Home » The History of Forest Lake – Part 9

The History of Forest Lake – Part 9

Corin Mackay    August 3, 2023    5 min read   

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:

Purchased by the Durack family and unsuccessfully mined for coal (1882). Purchased by Patrick Perkins (1888), bought by QLD Investment and Land Mortgage Company (1893), and bought by John Henry Hart (1915). Archerfield Tobacco Lands allowed to lease part of the property (1932). Brisbane City Council resumed over 30% of property – 4000 acres (1937) – part of this area later became Forest Lake. Archerfield Station was used for US army military base in WWII for military equipment (1942).

Post- World War II – The Darra Dump

The Pacific War ended in August 1945 and the US Army had vacated the Darra Ordnance Ammunition Depot by December 1945. Before they went, they disposed of much of their equipment and munitions by detonating, burying, or dumping it at sea.

The RAAF took over and started clearing the area of remaining munitions. Again, civilians were employed both to carry the explosives away and to guard the Depot. Although the war was over, the Darra Ordnance Ammunition Depot remained potentially dangerous – exposing locals to risk from Fire, UXOs (UneXploded Ordnance) and CWAs (Chemical Warfare Agents.)

US Army at Richlands. Source: Grantham Family.
US Army at Richlands. Source: Grantham Family.

Major explosions and fire 

The ammunition stores were in the huge Archerfield Station forest. There was an ever-present danger that a bushfire would ignite the munitions and cause a conflagration, and several bushfires threatened the depot. But strangely, the worst explosion was allegedly caused by water.

Freak Water Dump Blast – Questions about a Dutch dump of 300 tonnes of ammunition at Darra, which was the scene of a violent explosion yesterday, were answered last night by Dutch and RAAF officials. Yesterday’s [freak] explosion was … probably was caused by water mixing with chemicals in the ammunition, said the RAAF officer in charge of the dump…

The dump consisted chiefly of mortar bombs, hand grenades, and rifle and revolver cartridges. Two other dumps of about equal size, both of which were within 20 yards of the explosion, remained intact. The explosion started a fire, flames which rose 20 feet in the air. Firemen who were called were powerless to fight the blaze…

Rain prevented the flames from spreading through the surrounding bush, and the fire burned itself out within two hours … (The Courier Mail, 24 January 1947 p1.)

3 Hour Fight To Save Explosives – For more than three hours yesterday firefighters battled a bushfire near Archerfield to save more than 100 tonnes of high explosives stored in the Darra dump.

Fanned by a fresh southerly wind, the fire burned fiercely along a three-mile front during the afternoon. The firefighters burned a break a mile long to arrest the blaze … Main Roads men reached it at about 3:30 pm and used bushes, flails and sacks to fight it. They quickly abandoned these on seeing their best chance to save the dump lay in burning a break around the area… Well over a square mile of country was burned out. Small arms ammunition left by servicemen, who occupied the dump during the war, exploded loudly during the fire… (The Courier Mail, 24 April 1948 p1).

CWAs (Chemical Warfare Agents)

Chemicals for chemical weapons were also stored in bulk at the Darra Depot, including mustard gas and tear gas. Chemical Weapons were not used by Allies, so after the war a great quantity was to be disposed of. These were dumped at sea and buried in December 1945. In the 1950’s, about seven tonnes of contaminated soil was removed from the former Darra depot after an army investigation of the area. 

Chemical Drums stored at Darra Ordnance Depot. Source: Oz@War.
Chemical Drums stored at Darra Ordnance Depot. Source: Oz@War.

UXO’s (UneXploded Ordnance)

Across the country, many soldiers brought home souvenirs of war, and it was common to see ammunition shells used as decorations for home and garden. Curious children found munitions across many deserted army camps and depots. But some ammunition was still live and there were accidents. 

Locally, Richlands and Servington/Inala boys found munitions, which they took apart to extract the cordite. 

In 1954 two boys died when an old mortar bomb from the old Darra Ordnance Depot exploded in what is now Hock Davis Park, Inala (behind Blue Fin Fishing Club.)

Mothers in Inala kept their children indoors to stop them playing with live ammunition.

People living in Inala claimed there was a “ton” of ammunition lying around left by American troops during the war, and demanded a full-scale clearing of the bush to prevent other deaths. (Mercury, 16 June 1954 p2.)

In 2017, the Department of Defence listed 269 UXO locations in QLD, and Forest Lake is considered to have a slight potential for a UXOs. If one is ever found, do not touch or disturb it, and contact the police.

Flares found at Archerfield c1948. Source: Henry Eustace, Darra (right).
Flares found at Archerfield c1948. Source: Henry Eustace, Darra (right).

Corin Mackay