BULIMBA - APOLLO BARGE ASSEMBLY DEPOT, USASOS
BULIMBA, BRISBANE, QLD
DURING WW2

 

Dennis Burchill describes the establishment of the Apollo Barge Assembly Depot as follows in his April 2004 "Wartime Memories of Bulimba":-

"Big changes were happening on Bulimba also. The yanks were in the process of establishing a barge-making facility alongside Apollo Road. The area that they picked had a large tea tree swamp in the middle of the land. They solved this problem by sending all their heavy earth moving equipment to the area we knew as “first gully” (now occupied by the Exclusive Brethren’s church) and taking enough of soil from the hill to fill the swamp in.  Another problem they had was the fact that there were about twenty houses along the waterfront that were in the way. They loaded all the houses onto low loaders and put them wherever they could find a vacant block of land close by. In a two week period in 1942 Cowper Street received six of them.  As soon as the land was cleared they set about putting in place their barge facility. The workforce comprised about 800 Chinese labourers who were housed in barracks built along Baldwin Street and terraced down the hill. The barges that they were building were about sixty feet long by about 25feet wide. They had a chisel bow at each end. The barges had one refrigeration cold room at each end with a self-contained plant room in the middle. One cold room was for frozen goods while the other was for perishables. The barges were designed to be taken as deck cargo to New Guinea and then towed by tugs to where they were needed. As soon as an island was secured by the yanks around the corner would come the barge loaded with coca-cola and ice cream. As the barges were steel, the Chinese were taught to weld and they worked three eight hour shifts. At six o'clock every morning, (which was the change of shift) the whole district would be awakened by loud Chinese music blasting over the speakers."

"The Chinese workers caused quite a lot of friction with the local workers. The yanks paid them well and they always had plenty of money. As beer in those days was rationed and was only served in sessions, the Chinese who had worked all night would have a sleep and then stroll down to the Balmoral Pub when the session started. When the meatworkers and the stockmen arrived after work they found that the Chinese had downed most of the beer on tap.  This led to several nasty brawls with the stockmen chasing them down Oxford Street on their horses and hitting them with palings that they had ripped off fences."

Engineer Boat Yard, Bulimba at peak production

Bob Jarvis was a member of Company "B", 1st Battalion, 534th Engineer Amphibian Regiment, 4th Engineer Amphibian Brigade. They arrived in Sydney on board the USS West Point on 12 May 1944.  They disembarked and moved by train to Camp Warwick in Sydney. Three days later they moved up to Brisbane arriving at Camp Bulimba on 15 May 1944. By the time they arrived, the Engineer Boat Yard  was building large refrigerator barges. Bob Jarvis worked with the Chinese from May to October 1944. They started work in the boat yard on 21 May 1944.

Bob Jarvis told me his memories of the Barge Assembly Depot as follows:-

"I had already pulled up a map of Bulimba area. I think the boundaries of our camp were as follows  Start at Apollo & the river-go South & make a dogleg left to Lytton. Our main gate was about at this intersection. Continue East on Lytton for 1000 meters or more, and then North to the river. Our camp was immediately inside the gate. We had to walk north down the hill to the yard. There were also sheds where large sections were assembled. I ran a small crane in one of the sheds for a short time. The Chinese did the riveting. Ships brought in the steel components.  They moored directly across the river, and the material was brought over by barge. All work stopped mid-morning and afternoon for tea. The Chinese made the tea in a large vat and then poured into 150 or 200 tin cans. Everybody then took a can. After tea, they strung the cans on a wire and put them in the river to wash them. I must have had a good immune system in those days.  I don't know where the tram stopped, but we had to walk up a hill, past the Catholic church to get to the gate. After too much XXXX it was a tough climb."

"The 4th Brigade was made up of three regiments, the 534th, the 544th and the 594th. Each regiment had two battalions, a boat battalion  consisting of Companies A, B &  C, and a shore battalion consisting of Companies D, E,& F.  As far as I know, only the boat battalion of the 534th was on the "West Point"  The book was printed by "C" Co. I was in "B" Co. There were about 1000 men of the boat battalion that disembarked in Sydney  About 6600 other non Amphibious troops went on to Milne Bay. They disembarked on 18 May 1944."            

Bob Jarvis later indicated that their camp was at Stop 38 on the Balmoral tram line.

One of the Chinese working at the Barge Assembly Depot was 20 year old Lau Lin Chin, later known as Ted Wen Liu or Eddie Liu. He was called up by the Manpower Department and was employed by the US Army as a supervisor at the Barge Assembly Depot at Bulimba. Eddie was discharged from the US Army at Bulimba on 31 August 1943. He was then employed at the Chinese Seamen's Union in Queen Street, but some time before September 1944 he purchased the National Cafe, Wickham St., Fortitude Valley. Eddie Liu, OBE, OAM, later became known as the "Father" of Chinatown in Brisbane and he was the longest serving Honorary Secretary of the Chinese Club of Queensland.

 

Eddie Liu, OBE, OAM

 

Chinese Paint crew at work

 

A quiet day at the Engineer Boat Yard, Bulimba

 


(Photo via Russell Miller)

The Apollo Barge Assembly Depot was located in the vacant land at the centre bottom of the
photograph which was taken on 4 August 1942. It was located opposite
the Hamilton Wharves on the other side of the Brisbane River.

 

Standing up the rake frames

 

Barges in the making

 

Heaters at work

 

Rivet Crew

 

Timber Crew

 

A deck going on

 

Laying deck plates

 

Top side view

 

Tossing a hot rivet

 

Barges put in dry storage at the rear
of the workshops in 1948 (Photos: via Bill Durrant)

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Photo: via Bill Durrant

Photo of barge possibly built at the Apollo Barge Assembly Depot

Bob Jarvis was sent with a detail of eight others to sail a 97 ft schooner "Morewa" up the coast as far as Cairns, and then across the Coral Sea to Milne Bay, and then up to Hollandia, where they turned the vessel over to the Hollandia Base. It had come to Brisbane from Auckland. They left Brisbane with one of the Chinese aboard as a cook. They only got as far as Moreton Island when the Chinese Cook became very seasick, and they had to take him back. They then got a fellow who had been in the Australian Army. His name was Steve Burroughs and he was from Brisbane. He was an excellent cook and a lot of fun. Bob Jarvis told me that he learned some very colourful language from their Aussie Cook.

They then flew back to Brisbane and went to a Rest Camp at Coolangatta. After that they moved to Luzon, in the Philippines where they trained with the 25th Division at Lingayan to make the landing at Kyushu where the Japs surrendered. They were sent with the 25th Division to Nagoya. Bob Jarvis was sent home to the States in December 1945.

Bob Jarvis has a book which was printed in Japan by their sister company, Company "C" that has a good section on the shipyard and the Chinese Camp (Camp "A") and Camp Bulimba Camp "B". There were only enough copies of the book printed for the men in the company.

Ships brought in the steel components to the Barge Assembly Depot. They moored directly across the river, and the material was brought over by barge. All work stopped mid-morning and afternoon for tea. The Chinese made the tea in a large vat and then poured into 150 or 200 tin cans. Everybody then took a can. After tea, they strung the cans on a wire and put them in the river to wash them. Bob Jarvis said that he must have had a good immune system in those days. 


Photo: via Bill Durrant

Fairmile Launch of No 32 Small Ships would berth at Bulimba between 1947 and 1950

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I'd like to thank Bill Durrant for his assistance with this home page.

I'd also like to thank Bob Jarvis from Detroit, USA for his assistance with this home page.

I'd also like to thank Dennis Burchill and Norman Love for their assistance with this web page.

 

 

 

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This page first produced 17 September 2004

This page last updated 07 August 2013