Tour of the Fremantle Army Museum

Fremantle Army Museum Tour

The Army Museum in Fremantle may be one of the Port City’s best kept secrets for many people, but it is secret no longer for the Australian Institute of Management WA group that visited on 30 August, organised courtesy of WA DEFENCE REVIEW.

What may surprise many is the extent and quality of the exhibits, which is among the finest outside the Canberra War Memorial. These include life-sized recreations of famous military ventures, including the Kokoda Trail, a model of Perth’s old Pensioner Barracks made from 60,000 matchsticks, and original red coats worn by soldiers from early settlement days – showing that colonials could be markedly smaller in body than their present-day counterparts.

The Museum was established in 1977 in the historic Artillery Barracks in Burt Street, Fremantle and has built its impressive collection with material from the pre-Federation period through to the present day. It features both peace and war-time Army involvements and all the major conflicts in which Western Australians were involved – including the South African War, World Wars I and II, the Korean War, Vietnam and the more recent interventions such as East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The visitors enjoyed a guided tour of the galleries following an address from Brigadier David Thompson, who shared his expertise in the art of leadership within Army, touching on its transferability to other sectors. The Brigadier served in both regular and reserve Army units and his experiences extend to commanding a peace keeping operation in the Solomon Islands for more than a year – a record that suggests much exposure to leading people in diverse circumstances.

The Army’s approach to developing leaders, he said, is to focus on the individual, teaching them to observe; to listen actively; to use principles and guidelines; to adapt to situations; and to grasp opportunities, or respond to challenges. Human realities are acknowledged, such as the need to belong to a ‘tribe’, the need to be valued by others, and the need for competition in order to thrive. Good leaders inculcate a positive culture and nurture people.

Although the Army teaches its recruits to instantly recognise and respect rank, it is understood that deeds, not just words, are the means to earn the respect of the most meaningful kind. The concept of the ‘Larrikin digger’, who bucks the authority of an unworthy leader, is well established in Australian folklore. Leaders should, therefore, be proficient, seek and accept responsibility, lead by example, provide clear direction, know and care for their subordinates, and build the team.

Prominent among the tasks of a leader is planning. They should understand the mission, analyse the situation, be clear on objectives, and consider the pros and cons of alternative courses of action. In a military context, decisions directly impact the expenditure of both materiel and human lives, so being seen to make good choices translates into respect, loyalty and longevity.

He also noted that the Army today uses multiple employment models, including part time, and reservist service, which encourage a two-way flow of personnel with other sectors, bringing about cross-fertilisation of ideas, leadership and other skills.

The combination of the stimulating talk, the eye-opening tour, and a light lunch with networking following, made for a profitable morning’s outing, well worth the absence from the office for those attending.


These tours benefit both parties as in most cases the delegates would not normally visit the Australian Army Museum of Western Australia and this allows this great state educational asset to be shown to more members of the public. As a volunteer organisation it is imperative that we reach out to broad cross-sections of the public to gain maximum exposure. We greatly appreciate the opportunity provided by WA DEFENCE REVIEW to showcase our wonderful museum.”

Graham McEwan, Projects Manager, Fremantle Army Museum