Glenbrook Railway and World War Two Mustard Gas Storage Tunnel | NSW Environment & Heritage

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Glenbrook Railway and World War Two Mustard Gas Storage Tunnel

Item details

Name of item: Glenbrook Railway and World War Two Mustard Gas Storage Tunnel
Other name/s: Lapstone Hill tunnel, Former Glenbrook Railway and World War Two Mustard Gas Storage Tunnel
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Defence
Category: Military Tunnel
Location: Lat: -33.7650780056 Long: 150.6323419480
Primary address: Great Western Highway, Glenbrook, NSW 2773
Parish: Strathdon
County: Cook
Local govt. area: Blue Mountains
Local Aboriginal Land Council: Deerubbin
Property description
Lot/Volume CodeLot/Volume NumberSection NumberPlan/Folio CodePlan/Folio Number
LOT1-9 DP230145
LOT1-3 DP564376

Boundary:

Allotments in boundary description plus the sections occupied by the western and eastern portals of the tunnel within Lot DP 196131 and Lot9 DP1097785 respectively and are part of CR1013848
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
Great Western HighwayGlenbrookBlue Mountains StrathdonCookPrimary Address

Owner/s

Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
 Private 
Blue Mountains City CouncilLocal Government 
Land and Property Management Authority (LPMA)State Government 

Statement of significance:

The former Glenbrook Railway Tunnel and Mustard Gas Storage Depot has outstanding significance as one of a series of only four tunnels, in NSW that physically embody Australian policy towards bulk chemical gas storage during World War Two for defensive purposes on home soil. The presence of the gas for use only when the opposition attacked with chemical weapons, represents Australia's ongoing commitment to honouring the articles of the 1925 Geneva Protocol to which Australia submitted an instrument of ratification in 1930. It also demonstrates Australia's increasing awareness and fear of the threat posed by Axis forces, particularly Japan and the preparedness of Australia and the Allied Forces to employ antihumanitarian weapons widely condemned in World War One, in the event that the Axis powers used such weapons in an attack.
Date significance updated: 22 Feb 11
Note: There are incomplete details for a number of items listed in NSW. The Heritage Division intends to develop or upgrade statements of significance and other information for these items as resources become available.

Description

Designer/Maker: Department of Railways
Builder/Maker: Department of Railways
Construction years: 1891-1892
Physical description: The S curved railway tunnel is constructed internally of brick (some areas are cement rendered) and a cement floor. It is approximately 660 metres in length in length, passing beneath the ridge which carried the Zig Zag line & now the Great Western Highway. The western end, which is the main entry point, is located near to the edge boundary of Knapsack Reserve. The eastern end is located near Railway Reserve/Darkes Common. To the south of the main entry is the Great Western Highway. Knapsack Reserve is north of the main entry.

The tunnel is laid out in reverse curves with transitions. The western entry is accessed from an unformed road through a series of large, older tin shed and outbuildings used by the existing tenant for business purposes. The road gives way to a gravel track large enough for use by vehicles. Vegetation is encroaching on the track. This appears to be covering stone walls which would have formed the 60 metre western railway approaches dug out when creating the tunnel and the deviation. An open shed is located close to the tunnel entry sheltering a variety of equipment. The eastern end was not accessible in 2010.

The entry is characterised by a large three ring brick parabolic arch with a sandstone outer curve and a horizontally articulated entablature constructed of axe-faced and margined stone ashlars. The top of the entablature course to the former rail level is approximately 8 metres. The face brickwork of the surround is plumb and laid in English bond. The arch is flanked by brick buttresses/battered piers on either side of the entrance. Beyond these are short sandstone retaining walls laid in squared rubble. An undated light fitting on bracket is located centrally over the arch. The arch opening has been filled in with sheets of iron, exhaust fan and a roller door to secure and ventilate the tunnel for the current occupier.

The eastern entry is similar to the western entry, although the flanking piers are a little wider due to the slightly wider railway cutting. This is in part due to the approach to hillside at the western cutting being generally steeper.

Inside, both painted and unpainted brick and cement rendered wall and roof surfaces are visible throughout the tunnel. The brick work is laid in English bond for 40 courses above the present floor, above which the height changes to stretcher bond. The shape of the tunnel is a continuation of the entrance arch. Weep holes are located in the walls about 2 courses above ground level that are one course high and about 2.5 metres apart. A variety of services suspended from the roof and fixtures primarily associated with the current use are visible, including piping and racking. A strip of fluorescent lighting is located down the centre of the tunnel. What appear to be drainage ditches are located along both walls the full length of the tunnel. All railway tracks have been removed and the concrete floor has replaced what was probably a ballast surface, as has evidence of the mustard gas storage facility. The floor has an even grade of 1 in 33 upwards from east to west.

Regularly placed recessed refuges designed as safe spaces for railway workers caught in the tunnel as a train approached are located down both sides of the tunnel about 48 metres apart. They are 686mm deep, 1.2m wide and 1.98m high and are characterised by a three ring segmental arch.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
The tunnel structure appears to be in very good condition visually. Mushroom racks and associated infrastructure and infil at the end of the tunnel appear to be non structural and easily reversed if desired.
Date condition updated:15 Dec 10
Modifications and dates: 1913 - Railway lines removed
c1913 - mushroom growing beds installed
c1939-42 - mushroom growing beds removed for establishment of mustard gas storage
Post 1945 - converted for mushroom growing
Current use: mushroom growing
Former use: Railway tunnel, Mustard gas (Chemical) storage facility

History

Historical notes: The Glenbrook area is located in Darug Country. The original line of railway was opened in 1867, scaling the escarpment above Emu Plains by the Lapstone Zig Zag. At the top of the Zig Zag the railway followed the route now occupied by the Great Western Highway through Glenbrook as far as Blaxland. When increased rail traffic caused delays on the Lapstone Zig Zag, it was decided in 1891 that a tunnel should be built bypassing the Zig Zag. The tunnel and its new approaches were designed to form an elegant S-shape, starting at the Bottom Points of the Zig Zag and ending at old Glenbrook station (now demolished, on the present Great Western Highway). (Blue Mts Heritage Study).

The building of the tunnel in 1891-2 was contracted to George Proudfoot, whose labourers and their families were established in two substantial camps at either end of the works, one at Glenbrook, the other at Lapstone. Sir Arthur Streeton's famous painting 'Fire's On!', saw the building of the tunnel and the fatal blasting accident which killed Thomas Lawless become a part of Australian mythology as well as railway history. (Blue Mts Heritage Study) Streeton was spending three months at Glenbrook at the end of 1891 where he was studying and painting the landscape. He had become interested in the construction of the railway tunnel and the engineering feat that was the Zig Zag Railway. (National Gallery of Australia) The tunnel was also depicted in several other works, both informal and informal. Among these were Cutting the Lapstone Tunnel (1892) and Sketch - Blue Mountains (1891)

The new tunnel opened to traffic on 18 December 1892, but it was never a success, because of the steep incline and the suffocating atmosphere particularly in the west-bound trains. Traffic flow and water dripping from the roof also caused engines to slip badly on the reverse curve. (Pratten & Irving, 1993:32-33) The problem was finally addressed after the Lithgow Zig Zag deviation was completed in 1910 and the railway gangs were moved to Glenbrook. Bypassing Glenbrook Tunnel involved some major works, including a new viaduct (G 025) over Knapsack Gully to the east and the new line then ran through virgin country south of the old alignment as far as the present Lapstone station and then turned west through a short tunnel under The Bluff and finally north to the present Glenbrook station. (Blue Mts Heritage Study)

Initially it was planned to continue using the 1892 Glenbrook Tunnel for up trains. When the new deviation opened on 11 May 1913 the tunnel was still used for east-bound trains. However, the deviation was quickly duplicated and a new "up line was activated in September. Glenbrook Tunnel was last used for trains on 25 September 1913 and old Glenbrook station was closed. (Blue Mts Heritage Study). The lines in the tunnel were raised and the tunnel left to quietly decay.

In 1913 the Glenbrook tunnel was leased from NSW Railways by Herbert Edward Rowe, an out of work master builder. Previously a Stan Breakspear had fenced off an area close to the tunnel where he kept a bull. The Rowes had the idea of growing mushrooms in the tunnel. They created living quarters from an old circus tent, a small cave and a culvert under the highway. Herbert Rowe built his own mushroom growing beds which were three metres wide with a narrow path down the left side for access and working space. About three quarters of the length of the tunnel was taken up by the beds. When the Rowes renewed their lease in 1936 the Commissioner of Railways warned them that in the event of war, they would be given three months notice to vacate the site. The Rowes are believed to have actually been given only one weeks notice to vacate the site when war broke out in September 1939. (Plunkett, 2007:141-42)

In 1930 Australia ratified the 1925 Geneva Protocol which banned the use of asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases in times of war for offensive purposes, following the experiences of chemical warfare during World War One.

Although tear gas was used as early as 1914, it was not until 1915 that poisonous gases were introduced into the battles of World War One. The first was Chlorine gas which was introduced by the Germans at the Second battle of Ypres in April 1915. This was followed by the use of Phosphene Gas, also introduced by the Germans. These attacked victims' respiratory organs causing coughing and choking.

The Germans used Mustard Gas, a more advanced gas, for the first time at Riga (or Yperite) in September 1917. It caused both internal and external blistering in its victims. The blistering was often delayed and remained in the ground for weeks afterwards making capture of infected trenches dangerous. Protection against mustard gas was far more difficult than previous gases. Casualties decreased during the war with increased preparedness and death from gas became less common. However, often those who were exposed were often unable to seek employment once they were discharged from the army due to the gases effects. Following the Armistice the use of gas was viewed with horror, bringing about the Geneva Protocol. However, it is important to note that while the Protocol prevented signatories using gas for offensive purposes, it did not prevent a nation from manufacturing or importing chemical weapons for retaliatory purposes.

The Geneva Protocol was drawn up and signed at the conference for the supervision of the international trade in arms and ammunition, which was held in Geneva under the auspices of the League of Nations from 4 May to 17 June 1925. France suggested that a protocol be drawn up on non-use of poisonous gases. At Poland's suggestion the prohibition was extended to bacteriological weapons. In the years prior to World War Two most major powers ratified the protocol, except the U.S. and Japan. The British reserved the right to waive the protocol if in time of war their enemies disregarded the terms of the agreement. Countries around the world have continued to ratify the Protocol until at least 1991.

Australia's ratification of the protocol was influenced by the experiences of Australian World War One soldiers who had suffered form the deadly and debilitating effects of gas exposure, particularly on the Western Front. Many were killed or maimed as the result of chemical attacks. The physical effects on survivors were clearly visible to those at home upon their return.

By 1937, two years before World War Two commenced, Australia was already giving preliminary consideration to the need for procurement of gas for war time defence purposes. Early in 1942 the Japanese southward advance, particularly the fall of Singapore, caused Australia to prepare for possible invasion. Of particular concern was whether Japan would use chemical weapons as it had in China. Australia requested chemical warfare stocks from Britain in March. The response from Britain to supply Australia was swift and the first supplies docked in Australia in May 1942. Later stocks would also come from the United States. (Plunkett: 1-20) Australia would eventually hold close to 1 million individual chemical munitions weapons, including at least 16 different types of mustard gas. Thirtyfive types of chemical weapons were eventually located at fifteen major storage depots across Australia.

The first stocks of chemical weapons destined for the RAAF were stored in the Blue Mountains while those for the army went to Albury. Naval stocks were stored at the Newington Depot in Sydney. The RAAF stocks were stored in disused tunnels, chosen because of the lower fluctuation in temperature, protection from high temperatures and constant humidity. In places such as Malaya, caves were used for the same purposes and the tunnels were anticipated to simulate the same conditions as the caves. Industrial scale production or bulk manufacturing of chemical warfare agents did not and has not taken place within Australia, although some chemical agents have been produced here as by-products of other industrial processes or in bulk for other purposes. There has also been small scale manufacture of chemical agents for experimental and testing purposes. (Plunkett, 2007:29-30, 128)

The Glenbrook tunnel was one of fifteen bulk chemical storage facilities established in Australia - seven in New South Wales, six in Queensland, one in the Northern Territory and one in Victoria. Six were supervised by the United States, including Kingswood in NSW, and the remainder by Australia. Only four of these included tunnels for storage purposes. These were Marrangaroo, Glenbrook and Clarence in the Blue Mountains and Picton south of Sydney. They were all Australian supervised sites. (Plunkett, 2007: p553) Marrangaroo and Glenbrook were the first of the tunnels established followed by Picton and then Clarence. The Picton tunnel was constructed as part of the original main southern railway line. The remaining three were a part of the Zig Zag railway line. The four tunnels formed the base for the Royal Australian Air Force's No 1 Central Reserve. The headquarters for No 1CR were based at the combined RAAF-Army depot at Marangaroo, several kilometres from the Marangaroo tunnel. No 1 CR acted as a central depot for chemical and non chemical stocks and as a replenishment centre for NSW. The location of the tunnels also placed them out of the range of aircraft carriers and out of aerial view, thus protecting them from air attack. (Plunkett, 2007:129-31)

The British oversaw the initial establishment of chemical agents handling procedures. On 6 January 1942 the Air Board approved the take-over of the disused 660 metre railway tunnel at Glenbrook by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) for the storage of bombs. On 9 August 1942 arrangements for the first intake of chemicals at Glenbrook were advised with material being received from the ship MV Nigerstrromm. (Plunkett, 2009) When further supplies of chemicals arrived it was decided to move high explosive stocks from Glenbrook and Picton and devote these tunnels to gas stocks alone. Glenbrook housed mainly mustard gas from late August 1942. The RAAF stacked the Glenbrook tunnel from end to end with containers to store thousands of tonnes of mustard gas, a thick fluid that looked like oil. To accommodate facilities for maintenance and inspection, venting and decanting containers and decontamination of damaged hardware, an area was set up in the lower/eastern end cutting leading from the tunnel. (Plunkett, 2007:142-44)

Additional shipments of gas in 1943-44 compelled the commissioning of Clarence tunnel to take the overflow. By 7 February 1944 the transfer of chemical weapons stocks from No. 2 Sub Depot, Glenbrook to Clarence Tunnel began. (Mustard Gas.org.au) By August 1944 the RAAF decided that chemical weapons stocks and equipment other than obsolete items should be held substantially in forward areas and that 1 CR would become a transit point rather than a storage area to facilitate the supply of chemical weapons to forward unit should retaliatory chemical warfare action be sanctioned. two storage locations were subsequently chosen in north eastern Australia. (Plunkett, 2007:129-131, 142)

During the peak period for the arrival of chemicals from Great Britain and the African desert zone Glenbrook railway siding was inadequate for the transport operations and associated influx of railway wagons and motor vehicles. Therefore, trains were kept at Penrith and batches of 14-20 wagons brought to Glenbrook as required. (Plunkett, 2007:142-44)

In 1946, following the end of the war, the Australian Defence Committee agreed to the Army and RAAF requests to dispose of chemical ammunition. The Australian Government faced a dilemma as to how to dispose of the stocks of chemicals. Neither the Army or the Air Force had experience with disposal. As a result, trials were conducted to determine the best form of large scale chemical destruction. Burning, sea dumping and venting were found appropriate for the different types of chemicals. Fire was found to be the most appropriate for mustard gas. Gas was burned from storage sites at Talmoi and 88 Mile. The stocks at Marangaroo and Glenbrook were the last to be burned. The disposal took place in the Newnes State Forest during February and March 1946 when 2 000 tonnes were incinerated. Post war inspections showed that the burn had been incomplete and redisposal operations were conducted between 1947 and 1949, including reburning some items and the use of bleach. Final decontamination took place in 1980 when approximately 2500 tonnes of mainly soil residue were removed from the Newnes State Forest burn site to the nearby Marrangaroo Ammunition Depot to be burned in a pit and bleached. (Plunkett 308-10) Glenbrook later reverted to its former use as a mushroom farm.

Glenbrook was considered the most pleasant of the tunnel depots by the men who worked with the gas. The site was described in 1943 as about 5km into the bush. The camp consisted of the headquarters, orderly room a store, alcove for maintenance carpenter, mess hut with a big stone fireplace and an open fire to cook on, masonite and wooden framed sleeping huts which had replaced tents. The huts had shutters at the top and bottom which could be propped open shower and toilet blocks and a small transport section hut. Workers were required to do maintenance on the containers wearing gumboots, rubber gloves and heavy woollen clothing. Small burns were common if the men got gas on their skin. During the summer months RAAF staff from the Glenbrook camp were called out to fight bushfires. (Plunkett, 2007:142-152) The purpose of their presence at Glenbrook was a long held secret as was the testing and later disposal of the gas.

During operation the s curved, 650 metre tunnel was long and dark with widely spaced lighting. On the left hand side at the start of the tunnel were small containers, canisters in wooden crates. About midway canisters were located on one side and drums on the other. Further along, the sides that the canisters and drums were stored on were reversed. The tunnel had very little clearance, making it difficult for the trucks to back into the tunnel to load and unload the chemicals. (Plunkett, 2007:150-53). The exterior ends of the tunnel were constructed of brick with stone capping. During WW2 the RAAF installed a concrete grid floor in the tunnel and installed a telephone system for security purposes. It was apparently initially used by the RAAF to store 500lbs bombs.

Post World War Two, all four tunnels were used for mushroom growing purposes. However, Glenbrook Tunnel is the only tunnel which continues to be used for this purpose. In 1992 the lessee commenced growing exotic mushrooms not previously produced in Australia. Other tunnels not used for mustard gas storage have also been used as mushroom tunnels, including one at Mittagong and another near Helensburgh. The Marrangaroo storage tunnel has also been abandoned, while the Clarence tunnel forms part of the Zig Zag Tourist Railway and Picton has become a tourist attraction with a "ghostly past". The World War Two history of the tunnel's use was not widely known until the early twentyfirst century. This "hidden history" was the subject of significant interest when it was finally made known.

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Agriculture-Activities relating to the cultivation and rearing of plant and animal species, usually for commercial purposes, can include aquaculture Mushroom farming-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Transport-Activities associated with the moving of people and goods from one place to another, and systems for the provision of such movements Building and maintaining the public railway system-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Accommodation-Activities associated with the provision of accommodation, and particular types of accommodation – does not include architectural styles – use the theme of Creative Endeavour for such activities. Adapted heritage building or structure-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Land tenure-Activities and processes for identifying forms of ownership and occupancy of land and water, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Changing land uses - from rural to suburban-
7. Governing-Governing Defence-Activities associated with defending places from hostile takeover and occupation Defending the homeland-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
The tunnel has state historical significance as one of only four tunnels located in NSW, secretly identified and established for storage of chemical weapons for defence purposes in the event of an attack on Australian shores during World War Two. The tunnel is a reminder of this secret NSW and Australian military history not publicly known about until the first years of the twenty first century. The facility was part of a much larger process of acquisition, storage, testing and disposal of poisonous gas. Many men suffered from contact with the gas and were unable to discuss their experiences of war on the home front for many years. Its establishment was a direct response to the Australian government's fear of invasion by the Japanese, particularly after the fall of Singapore to Japan in 1942, and the potential for the Japanese to use poisonous gas against Australia. The facility also reflects the changing course of World War Two and the willing use by Australia of clauses in the Geneva Protocol which prevented signatories from utilising poisonous gas for attack purposes, but did allow them to use it for retaliatory purposes in the event that they were attacked with poisonous gas.

The tunnel has local significance as a railway tunnel constructed to bypass the Lapstone Zig Zag as rail traffic, and subsequently delays, increased on the zig zag line. In the twenty years that it operated the tunnel gained a fearsome reputation among locomotive crews and travellers for the unpleasantness of the journey due to the choking smoke and fumes.
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
The site has historical associations at a state and national level with the British and United States Military forces who were involved in the establishment of chemical weapons in Australia during World War Two. It also has associations with the Defence Force Armourers responsible for maintaining the facilities in Australia, in particular the Royal Australian Air Force's No 1 Central Reserve. The tunnel has high state and national significance for its direct association with events which directly resulted from the Australian and other government’s ratification of the 1925 Geneva Protocol banning the use of chemical warfare for offensive purposes.

As the subject of the 1891 painting, Fire's On by Arthur Streeton, it is the inspiration for a picture that has been described as one of the great icons of Australian landscape painting. The tunnel and its eastern approaches in particular also featured in a number of other works by Streeton, thereby making the site as subject of these paintings significant to the state.
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
The Glenbrook Tunnel has state significant as being important to Defence Force Armourers and their families across NSW as evidence of the long hidden and previously disbelieved story of their work during World War Two. It is also important to the defence forces generally as evidence of a previously suppressed aspect of their history.
SHR Criteria f)
[Rarity]
The Glenbrook Tunnel is state significant, being rare as one of only four tunnels in New South Wales identified for chemical gas storage purposes during World War Two, three of which are located within the Blue Mountain region. Unlike the remaining three tunnels, the Glenbrook tunnel is the only tunnel to retain its original post railway use, mushroom growing.

The tunnel has local significance as the only major item of surviving fabric from one of the three railway ascents of the eastern escarpment.
SHR Criteria g)
[Representativeness]
Glenbrook tunnel has local significance as being representative of tunnels constructed on the Main Western Line from the 1890s and into the early twentieth century to cater for increasing traffic on the railway line. The tunnel is a fine example of engineering in brickwork, displaying a substantial vaulted form of elliptical cross section, double curved in plan.
Integrity/Intactness: The tunnel structure does not appear to have been significantly altered. The most obvious alterations are the apparent replacement of the railway tracks and ballast with a concrete floor, and removal of any purpose built facilities associated with the mustard gas storage.
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.

Procedures /Exemptions

Section of actDescriptionTitleCommentsAction date
57(2)Exemption to allow workStandard Exemptions SCHEDULE OF STANDARD EXEMPTIONS
HERITAGE ACT 1977
Notice of Order Under Section 57 (2) of the Heritage Act 1977

I, the Minister for Planning, pursuant to subsection 57(2) of the Heritage Act 1977, on the recommendation of the Heritage Council of New South Wales, do by this Order:

1. revoke the Schedule of Exemptions to subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act made under subsection 57(2) and published in the Government Gazette on 22 February 2008; and

2. grant standard exemptions from subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act 1977, described in the Schedule attached.

FRANK SARTOR
Minister for Planning
Sydney, 11 July 2008

To view the schedule click on the Standard Exemptions for Works Requiring Heritage Council Approval link below.
Sep 5 2008
57(2)Exemption to allow workHeritage Act - Site Specific Exemptions Replacement of mushroom racks and repositioning of anchors for chains supporting mushroom racks where chains and/or wall anchors in have failed. New anchors should consist of non ferrous materials to limit the need for regular replacement and drilling of new holes in the tunnel fabric. Aug 5 2011

PDF Standard exemptions for works requiring Heritage Council approval

Listings

Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - State Heritage Register018610186105 Aug 11 805164

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
Electronic 2009Bunkers, Tunnels and Fortifications in Australia during World War Two. View detail
WrittenC.Pratten and R Irving1993Lapstone Hill Tunnel Conservation and Management Plan
VideoDon Wildman2009Cities of the Underworld - Alcatraz Down Under View detail
ElectronicGeoff Plunkett2009Chemical Warfare in Australia View detail
WrittenGeoff Plunkett2007Chemical Warfare in Australia
ElectronicInternational Committee of the Red Cross2005International Humanitarian Law - Treaties and Documents View detail
ElectronicNational Gallery of Australia2010Turner to monet. The Triumph of Landscape Education Resource View detail
WrittenPearce Research Centre, Australian National University.1985The Gillis Report: Australian Field Trials with Mustard gas 1942-45.

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Heritage Office
Database number: 5061088
File number: 09/04976 HC Plan 2458


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