Lake Macquarie History

RAAF Radar Station 208 Mine Camp

RAAF Radar Station 208 Mine Camp was one of nine stations on the mainland of Australia which used British imported ACO radar. It is the only remaining site of two which were established in New South Wales.

Shortly before the declaration of war on Germany in 1939, the British Government elected to share their top secret radar technology with her colonies. Australia's Acting High Commissioner, John Shiels Duncan, successully negotiated to have a laboratory set up in Sydney. Australia was then charged with the responsibility of the material for research and further development of radar. Confirmation from the British Secretary of State and Air, Kingsley Wood, came six months after the commencement of WWII, just a few months short of the Japanese signing a pact with Germany. This signing was to have an impact on the safety of Australian shores.

The Newcastle region was earmarked as a top priority site as it was seen as important to protect vital industries, such as the BHP Steelworks, significant in Australia's munitions production. Mine Camp, one of five distinct settlements in the Catherine Hill Bay area, was selected by Flying Officer Rex Wadsley as a suitable place to set up the highly classified operation. The chosen site would enable the earliest warning of enemy aircraft, although some problems were flagged - the height finding aspect of the ACO radar was likely to suffer, though this was offset by the increasing range for detecting low flying aircraft.

In July 1942 Flight Officer E. S. Crouch mapped the location after a lease was signed for the area from Parbury Estate (12 acres) and Wallarah Mining Company (1.25acres). Most of the buildings were built on Parbury land: living quarters, office, emergency generator, guard house, northern bunker and towers. The southern bunker and tower were built on Wallarah land. The need for a dependable electricity supply was paramount, so as there was no existing supply one was specifically erected by Newcastle Electric Supply Council Authority (NESCA). Electricity was connected by February 27, 1943.

The two towers were made of hardwood, stood 132ft high and were 10 inches thick at the base. Cody and Willis of Glebe were contracted to make the poles, as the towers were constructed on site. The towers were fixed to steel parts which were set in concrete footings in a north and south alignment. This was designed to withstand hurricanes and the construction took twelve men ten weeks to complete.

The camp enclosure was designed to be an extension of the existing settlement. Living quarters were of light weatherboard timber, and the layout was arranged to give the impression of a neglected series of miners' cottages. The use of gardens and trees also formed part of the camouflage.

photo: bunker, mine station 208

The bunkers, also known as "igloos" because of their curved concrete structure, measured about 35ft long, 20 ft long and 12ft high and were bomb proof. Each one was located in close proximity to each of the towers. The English design was intended for underground construction, but for reasons unknown, were built above ground. The northern bunker housed equipment for receiver equipment, while the southern bunker contained transmitter equipment. A third, smaller bunker housed the electricity generator and emergency power supply.

In August 1942 Minister for Air, Arthur Drakefield approved WAAAF operators to staff seventeen stations around the country, one of which was Station 208 Mine Camp. The first personnel to the newly constructed Unit 208RDF Mine Camp, Swansea (as it was officially known) arrived February 10, 1943. By the end of February twenty one RAAF men and twenty four WAAAF women, including officers had arrived. The women monitored the radar screens in the newly devised occupation, Operator RDF, while the men were employed as radar mechanics. Support staff were also employed at Mine Camp Station in roles such as cooks, drivers, guards and an orderly.

The station diary notes that the "station became operational for training purposes" on July 16, 1943. Although no official documentation records Japanese plane activity, the station played an important role during its operation, protecting the region in guarding the approach to Newcastle, especially the key RAAF seaplane base at Rathmines. The station monitored air traffic for two years during the war and for five months after. In Rare WW2 Radar at Catherine Hill Bay (2009), Eric Manning records that the "best work of Mine Camp was assisting our own aircraft, getting them back on track, which sometimes amounted to rescue".

The station officially ceased operation on January 30, 1946. Post war, the Housing Commission acquired the land and buildings from Parbury Estate, however success was shortlived, especially since the closure of the shop with the post office. By 1970 tenancies ended and buildings were demolished. The remaining buildings from the original village became victim of disrepair and vandalism and were later destroyed by fire in 1980.

The site became heritage listed in 2008.

Reference

Manning, Eric Joseph 2009, Rare WW 2 radar at Catherine Hill Bay : the early English model that arrived in the region late, East Lake Macquarie Historical Society, Swansea, N.S.W

1948 'R.A.A.F. TOWERS TO BE SOLD', Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate (NSW : 1876 - 1954), 6 May, p. 3. , viewed 03 Apr 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article134328230

SCANLON, M 2002, 'Residents pushing to save `hidden' history', Newcastle Herald (Australia), 10 May, p. 20.

Scanlon, M 2002, 'Bunkers but no bean tins - HISTORY, Links with the past', Newcastle Herald (Australia), 29 Aug, p. 57

NEWSTEAD, B 2005, 'Bay opens window on wartime secrets, memories', Newcastle Herald (Australia), 18 Nov, p. 3

CRONSHAW LAKE MACQUARIE, D 2008, 'Saving war history - Radar station joins state's heritage list', Newcastle Herald (Australia), 4 Aug, p. 5