Post-war Bankstown and the Bankstown Bunker

Between 1940 and 1960, the population of Bankstown grew from 42 000 to 146 000. Correspondingly there was a boom in house construction, and the suburban streets of Bankstown took shape. Neat, white fibro cottages, row after row of them, were constructed on bald blocks of land.

7341197922_9cb632f2ae_b-2

Found photo from frontdrive34, Flickr.

Fibro was a cheap building material, easy to work with. It was flexible too. Plans were easily adaptable, and owners often had input into the design or built the homes themselves. For many of the residents of the new fibro houses, this was the first home they had owned and symbolised their new, safe suburban life.

Since then fibro houses, like members of a vast family, have gone on to many fates. Some are still as neat as the day they were built, their pale walls bright in the sunlight, a perfect stretch of lawn at the front. Others are surrounded by dismantled cars, the garden grown unruly. Many have been demolished and McMansions built in their place, houses on steroids which fill up blocks of land entirely.

Fibro Neat

Fibro Run Down

Fibro Row

Row of fibro houses in Yagoona looking much as they must have done in the 1960s.

Post-war fibro houses are part of a past world of Holdens, typewriters, and polite advertisements for new household appliances. The houses exist as backgrounds in small, yellowed photographs trapped in albums or rediscovered as long forgotten bookmarks. Such photos are of strangers but recognisable nonetheless: families standing in formation on the front lawn beside newly planted trees. The suburbs look hot and raw, at the edges of the city as it pushed outwards.

Nowadays the trees have grown tall around the fibro houses. Cacti and conifers reach the roof, like pets grown into monsters. The streets have lost the uniform appearance of cottage after cottage, although there is regularity in the variety of architectural styles. Fibro. 70s brick two-storey with steeply pitched roof. McMansion. Every house has something to distinguish it from its neighbour, no matter how tiny a detail it might be.

Simmat Street fibros

Fibro houses on Simmat Street, Condell Park.

From the top of the hill on Simmat street there is a view over Bankstown and Punchbowl, trees and red brick roofs. Far off in the distance are the recent high-rise apartment buildings of Wolli Creek and Rockdale, but nothing else breaks the pattern of tiles and treetops. It’s a view of Sydney as suburbs, with the usual bookends of the city and the mountains hidden from view.

Simmat Street Condell Park ViewThe grass at the lookout is strewn the remains of past picnics, wrappers, bottles and McDonalds trash, as well as weirder things like a bottle of nasal spray and a headless my little pony. It’s Monday afternoon and no one is around apart from the occasional car passing by. I set off down the hill in search of the Bankstown Bunker.

Bankstown Aerodrome Hangar

Aircraft hangar disguised as a farmhouse at the Bankstown Aerodrome. 

During the second world war an airport was built in Bankstown and became a military air base. The hangars were made to look like farmhouses and sheds in order to disguise their true purpose. From above the airport might have been disguised, but everyone in Bankstown knew it was there and why. As well as the aerodrome an underground military operations centre was built in Bankstown and became known as the Bankstown Bunker. It was three storeys deep and a maze of rooms, including a map room with a huge map of Australia and the surrounding South Pacific area. After the war ended the bunker was sealed up until it was rediscovered in the early 1970s. A few years later the bunker was damaged by fire, and in 1975 a housing development was built on the land above it.

bunker1

It’s not difficult to find the location of the bunker if you know where to look. On the corner of Edgar and Marion streets the clusters of dark brick and wood villas of the housing development are arranged around a central mound, a grassy hill with a few big blocks of sandstone, and it is under here that the bunker remains. Despite the fire the structure is intact, although all the fittings inside were destroyed. The entrances are all sealed these days, although there are rumours of entering it through an air vent in the backyard of one of the villas. It has at times been accessible, as this cave clan photograph reveals. Another tantalising scrap of bunker lore is that a 1986 episode of Burke’s Backyard was partially filmed inside the bunker. Footage of this great moment in television has not yet arisen online.

It’s a strange feeling to walk around on top of the bunker, imagining what must lie beneath my feet. Like the hill on Simmat Street this stretch of grass is deserted and my only company is twists of food wrappers, a pale blue dinner plate, a crushed packet of cigarettes decorated with a gory photo of what might happen to your throat if you smoke them. Underneath the grass and trees and blocks of sandstone is the 5 foot thick concrete shell of the bunker, and the remains of the rooms where men once plotted how Australia would be defended from enemy attack, walls streaked with soot and graffiti.

BANKSTOWN_BUNKER_DURING_WWII

bunker map room

On the surface the scene is a regular pattern of suburban components, houses, parks, roads, corner stores. At the bottom of the hill is a mixed business with faded ads for newspapers on the awning. The ad in the centre, for the long defunct Daily Mirror, has been painted over white but the name can still be seen faintly. Newspapers, world wars, fibro cottages, they’re of the past but they are still around us.

Mirror Obscured

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17 Comments on “Post-war Bankstown and the Bankstown Bunker”

  1. davidlatta says:

    Excellent post. Thanks for all the hard work. Wasn’t the house from They’re A Weird Mob out that way somewhere?

    • Vanessa Berry says:

      Thanks David, ah, it is pleasureable work looking into all these things. You’re right, the house from They’re A Weird Mob was at Greenacre – not sure if it’s still there, I will go and investigate.

      • Alex says:

        I drove by there recently and unfortunately Nino’s House is gone but you can still see the good view to the south and the easement on the left.

  2. JB says:

    Nice article, I have a video of the Burke’s Backyard Bankstown Bunker infiltration if you want a copy just say so and I will email it to you.
    Love your blog.

    • Vanessa Berry says:

      Thanks JB, I’d love to see it – thanks for offering to send it to me. I’m at vanessaberryworld at gmail.com.

    • jon says:

      sorry to be a pain but can i grab a copy of that video please
      Thanks JB

    • Jamie Ryan says:

      I would love a copy. I have just discovered today that there is an underground bu ker around the corner from my house. My email is
      jamieryan898@gmail.com

      • BJ - CC says:

        Hi there Jamie, we (the Cave Clan) are going to be exploring some of the WW2 bunkers in Sydney on Sunday the 5th of April. If you wish to come along please reply to this email or SMS me on 0411 341 595 by Saturday night the 4th of April. This will be one of a number of bunker expos held this year, including the entire Sydney bunker system (North Head, Middle Head, South Head, Malabar, La Perouse, etc), with Bankstown Bunker being the finale in mid September. Unfortunately, only the people interested in Sydney Bunkers and regularly attend at least some of the initial expos will be invited to the finale. This is a requirement for everybody, as numbers will be strictly limited.

        BJ

        Date: Mon, 29 Dec 2014 20:56:06 +0000 To: blakjak_cc@hotmail.com

    • james says:

      Hi could u email it to me?
      jameskthompson1@hotmail.com

    • Adam says:

      If you have a copy of that Burkes Bunker episode please email me.
      Adamrae2197@gmail.com

    • Debbie Meier says:

      JB do you still have copies of the video you would email me please dmeier2759@gmail.com

  3. Stojie says:

    I live literally around the corner. Whenever I’ve walked through in between those townhouse s, an old man abuses me. Apparently another entrance is through a drain on Marion Reserve, which is 200 metre down the road.

    • JB says:

      From inside the bunker, there are no signs of it connecting to a drain large enough to enter from. The largest drain in there is about 10cm diameter. The original entrance is backfilled with rubble and dirt.

  4. Quinton says:

    There is also a book, “Sydney Tunnels” by Brian & Barbara Kennedy which gives a brief history of the Bankstown Bunker. Interestingly, the Government still holds mining rights for the site – I guess to stop people digging there. These is also (supposedly) a 2nd facility out Richmond way.

    • ozzie says:

      These is also (supposedly) a 2nd facility out Richmond way.

      When I was an apprentice in the 1979- 1982 a lot of the older tradesmen used to talk about the Bankstown bunker & the other one was in Blacktown just off Sunnyholt road, you could get to it thru a guys garage that’s all I can remember about it at the moment.. the older tradesmen would be in their 90’s now if they are still alive..

  5. Karl Valentin says:

    I lived in Cragg St and our block backed onto the RAAF land where the bunker was. There were two reinforced entrances one on the south side which was the plant room and the main one on the east was where general entry was made. For years no one bothered about the facility and very few knew what was in there, even though scores of people took a short cut from the bus stop on Marion st to Taylor rd on a daily basis. As a pre teen kid I regularly went exploring around the bunker with my dog. However in the months leading up to the fire there were a couple of break ins which usually resulted in the RAAF caretakers or their families hunting the perpetrators off. From memory there were four corrugated iron clad houses on the south boundary at Taylor rd where the families lived.

    I was up there one day when there were lots of kids around and had managed to make entry. I was fortunate enough to go inside bu only for a minute or so before we were chased out. The big map as shown in the photo above was still there. It was only a few weeks later that the fire inside was lit. No one was ever caught for this but a few of us had our suspicions about who was responsible.


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