US Army Ordnance Depot
Royal Navy (RN) Depot
- Ammunition facility
- Brisbane City
Robinson Road East and Bilsen Road, Geebung 4034
Built in 1943, the Geebung Stores Depot was part of the US forces’ infrastructure program to develop Brisbane as General MacArthur’s supply base for an offensive against the Japanese. Depots were built near wharves or railway lines. The Geebung Depot’s location confirmed a policy of confining US sites to the eastern side of the North Coast rail line.
In 1943, the Federal Government used its National Security Regulations to requisition land from Edith Sweet, William Horn and Mr. A. Kussman of the College View Estate Syndicate. The site, bounded by Sandgate, Zillmere, Bilsen and Robinson Roads, was developed as an US ammunition and fuel depot. A military labour unit drawn from Philippines refugees may have built the depot. Geebung local Vince Quinlan recalled seeing these construction workers:
I had never seen any foreign troops until we had a bunch of Filipinos march down here. They were not troops. They were brought out as labourers.[i]
The Depot comprised 21 fibro and timber ammunition magazines with a gate where Bilsen Road met Robinson Road and another where Bilsen Road met Zillmere Road. The fibro sheds were of two types, either 90 feet x 20 feet or 108 feet x 20 feet in size. These magazines were each covered in large amounts of camouflage netting while the scattered needle tea tree scrub was not cleared off the land.
The US Army took possession of the site designated the Geebung Stores Depot on 11 October 1943. Although used to house ammunition, it was officially designated a stores depot while the nearby Northgate vehicle storage and repair facility was designated an ordnance depot. It is though that was US Army policy to misname some depots as a wartime security measure. Soldiers, mostly black Americans, mounted guard at sentry gates on Sandgate Road and on Zillmere Road.
After a small grassfire endangered the Depot, the US Army encouraged local farmers to graze cattle on the site to create firebreaks around the magazines. Foat’s dairy sent cows there. Alice Peckman (Foat) became a familiar face to the guards. She rode her horse through the sentry gate and round up the herd. One day her father went down to collect the cows but the guards refused him entry for they did not recognize him so she had to get the cows. Alice found the Americans well behaved:
Oh yes usually but we didn’t take too much notice of them. Some of them would be there in trucks loading, or unloading trucks and they'd give you a whistle… but you'd just carry on and mind your own business.[ii]
Kev Kopittke’s family was also permitted to place their dairy cows in the Depot. He went to the Depot to collect his cows and he would have to search amongst the long grass and other cows wandering the site. He would herd his cows down Bilsen Road to the gate where the guards would let him exit. Allowing cows into the Depot not only kept the long grass under control but it also added to the depot’s camouflage so that from the air, the site appeared to be grazing paddocks. This aim was achieved given Geoff Taylor’s description of the Depot:
It didn’t look much at all. It looked like just an open area. Every now and again there was something like a little shed built.[iii]
With US Army trucks constantly visiting the site to load/unload ammunition, they soon wore a network of tracks throughout the site. This would have impacted on efforts to disguise the Depot from aerial surveillance.
The appearance of black Americans intrigued the Geebung community. It was the first time, outside of Hollywood films that locals had seen black Americans. Geoff Taylor first saw one of these soldiers connecting telephone lines to a pole outside a local shop. Geoff said:
…the first time I saw a man walk up a pole, was a black American. And he had big spikes on his feet and he just walked straight up the pole. I've never forgotten it all my life. I couldn't believe it but he was a black American![iv]
Edwin Gerns thought that some locals were frightened of the soldiers as many were large, well-built individuals. Due to racist policies of both US and Australian authorities, black American soldiers were not allowed to freely cross the Brisbane River from their camp in South Brisbane. The Depot personnel seen by local residents were trucked straight to Geebung and returned to South Brisbane at the end of their sentry duty.
By war’s end the depot had spread across both sides of Bilsen Road causing that road section to be closed to public access. The US Army vacated the depot on 21 March 1945. With Brisbane designated as a forward supply base for the new British Pacific Fleet, the Royal Navy took control of the Depot on 22 March and remained until 20 August 1948.
[i] Vince Quinlan interview with Dr Jack Ford, 27 November 1997.
[ii] Alice Peckman interview with Dr Jack Ford, 5 December 1997.
[iii] Geoff Taylor interview with Dr Jack Ford, 1 December 1997.
[iv] Geoff Taylor interview with Dr Jack Ford, 1 December 1997.
Jonathan Ford, Marching to the Trains - the Chermside Army Camp Remembered, (Brisbane: Ford, 2005).