Brisbane River Minewatching Posts

RAN Minewatching Posts

Brisbane City

39 bunkers along Brisbane River, Brisbane 4000

After the outbreak of the Pacific War in December 1941, Brisbane developed into a major Allied supply port. Facing the threat of Japanese aircraft trying to block the Brisbane River by laying mines at night, the RAN created a local minewatching unit. The unit comprised women volunteers who under took nighttime sentry duty. By September 1942, the unit occupied 39 concrete bunkers built along both banks of the river. Initial training was for 100 minewatchers but this number later rose to over 180 personnel.

More locations of the mine wathers posts will be mapped as they are discovered.


By March 1942, Australia feared a Japanese invasion. The authorities expected Japanese aircraft to lay mines at night along the eastern reaches of the Brisbane River to interdict the shipping supply lines emanating from the port of Brisbane.

In response, an emergency minewatching unit was established in Brisbane, led by Commander V.W. Bowden. Due to the shortage of manpower, the unit recruited and trained women in the role of minewatchers. The Royal Australian Navy (RAN) approached a Queensland paramilitary organisation, the Women’s National Emergency League (WNEL) to seek recruits. The RAN also sought women through the Queensland Volunteer Net Camouflage Makers (QVNCM) organisation. Only volunteers were sought for the new minewatching unit.

Women undertook training at night after they had completed their regular daytime employment. Training was conducted by RAN telegraphists at the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) building at 278 Adelaide Street in the City. The training included Morse code proficiency in telegraph and torch; semaphore flag signals, use of the bearing plate and emergency first aid. By 24 August 1942, the RAN had employed a civilian Chief of Minewatchers and 100 women had been trained. Their uniform comprised the standard-issue khaki jacket and skirt, a triangular red, navy blue and gold Minewatcher badge, a WNEL badge, a cloth brassard worn on the left arm plus a Civil Defence steel helmet. The WNEL badge was pinned to the right epaulette. The Minewatchers unit badge was worn on the left lapel. The enamel Minewatchers badges were manufactured locally by Handfords. All uniforms and equipment were issued by the WNEL.

Minewatching posts were constructed along both banks of the Brisbane River commencing on the northside near the Victoria Bridge in the City and ending at Fort Lytton near the river’s mouth on the southside. Each post comprised a concrete bunker (2.44 m x 3.05 m) that faced the river. A closeable, heavy wooden shutter protected the bunker’s vision slit. Each bunker contained a RAN bearing plate, a telephone, a watch secured by a lanyard, a torch, a pencil, writing material, a stretcher bed and a small methylated spirits stove for cooking. A total of 39 such minewatching posts, built in a diagonal pattern along each side of the river, were completed by 20 September 1942. One bunker has been identified as located beside the Bulimba lighthouse. Another was at Hawthorne. All bunkers had service telephone lines though some bunkers were connected directly to the Radio Security Organisation Observation Centre located in the Brisbane GPO at 269 Queen Street.

Two members of the Minewatchers unit maintained a watch at each bunker every night. They set the bearing plate and synchronised watches upon arrival. At the end of their shift in the morning, the minewatchers dismantled the bearing plate, placed it on the stretcher and upon leaving, locked the bunker door and delivered the key to a prearranged spot. Twice per month, usually on moonlight nights, training exercises were conducted. Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) planes dropped dummy mines at night into the Brisbane River. The Minewatchers would take a bearing on the mine’s location, communicated the precise details to the GPO and then co-coordinated the mine retrieval.

By war’s end, the Brisbane Minewatchers unit had risen to a strength of more than 180 women. No bunkers remain. The last bunker, located on Porter’s Hill, Colmslie, was demolished c1997.


Brisbane City Council Heritage