Civil Defence Communications Centre and Control Room
Cairns Scout Shop
- Civil defence facility
Munro Martin Park (cnr Florence and Grafton Streets), Cairns 4870
The former World War II civil defence communications centre and control room in Martin Munro Park in Cairns was built in early 1942 to provide a hardened headquarters for co-ordinating emergency services during air raids. It is located near the corner of Florence and Grafton Streets, at the south-east corner of the park.
The octagonal concrete building is now painted in scout colours and has eight scout badges painted on the exterior walls. Sitting on top of the concrete roof is a large fibreglass scout hat.
The front entrance to the former control room faces south-east towards Florence Street. Each of the eight walls measure approximately 3.9 metres long by 3.4 metres high and are off-form concrete 300mm thick. The five southern-most walls have had window openings created and fitted with steel louvres. There are sets of three air vents on six of the eight walls.
The interior contains one main room and two smaller rooms to the rear with a central corridor leading around the rear interior blast wall to the rear entrance. The interior walls are 150mm thick concrete. There is a 300mm square concrete post 2.5 metres inside the front entrance and there is evidence of the removal of a wall between the post and the eastern wall.
Norman Park, now known as Munro Martin Park, was Cairns’ first recreational reserve, gazetted in 1882. During World War II Norman Park became a focal point for military activity. The council at a meeting on 10 July 1941 gave permission for ‘C’ Company 15th Garrison Battalion to erect a hutted camp on the park.
Elements of the 17th Battalion Volunteer Defence Corps (VDC) also occupied the park. The VDC was raised under the banner of the Returned Services League and was taken over by the military in 1941. VDC members consisted of men between the ages of 17 and 65 who for various reasons were not suitable for regular military service. Their service consisted of assisting in the defence by guarding important military and civilian places, evacuating civilians if required and in an emergency assisting with the demolition of strategic facilities. Another volunteer unit was the Women’s Emergency Corps (WEC) which was raised for the emergency transport of the civilian population if required.
At Cairns the local VDC used the council chambers as headquarters, but with Japan’s entry in the war in December 1941 a more substantial building was required for a civil defence control centre. Controller P.A. Anthony stated in a letter to the council that the chambers building provided insufficient protection in the event of an air raid and requested that a control room be built in park land. He also suggested that a band rotunda could be built on top of it and the control room could later be used for storage. In February 1942 it was decided that the Public Works Department would build a reinforced concrete control room in Norman Park (Martin Munro Park from 1956) for use by the VDC, air raid wardens, police, fire brigade and the ambulance service to coordinate emergency services.
Construction of the building commenced in March 1942; it was designed as a reinforced concrete structure, octagonal in plan with two entrances, each protected by internal concrete blast walls. There were no windows. On completion the control room was fitted out with telephones and was used to coordinate air raid warden duties for the Cairns area.
Air Raid Precautions were introduced in January 1942 and the Air Raid Wardens had the responsibility to ensure compliance with the regulations within the community. Black-out curtains and slit trenches became part of every home in the Cairns area. Air raid practice drills were held on a regular basis both in the daytime and evenings, and during drills people on the streets were required to move to the nearest air raid shelter. The Cairns City Council constructed nine public air raid shelters around the city for the population. The shelters were of reinforced concrete, 300 mm thick and could hold fifty people seated.
The former civil defence control room survived the post war demolition and removal of public air raid shelters. Circa 1950 Florence Street was realigned so that it ran in its original position through Norman Park in a straight line from the Esplanade to Mulgrave Road, just south of the control room, cutting the park in two.
In the mid 1950s the control room was given a new role when it was handed over to the Scouting Association of Queensland. Some of the early renovations to the building by the Scouts involved the removal of an internal blast wall from the front entrance on the south side of the building and cutting windows into five of the eight walls and fitting steel louvers and security grills. In September 1980 the Scouting Association started a major renovation program which involved tiling the floor in the front (southern) section of the building and installing a ceiling. Windows were reconstructed and the exterior of the building was sand blasted and repainted. District and area scout badges were painted on the exterior of the building. By 1982 arrangements had been made with local firm, Rogers Fibreglass, to construct a giant scout hat that would fit over the roof of the building. It was lowered into place at a ceremony on 22 February 1982. The building became the Scouting Association’s Area Headquarters and Scout Shop.
World War II Volunteer Defence Corps, Cairns Control Room. Queensland Heritage Register 602744
National Archives of Australia. NCCR 25/1/1396A. Norman Park Camp - Cairns - contains documentation relating to staffing, the disposal of surplus installations and includes the Commonwealth Disposal Commission form for various disposals. 1946–1949.