RAN Fuel Installation
Tanks Art Centre
- Supply facility
Collins Avenue, Edge Hill 4870
The Royal Australian Navy (RAN) fuel installation at Edge Hill was constructed in 1943 in response to the increased military presence in Cairns associated with the Pacific war effort. The installation once comprised five large fuel storage tanks (Tanks 1-2 in steel, 3-5 in concrete) earth and concrete bunds around the tanks, two pump houses, two foam tanks, a fire station (garage) and an underground pipeline from the tanks to Cairns wharves. Tank 1 and the fire station have since been demolished.
The former fuel installation is located 5 kilometres north of the original port of Cairns, built into the southern side of Mt Islay. Tank 2, a pump house, a concrete bund and remnants of the walls of Tank 1 are located north of Collins Avenue near the eastern entrance to the Flecker Botanical Gardens. A foam tank, of pressed metal with a flat galvanised iron roof, is located opposite on the south side of Collins Avenue. Tanks 3, 4 and 5 are located north of Collins Avenue approximately 500 metres to the west and have been adaptively re-used as the Tanks Arts Centre. Nearby are a 1.5m high concrete bund, a foam tank and a pump house.
Due to shipping congestion at Townsville (US Base Section Two) facilities were required to support an increased naval presence in Cairns. Two RAN staff visited Cairns in late 1942 and approved a fuel installation site at Edge Hill that could be camouflaged from the air and would be difficult for enemy aircraft to attack. It was also sufficiently distant from the wharf precinct to be of little danger to the port if it was hit.
The site chosen was on the southern slopes of the Mt Whitfield Range (Mt Islay). Part of the site was located within a quarry reserve, part within a recreation reserve (R.267 - now known as Flecker Botanical Gardens) and part on a disused railway reserve. Three large concrete 1,250,000 gallon (5682613 litre) tanks and two large steel fuel tanks of the same capacity were built and commissioned for use by the RAN and the USN in 1943. Up to eight tanks were planned but only five were constructed, by the Allied Works Council.
The first two tanks were built on the former railway reserve on the north side of Collins Avenue. Tank 2 was built on the former railway alignment, while Tank 1 was constructed on the site of the former Edge Hill Railway Station. Because these tanks were intended to hold diesel oil and distillate oil they were constructed in plate steel. Adjacent to tanks 1 and 2 a small pump house was constructed and an underground fuel pipeline was laid from the pump house along the former Cairns-Herberton railway embankment and under the streets of North Cairns to Trinity Wharf. South of Collins Avenue, opposite Tanks 1 and 2 and on the former railway alignment, a fire station (garage) and foam tank were constructed.
Tanks 3-5 were sited further west, on the former quarry. Existing mature trees and the topography could be capitalised on to camouflage these three tanks, whereas Tanks 1 and 2 relied on heavy steel cables and netting material as camouflage.
Because tanks 3-5 were intended for the storage of Naval furnace oil they were constructed in reinforced concrete. This was hand-poured by a team of contractors from Melbourne, with some workers inscribing their names in the concrete bunds surrounding the tanks. A second pump house was constructed adjacent to tanks 3-5, and an underground fuel pipeline was laid from this pump house south east across the adjacent recreation reserve to join the pipeline from tanks 1 and 2 along the disused railway embankment. The former fuel pipeline still runs under north Cairns.
In March 1944 the Commonwealth government requisitioned part of the quarry reserve above tanks 3-5 to establish an observation and communications post for the protection of the fuel storage tanks below. After the war the Commonwealth removed the structures associated with the observation post, but decided to retain the fuel storage tanks.
The tanks continued to be used for fuel storage by the Australian Navy and private fuel companies. Tank 1 was leased to Caltex from 1957 and the Australian Meat and Grazing Company leased tank 2 from November 1958, to store molasses.
Tank 4 became inoperable in 1976 when it began leaking crude oil. Caltex continued use of at least one of the tanks until 1983 and the Australian Navy used the remainder until 1987. In 1991 Cairns City Council purchased all 5 tanks, but not the pipeline, from the Commonwealth, and the land was transferred to the Council. In 1995 tanks 3-5 were refurbished as the Tanks Arts Centre, hosting art exhibitions, performing artists, children’s workshops and markets. The fire station south of Collins Avenue was demolished in 2006, and most of Tank 1 was demolished circa 2007.
WWII RAN Fuel Installation. Queensland Heritage Register 602605.
National Archives of Australia, ST151. Cairns - Naval oil tanks. 1943
Pearce, Howard. January 2009. WWII-NQ: A cultural heritage overview of significant places in the defence of north Queensland during World War II. EPA, Brisbane.
Joint Committee on War Expenditure, Seventh Progress Report, Defence Construction in Queensland and Northern Territory, 27 November 1944. Commonwealth Government Printer, Canberra 1944.