4th Base Supply Depot (BSD) Storehouse No.7

Underground concrete oil tanks

Supply facility
Brisbane City

Campbell Street, Bowen Hills 4006

Prior to World War Two, Australia’s main naval base was at Sydney. Brisbane was designated a naval station but with no permanent warship allotment. The Royal Australian Navy (RAN) had a small depot on the Brisbane River, at the Parliament House end of Alice Street, the City. This had a small wharf with all other berths along the Brisbane River given to commercial shipping. By April 1942, the Pacific War had changed Brisbane into a US submarine base and a busy port along the New Guinea convoy route. New berthing facilities were needed to accommodate the Allied warships arriving as convoy escorts or on other duties.


This was a major construction project undertaken by the Allied Works Council (AWC). Contractors drawn from the Sydney Water Board undertook the construction. They implanted 10 Naval Berths along the Brisbane River supported by a two-way refuelling facility comprising six separate oil storage depots. The six depots were planned to have a total capacity of 85,000 tons of fuel oil.

The oil depots were built in three widely spaced groups for protection of Brisbane’s naval fuel stocks in case of air attack. Each group comprised two separate oil depots. Each oil depot was to consist of three steel-plated, reinforced concrete and cylindrical oil tanks, with each tank meant to hold 5,000 tons of fuel oil. A single pipeline that led to one of three naval oiling berths on the Brisbane River was connected to the three oil tanks in each depot.

The six RAN oil depots were built in suburbs located on both sides of the Brisbane River. The depots were positioned far enough from the river that they were not easily seen and could not be bombarded or easily assaulted by enemy raiders who had entered the Brisbane River. The depots were built off Campbell Street, Bowen Hills where the oil storage tanks were built underground; on a hill off Colmsle Road, Colmslie, at 701 Eagle Farm Road (now Kingsford Smith Drive), Whinstanes (now part of the suburb of Eagle Farm); 141Anton Street, Hemmant, at 506 Lytton Road, Cannon Hill (now part of the suburb of Morningside) and at Newstead. The Whinstanes depot was the last to be completed as it was still under construction in August 1943.

The 10 RAN berths, designated ‘A’ to ‘J’, consisted of four timber dolphins (marker buoys) imbedded into the floor of the river. The dolphins were designed especially for heavy duty. Although of varying lengths, the 98-feet berth laid on the Quarries Reach of the river, near Gibson Island, was the largest so as to accommodate large Allied heavy and light cruisers. Each berth featured a central wharf. A timber viaduct strong enough to get a truck onto the wharf connected the wharves to the riverbank. Road construction from the existing local road network to each berth was also undertaken. Berths ‘D’, ‘E’ and ‘F’ were the oiling berths and each was connected to one group of two naval oil depots. These three berths’ wharves were reticulated for oiling purposes. Each had an onshore hose-rack building, fire hydrants and water cocks for safety purposes. Water supply for the berths was a concern. In August 1943, the Allied Works Council (AWC), overseeing the project, discussed augmenting Brisbane’s water supply to meet the increased demand.

The sites chosen for the berths had to be of sufficient depth. Most had experienced no previous dredging. The dredging of these sites became a major undertaking. Involving the removal of 1, 250,000 yards of thick, heavy mud, Brisbane’s existing dredging machinery proved inadequate for the task and plant was brought from across Australia to complete the task. A 500-ton dumb barge was re-equipped with twin screws and used with the removal of fill. A second dumb barge was added to the operation. The aggregation of river dredges and attendant vessels was the largest assembly of its type in Australia during the war.

A limited supply of concrete plus the labour shortage that bedevilled the Australian Government during 1942–1945, led to this project being reduced in scale. As the Bowen Hills and Colmslie depots were the first to be completed, they had three oil storage tanks. Only two oil tanks were completed subsequently at the Cannon Hill, Hemmant, Newstead and Whinstanes depots. Each tank’s oil storage capacity was halved to 2,500 tons. Five oiling berths had been proposed but only three built. In October 1944, the AWC reported that 10 destroyer berths had been completed, with another five cruiser berths proposed.

After the war, the Commonwealth sold some depots to private industry. The Bowen Hills depot went to Shell Oil. The Furnace Oil Company bought the Cannon Hill depot. The Colmslie and Newstead depots were sold to Vacum Oil. The Bulimba depot became a joint Shell and Vacum Oil facility. As housing replaced industry in these suburbs, the oil storage tanks were demolished. A single oil storage tank survives at both the Hemmant and Whinstanes depots, while the footprint of the three Colmslie depot oil tanks can be seen from the air.