Lost Sydney:
St Marys' Munitions Factory

The remains of an ammunition building and bunkers which were once part of a munitions factory and storage facility are located within the St Marys Industrial Estate, which was built on the site of the wartime complex. Designed for explosives, the buildings were erected during World War II, each being surrounded by mounded earth. A number of tunnels and trenches remain. As part of the development associated with the establishment the munitions factory, a number of houses were built as staff cottages.

A noted young architect, Walter Bunning, planned this estate on the basis of the concepts developed in Radburn, New Jersey, USA, with all the houses facing inwards towards a common garden area, and backing onto service roads. These wooden cottages are in Commonwealth Crescent, Forrester, Viney, Griffiths and Maple Streets. Production at the munitions factory commenced in November 1942, employing up to 4,000 people per day over 3 shifts at its peak. At the end of the war in August 1945, production was quickly wound down and the buildings on the old site were leased and then sold to private firms, evolving into the industrial area we see today.

Walter Bunning cottages in Commonwealth Crescent, St Marys

With the advent of the Korean War in the early 1950s, combined with the presumed threat from some of Australia's northern neighbours, the Commonwealth Government perceived a need to increase the production of munitions and built a new filling factory at St. Marys on a site adjacent to the old wartime factory. It was officially opened by the then Prime Minister, Robert Menzies, on 17 December 1957. With the race to rebuild the St Marys Munitions Filling Factory the contractor used un-trialled roofing materials made of compressed straw sheeting. In the first heavy rains the uncured grain started growing, the roof grew a wonderful crop of wheat. The factory commenced production in early 1958 and remained operational until late 1995, when it was moved to Benalla in Victoria.

The now abandoned Ropes Creek railway line was built in 1942 to serve the Department of Defence area to the north of St Marys station. The line was closed in 1986 but the main line was never lifted (the shunting and storage sidings have been removed). The first kilometre of the main line is used as a storage siding.

The St Marys factory is the largest extant site from the Second World War, though much of it has been altered. The factory site was resumed from August 1941 onwards. It was designed by the Department of Interior in association with staff from the Ministry of Munitions, and was coordinated by the Allied Works Council, using the Department of Main Roads, Sydney County Council, Metropolitan Water Sewerage & Drainage Board, NSW Public Works, Postmaster-General s Department, NSW Government Railways plus 75 private contractors. The original Building Requisition was issued in April 1941. Railway access to the factory commenced on December 1942.

Production commenced in November 1942. The works was divided into nine sections - Administration 15 acres; Maintenance 25 acres; Proof-at-Rest, 15 acres; Magazines 530 acres; Toluol and Bulk Store, 110 acres; Fuse, 130 acres; Pyrotechnic, 150 acres; High Explosives 280 acres; and Proof Range, 5 acres. By December 1943, a total of 645 buildings had been transferred to the factory and a total of 850 were complete by the war's end.

Additionally, there were 200 fibro cottages, 33 weatherboard and fibro cottages, 16 hostel buildings and 3 community garages for staff accommodation outside the area. Peace Officers patrolled the area keeping trespassers out and maintaining security in the area. There were nine depots for them, in each main area.

Quarters for single peace officers and a stable were maintained near the Magazine at Kingswood. The factory included six ammonia-refrigerating plants to supply cooling and five other buildings had their own refrigerating plant. It had its own sewerage works and 20 electrical sub-stations. The Magazine area on the Kingswood side had 105 magazines, 10 igloos, 13 drum yards, 17 chemical stores, plus 13 administrative and other buildings, all connected by 12 miles of tramway. Ten magazines were controlled by the Royal Australian Navy to hold naval ordnance.

There were two fire stations, one each in the Administrative and Pyrotechnic areas. A water tower and two high level tanks were built as part of this scheme. Before the air raid precautions scheme was stopped, a total of 40 air raid shelters were fully complete, 65 were partially complete, of the total of 145 planned. They were later used as stores, for paint, boxes and for salvage. The first casualty station was commenced in the Pyrotechnic section in November 1942. By 1945 there were three - Pyrotechnic, Administration and High Explosive area. Staff was recruited from the metropolitan area, Windsor, Liverpool, Penrith and the Blue Mountains. Their quality improved when the works received staff from closed factories at Parkes, Forbes, Villawood, Wellington and Lithgow.

Production commenced in November 1942 producing flame floats for the RAAF. A good deal of the products were tropic proofed  to withstand the heat and humidity of the tropics. This included the re-packaging of 23 million rounds of US ammunition for use in the Pacific including .30 cal and .45 cal ammunition. The works produced munitions for the Australian Army, Air Force and Navy as well as for the US forces and for the Royal Navy. Army and RAAF stores were tested at the proof range, and at Stockton, Holsworthy, Richmond Aerodrome and in South Australia. By 1943, the Munitions Supply Laboratory at Lidcombe was being used to inspect ordnance.

After the War ended, the factories were leased or sold to private enterprise and the Dunheved Industrial Estate came into being. Many of the munitions workers had established lives in the town and stayed on to work in the new industries, as did the returning servicemen and women. Part of the Munitions Factory was turned into a Migrant Hostel, again swelling the population of St. Marys. These migrants also worked in the new industries that had commenced, and their children attended St.Marys Primary School.
Location: Dunheved Circuit, St Marys.

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  • Ropes Creek Railway Station

    Cartridge filling and shell assembly at the Munitions Factory

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