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Located just below a raised lookout walkway area


What was thought to be a small air raid shelter or bunker was located on Friday 10 November 2006 by workmen constructing the new $333 million Inner Northern Busway (Queen Street to Upper Roma Street) in Brisbane, Queensland. As a result of damage due to the construction work, there were only two walls of the underground rooms that were still intact on 14 November 2006. On the external walls, either side of a doorway, were the remains of old aircraft-identification posters, still stuck to the crumbling plaster.


Photo:- Brian Sinclair

Aircraft Recognition Poster


The underground rooms that were unearthed were established under the old Roma Street Police Station (1879 - c.1963) in 1941 before the war started in the Pacific. This complex of rooms was the Air Raid Precautions Control Room (or Air Raid Precautions Control Centre) for Brisbane. Queensland Police co-ordinated Air Raid Precautions (ARP) from this room during WW2. The creation of the ‘bomb proof and gas proof’ shelter meant that some new walls were built in the basement and concrete was added to the existing basement walls.

There were four rooms associated with the ARP Control Centre. One large room, the plotting room, had 3 billiard tables pushed together and 3-ply timber laid on top of the tables. Maps of the Brisbane area were laid out on top of the 3-ply sheets. If there was a major event on, cadet policemen would be called in to sit in small cubicles around the plotting room to log all the incoming calls. A number of exercises were held to test the Police cadets in these duties.


Photo:- Courier Mail 5 May 1942, via Russell Miller

A US Naval Officer Lieutenant J. Wagener  observing operations in the ARP Control Room
on 4 May 1942. An "Air Raid" exercise was held. Police officer Merv Callaghan can be
seen plotting the location of various incidents, while Sgt 2C Ted Anthony watched on.


Another room (Switch Room) contained three switchboards which were manned on a continuous shift basis. The late Merv J. Callaghan (of Ashgrove) told me that he was one of ten policemen who manned the Air Raid Precautions Switchboards on 3-man shifts. Other policemen who worked on the switchboards were Burnett "Burnie" Bright, Tom Blackburn, Ernie Horan, Ron Hunt, Mick Gilmartin, Les Keyes and Adrian Rice.


Photo:- Brian Sinclair

Switch Room Doorway


Photo:- Brian Sinclair

Switch Room Overview


Photo:- Brian Sinclair

North west wall of Switch Room with escape "tunnel"


Photo:- Brian Sinclair

Escape "tunnel" packed with loose bricks


Merv Callaghan initiated the first air raid siren operation in Brisbane from this room during WW2, when 6 unidentified aircraft were spotted out in the Pacific Ocean approaching the coast. They turned out to be six US Army Bomber aircraft flying in to Australia from Honolulu. There were a few other occasions that Merv Callaghan heard the air raid sirens from his room in the police barracks in Petrie Terrace. He would quickly pull on his Police clothes and run down to the ARP Control Centre.

These policemen were responsible for referring all important incoming messages regarding troop movements and ARP matters to the Inspector-in-Charge of each shift. This Inspector was located in 8 Fighter Sector Headquarters in the Wills Building in Ann Street. The 3 policemen were under the Inspector's control. There were a number of direct hot-lines to other police districts throughout Queensland. The 3 policemen on duty could switch as many as 30 calls to all the local ARP centres around Brisbane. They were also in radio contact with NSW police. During WW2, the National Emergency Services (NSW) had radio communications located in the Police Station at Roma Street. The National Emergency Services looked after Air Raid Precautions in New South Wales.

There were two other smaller ante rooms, each about 10ft by 10ft square. One room was used by 2nd Class Sgt Ted Anthony and the other was used by the senior Constable on duty.

The only visitor to the ARP Control Centre on a regular basis was Cecil Carroll (now deceased), the Commissioner of Police. He visited the centre every night to read the Logs kept by the three policemen on duty on the switchboards and to communicate with his Police Inspectors throughout Queensland using the Police hot-lines.

Merv Callaghan told me that simulated raids like the above were held nearly every month.


Courier Mail 5 May 1942

More than 2000 men women and children of Brisbane's Civil Defence Army went into action in the city and at Torwood, Rosalie and Red Hill yesterday in the most realistic A.R.P. exercise yet held.

For the first time in Brisbane, the element of surprise was introduced. The services were not told beforehand of incidents arranged to test them.

The two hour exercise which was the first of sectional tests of A. R. P. services throughout the State was the stiffest the organization had faced and the Civil Defence Minister (Mr Hanlon) said last night that it had improved the efficiency of the workers. 

The chief warden in the city proper (Mr. C.A. Powell said that public participation would have improved the test but that would be more desirable on week days when there were more people in the city. Wardens when dealing with bombs in the streets explained the process to spectators.

All services had much more gear than in previous tests, particularly fire-fighting equipment Traffic was held up in city streets while squads of men barricaded spots at which bombs were assumed to have fallen. Pedestrians were waved clear of "un-exploded bombs".  Wardens patrolled the streets in full kit they extinguished home made incendiary bombs with stirrup pumps and sand. " Oil bombs" were dropped at every wardens post.  City Council workmen scaled city buildings to rescue "stranded" people. Hundreds in Anzac Park watched the spectacular rescue of an "injured" person from the top of the State Insurance building. Strapped to a stretcher the patient was lowered by tackle, which had been rigged in a few minutes. Another group of men was busy "repairing" burst water and gas mains and fallen electric light wires.

Stretcher bearers carried wounded through city streets to first-aid posts in the State Insurance building where 100 casualties were treated. A fleet of private and business vehicles took "patients" to hospital.

For the first time police on duty in the streets wore tin hats and respirators.  

Fire reels sped through the streets. Dispatch riders and police drove at high speed delivering urgent messages All civil defence utilities were given right of way. 

Pumping machinery at North Quay filling the salt water mains, was given a thorough trial.  

Interested observer at the "nerve-center"--The control room at Roma Street Police Station, through which passed all reports of damage and casualties was Lieutenant J. Wagener of the U.S. Navy.

Mr Hanlon told him that the civil defence  set up in New York was the same as in Brisbane.


Photo: Peter Dunn 14 Nov 2006

Inner Northern Busway Project


After the war, the rooms of the ARP Control Centre were used to store police files.

After the remains of the bunker were found, Queensland Transport and Main Roads Minister, Mr. Paul Lucas, requested that work in the area of the underground room be delayed while Queensland Museum and the Heritage Council of the Environmental Protection Authority finalise their investigations as to whether there was any significant heritage value associated with this find. They were expected to finalise their findings by Friday 17 November as to whether the remains of the "bunker" should be removed from site and preserved.


Photo: Peter Dunn 14 Nov 2006

Remains of the underground room covered in black plastic


Photo: Peter Dunn 14 Nov 2006

The black plastic covering the remains of the underground
"bunker" can be seen in the middle of the photo.


Photo: Peter Dunn 14 Nov 2006

The steel door mentioned in media reports can be seen behind the black plastic


Photo: Peter Dunn 14 Nov 2006

The steel door mentioned in media reports can be seen behind the black plastic. There
were a number of steel doors associated with the rooms for the ARP Control Centre.


Photo: Peter Dunn 14 Nov 2006

Remains of the underground room covered in black plastic


Photo: Peter Dunn 14 Nov 2006

A brick wall behind the remains of the underground room.


Photo: Peter Dunn 14 Nov 2006

Looking towards City Hall, The underground room is over the
edge of the embankment beyond the Turbot Street overpass. 


Photo:- Faye Schutt

Preservation Work underway by the Queensland Museum


There was only one room left of what was a fairly large complex. According to the 1941 plans held by Thom Blake this room (shown in the photograph above) was the ‘Switch Room’. Four sections of the ‘Switch Room’ have been retained by the Queensland Museum. Future plans for these include a display in the Northern Busway concourse.

In an article in The Sunday Mail, 13 January 2008 (page 21), Inner Northern Busway Alliance manager, Graham Olsson, reports that the walls of the bunker are due to go on display at the Queensland Museum. He also indicated that an entrance for the tunnel at Roma Street had to be redesigned to house a display which will feature the history of the bunker.


Photo:- Faye Schutt

A section of the old wall clamped between steel frames and
plates to allow recovery of the wall by the Queensland Museum.


Photo:- Faye Schutt

A close-up of the steel door in the background



The Inner Northern Busway was opened on Sunday 4 May 2008 by the Honourable Anna Bligh MP, Premier of Queensland. Unfortunately Merv Callaghan passed away on 17 January 2008 and was unable to attend the Official Opening of the Inner Northern Busway and view the display on the WW2 Bunker that he had worked in.



The Courier Mail 1 December 2006, page 31



I'd like to thank Merv Callaghan (now deceased), Faye Schutt, Russell Miller, Lee Deighton and Brian Sinclair for their assistance with this web page.


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This page first produced 14 November 2006

This page last updated 18 January 2020