side of the hill was used for agistment of the horses.
At the outbreak of war in August 1914 there was no general military hospital in Western Australia. A section of 22nd Field Ambulance, an Australian Army Medical Corps militia unit, was stationed at Artillery Barracks and a small clearing station and hospital was established. It could only accommodate around 50 cases and was soon overtaxed, treating dozens of young recruits from the training camp at Blackboy Hill sick with infectious diseases such as mumps and scarlet fever. During 1915 8th Australian General Hospital (8 AGH) was established in Fremantle and commenced to receive patients from overseas. The clearing station and hospital at the barracks were discontinued and personnel and patients transferred to 8 AGH.
In July 1916, when hundreds of casualties from the Western Front were being returned to Australia, the barracks became a “Details Camp” and a rehabilitation hospital. This was for the reception of men discharged from hospital and awaiting discharge from the AIF or return to full duty. Accommodation limits were soon reached and this facility was transferred to Karrakatta in December 1916.
From January 1919 until 1920, the 26th Australian Auxiliary Hospital (26 AAH) was established at Artillery Barracks and specialised in the treatment of soldiers, mainly Light horsemen, who had contracted malaria on service in the Middle East. 26 AAH was controlled by 8 AGH.
During World War One, the barracks was also the site of an internment camp. Enemy aliens, mostly men from countries of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and not naturalised as British citizens, were brought to the barracks for assessment by staff of Army Intelligence. They were retained at the barracks temporarily before being moved to an internment camp established on Rottnest Island. After the Rottnest Island Camp closed in November 1915, most of the internees were transferred to camps in the Eastern States or released on parole. The barracks was then used as the site of internment of those subsequently arrested.
By 1920, the gunners returned to the barracks. It was not until the 1930s that changes were seen on the site. When Government funding was significantly increased after the lean years of the depression and as a result of a review of coastal defence, new artillery batteries were established at Oliver Hill and Bickley Point on Rottnest Island and at Swanbourne. Artillery Barracks was the centre of activity for this work and a number of additional stores buildings were constructed around the parade ground, including the Anti-Aircraft (AA) Gun Park. This was an indication of the development of defence technology since World War One.
During World War Two, with Fremantle Harbour the home of the biggest submarine fleet in the Southern Hemisphere, the barracks was a main base of work and accommodation for home defence personnel, now including women soldiers. An underground command post with a number of tunnels was constructed under Cantonment Hill. From 1944 to 1945 the barracks was the Headquarters of Fremantle Fortress.
By 1950 missile and aircraft technology had made coastal guns redundant as a form of defence. The guns were put on a “care and maintenance” basis (all guns except Oliver Hill were removed in 1963) and the barracks by the early 1950s no longer housed soldiers. The former dormitories became lecture rooms for units of the Citizen Military Forces (CMF) bolstered by the numbers of National Servicemen after the scheme was introduced in 1951.
Artillery Units located at the Barracks
1911 Royal Australian Garrison Artillery (RAGA)
1921 11 Battery, RAGA
1927 11 Heavy Battery, Royal Australian Artillery
1936 3 Heavy Brigade, Royal Australian Artillery (Comprising of 6 and 11 Heavy Batteries)
1950s 27 Coast regiment, 25 Medium Coast Battery, 24 Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, RAA
There were no Artillery personnel serving at the Barracks after 1963.
Other Units located at the Barracks between 1950 and 1995
These include units of both CMF (later Army Reserve) and Regular Army
- 3 Transport Squadron, Royal Australian Engineers
- Western Command Fortress Signal Troop, Royal Australian Corps of Signals
- Western Command Field Survey Section (later 5 Field Survey Squadron), Royal Australian Survey Corps
- HQ 5 Cadet Brigade and HQ 32 Cadet Battalion
- 4 Water Transport Troop, Royal Australian Engineers
- 113 Infantry Workshops, Royal Australian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers
- 10 Company, Royal Australian Army Service Corps
- Australian Army Canteens Service
- 11 Field Security Section (later 11 Counter Intelligence Section), Australian Intelligence Corps
- 7 Field Ambulance, Royal Australian Army Medical Corps
- 5 Dental Unit, Royal Australian Army Dental Corps
- 5 Pay Corps Unit, Royal Australian Army Pay Corps
- 5 Electrical and Mechanical Engineer Services, Royal Australian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers
- Western Australian University Regiment
The Artillery Barracks site was placed on the Register of the National Estate in 1982.
After relocating to Artillery Barracks, the Army Museum opened its first gallery in the barracks in 1995 and in 2004 was granted a licence by the Department of Defence to occupy the site for 25 years with an option to renew for a further 25 years.
Between 1995 and 2008 the Army Museum shared the barracks with the Western Australian University Regiment (WAUR), an Army Reserve Officer Training unit. With the relocation of WAUR at the end of 2008 the museum was given approval to expand and occupy those parts of the site vacated by WAUR in accordance with the above licence agreement.