Bulli’s missing war memorial

Bulli Park

Bulli Park from the air in the 1980s. The circled area shows the location of the memorial.


BULLI’S first war memorial sat between four majestic Canary Island palm trees, high on a hill-top overlooking the ocean, largely due to the determined efforts of the local council’s “tough, but fair” health inspector, John Joseph “Gutty” Hiles.

While often referred to as Bulli Shire Council’s health or sanitary inspector, he was much more, and his influence and power in policing regulations seemed to hold no bounds.

The Bulli Park memorial consisted of World War One guns collected by Hiles, who at the time was Captain of the Bulli Artillery Corps.

Hiles was born in Elstree, England, in 1865, a village which later became famous throughout the world as the headquarters of film production in England. His parents were the proprietors of the Red Lion Inn – at the time one of the oldest inns in England.

In his youth, Hales worked as a ship’s chandler and at the age of 17 he joined the Orient Line as a steward. In those days the Orient Line was part steam and part sail. The boat which a young Hiles joined conveyed troops to Egypt. He made several trips to Sydney as a steward before deciding to settle in Australia.

Hale joined the Newcastle Line of ships as a steward, later working at Callan Park, where he met his future wife, who was on the nursing staff there.

Early in 1901, Hiles went to Melbourne, where he was in charge of the victualling of the Imperial troops who came out with King George for the opening of the first Federal Parliament. He accompanied the troops back to Sydney, where he assumed similar duties.

After his marriage he moved to Kangaroo Valley, where he hosted the Commercial Hotel (Now the Friendly Inn Hotel) in the mid 1890s. He was declared bankrupt in 1896, before he and his wife were appointed dual position in control of Singleton Hospital.

The Hiles were appointed the same position of the Bulli Hospital in 1902, before they resigned in 1908. Hiles was in turn appointed health inspector to the newly proclaimed Bulli Shire Council, a position he would stamp his mark on for almost 20 years.

Hiles lived in Park Road, opposite Bulli Park. In 1911, when universal military training was introduced in New South Wales, he became officer in command of the Bulli cadets and just before the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, at the age of 50 he was appointed Military Area Officer from Helensburgh to Bulli. When the call-up came during the war he was Military Registrar from Milton to Helensburgh.

During the war years 1914 to 1918, both he and his wife were responsible for sending comforts and organising benefits for the local troops. Hiles retired from the Defence Forces shortly after the War, and is said to have received a special personal letter of thanks from the then Minister for Defence and the Military Board for services he rendered.


The only known photo of Bulli Shire Inspector, John Hiles (extreme right in white coat). This was the first motorised sanitary wagon in the Bulli Shire; The body of the cart was made by Rallings Bros., Bulli. Standing outside Bulli Shire Council – from left: William Narbeth (foreman), Tom Jones, Fred Heard (Bulli Shire clerk) and Hiles. on October 1 1924.

What Hiles is not remembered for though is his efforts in establishing Bulli’s first war memorial. Today all that remains of the memorial are the four large Canary Island palm trees.

The fate of the memorial is a mystery. It disappeared from the hill in Bulli Park sometime during the late 1970s, early 1980s.

The late local historian Jack Devitt*, whose reminiscences documented many stories from the 1920s in Bulli, recalled the memorial in the 1990s.

The memorial, he wrote, consisted of a flagpole, palm trees and a collection of 1914-18 war guns including, a German trench mortar, a field gun, machine gun, mounted on a concrete plinth and a mountain gun.

“As kids at the Convent School we played on those guns. On special occasions “Gutty” Hiles who lived opposite flew the flag from the flagpole,” he wrote.

german mountain gun 1898

A German Mountain Gun, similar to this made-up part of the Bulli Park memorial.

As a student of the “Convent School”, St Josephs Primary School, I too played on those guns in Bulli Park. I remember small black painted ‘cannons’ sitting on concrete plinths – four, I recall – which had the remnants of glossy coloured ceramic tiles on each plinth. I remember someone telling me at some stage the tiles represented the colours of particular military regiments.

The memorial, with four palms, guarding a centred flagpole encircled in a white two railed white arris posted fence. There was also a memorial ‘bubbler’ outside the fence, near a children’s playground, consisting of swings and a slippery-dip, typical of the 1950s.

bulli park memorial

The Bulli Park memorial in the 1980s, showing the flagpole and fence.

The Bulli Park Memorial was built in 1920. The Illawarra Mercury reported on Friday October 15 1920: “War Trophy – The field gun awarded to Bulli by the War Trophies Commission is expected to arrive shortly and will be placed on the site of the old pavilion in the park.”

The Bulli Park Pavilion originally sat between the Canary Island Palms on the hilltop in the park. The timber structure was built in 1891 to cater for “Sydney picnickers and moonlight wanderers”, where it remained for almost 30 years. The Illawarra Mercury reported on Friday 25 January 25 1918:

The inspector [Hiles] reported in regard to Mr Robinson’s suggestion relative to the removal of the pavilion from Bulli Park, that at present the building is the harbour for tramps in all stages of uncleanliness. It is also frequented at night and Sunday afternoons by noisy and destructive boys. The walls are in-scribed with all kinds of filthy writings, and the seats are generally in a state of filth caused by the boys. He often had to leave his bed at night to go over and chase them away. At Point Peter [Waniora Point] there is no shade or shelter of any kind and as this place is used by bona fide holiday makers, he was of opinion that it would be a step in the right direction to remove the pavilion as requested. — Consideration adjourned till next meeting.

Hiles, now 54, had built quite a reputation for himself as a no nonsense inspector on Bulli Shire Council. He held a lot of sway, and his opinion was often unquestioned by councillors.

During the early 1920s his powers knew no bounds. He was elected as a delegate of the grand council of NSW Health Inspectors, where he interestingly commented on a proposal to put chewing gum on the schedule of the Pure Foods Act: “It was a filthy habit, and should be abolished”, he said.

german maxim gun

A German Maxim Gun similar to this was another ‘war trophy’ that featured in the Bulli Park memorial.

Hiles, no doubt put the fear of God into anyone who breached any local ordnances, when he confronted them in his knee length white coat. He was particularly tough on local milkos often summonsing them to the Bulli Court House for supplying adulterated or watered down milk.

In fact, he controversially crossed the Bulli Shire border in 1920, summonsing a milko in the adjoining North Illawarra Municipality for the offence. He was criticised by the North Illawarra Council for over-stepping the mark and as a result was asked to explain to Bulli councillors.

Hiles hit back when asked by councillors to answer the criticism. He had been appointed an officer of the NSW Board of Health for the purpose of the Pure Food Act, and he was “authorised to exercise any of the powers conferred upon such office”.

“This authority does not confine my actions to any one place, and while to so the interested persons my action in going a few yards over the shire boundary to obtain samples of milk might seem over-officious, the circumstances to my mind more than warrant my action. The protection of the lives and health of young children by ensuring a pure milk supply has a higher claim to my action than that of considering the hurt feelings of anybody who may have their neglect of the primal duties of public health preservation thus brought under their notice.”

Hiles was also hard on the emerging motorised bus industry, and was instrumental in establishing the first proper timetable for the northern Illawarra. The South Coast Times reported on February 10 1922:

A New Era in Bus Traffic

The motor buses have proved a possibility of much service, and much of a disappointment. The buses have been running as bloweth the wind, where they listed. Such a condition of course deprived a transport service of more than half its convenience. Efforts have been made to establish a timetable, but the rivalry of the proprietors set such a thing at nought, and it has continued to be that the intending traveller might get a bus, or a choice of buses, or none at all. This has been as adverse to the interest of the proprietors themselves as to travellers’ convenience. Recently, however, the local government councils have had more power vested in them over the running of vehicles regularly in the passenger carrying business; in pursuance thereof, at the instigation of Inspector Hiles, who has been working on the timetable problem, the president of the Bulli Shire (Cr. Tresidder) convened a conference of proprietors. It was held in the Bulli Council Chamber on Monday evening, the President presiding. There were present: Mr. C. R. Morgan, representing W. Murphy: Messrs. C. L. Stanwix and Dilworth, Bulli Garage Ltd.; R. Arblaster and L. Hunter. Conference was not long in coming to an agreement for a service to start alternately proprietor from Austinmer and Thirroul, each proprietor placing a bus in turn. Then the timetable question was discussed. Mr. Stanwix moved the adoption…”

captured german trench mortars 1917

A German Trench Mortar was also on display at the Bulli memorial.

Like his crackdown on milkos, Hiles was just as tough on the bus drivers, issuing them with court attendance notices every time he caught them not sticking to his timetable.

The no-nonsense attitude of the man in the white coat can be summed-up by the following letter he was said to have written to the employees of the Bulli Shire Council’s sanitary depots in 1923.

“I have to bring under notice of the sanitary hands at each depot the question of overtime in relation to the 44 hours per week system of working. When the 44 hour principle was, as an act of grace, conceded to the sanitary employees, it was done conditionally that no extra expense was to be incurred by the Department. It is found that on many occasions time off for overtime has been claimed which has caused an additional man to be employed to cope with the work. This has to be put a stop to in the future. No claims will be allowed for such trivial times as ½ hour, or 35 minutes for blocked pipes, or such as 3 hours for entering cards, or late collections. Only upon especially serious occasions will the claim be considered. All Sunday feeding must be arranged for by the depots concerned by giving one of the men three hours off on Friday prior to the Sunday. Seeing that the Bulli Shire staff are receiving conditions far superior to any in the Commonwealth, it is up to them to see that the position is not abused, and that the give and take principle of fairness is adopted more often.”

– Illawarra Mercury March 16 1923.

Meanwhile with the old pavilion out of the way, Hiles could proceed with his plan of establishing a war memorial between the palms in Bulli Park. The Illawarra Mercury reported on October 15 1920 that the field gun awarded to Bulli by the War Trophies Commission “is expected to arrive shortly and will be placed on the site of the old pavilion in the park”.

war palms bulli park 2016 b

The Canary Island Palms at Bulli Park 2016

The following year, Hiles had secured a 23 metres high flagpole, to sit squarely between the four palms on the site of the memorial. The South Coast Times reported on Friday June 3 1921:

A landmark which has been conspicuous for the past 17 years is the flagpole at Mr. H. F. Cotterell’s premises, erected by the British Empire League. At a recent meeting of members of the League it was decided to place this pole in Bulli Park, and a number of residents are now preparing the same for its new position. It is in a good state of preservation, is 75 feet high, and will stand over the site selected for the war trophy, a trench mortar. The committee are endeavoring to hold a public official opening on June 6th; if possible, an honor board is also to be erected by that date.

Jack Devitt recalled more of Hiles in his 1990 reminiscences: “On special occasions “Gutty” Hiles who lived opposite, flew the flag from the flagpole. In the twenties there was compulsory military training for the young chaps at weekends, generally Saturdays. Gutty was Officer in Charge and ‘Gunner’ [Sid] Marsh the Sergeant Major -we could hear him roaring over in Farrell Rd. With a chap named Glass, Gunner later opened a liquor store at Nicholson Lane corner and Main Rd opposite the present R.S.L. Club.”

While the official opening of the memorial cannot be found, the ‘war trophies’ were in place with the flagpole at Bulli Park by October 1921. The Illawarra Mercury reported on Friday October 7:

The newly erected war trophy memorial, situated in Bulli Park, was greatly admired by visitors this week. ‘Nothing better has been seen,’ was the remark of one visitor. Great credit is due to those responsible for its erection.

Additional war trophies were added to the memorial over the following years, as well as an arris posted timber circular fencing, to kjeep out wandering cattle, and a rotunda. Hiles was the unofficial caretaker, often spending many hours tending to the gardens around the memorial. The Mercury reporting on May 11 1923:


A tank and aeroplane are about the only weapons of modern warfare that Bulli Park requires in order to complete its collection of war trophies. Yet another gun — a German Maxim — is to find a resting place in the park, and this through the efforts of Captain J. J. Hiles, who during a recent visit to Melbourne secured the weapon complete. The gun is now in the Drill Hall grounds, and is a sinister reminder to military trainees of what their elder comrades of the A.I.F. had to contend with. Incidentally much credit is due Captain Hiles for his efforts in beautifying that section of Bulli Park, on the site of the old pavilion, and a picturesque array of shrubs and plants, planted by him, at his own expense, is one of the outstanding features of the park.

The official opening of the Bulli Woonona War Cenotaph at the corner of Hopetoun Street and the Princes Highway on AZAC Day 1924 seemed to have resulted in less importance placed on the Bulli Park memorial.

With Hiles departure from his council’s job for a new position in Cessnock, the monument’s significance seemed to decline. He left his job at Bulli Shire Council in 1925 after gaining a similar job on Cessnock Council’s health department.

war palms bulli park 2016 d

The remnants of Bulli’s first war memorial in Bulli Park 2016

Hiles love for Bulli though seen his return in 1927. On his return he continued his community work, serving as a Bulli Shire councillor for three years, and acting as returning officer for both state and federal elections. He was also in charge of the census collecting on three occasions and with the help of voluntary labour, he organised a carnival from which the Bulli Hospital received over £1000.

In 1936, at the age of 71, Hiles entered into a new business venture, this time partnering with another identity in the Bulli Voluntary Military Corps. Sid Marsh and Hiles opened the district’s first bottle shop at the corner of Nicholson Lane and the Princes Highway. Hiles though wasn’t to be in business with Marsh for any length of time and died in 1939 at the age of 74.

The South Coast Times reported his death on Friday February 17 1939:

With the death of Mr. John Joseph Hiles, of Park Road, which followed on so closely after that of his wife, the district has lost one of its most respected citizens and one who worked untiringly for its advancement. He was 74 years of age, and was in business until a few weeks ago. He and his wife had both been active workers for the hospital and after leaving that institution in 1907 he took up duties as health inspector to the newly constituted Bulli Shire. This position he filled with credit until he was appointed to a similar position at Cessnock. After his retirement he returned to Bulli, where he immediately found an outlet for his energy and enthusiasm in various public institutions, such as the Progress Association. He also served from 1928 to 1931 as a members of Bulli Shire Council. Mrs. Hiles died on November 27th last and some few weeks later Mr. Hiles was taken to hospital. He rallied slightly last month, but had to return to the institution, only a few days later. The remains were privately cremated a Woronora on Wednesday. Sincere sympathy is extended to his daughter Mrs. A. Glass, of Lane Cove.

Besides his daughter, Hiles was also survived by one sister, A Mrs. A. Shipway, who lived in England.

The Bulli Park War Trophies memorial seems to have survived until the late 1970s or 1980s. While some of the guns may have been “melted-down” for the war effort during the 1940s, the larger guns remained in place on the concrete plinths well into the 1970s.

The large palms are all that remain today, with the concrete plinths, water fountain, circular fence and guns all removed. Appeals to find-out the fate of the guns have proved unsuccessful.

After a social media appeal and an inquiry with the Wollongong Council’s heritage officer and a former Wollongong Council engineer, the mystery remains unsolved. Bulli resident Grant Joy tells me he “vaguely” remembers Wollongong Council removing the guns “for repairs”, but they went ‘missing’ from the Montague Street depot in the mid 1980s where he was an apprenticed at the time.

© Copyright Mick Roberts 2016


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* The late Jack Devitt was born in The Oaks, via Camden on December 12 1917. He arrived in the Illawarra with his family as a boy in 1921 settling in Bulli. He attended St Josephs Catholic School, where he won a bursary to attend Stanislaus College in Bathurst gaining a leaving certificate. He obtained work as a steelworks tally clerk after leaving school on a wage of 32 shillings and six pence a week before being employed as a clerk in the merchant mill. Jack bought his parents’ home in Hospital Road in 1925 and he lived there until his death in 2006 at the age of 88. His local history column, Down Memory Lane, became much loved in the Bulli Times, Corrimal Post and Northern Leader newspapers during the 1980s, 90s and early 2000s. Down Memory Lane was enjoyed by northern Illawarra residents for many years, and has become an important record of life in Bulli during the 1920s and 30s.

One thought on “Bulli’s missing war memorial

  1. Bulli’s 88 mm gun (number 654) was made by Krupp for the Turks. It was referred to as a 9cm K 73 (/ 91), and was officially allocated to Wollongong. It was captured by the Australian Light Horse on 23 August 1918. Only a handful of these K73’s arrived in Australia as part of the Australian War Trophy collection. At least one example (number 648) still survives at Mount Perry in Queensland (see https://www.anzacwartrophies.org/trophies/mt-perry-87-mm-gun).

    Municipal officials throughout Australia began removing (and sometimes destroying) these war trophies as early as the 1920s (see https://www.academia.edu/36432290/Seeds_of_Discontent_Queensland_History_Journal_Vol.23_No.9_May_2018_pp._563_-_580)


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