ROYAL AUSTRALIAN NAVY ARMAMENTS DEPOT (SOMERTON)
This page was written by Rowan Crowe of Craigieburn Historical Interest Group and based on documents retrieved from the National Archives of Australia. Photos are courtesy of Rowan's website http://www.fadingvictoria.com/
This view down the main warehouse access road shows buildings 6 and 7. The route was originally further south but was changed when many RANAD buildings were demolished in order to build the Greenvale Reservoir, which wraps around the explosive warehouse portion of the depot. Trees planted in the water catchment area in the early 1970's are visible in the distance. Note the earth boundaries around each warehouse, and the sparse placement of buildings.
In early 1941 it was decided that a new ammunition storage depot was required for the use by the Army. Two potential sites were chosen: one at Somerton, adjacent to the suburb of Roxburgh Park, and one in Greenvale, "approximately 1/2-mile south of Mount Gellibrand on the property of Mr. Attwood", which is today the residential suburb of Attwood. The Somerton site was preferred due to its concealment from roads, and its general isolation.
In late 1941 expenditure for the Somerton site was approved and building began shortly
thereafter. At this point no land had been acquired, although the Commonwealth had taken possession under a law which allowed them unrestricted use of private land during wartime. Five landholders had various portions of their land possessed in return for a small annual rental fee.
Ownership of the land was not officially
transferred until January 1944, when the Commonwealth purchased it through a
compulsory acquisition process. All 5 owners had to accept monetary compensation
for their land which was significantly lower than what they believed it was
worth. Ironically, in October 1947 one of the affected landholders Mr. I. D.
Shankland of "Waltham" Greenvale was granted grazing rights for the same land
that had been previously acquired from him.
In the mid 1950s additional land was
acquired to extend the safety buffer zone around the site. The per-acre price
paid as compensation was up to five times the amount that
landowners had previously received in 1944. Mr. I. D. Shankland would have been
painfully aware of this significant difference in value as his land holdings were once again reduced in size by compulsory acquisition. He was compensated 69 pounds per acre in 1956, but had only been paid 18 pounds per acre in 1944.
If he still owned the land in the late
1960s then he would have surely thrown his hands up in the air when the entire
remaining area was acquired in order to build the Greenvale Reservoir. The
project also claimed a large portion of the depot land which resulted in several
explosive warehouses being demolished, and an internal access road being
In the wartime Somerton was an isolated rural area. A telephone service ordered
1942 required an extended line of about 10 miles (16 kilometers) to be run from the
Essendon North exchange. Routing external water and sewerage services to the area was considered too expensive, so these were handled on site. At one point stored water levels became so low that trucking in water was considered, but heavy rains soon replenished their supply.
Even as early as 1948 there were concerns about urban sprawl reducing this
advantage, and closure of the depot was planned. It wasn't until around the year 2000 that the depot actually closed, with the adjacent area of Roxburgh Park well on its way to
becoming an established suburb. Some houses are located only 700 metres from the old
explosive warehouse buildings.
The depot land is currently owned by Peet & Co and much of the property will be
redeveloped into a residential estate in the coming years. The southern end of the future
arterial road between Somerton Road and Craigieburn Road will also pass through the
These four buildings comprising Cordite Lab, Shell Lab, Pyrotechnics Lab and a change room are located inside the former Royal Australian Navy Armaments Depot (RANAD) at Somerton (now officially inside Greenvale's borders). They were built near the end of WWII and were used up to the time the base was decommissioned around the year 2000. They are adjacent to the Greenvale Reservoir and can be seen from the public land inside the reservoir park. The former RANAD land is currently privately owned by a residential developer, but this portion will become part of the reservoir's water catchment area in the future. Note the extensive use of asbestos sheeting, the lightning arrestors and grounding straps placed liberally around the buildings, and the thick concrete walls between them.