Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Bankstown Bunker

The Bankstown Bunker (Air Defence Headquarters Sydney) is a disused RAAF operations facility, located on the corner of Marion and Edgar Street, Bankstown, New South Wales.

After the arrival General Douglas MacArthur in Australia during the Second World War, Bankstown Airport was established as a key strategic air force base to support the war effort. The specially constructed bunker became an important Royal Australian Air Force headquarters from 1945 until its closure in 1947. The Bankstown bunker is currently buried under a public park which lies at the end of Taylor Street.


During the Second World War, this facility was a three story semi-underground, covert Royal Australian Air force base. Work commenced in late 1942 and the facility cost £30,579 to build. Its official commissioning was in January 1945 as the headquarters for No. 1 Fighter Sector RAAF. This unit had previously operated from the Capital Hall picture theatre in Bankstown and a tunnel under the St. James Railway station. The primary use of the Sydney Air Defence Headquarters was the location, tracking and interception of all planes in the eastern area of the South West Pacific.

The bunker was manned at all times in shifts that the Air Force called "Flights". Most of the personnel that worked in the bunker were local. Even so, the Air Force provided accommodation for them in Chapel Road, Bankstown and buses with blacked out windows transported military personnel to the bunker. All staff for the bunker had to undergo special training, including 'plane identification' training that also took place at Chapel Road.

The bunker was manned by :

A transmitting station for the bunker was located in Johnston Road, Bass Hill and was a building of above ground construction.

The before and after. The same room as it is today, after a fire destroyed it in 1972. Photo Credit:
Victor Zdanowicz-Muchlado Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0

The bunker appears to have been decommissioned when the ADHQ was disbanded in 1947. A caretaker was then assigned to the take care of the bunker.

It wasn't until 1971 that members of No. 2 Stores Depot RAAF in Regents Park invited the then editor of Bankstown's Torch Newspaper, Phil Engisch into the bunker. Many photos were taken and an article was placed in local newspapers detailing the find. In 1972, arsonists set the bunker on fire. In 1976 the NSW Department of Housing acquired the land the bunker is built under and redeveloped the area into the townhouses that now cover most of the site. The area now comprises a number of separate complexes or "Closes" containing eight to eleven villas. Each Close is named appropriately after a type of aeroplane that flew from Bankstown during the Second World War.

Inside the bunker

The Bankstown Bunker was an exact replica of the underground Ops rooms of wartime England, which directed Britain's air defence fighter plane attacks on the invading German Luftwaffe. Entrance to the bunker was obtained through a concrete passageway which was well screened by a grassy slope; a stairway led to a virtual maze of corridors and hallways leading to various sections. There were two points into to the bunker (escape hatches) which were guarded by military police, and access was gained via the bottom level.

The walls of the bunker were 1.5 metres thick and it could almost withstand a direct hit from a 300 lb (140 kg) bomb. It had all the attenuated fixtures necessary to run a top secret operational defence base. It consisted of three Fixer Stations and one Homing Station. The bunker was also equipped with its own code room, plotting rooms, two escape tunnels and a radio transmitter room. In the centre of the bunker was a large room of about two-stories in height. This was the main Ops room and control centre for all RAAF Missions in the Pacific area[10]. The room also had a large map, (24' x 18') denoting troop positions in the South West Pacific theater of World War II. The facilities inside the bunker also had to cater for the full time staff who lived and worked in the facility, working on a rotating roster that involved living in the bunker for two-week periods. The living quarters consisted of its own kitchen, dining area, bathrooms and bedrooms. The bunker also had its own generator, air conditioning and switchboards which directed fifty telephone lines. [11] The telephone lines went to various locations including radar stations and VAOC lookout posts which reported aircraft locations to the bunker. There are rumors of a tunnel running from the bunker to an unknown location.


There is a small reserve between the town houses at the end of Taylor Street. It is under this hill that the bunker has been buried. The entrance to the bunker has now been sealed and the area over the top of the bunker has been landscaped to conceal its position, to the point that it is completely undetectable from the street. However, it is still possible to enter the site.

Future plans for the site

There have been several plans for uses for the bunker since the 1970s, including making it into a car park or museum. The Australian Bunker and Military Museum in Queensland (ABMM) put forth the most recent plan was to Bankstown city council in 2006, but nothing has come of it. As of March 2007, Bankstown Council will find out if the State and Federal Governments are interested in having the Condell Park World War II bunker heritage listed.

Other bunkers in the City of Bankstown

There is one other confirmed bunker, a "Remote Receiving station", in Bankstown. Little is known about its history though it was reportedly "heavily vandalised" in 1945. It was located in Picnic Point National Park, near the South Sydney Power station. According to residents of the area, it still exists. Based on a comparison of contemporary and historic maps, the Receiving Station and the present day Sydney South electricity substation share the same footprint, with the latter apparently situated directly above the former. The substation is bounded on its southwestern and southeastern sides by Henry Lawson Drive, in the Georges River National Park. There are several other bunkers in the Bankstown area, such as under an electricity block house on the corner of Milperra road and Henry Lawson Drive, and a demolished bunker under Condell Park High School.

During World War II, Bankstown was a hive for military activity. Bankstown Airport was home to several fighter units and several "dummy houses" existed in and around Bankstown Airport. These houses were built to make Bankstown Airport and its surrounds appear as farm. Military personnel who worked in Bankstown lived in the area around Chapel Road (where Paul Keating Park and the council chambers are located today). Training facilities for the various plotting rooms around Sydney were also located in the area.

Also, during World War II, Chullora was selected as the site for a major wartime manufacturing plant. The site once occupied several 100 acres (400,000 m2) of land surrounded by Rookwood Cemetery, Brunker Road, the Hume Highway and Centenary Drive. The site was said to have been the largest secret manufacturing plant in Australia which was used for the production of military weapons, plane components, tanks, and ordnance. Over two-thousand men and woman were employed to work at the factory on a daily basis. During the war the factory produced components for 700 Beaufort, 380 Beaufighter and up to 50 Lincoln aircraft. Over 54 ACI tanks were built as well as 60 General Lee tanks that were adapted for use in the Australian Military, as were local jeeps in the 70s. The factory also produced 81 cupola turrets for the British Matilda tanks.

An underground "bunker" and tunnel system is apparently located on this site. It is directly under a block flats in Davidson Street and Marlene Crescent. The entrance to the "bunker" is by steel doors set in concrete into the hillside in a railway cutting which runs from alongside the railway line parallel to Marlene Crescent at a platform called the Railwelders and which leads under the block of flats. The doors to this "bunker" were welded up sometime during the late 1980s. The ventilation shafts that were once visible from the Hume Highway have been removed.

Chullora Railway Workshops and former site of WWII manufacturing plant.

Apart from the bunker, there is also a network of storage facilities that extend under the railway workshop. Sometime between 1977 to 1978 the steel access doors were fitted with locks (Railway SL type). The steel access doors were bolted into the side of a stormwater drain which runs along the old RTA building in Chullora, then under the Hume Hwy and eventually under the rail workshop. It has also been alleged that a tunnel approximately four miles long connects this complex with the Bankstown Bunker and its previous location at the Capitol Hall in Bankstown.

Burke's Backyard

The Bankstown Bunker was on an episode of Burke's Backyard. Don Burke conducted part of the show from inside the bunker. To enter the bunker he had to crawl in through an air vent.

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