TONY NYE'S RECOLLECTIONS
OF THE ARCHERFIELD QUARRY
Carr's Quarry on Mortimer Rd. Acacia Ridge,
full of military equipment from WW2
The mysterious hole at Archerfield. When I first came to the area 20 years ago I was told that it was bottomless, connected to Moreton Bay, the result of a meteor strike, and filled with World War 2 aircraft in perfect working order.
The true story is a touch more mundane, but fascinating in its own right. There were actually two holes. There was a smaller hole about 400 yards East of the main hole clearly visible in an aerial photo taken in 1943. This has completely disappeared. The most likely explanation is that it was filled with material at the end of the war and levelled off to discourage attempts at retrieving material. As far as I know, no attempt has ever been made at finding out exactly what is in this smaller hole.
The main hole was originally dug to provide ballast for the railway line to Kyogle in NSW. To the best of my knowledge, it was 90 feet deep. Local oral history tells of Paddy the Irishman who was supposed to be watching the water pump used to keep the hole clear. Supposedly Paddy went on a blinder one weekend and the hole filled with water, so the Railways department abandoned it. Nice story, but most likely explanation is that they simply had enough material, and the hole was of no further use. Over a period, probably of quite a few years, the hole filled with water due to seepage through the rock and runoff from rain.
It was a favourite swimming hole for the local youngsters, with a broad rock platform on the Northern side a few feet above water level which was ideal for diving from. This is now permanently under water. The water level has risen approximately 15 feet since the war (I wonder if this was caused by the filling in of the other hole?)
During WW2, the airfield became an USAAF base. The airfield extended a lot further East than it does these days as is evidenced by the Nissen Hangars still standing. The base was serviced by personnel based at Camp Muckley (don't know who he was, though the yanks often called bases after personnel K.I.A) which was south of the airfield proper, Mortimer Rd being the boundary. The hole had been used as a dump since the early days of the airfield, so it was logical for the Americans to continue the practice, as well as using this ready water supply as a reservoir for fire fighting, there being, as far as I know, no town water in the area in those days.
At some stage, a reinforced concrete structure, (known locally as "the Bunker") was built on the rock shelf on the Northern side of the Hole. Its purpose is a mystery, as none of the supposed uses for it make sense. It consists of a curtain wall across the water side made of foot thick concrete. This has a personnel sized hole at each end. Entering through either of these doorways, one passes through a tunnel about 20 feet in length. At the end of these tunnels, one has to do a right angle turn into the main room, These internal doorways were able to be sealed by 4" thick sliding wooden doors which are still largely intact. The main room itself has three 1 foot diameter holes in the roof. The whole structure consists of 1 foot thick reinforced cement. This was obviously not just thrown up for the fun of it. Between the curtain wall and the main structure is open space. there is no evidence of this ever having been roofed in. In front of "the Bunker" there is a fairly smooth rock shelf, part of the main shelf the Bunker sits on. This was probably originally where rock was brought up from the pit, and may have been the site for a water pump to keep the hole dry, and may also have held a small rock crushing plant, as the rock was used for railway ballast, meaning it needed to be crushed to approximately 1" pieces.
Looking across the Hole, you can see the remains of a ramp leading up from the right (Eastern) side up to ground level. this was probably used for trucks removing the rock quarried from the pit.
WHAT WAS THE BUNKER???
Various guesses have been made as to the function of the Bunker, but none of these seem to fit. Some of these are:-
1. Water/fire fighting pump room. Why was it built so massively, and why the 2 passageways and the 4" thick wooden doors?
2. Ack Ack (AA) position, or central control for AA. Why build it on an obvious aiming point for enemy bombers? Also, being over 20 feet below the level of the surrounding ground, and close to the airfield side of the Hole, any AA sited here would have had an extremely limited field of fire.
3. Emergency control tower? See above, plus, the Bunker is well off the line of the runways used at the time.
4. Small arms/ammunition store? This was a popular theory for a while & would fit in with the type of construction. Unfortunately, several problems ruin this theory. First, there are extensive, properly built ordnance stores on the Western side of the airfield. Second, why build 2 entrances, especially when using the Western doorway would necessitate carrying ammunition by hand? The shelf across the front of the Bunker is too rough to even safely wheel a modern rubber tyred wheelbarrow across, and is only 3 feet wide with a sheer drop into the water on one side? The water would have been about 20 feet deep right in front of the Bunker at the time. Third, common practise with ordnance stores is to cover them in dirt, as this has much better blast absorption characteristics than rigid concrete. The Bunker was completely free standing at this period, as evidenced by aerial photos taken through the war show.
5. Guard post for a tunnel system? This makes no sense at all, as the structure would have been absolutely useless for this purpose, any guards having only 2 narrow doorways to defend the area from. They would have been trapped in the first instance of any attack.
Any ideas??? I am completely at a loss to explain the function of the Bunker. Even Roger Marks, in his excellent book on Queensland airfields during the war is unable to throw any light on the matter, saying that he could find no record of the Bunker's construction or function.
After WW2, the Hole slowly filled with water and faded from history and mind, except for the local kids who used it as a swimming hole, usually to the horror of their parents. The water level slowly rose to about 20' above its wartime height, now covering the Bunker except in the driest of seasons.
From time to time it would raise itself in the general consciousness, sometimes due to a swimmer drowning (supposedly there are three unrecovered bodies still in there), and sometimes through rumours of divers bringing wartime bootie to the surface.
In 1992, a loose group led by Terry Kelly an amateur WW2 aircraft historian, began pumping the water from the Hole. Mortimer Rd, running just South of the Hole, carries a fair bit of traffic, and the large pump used wasn't exactly silent, so it didn't take long for the word to get around that Something Interesting was up. People of all age groups and interests soon started peering through the chain link fence around this interesting activity. Some were rubberneckers, others were able to provide information on past history relating to activities in the past. Some information was a bit suspect, but a lot from older locals was invaluable in attempting to piece together bits and pieces of what had gone on over the previous fifty years.
As the water level receded, the first things to come to light were several sets of Mosquito landing oleos (main undercarriage legs) resting in the gap between the Bunker curtain wall and the main room. Others were soon discovered partly buried in the earth piled on top of the Bunker. This lends credence to the theory that a lot of the surrounding dirt was bulldozed into the Hole after the military material was dumped at the end of the War to make salvage impossible.
The Mosquito oleos, and a nacelle later discovered, give credence to one local's claim to have seen Mosquitos lined up, doused with petrol and torched, and the remains bulldozed into the Hole. Why this was done is open to conjecture. We know that US material was required to be destroyed and rendered unsalvageable ( as per the dumping of carrier loads of Corsairs in Moreton Bay off Brisbane) under the terms of Lend Lease, but the Mossies were locally built, and were Australian Government property. Possibly, it was simply a case of getting rid of unsalvageable airframes etc, the Mosquitos being, of course made of wood. This action may have occurred well after the War when several RAAF units were stationed at Archerfield. (check Peter Dunn's page on Archerfield for a list of these units).
The next objects to appear as the water level dropped were a bit of a surprise. Two cars in a fairly good state of preservation. These minor mysteries were eventually solved when the owners turned up. The owner of a late 40's English car (I forget what it was), when asked if he would like it back, replied "no thanks, it was stuffed when I pushed it in here." This car was on its side. Turning the upper rear wheel rotated the differential and the tail shaft, a tribute to Pommie engineering and the low oxygen content of the water, which meant most items recovered from the water were in a remarkable state of preservation, though corrosion soon set in once they were exposed to the air.
The appearance of the other car, a Mini Cooper, solved the mystery of its disappearance for its owner. He said he had always suspected that it had been dumped in the Hole after it was stolen from him when it was only ten days old. It too was in good condition, though minus its motor, obviously all the thieves were after.
As the water level dropped about 35' to the mud level, a multitude of material was progressively uncovered, every hour seeming to bring new objects of fascination into view.
The largest were a pair of Dakota tailplanes (vertical stabilisers), one intact. The other had been punctured in numerous places by a tool, probably like a 1" wide adze, as the skin was peeled back from each hole by dragging the tool through the skin for up to 1 foot. This was presumably done to help it sink, probably after the other tailplane was dumped, only to remain as a floating object for some time after its intended disappearance.
Altogether, parts from about 17 different aircraft types were identified in the Hole.
- Tiger Moth (complete wing frames made of perfect Oregon Timber)
- Dakota (Tailplanes, main wheels complete with tyres)
- Spitfire (Propeller blade, and also propeller boss)
- Kittyhawk (P40) (HUD gunsight)
- Mustang (P51) (Engine nacelle, and valve clearance setting tool)
- Avro Anson (several airframes, plus some engine parts)
- Stinson (supposedly the sister ship to the Lamington Plateau crash A/C) This A/C crashed in 1941 at Oxley Creek, a few miles west of Archerfield, killing the pilot and a Chinese passenger.
- Boeing B17 (Mid Upper Turret perspex)
- Lincoln (Cockpit frame) Supposedly the A/C that flew through the Maralinga atomic bomb cloud
- Piper Bird Dog (2, in crates) These crates only appeared at the top of the mud just before the end of the operation. We had no idea what was in them till a spectator (who could not have seen them), asked us if they had been found. He was involved in dumping them over the Western side, which was exactly where we found them.
- Wirraway (Complete port wing, all markings clearly visible) This was stolen one night, dragged under the fence... hope it went to a good home.
- Canberra (A.S.I) I have major reservations on this one, may well have been a ring-in.
I can no longer remember what other aircraft types showed up, hopefully some visitors here may be able to add to the list.
There were lots of:-
- Hispano-Suiza 20mm cannon. These had all been gas axed by armourers.
- Browning .50 cal. MG Ditto.
- Thompson SMG Ditto, and plenty of flat mags for these, plus a few round mags.
- Numerous rounds of 20mm & 50 cal ammo, all live from memory, don't remember any .45 ammo for the Thompsons though
- Several practice and smoke bombs.
- 1x Japanese LMG Type 97 (equivalent to a Bren, but 7.5mm cal)
- 1x Japanese HMG (very similar to a Browning .50 cal, even down to the rivets)
These weapons had escaped the armourers' attentions, possibly because they were confiscated souvenirs?
A special word of praise here for the bomb disposal crew from Enoggera Army barracks who must have broken the land speed record getting to the Hole every time we found something which may have gone bang.
Odds & Sods
There was a multitude of other objects recovered or sighted, including:-
- Merlin and radial engine mounts (some are still lying just inside the fence on the Southern side in the long grass).
- Fire extinguishers
- Signalling mirrors, aircrew for the use of
- Signalling wire, miles of the stuff, all tangled up
- Seat armour (possibly Mosquito)
- RAAF plates & cutlery
- Aircooled engine barrels, from both in-line and radial engines
- Heads to fit the above
- Mainwheels from a variety of A/C
- Oleos (as mentioned before). Only from Mosquitos from memory
- Bullet proof windshields, possibly Spitfire, but no certainty on that
- Aircrew protection armour from behind the seats, 1/2" thick Seat buckets (British pattern), including one almost certainly ex Mossie with height adjusting gear intact.
- 2x wooden stone trolleys from the original quarry operation.
- Quite a few 44 gallon drums (50 gal US) filled with asphalt (possibly used for radioactive waste disposal, see later)
And much, much more which I can't remember right now.
The project literally only scratched the surface, getting to mud level, not into the 40 to 50 feet below that. The objects recovered were only those lying on the quarry walls or easily accessible on the edges of the mud. Local oral history tells of Mustangs being taxied to the edge of the Hole by mechanics standing on the wing roots, and allowed to go over the edge, motors running, to their watery graves. Supposed eye witnesses tell of seeing the Mustangs being followed by Jeeps, then trucks, then finally, bulldozers. If the object was to render the equipment unusable, this would certainly be the way to do it.
The End of it all...
The whole project came to an abrupt halt.
Terry had been making noises for a while about a network of tunnels beneath the airfield. This had been a popular local myth for years. He added a new twist by saying that possibly these tunnels were filled with poison gas bombs!! There was an attempt to find the entrance to these tunnels which was supposedly behind the Bunker. A backhoe dug along the Western side of the Bunker and about half way across the back of it. Nothing was found. I would have thought that the better side to excavate was the Eastern side, as this was where a vehicle track came down to the Bunker from ground level. Anyway, the verdict on the tunnels is "case unproven". Soon after this, a bloke from the pump company appeared with 3 police in tow, saying that anyone who tried to stop them removing the pump would be arrested! This was rather a surprise, as to the best of my knowledge, the pump was on loan, and soon to be replaced by one suitable for removing the mud in the Hole, which was pretty liquid. From memory, this happened only a few days after Terry spoke to the manager of the pump company, who told him that the new pump had been serviced for the job, and was ready to be delivered as soon as Terry needed it.
Next, the company who had had a large mobile crane sitting for a couple of months South of the Hole, waiting for it to be needed, sent one of their people with a couple of police... conversation as before!! Finally, Brisbane City Council, which had never worried about the locals swimming in the Hole for donkey's years, except for putting a chainlink fence around the area, (which the local kids took about 5 minutes to crawl under to resume their activities), suddenly closed the project down on safety grounds!!!
In addition to this, the Council supposedly needed the site to build a Municipal Swimming Pool on!. The engineering feat involved in building a pool full of water on top of a ninety foot deep hole full of water & mud would have been a bit of a strain on the Budget to say the least, especially when there is plenty of rather more solid Council owned land in the area, including the site where they DID build a pool several years later.
Shortly after everything was shut down, police and Department of Environment & Heritage officers confiscated all recovered material, even the stone trollies. From what Terry told me later, they did offer to return the trollies, but nothing else.
The whole project was done on a shoestring. Terry had been on the dole for several years while researching the Hole. Some of the material was auctioned to raise operating funds, but this only raised a small amount.
The Queensland Museum made several promises to help preserve recovered material. No help was ever supplied, so perfectly preserved material was left to rot.
More Bloody Mysteries
1.The whole exercise did prove that WW2 material was dumped in the Hole, but was unable to ascertain whether the local stories of complete aircraft in it are correct.
Verdict : Case probably proven.
2. Tunnels full of poison gas bombs.
Verdict : My personal view is "Case unproven", due to the fact that plenty of "normal" bombs were dumped in Moreton Bay.
3. Radioactive Waste.
Verdict : Possible. This is conjecture, BUT:
The attitude towards Atomic testing in the 50's was absolutely cavalier. Servicemen were lined up unprotected in the effect zone of test blasts. Many of these men have suffered cancer in rates well above the norm ever since, with both the Australian and British Governments seemingly uninterested in their problems until very recently, and then only grudgingly, especially in the case of the Brits.
Aboriginal tribes were left to wander in test areas with little or no attempt to make sure they had been removed.
Decontamination procedures were primitive, to say the least, so it would not be too far fetched to see a nice convenient water filled Hole as a ready made dump.
At the time of the forced closure of the project there were many mutterings of conspiracy on high to prevent unwanted secrets coming to light. Conspiracy theories are great... no one can ever disprove them. All I can say is that the way everything ended makes me wonder just what was going on.
One question that was never answered, as far as I know anyway, was exactly who owns the material recovered, and that still in the Hole. Is it salvage, or is it, fifty years after being dumped, still the property of Uncle Sam? If anyone ever gets permission to properly excavate the Hole, can I be first in line to offer my services... there are still more unanswered questions waiting down there than I like to contemplate.
Any more information anyone has on either exactly what "the Bunker" was built for, the excavation, or the contents of the approximately 40 to 50 feet of mud at the bottom of the "Drowning Pool" will be greeted with cries of ecstasy, checked with reality as best we know it, and then added by Peter to this site. Just e-mail Peter and make his and my day (and then he can wear his fingers out like I have done writing this).
Regards Tony Nye
© Peter Dunn 2015
This page first produced 15 November 1998
This page last updated 15 September 2018