Koala Ordnance Service Depot (Igloo Warehouse No.10)
105 Australian Ordnance Vehicle Park/Stuart Cement Works
9 Jensen Street, Stuart 4811
The Japanese advance on the coast of New Guinea towards the mainland of Australia in early 1942 dictated the necessity of preparing Townsville as a reserve base for the storage of large amounts of equipment in case of possible invasion. As the military situation improved after the Battle of the Coral Sea, its role changed to one of supply and repair for forward bases.
The “Igloo” warehouse remains as physical evidence of the Nation’s wartime mobilisation in what was formerly the largest Allied base in the South West Pacific. As a purpose built Ordnance Igloo, it is the only surviving building of the Townsville Ordnance Depot.
The original design brief that these structures were to be temporary, combined with the ravages of termites, cyclones and high humidity has made them rare. The Igloo also features an attached saw tooth warehouse which was not a common combination.
The Igloo displays the principal characteristics of its type which include engineered timber framing, unlined internal walls, sheeted corrugated iron roof and concrete floor.
Due to the gravity of the military situation, Engineers abandoned traditional construction techniques in favour of a large scale prefabrication programme. The Igloo featured technically innovative construction techniques unique to this period.
The arrival in Townsville of one US Officer and four enlisted men in April 1942 marked the opening of an installation for the supervision and control of Ordnance supplies and activities in Base 2 Northern Region. Troops and large amounts of supplies were scheduled to arrive from the United States direct to the Townsville area.
Captain McCarthy, the first Ordnance officer to arrive, had as his primary mission the selection of scattered sites for ordnance activities; the most important of which were to provide ammunition storage and supply facilities for operational troops. Limited civilian facilities made it an immense project to locate areas for troops to receive, store and issue Ordnance. A site was selected about five miles from the CBD which was designated as “Townsville Ordnance Depot".
Ordnance responsibilities included the storage and issue of complete motor vehicles, weapons and weapon parts, cleaning and preserving materials, armament repair and repair of armed forces vehicles and tanks.
In early 1943 igloo type buildings were laid out at the depot and construction commenced. The Igloo is possibly the best known architectural legacy of WWII in Queensland. Although not prefabricated entirely, the truss was often prefabricated on site or delivered pre-cut. Consisting of a light nailed hardwood timber arch construction, they could be assembled quickly and could perform a variety of storage functions. The Australian modifications prepared by the Allied Works Council provided a stronger, more durable building than the original US design, capable of withstanding winds of up to 65 miles per hour.
These structures became the standard building solution when spans longer than 20 metres were required.
Included at the depot was one 100 foot x 600 foot warehouse, one of the largest of the Igloo type constructed on the mainland, with warehouse supervisors using bicycles as a means of transport. A spur from the Townsville - Charters Towers rail line ran directly alongside this Igloo (now 1 Brookhouse Street), which was later reduced to a fraction of its length by 1976 and completely removed by 1984.
On 16 April 1943 the Townsville Ordnance Depot was designated “Koala Depot", as part of the Koala Ordnance Centre. During the second quarter of 1943, Flinders St Depot 1 & 2 were moved to Stuart, which had previously been two civilian motor garages after having been requisitioned in July 1942. All vehicles received were of the crated type and an assembly line worked continuously to issue vehicles to units.
To supplement army personnel, a considerable amount of civilians were hired to perform such duties as guards and depot personnel. Koala became renowned for its ability to repair anything from a wrist watch to a tank. As such a large facility on the outskirts of the town, it also featured a nine piece dance band and movies three times a week which proved a great attraction to the service personnel camped nearby.
The surviving Igloo at Stuart was marked as building 10, Koala Ordnance Depot, on a 1944 plan of the site. Building 9, another igloo just to the west (now 12-14 Jensen Street), was removed by 1976. Building 8, a longer igloo to the east (now 19-33 Hogan Street) had burnt down by 1961.
The closing of Koala came at the beginning of 1945 due to the need to transfer operations to advanced bases in the Philippines.
Post-war the complex was used for storage by the Australian Army until it was declared surplus and purchased by NACL Cement. The Igloo at 9 Jensen Street has since been used for storage by Weinheimer transport. It remains as the only survivor of the complex on its original site, as all other former depot buildings were destroyed or removed prior to 1998. An original no smoking sign and internal lighting remain.
Bayonet of the North: Base 2 Records Engineers. Vol 3. Held at James Cook University North Queensland Collection, Townsville.
The North Queensland Line: The Defence of Townsville in 1942". Ray Holyoak unpublished
Honours Thesis, James Cook University, Townsville 1998.
National Archives of Australia, Item 3280204, ‘Stuart Koala Ordnance Depot (US Army) - Plans [1/S/140]’, 1944.
Aerial Photographs QAP0862015 (22-10-1958); QAP1163029 (12-6-1961); QAP32227475 (20-6-1976); QAP31996293 (6-8-1979); QAP4397108 (6-7-1984); and QAP5618002 (8-6-1998).