131 Radar Station (former) | NSW Environment & Heritage

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131 Radar Station (former)

Item details

Name of item: 131 Radar Station (former)
Other name/s: Radar Igloo, Radar Buildings
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Defence
Category: Defence Radar Station
Location: Lat: -32.8417368761 Long: 151.7149059830
Primary address: , Ash Island, NSW 2304
Parish: Newcastle
County: Northumberland
Local govt. area: Newcastle
Local Aboriginal Land Council: Awabakal
Property description
Lot/Volume CodeLot/Volume NumberSection NumberPlan/Folio CodePlan/Folio Number
PART LOT1002 DP1178025

Boundary:

Bounded by 4 coordinates: 32 degrees 50'31.89
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
 Ash IslandNewcastleNewcastleNorthumberlandPrimary Address

Owner/s

Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
Office of Environment and HeritageState Government15 Dec 15

Statement of significance:

The 131 Radar Station (former) has State significance as one of the few remaining radar igloos surviving in NSW from World War II. Originally formed as a mobile unit, the station was moved to its permanent base at Ash Island in September 1942.

The almost-impenetrable concrete igloo buildings, based on a British underground bunker design, were constructed aboveground by mid-1943 and were used to house the advanced technology needed to detect approaching enemy aircraft.

The 131 Radar Station (former) is also significant for its association with the RAAF and WAAAF officers who served at the station during its active service.
Date significance updated: 19 Apr 10
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.

Description

Construction years: 1942-1946
Physical description: The 131 Radar Station (former) is located on Ash Island, on the western end of Kooragang Island. Situated north of Newcastle, Kooragang Island is located at the mouth of the Hunter River Estuary between the north and south arms of the river.

The land, on which 131 Radar Station (former) is located, is bounded by the following coordinates:
32 degrees 50'31.89"S, 151 degrees 42'55.57"E
32 degrees 50'31.13"S, 151 degrees 42'50.72"E
32 degrees 50'28.63"S, 151 degrees 42'51.48"E
32 degrees 50'29.29"S, 151 degrees 42'56.21"E

The 131 Radar Station (former) includes two semi-cylindrical igloos, constructed of concrete approximately one foot thick and positioned approximately 50 metres apart. These igloos were British in design and were intended to be underground bunkers. However, the 131 Radar Station (former) (along with similar other stations in Australia) were constructed above ground and camouflaged while in use.

The interior of the larger igloo was painted by Lyn Skillings with a mural depicting the natural environment.

There is a commemorative plaque mounted on the larger igloo that was unveiled during the National 'BLIPS' Radar Reunion of 1995. The plaque states:
"Ash Island Radar Site
This plaque commemorates the operations conducted by No.131 Radar Station from 16th December 1942 until 18th January 1946.
No.131 Radar Station was located here and controlled the fighter aircraft based at RAAF Base Williamtown.
No.131 Radar Station employed British MkV and Canadian RWG/GCI radars.
This plaque is presented by the personnel of No.3 Control and Reporting Unit and the Radar Air Defence Branch of the RAAF Association in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of victory in the Pacific.
15th August 1995"

The site also contains remnant concrete footings and a base for an antenna stand.

The camp site that provided accommodation and living facilities for the on-site officers was located south east of the Radar Station but there are no visible remnants remaining in situ.

A modern toilet facility was installed on the site in the late 1990s. Designed by Chris Tucker, the contemporary addition is sympathetic to the military heritage of the 131 Radar Station.
(Dept of Environment & Planning, 1983; SHI form, 2008; Fenton; 1995)
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
The two concrete igloos are in good condition but the associated structures and features of the Radar Station are no longer remaining in situ.
Modifications and dates: Some external plaster restoration was carried out in 1994 but this is deteriorating.
Current use: Display centre
Former use: 131 Radar Station

History

Historical notes: The earliest inhabitants of the lower Hunter River estuary were the Worimi and Awabakal Aboriginal groups. For thousands of years, these people hunted and gathered food around the many small islands within the estuary. In 1951 when five low-lying islands were reclaimed and joined to make the industrial Kooragang Island, the natural landscape underwent substantial change which has seen a significant loss in the physical remnants of Aboriginal occupation of the area.
(Kooragang Wetland Rehabilitation Project, 2005; AMBS, 2004; NPWS, 1998; Newcastle Port Corporation, 2007)

Following European contact and Newcastle's settlement in 1804, the rich alluvial soil of the islands in the Hunter River estuary attracted the settlers who began farming and grazing the land. Ash Island was to become a significant site for dairy farming but with regular flooding with the estuary, these practices became increasingly difficult.
(Kooragang Wetland Rehabilitation Project, 2005; Dept Public Works, 1971)

When Japan entered the World War II conflict, there was widespread apprehension that Australia may be vulnerable to enemy attack and invasion. In early 1942, the armed services directed increased attention to radar for locating and intercepting enemy aircraft in an effort to protect Australia's coastline and its strategically important towns and cities. These efforts intensified again following the submarine attacks on Sydney Harbour and Newcastle on 8th June, 1942.
(Dept Veterans' Affairs, 2002; Fenton, 1995; Newcastle Council, 2008)

Although the shelling of Newcastle resulted in no physical injuries and very little material damage, the event caused panic and highlighted the vulnerability of Newcastle and its industries to enemy attack. During the Second World War, the industrial city of Newcastle was at the centre of Australia's total war effort. Bullet-proof steel and armoured vehicles, heavy guns, ammunition, explosive shells, shipping and aircraft sections and a host of other essential parts and products were manufactured in Newcastle and, being strategically important, the most advanced technology was required to protect the city from any further attacks.
(Dept Veterans' Affairs, 2002; Fenton, 1995)

Only 12 days after Newcastle was shelled, 131 Radar Station was formed at Richmond Air Base. This mobile Ground Control Interception (GCI) unit was based on British radar practices that emerged in 1940 to detect and intercept enemy aircraft before they reached the intended target. This state-of-the-art British technology allowed the operators to obtain grid references without the need to calculate the coordinates manually thus saving critical time. 131 Radar Station also used uniquely advanced technology because the operators were able to estimate, in addition to direction and range, the size and height of the aircraft by assessing the strength of the signals received.
(Fenton, 1995)

Originally this mobile GCI unit, made up of British Mark V equipment, was housed on the back of 4x4 Crossley trucks, camouflaged underneath netted canopies. In August 1942, 131 Radar Station was moved to Beverley Park at Kogarah and then on to Kyeemagh where a series of test flights were logged to assess the performance of the equipment and the skills of the operating staff. In September 1942, the mobile unit received instructions and were transferred to Ash Island to be responsible for the protection of Newcastle.
(Fenton, 1995; Newcastle Council, 2008)

Upon arrival on Ash Island, the operating staff were met with swampland, mangroves and mosquitoes. Although facilities were limited, the Island was an ideal location for 131 Radar Station because the surrounding water was a good reflector, assisting the radar to detect any aircraft.
(Fenton, 1995)

By late 1942, Ash Island, although fairly typical of small RAAF stations on the coast, had become a permanent radar post and the operating staff was at full strength (two Commanding Officers, 25 RAAF and 22 WAAAF). On 16th December 1942, 131 Radar Station commenced 24 hour watch and by the end of January 1943, the new Mark V transmitter and receiver, the latest equipment and technology from Canada, arrived at Ash Island in preparation for the construction of galvanized 'Doover' huts (a half mile north west of the camp) to house the station.
(Fenton, 1995)

By February 1943, the WAAAF complement at 131 Radar Station outnumbered the RAAF contingent for the first time and included many of the first group of WAAAF radar operators trained at Richmond.
(Fenton, 1995)

Also in February 1943, the Crossley trucks that had housed the mobile GCI units left Ash Island for Maroubra and the construction of the two concrete igloos, with walls one foot thick, was underway. The almost impenetrable igloos were British in design and were intended to be built as underground bunkers. However, in Australia, these buildings were constructed above ground but disguised with netting.
(Fenton, 1995; Newcastle Council, 2008)

By mid 1943, the igloos were complete and the receiver and transmitter equipment installed in one and an emergency power unit housed in the other. The new Canadian equipment delivered to 131 Radar Station was state-of-the-art technology that was operated by the experienced and competent teams at Ash Island. The unit was divided into teams of five operators and one mechanic to work in shifts of six hours over the 24 hour period. The functions of the operators rotated every 30 minutes and covered the antenna rotation, Plan Position Indicator (PPI) tube, range/height tube and plotting table as well as an officer to keep a running order of all plots and heights taken. Meanwhile, the mechanic focussed on the transmitter and, along with the Commanding Officer, was responsible for supervising the maintenance and operation of the equipment.
(Fenton, 1995)

Although the staff at 131 Radar Station were trained and prepared for conflict, as the war progressed and the threat of enemy invasion lessened, the station assumed a secondary role as a training and demonstration centre for radar officers, controllers, recorders, operators and mechanics. The day-to-day activities were maintained by the WAAAF officers, however, in January 1945, 131 Radar Station was put on 'Care and Maintenance' service and the staff contingent was reduced severely. On 18th January 1946, 131 Radar Station was officially disbanded.
(Fenton, 1995; Wikipedia, 2009)

Since completion of its active duty during World War II, 131 Radar Station has become the Estuarine Interpretive Centre (EIC) as part of the Kooragang Wetland Rehabilitation Project. The Centre is an educational centre that houses interpretive material illustrating the estuarine ecosystem as well as the history of the island.
(Fenton, 1995; Newcastle Council, 2008)


COMPARISONS WITH OTHER RAAF RADAR STATIONS IN NSW
During World War II, hundreds of radar stations were built along the Australian coastline to detect and intercept signals from any approaching enemies. Of the 100 or more built in Australia, there are very few remaining intact. With the stations and the associated camps being largely built of lightweight and portable structures, there is little built fabric remaining in situ other than concrete foundations on which the aerial structures were built.

Other than 131 Radar Station (former) at Ash Island, the only other significantly-intact station remaining in NSW is the RAAF 208 Radar Station at Catherine Hill Bay. This site was listed on the State Heritage Register in July 2008.

Located south of Newcastle, the 208 Radar Station was an Advanced Chain Overseas (ACO) unit that utilised a different form of radar technology than the Ground Control Interception unit (GCI) installed at Ash Island. However, the 208 Radar Station did use the aboveground concrete igloo structures to house the radar equipment as did the 131 Radar Station (former).

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Technology-Activities and processes associated with the knowledge or use of mechanical arts and applied sciences Technologies of constructing military buildings and structures-
7. Governing-Governing Defence-Activities associated with defending places from hostile takeover and occupation Defending the homeland-
7. Governing-Governing Defence-Activities associated with defending places from hostile takeover and occupation Observing and looking out for enemy movements-
7. Governing-Governing Defence-Activities associated with defending places from hostile takeover and occupation Training military personnel-
7. Governing-Governing Defence-Activities associated with defending places from hostile takeover and occupation Involvement with the Second World War-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
The 131 Radar Station (former) has State significance as one of the few remaining radar igloos surviving in NSW from World War II. Following the shelling of Newcastle in June 1942, the Australian armed services directed its attentions to a new type of radar which enabled Ground Controlled Interception (GCI), in an effort to protect Australia's coastline from attacks by enemy aircraft. Originally formed at the Richmond Air Base, 131 Radar Station was a mobile unit that was moved to its permanent base at Ash Island in September 1942. The almost-impenetrable concrete igloos were constructed by mid-1943 and were used to house the advanced technology needed to detect and intercept signals from approaching enemy aircraft.
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
The 131 Radar Station (former) has State significance for its association with the officers of the RAAF (Royal Australian Air Force) and WAAAF (Women's Auxiliary Australian Air Force) who served at the station during its active service in World War II. When the station was at full strength, the small but highly trained contingent was made up of 25 RAAF and 22 WAAAF officers.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
The 131 Radar Station (former) has local significance for its aesthetic values. The two semi-cylindrical concrete igloos are distinctive in design and have a unique presence in the natural landscape of Ash Island. Originally designed by the British as underground bunkers, the Australian igloos were constructed aboveground but camouflaged with netting to disguise the buildings during active service.
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
The 131 Radar Station (former) has State significance for its social value to the NSW community and for the former RAAF and WAAAF officers who served at the site. In June 1942, the shelling of Newcastle by the Japanese caused panic in NSW and action was quickly taken by the Australian armed services to establish the 131 Radar Station which was to serve and protect Newcastle from aircraft attack for several years.

In 1995, there was a reunion for the officers that served at the station during World War II and a plaque to commemorate these efforts was unveiled for the event. The igloos are now used as a display centre for the history of the island and an educational centre and for the Kooragang Wetland Rehabilitation Project that is working towards restoring the environment of the surrounding Hunter River estuary.
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
The 131 Radar Station (former) has State significance as a unique example of the advanced technology used to detect and intercept enemy aircraft during World War II. Being one of the earliest Ground Control Interception (GCI) units in NSW, the 131 Radar Station used an improved radar technology which could detect and gauge the direction, range and height of enemy aircraft more rapidly thus proving to be valuable in the protection of the NSW coastline during World War II.
SHR Criteria f)
[Rarity]
The 131 Radar Station (former) has State significance as a rare example of a surviving radar station built during World War II. Over 100 radar stations were built during the war but the survival of the 131 Radar Station (former) is rare in NSW and it is a unique site that employed Ground Control Interception (GCI) technology to protect NSW from enemy aircraft attack during World War II.
(see History - Comparisons with other RAAF radar stations in NSW).
SHR Criteria g)
[Representativeness]
The 131 Radar Station (former) has State significance as a representative example of a RAAF station built along the NSW coast during World War II. After Newcastle was shelled by the Japanese in June 1942, the Australian armed services quickly took action and set up the 131 Radar Station to serve and protect Newcastle from aircraft attack. Attention was directed towards radio direction and location and, by the end of 1942, an extensive network of radar units had been developed. Each of these stations could plot direction and range but 131 Radar Station, being a Ground Control Interception (GCI) unit, also had the advanced technology to gauge height from the signals received.
Integrity/Intactness: The two concrete igloo buildings are in good condition but there is some deterioration of the external concrete plaster. The associated structures and features of the Radar Station, situated southeast of the igloo buildings, are no longer remaining in situ.
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

PDF Standard exemptions for works requiring Heritage Council approval

Listings

Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - State Heritage Register 0181516 Apr 10 541894
Local Environmental Plan     

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
WrittenAustralian Museum Business Services (AMBS)2004Aboriginal Heritage Study: Newcastle Local Government Area (Draft Report)
WrittenDepartment of Public Works1971Kooragang: Industrial Island
WrittenDepartment of Veterans' Affairs2002No Cause for Alarm: Submarine Attacks on Sydney and Newcastle, May-June 1942
ElectronicKooragang Wetland Rehabilitation Project2005Exploring Kooragang Wetlands, Ash Island View detail
WrittenMorrie Fenton (ed)1995The History and Stories of 131 Radar Ash Island, 1942-46
WrittenNewcastle Council2008Newcastle Heritage Inventory (SHI Form)
WrittenNewcastle Port Corporation2007Section 170 Heritage & Conservation Register: Newcastle Port Corporation (Volume 1 Report) View detail
WrittenNSW National Parks & Wildlife Service1998Kooragang Nature Reserve & Hexham Swamp Nature Reserve Plan of Management
ElectronicPeter Dunn2004Ash Island Radar Station near Newcastle, NSW during WW2 View detail
WrittenPeter Dunn20072 Fighter Sector Headquarters in Australia during WW2 View detail
WrittenPeter Dunn2007Women's Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF) in Australia during WW2 View detail
WrittenRobertson & Hindmarsh Pty Ltd (Noni Boyd, Terry Kass & Scott Robertson)2006World Wars 1 & 2 Survey of Buildings, Sites and Cultural Landscapes in NSW (Reports 1, 2 & 3)
ElectronicWikipedia2009No. 131 Radar Station RAAF View detail

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: 5060999
File number: H09/00121


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