ROWVILLE ARMY CAMP
AND ROWVILLE POW CAMP
In 1942 a military training camp was placed on a site at Rowville which later became the SPI PowerNet high voltage substation. The original Army Camp accommodated tactical response Australian troops, American troops destined for war in the islands north of Australia, and finally prisoners of war.
Bob Seers lived in Dandenong during and after the WW2. He can remember the camp at Rowville. Coming down the Stud Road hill toward the corner with Wellington Road the camp was on the left hand side. He can remember it clearly. Bob remembers his mother telling him that was where the Americans were. His older brothers told him of the Yanks in the Dandenong pubs and getting thrown out by the MPís and loaded on to trucks to go back to Rowville Camp. His Mother said the Yanks burnt down the grandstand at the old Dandenong Showgrounds which is now a car park between the City Of Dandenong Offices and the Dandenong Market. During the war, Australians were billeted at the Dandenong Market. Years later Bob remembers the signs still painted on various walls about things like meal times etc. Bob's Mother said the Yanks stole the hand-held bell that the Station Master at the Dandenong Railway Station used to ring to announce the departure of the electric trains to the City.
Bob Seers also remembers seeing near Rowville many years after the war, the remains of the firing range just near the road that went up to Heaney Park. There was a large firing butt (mound of pile up earth). The targets would have been in the front on the firing butt or mound of earth to stop the bullets. As kids riding bikes out to Heaney Park from Dandenong Bob and his mates used to take a short cut left at the top of the start of the hill on Stud Road just before where the Polish Club is today. Many times they went to the firing but and dug out the spent bullets.
I was told that there is some sort of link between Sir Don Bradman and Rowville. Can anyone tell me what the link might be?
Italian Prisoner of War, infantryman Private Rodolfo Bartoli, from Firenze, Italy, was shot while attempting to escape from Rowville POW Camp on 29 March 1946. He died in 115AGH on 30 March 1946.
Private Rodolfo Bartoli was captured on 10 October 1940. He disembarked from the ship Queen Elizabeth on 15 October 1941 and was marched into Cowra POW Camp on 16 October 1941. He received 28 days detention on 29 June 1942 for speaking in an insolent manner to a Sergeant Major. On 18 May 1943 he was fined 2 Shillings for breach of correspondence regulations. He transferred to Rowville on 9 October 1945.
Bob Seers also remembers that the Scout Hall on Princes Highway, Dandenong, which is now a part of Hemmings Park, was a Military Hospital during the war with lots of huts in the Park next to the Hall. One by one all the huts were removed and were mostly gone by the 1950ís. The 21st Australian Camp Hospital, Australian Army was located at Dandenong. Perhaps it was located in Hemmings Park.
Subject: Rowville Army Camp
Date: Thu, 12 Oct 2000 00:05:03 -0700
From: "Russell Holroyd" <HHH3798@bigpond.com>
Thanks for the quick reply. The reason I asked what part of the country you live in is that there was another POW camp around Melbourne and a bit of local knowledge makes it easier to explain. About 20 years ago an old guy told me about an Italian POW camp at Rowville, about 12-13 km north of Dandenong. (If you can get your hands on a Melway street directory, look up map 81, ref. H4). According to Alan Fitzgerald in his book 'The Italian Farming Soldiers' (MUP 1981) this was known simply as the Rowville POW Hostel.
This camp stood on the site now partly occupied by a major electrical terminal station. Whatever the government of the day wanted hidden, has long since disappeared under this vast installation. However, large sections of concrete works such as drainage ditches, hut bases and paths still exist on parts of the property not built on. Out of curiosity, in 1996, and again in 1999,a friend and I did an audit of those parts of the site we could get into and photographed everything relating to the POW camp. I can send you copies of the photos if you want them. The only thing we are missing is an aerial shot of the site.
This site is on what is now a major intersection, that of Stud and Wellington Roads in Rowville. The Terminal Station/campsite is on the south west corner and the Stamford Hotel is on the north west corner. The significance of the Stamford is that it was a small hotel in the 1940s where service personnel from the camp went to drink. It was also a refuelling depot for aircraft flying in to the area. The landing strip, so we are told, was large enough to land two C47s together. It ran beside the present Wellington Road westwards from the hotel. Two sources have told us that several of the pilots were women.
My friend Paul was lucky enough to come across a former camp guard at an Armistice Day commemoration nearby. Unfortunately, this man was reluctant to talk about the camp. He did, however, confirm some of the details others had told us and he mentioned that there had been bunkers to the south of the camp. Bunkers in an Italian POW camp? The way the government has been slowly destroying this complex, I said to Paul that if those bunkers had ever existed, they were either dug out or buried when that area was subdivided for housing. The Melway street directory shows 'Starlight Reserve' at reference 81 G5. A check of this park produced concrete works similar to the main site and, yes, there is almost certainly something buried in one part of the reserve!
Further south is Tirhatuan Park Golf Course. Given that it is one of four in very close proximity to this old site, has it been laid down to hide something? Maybe we'll never know that one. To the south east of the camp site is the former Police Paddocks. This area had a colourful history even before WW2. The old guy who told me about the camp mentioned there were graves at the POW camp. This is not in accordance with official practice where POWs who died in captivity were buried with proper military honours at the nearest cemetery.
However, in the 19th century, when the Aboriginal Police occupied the Police Paddocks, there were several deaths and they were interred in their own little burial plot. This may account for rumours of 'graves'. Our former guard also made the claim that 100 Poles/spies were executed at the camp. Unless we can find a willing witness or government documents, that story may remain only that. Still, it is strange how anyone associated with the site goes deaf, dumb, blind and stupid whenever 'graves' are mentioned in connection with the POW camp!
The above is basically what I know of the Italian POW camp at Rowville. Fitzgerald's book doesn't add much to it other than the account of the only Italian POW shot in captivity in Australia.
The story of this strange site doesn't end there. On the east side of Stud Road, about 2km south east of the terminal station (Melway ref 81 J8), is the Police Paddocks Reserve. For a park, this is a strange place. It is very user-unfriendly; negligible parking, fences, locked toilets, long grass, etc. Our former guard claimed that weapons training took place in this area during the war. Who knows? There is an area, supposedly a 'Scout Camp' which is fenced off from the public. It is interesting to note that no two brands of street directory agree to either its location or existence! Maybe we need to get in there with a metal detector.
To the east of Police Paddocks is Churchill National Park (Melway ref 82 C8). This existed before the war but it is intriguing to know that the main access road is still shown in some street directories as 'Army Rd'.
Closer to Dandenong there is further and more mysterious evidence of WW2 period activity, possibly related to the POW camp, and possibly not. If you have a Melway, locate Endeavour Hills Shopping Centre on Heatherton Rd (ref 91 D4). East from here, along Heatherton Rd and south down Hallam North Rd runs the remains of a wartime barbed wire fence. The guy who told me about it said that it was for the storage of armour during the war. That makes sense because it would be well clear of any assault on Melbourne. However, (1) the people at the local tank museum have never heard of armour ever being kept near Dandenong and (2) the tops of the posts are turned inward as if to keep people IN and not out! There are enough traces of this fence surviving to trace three of its sides for 4-5 km. What it was, I have no idea.
Anyway, I hope I haven't bored you. If you can use any of the above, please do, and if I can be of any further help, please don't hesitate to contact me
Note:- Russell has also helped me with some information on Camp Pell in Melbourne.
Subject: Rowville POW Camp
Date: Mon, 2 Jul 2001 16:04:19 +1000
From: Martin Hall <Kalorama@alphalink.com.au>
I have read the reply from Russell Holroyd regarding the POW Camp at Rowville. Unfortunately I have little to add to his information but have had a long interest in finding out more details about the camp and its uses. Our family moved into the Seebeck Road estate in 1963 which was adjacent to the area occupied by the camp. For many years the roads and tracks that wound their way through this region were a playground for my brother and I.
All I can add was that the remaining cement foundations and trenches were spread over a very wide area and did not always reside near the roads that existed at the time before the new sub-division removed any evidence of their existence. As kids will, we carried out crude excavations at these sites but never unearthed anything more than rusted cans and other rubbish. the area was a general dumping ground for old cars etc for years. Most of the older locals have died out over the years so the source of information has diminished.
A chap called Bryan Power who was a resident of the area for a number of years carried out interviews with the residents over the last 20 years and wrote articles on the history of the area in the Rowville/Lysterfield News. He may be a source for you however I recently found out that he has moved out of the area. Someone at the Know Historical Society may have his new details.
The graves at Police Paddocks I understand to be those of aboriginal trackers in the area during the mid 1800's and the body of a British Sergeant-Major. Their location has never been revealed to my knowledge.
I would be interested in any other information that you are able to discover about this site. It certainly appears that there is a story here that no one wants to tell.
Can anyone help me with more information?
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© Peter Dunn 2015
This page first produced 13 August 2000
This page last updated 06 September 2018