Kearnan Historic Munitions Bunkers Terowie.

Thursday, Feb 11, 2021 at 20:38

Stephen L (Clare) SA



A few months ago I undertook what I thought would be a straight forward history research into WW11 munition storage bunkers in Terowie with the help of my great friend Dean. What could be hard about finding military details from only 80 years ago, its really not that long ago and there must be very documented details of the site?

Well, lesson number one, do not take anything for granted and think everything would be recorded and easy to obtain. I had sent email request to all major Australian Military Historic places in both Canberra and South Australia and yes they all got back to me, with the same answer, they had no details of such site and wished me all the best in my quest to find 100% true accurate facts. I had even put out a few Facebook posts in both Peterborough and Terowie in the hope that any locals there may had first had details of the site and able to help me out, but again no such luck, with a number of people saying they knew of the site, but could not give any true, accurate facts.

In the meantime I had contacted the owner who’s land is where the bunkers are located and he gave me the green light to enter his property to inspect the sites, and like others that I had spoken to, the owner did not really know any real substantial history of the site. The night before were had planned to visit the site, I made contact with yet another man who once lived in the area and I struck gold, he knew of the site, what it was called and a few other details, that unfortunately could not be 100% verified. The most important fact was that his dad had actually a contract to work the land for 2 years after the site was established and all from the Australian Army.

Arriving at the site, we had arranged with Ross from the Terowie History Group to accompany us, as like us had heard of the site but did not know any real reliable details and had never visited the site, so it was a learning curve for him a well. Lots of photos on hand, we then went back to the Terowie History Rooms where we were greeted by Jan, Ross’s wife and we were treated to Coffee and Cake. It was great to meet both Ross and Jan, but we still did not have any concrete facts on the site.

Weeks later while feeling very dejected that my history research was going to be a no goer, I received and email from a Professor from Flinders University. The very first thing I did was to ring her and asked how she became involved with my little pet project. One of her friends was working at the Army Museum of South Australia at the Keswick Army Barracks and knew she had a great interest into Military History.

A few more weeks went by with a number of emails as well as phone calls and this is what I can now pass on to anyone that is interested as the true, 100% facts that I now have on the site.

Anyone that travels the Barrier Highway between Whyte Yarcowie and Terowie will pass within metres of an old, long forgotten specifically made railway platform that was made for the sole purpose of unloading and then when needed, the loading of munitions and explosives for the war effort in the Pacific during the hight of WW11. What made this platform even more special, was that on one side of the platform was the broad gauge railway line that was completed in 1880.

The munitions and explosives were railed up from Adelaide and then offloaded for storage at the purpose made Kearnan Munitions site, while the other side of the platform had narrow gauge railway where these goods were then reloaded onto freight trains and made the rail journey to Alice Springs and then further north during the Pacific war campaign.

The site was named Kearnan after the then Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Reginald Kearnan who at the time was AA&QMG in the HQ 4 MD and was responsible and had a big hand in the establishment of Terowie for the transhipment point on the railways for both Australian and allied troops and in 1943 was promoted to Colonel.

The Kearnan site was constructed in 1942 and consisted of 5 “U” shaped earth structures that then had a large earth blast wall near the entrance of each bunker. Each bunker had locked doors and the site was guarded by Australian Soldiers.

All the bunkers were covered with galvanised roofs that were painted in a red/brown colour that would act as camouflage from the air and blended into the surrounding land that was cultivated and the natural colour of the earth blended in with the painted roof.

The site held munitions well after the end of the war, as it was a safe location and as the war had then ended, there was no need for the tonnes of explosives and munitions that were safely stored at the Kearnan’s and finally in 1948 the site officially closed. As well as the 5 “U” shaped bunkers, there was also 5 long earth structures that were used as part of the Kearnan complex.

For safety reasons, the Kearnan site was constructed around 5 kilometres from the actual Terowie township so in the event of an explosion, towns people and Army personnel stationed in the actual town would be safe. Also purpose constructed in the town was the railway siding known as Bongoola that was used as the point were all Australian and Allied troops disembarked and again embarked on their journey north to Alice Springs by train. At the hight of the war, there were around 5000 troops posted in Terowie and at the time was regarded as one of South Australia’s most important railway facilities outside of Adelaide.
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