Veteran groups team up for special amphibious operation

The author, Don Stevenson at the Z Special training camp.
The author, Don Stevenson at the Z Special training camp.

By Don Stevenson
CONTACT Fitness Columnist

It’s been a while since I wrote anything for CONTACT, but a few weeks ago I was invited by an ADFA classmate to join an event bringing together two veteran groups for a special day out on the water.

CAPTION: Members of a veteran expedition set out to visit the site of Australia’s first ever naval special operations training base.

Saltwater Veterans was established in 2018 by former Navy Clearance Diver Scott Reynolds with a core vision to cultivate a connected community of veterans and their families through engagement with water activities – which runs regular sailing training and events around Australia.

Veterans Instameet is a veterans photography group set up by Matthew Bell and Warrick Eady in 2014 after serving in Afghanistan. 

This group aims to build connections with like-minded veterans through photography and has expanded to include families of defence members and emergency services.

The goal of the combined-groups’ day was to use the skills and resources of the Saltwater Veterans Sailing Project, to run a collaborative trip with photography group, Veterans Instameet, to the site of Australia’s first ever naval special operations training base.

WWII history buffs and Special Operations aficionados will know this as the legendary “Operation Jaywick”, carried out by the Z Special Unit in 1943 to successfully attack Japanese ships in Singapore harbour.

The day started with 29 veterans, boat owners and supporters gathering at Rowland Reserve in Sydney for a briefing before we embarked on a flotilla of seven boats to travel through Pittwater and along the Hawksbury River to Refuge Bay, the site of the training camp.

While Saltwater Veterans is primarily a sailing-based group, on this day they had put together a collection of power boats to provide speedy transit to the destination.

Cruising along the harbour we got an opportunity to view the remains of the gun emplacements at West Head as well as spectacular scenery. 

We were fortunate to have cracking weather with blue skies and plenty of sun – with other Sydney boat owners were out in force.

Arriving at a fairly crowded Refuge Bay, we proceeded to moor the boats and transfer to shore. 

The Z Special Unit camp is located at the top of the cliffs and accessed by a steep hike. 

For the casual visitor, there is a plaque commemorating the operation at the beach and the sheltered cove and waterfall were proving popular with the general public.

About half the group opted to remain at sea level and relax with a swim while the more enthusiastic members set out on the scramble to the cliff top to view the remains of the training camp. 

The site of the camp is now heavily overgrown, but we were fortunate to have on hand a member of a team that has mapped the camp extensively as part of another veteran support group. 

Stirling was able to point out the areas of the camp and show photos of how the camp looked during WWII in the months leading up to the raid.

Stirling described how the camp was chosen as a secret and secluded spot that was not connected to other parts of the war effort and how the members of Z Special Unit lived on the cliff tops but walked the steep cliffside track several times a day to train for the raid in folding canoes, and to move supplies.

After exploring the camp, we returned to the beach to have lunch and cool off with a swim and rinse in the fresh water of the waterfall that falls about 50m from the camp to the beach.

During the day, I talked to many of the participants and swapped notes on the people we knew and our experiences of service life and beyond, with various other groups of veterans discovering common ground or making new connections through shared interests.

For more information about Saltwater Veterans and Veterans Instameet, check out the links below.




Video from the day on YouTube


A group shot at the end of a rewarding outing.
A group shot at the end of a rewarding outing.







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Posted by Brian Hartigan

Managing Editor Contact Publishing Pty Ltd PO Box 3091 Minnamurra NSW 2533 AUSTRALIA

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