From Before Forest Lake by Vicki Mynott, adapted for print by Jamie Furness
Homestead Park in the north of Forest Lake is the site of the earliest settlement in the suburb, and was home to Archerfield House. The Archerfield Estate included all of Forest Lake and much more.
Brief history of Archerfield Estate:
1882 – Purchased by the Durack family and unsuccessfully mined for coal.
1888 – Purchased by Patrick Perkins
1893 – Taken over the by the Queensland Investment and Land Mortgage Company
1915 – Bought by John Henry Hart
1937 – Brisbane City Council resumed over 30% of property – 4000 acres. Part of this area later became Forest Lake.
1942 – Archerfield Station used for US army military base in WWII for military weapons
World War II
Darra Ordnance Ammunition Depot
In 1939, World War II began on the other side of the world – and in 1942 the war came to Archerfield Station. These few years (1942-1947) comprised the most dynamic and the most significant period in the history of the area to date. During that time, Archerfield Station played an important role in Brisbane’s contribution to the war effort.
After the Pearl Harbour attack in December 1941, America joined the war. US armed forces came to Brisbane to establish a base to support their forces in the South West Pacific region. The US Army wanted to establish a munitions storage facility west of the city and the government suggested the well-known and vacant Archerfield Station land. The first trucks came down Archerfield Station in early 1942.
The Darra Ordnance Ammunition Depot covered much of where Forest Lake exists today. The function of the Ordnance Depot was the storage, preparation and supply of munitions (military weapons, and ammunition ). “It also renovated defective or damaged ammunition and destroyed unserviceable items … the average throughput was 600 tons per day” (Oz At War, 2015.)
The Darra Ordnance Depot was one of the largest US munitions depots in the South West Pacific. It stored bombs and ammunition in the numerous clearings made throughout a large area of bush, some under canvas but much in the open. It operated 24/7, receiving munitions from the wharves – via Archerfield road – and despatching ordnance – usually via Wacol railway siding – to go north to the war zone.
At that time, Archerfield Road terminated at Government Road, at the entrance to the Archerfield Estate. So the Main Gate of the Ordnance Depot was also at the corner of Archerfield Road and Government Road – now opposite McDonalds.
US personnel at the Darra Ordnance Ammunition Depot
The work of the Darra Ordnance Ammunition Depot was performed largely by African-American units of the US Army. The two hundred African-American soldiers worked at the Depot and the nearby Small Arms Renovation Plant in Ellen Grove under white officers. All US personnel lived off-site in barracks at “Camp Darra,” now McEwan Park in Archerfield Road, Inala.
The Americans brought equipment and materials which were the envy of the Australian forces. However, they also used Australian local knowledge and skills to support the huge American operations.
The US engineering and transport corps had “bulldozers, cranes, low-loaders, transport trucks of all descriptions … But missing were enough skilled operators of the heavy plant … the extensive road complex at the Darra Ordnance Ammunition Depot was built by the Thiess Brothers … who were building about a mile of road in a day.
“Clem Jones, later Lord Mayor of Brisbane (from 1961-1975) did the survey work for the Darra Ammunition dump …”
(Oz At War, 2015).
The US Army also employed about fifty Australian civilian labourers to work with the US Ammunition Ordnance companies destroying unserviceable weapons and munitions. “My father was one of the civilians employed by the US Army … their job was to supervise the destruction of damaged and contaminated munitions … these dangerous munitions were placed in pits – some very deep – then covered with tonnes of earth before being detonated.”
(Les Bryant, 2004.)
The roughly fifty Depot guards were also Australian civilians – Brisbane men who had to supply their own horses. The Depot had a cleared fire break all round and was fenced with only normal barbed wire. The mounted guards patrolled the 34km perimeter fire break and reported in via a system of phone lines strung through the bush. The Homestead caretakers cottage was their “command post” – the office for coordination and surveillance monitoring.
Some local guards went home each night, but most stayed in big American tents at the Homestead site. The stables for their horses were by the Mango trees. Their mess was a big P1 hut – the standard army hut at the time. Civilian guards also manned a fire tower erected nearby, reportedly on a site near Forest Lake State School.
From “Before Forest Lake” by Vicki Mynott
Adapted for print by Jamie Furness