Secret WWII fuel storages uncovered
By Julia Holman from Canberra 2600
The tiny village of Lake Bathurst, an hour north-east of Canberra, seems a very long way from the battlegrounds of World War Two.
But while war was raging in the Pacific, huge concrete structures were being built under the hills of Lake Bathurst, ready to store thousands of litres of fuel in the case that Australia's supplies were cut off by the Japanese.
The fuel stores were just one of 32 facilities which were set up all around Australia.
Today in Lake Bathurst, what remains of this piece of Australia's war history is owned by Colin Dennett.
"Back in 1942 the land was purchased by the Defence Department, and specifically the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), to construct a number of these emergency fuel depots for the RAAF around Australia," he says.
"It was to disperse the fuel storage in the event that the Japanese got a foothold to the point where oil imports were excluded or prohibited, and they needed something like 20 million gallons capacity of storage to keep the Air Force flying for six months.”
The parcel of land that was purchased is about four hectares, and the American Armed Forces paid for the Lake Bathurst site, as well as the other stores dotted around the country.
"The Americans in particular could see the dangers that Australia was facing here, because the supply lines in the South Pacific for the defence of the Japanese and the attacks on the Japanese who were invading and moving further south, were highly dependent on supplies from Australia.
"And the Japanese at that time had some 30 mega submarines off the coast between Brisbane and Gabo Island near Eden and were starting to threaten coastal shipping.
"The Americans encouraged the Department of Defence to construct some 32 bills and they met the bill. It was one million pounds back then.”
The US forces even paid for two American guards to be stationed at the facility. The whole operation was done in complete secrecy, and the fuel storages were designed to fit into the natural landscape.
The fuel stores today
Today you could easily drive past and miss the storages. The only evidence that they exist is a few metal pipes sticking out of the hillside.
But if you take a tour onto the property you can walk into the underground cavernous concrete tunnels. Colin says that there is debate about whether these tunnels actually every held fuel.
"I talk about things as if they all happened to plan, but a common question is was fuel ever stored in here?" he says.
"A bit like the oil tunnels in Darwin, where they were constructed after all the above ground naval storage was knocked out after the first Japanese attack.
"The tanks took a long time to build in that case. Here the whole job was completed in 18 months, but by the time the job was complete, the Japanese threat had eased.
"So were they filled? There's some doubt they were filled. In many ways it's good for us today because the contamination is virtually nothing because there wasn't the fuel here."