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The ghosts of Navy food supply haunt exclusive waterside residences

The developers say, "The Revy conjures up an era when architecture was truly built to last. A testament to the past, primed for the future - uniquely Sydney."


There's more. "This Darling Island wharf echoes with stories that draw deeply on the city’s identity." And predictably, "these exclusive residences will redefine waterfront living".


The 46 apartments were launched for sale in November 2015. It was said at the time the cheapest two-bedroom apartment will have a $2.5 million price tag, and the top half-floor penthouse, with a private rooftop and pool, industry insiders estimate will be on the market for about $15 million.


But there may be a few stories the new owners haven't heard yet. The building has a few to offer up.

Do they know that much of the food supplying the Navy of two world wars passed through this building? That's a lot of food.


Or about the job of the "onion inspector", the army of bakers and, while we are at it, the ghost?

With the march of development across Sydney, like the advance of the martian fighting machines of HG Wells' War of the Worlds, it is worth checking out the history while the opportunity exists.


The Royal Edward Victualling Yard (REVY) built in 1912 has state significance as the first royal yard in the southern hemisphere, according to the NSW Office of Environment & Heritage.


It states the building is a reminder of the importance given to the presence of the Commonwealth Naval Forces in the southern hemisphere. "The stores operated during both world wars and played an instrumental role in the provision of supplies during World War II."


In 1913 the British-built building was handed over to the fledgling Australian Navy as the Royal Navy departed effectively telling them to "get on with it".


One reporter given wartime access to the building, wrote in 1941 that the yard was supplying food and equipment to sailors from "Alexandria to the Western Pacific, from Hobart to Hong Kong.

"Nobody gets better food than the men of the navy, so you are told. In one great store I saw huge numbers of boxes of canned food of all varieties - corned beef, corned mutton, pineapples...chutney...macaroni and casks of lime juice and vinegar."


The Navy's apparent maxim that only the best will do, caused outrage if the front page story of Smith's Weekly of December 21, 1941, is to be believed.


Under the headline "Navy wants silver spoon in its mouth", it states "SOMEONE in the Navy Department has apparently gone stark, staring mad. Tenders have been called to supply the Royal Edward Victualling Yard, Pyrmont, Sydney, with table silver so rare and expensive that Australian merchants are unable to supply it out of stock. They want silver labels for the decanters, silver trays on which to serve the drinks, and most extravagantly-priced spoons and forks. Taxpayers will have a bill totalling many thousands of pounds by the time the silverware is shimmering brightly and expensively in naval officers' messes."


Happily, the current senior naval historical officer, Greg Swinden, worked at REVY for a brief time so knows the history. He said food would arrive at the Victorian yard by barge or truck and would be met by a large number of inspectors whose business was to check that the right quantity was delivered and that it was up to navy standard.


The small mountain of flour bags would be checked to see that they did not contain weevils and that the gluten content was correct.


He said the navy kept a very close eye on things. As the ships put in their orders for food they would be supplied by the REVY. Nowadays a bread van would drive on to a wharf and supply a Naval vessel directly.


"There were inspectors for each of the different commodities, someone I worked with in the 60s was the onion inspector," he said. "He was very proud of the title.

"The younger employees were told by the old hands that a storeman had fallen at the building and that he still haunted the yard."

It is not clear whether he fell in one of the internal hoist shafts used to lift produce to the upper storage bays - you can still see the four crane housing huts on the roof - or over the side of the eight storey block.

In more recent years the building was used by "the spies" of the Defence Science and Technology Organisation for research purposes.


Mr Swinden said: "The navy then was very big on the new underwater sonar technology. The work was everything to do with hunting submarines or making their equipment quieter so they couldn't be found."

The lab became part of the navy's weapons system research lab and was the site for anti-terrorism evacuation and emergency exercises using Black Hawk helicopters in the preparation for the 2000 Sydney Olympics, until finally closing its doors in 2008.

The building is currently covered in scaffolding undergoing its latest reincarnation. Ghost or no ghost.


*Source - The Sydney Morning Herald, 18 June 2018, Tim Barlass*