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RAN Mine Depot Swan Island - Chronology

1922

The Sydney Morning Herald of 22 May 1922 records the appointment of George W. Bloomfield as Assistant to the Mining Engineer Officer, Swan Island from May 27 that year. The The Navy List of October, 1929 shows that the Depot was by then in the charge of Bloomfield as the Mining Engineer Officer.

1924

Responsibility for submarine mining transferred from the Australian Army to the Royal Australian Navy.

1926

The Argus of 25 March 1926 (page 8) records that the Arbitration Court had made a determination on wages and conditions for the Mine Depot; this suggests that significant numbers of civilian workmen were engaged. Rates were struck for such jobs as:

1934

The Argus of 31 January 1934 reported that a firm of Melbourne machinery merchants had bought several thousand obsolete mine cases from Swan Island which were to be recycled into cement mixers, vats and palm containers for the Centenary celebrations. These were probably the original "H" mines, now obsolete.

1939

First order placed for Australian manufacture of mines (Mark XIV Contact Mine), a trial production run of 500, the non-explosive portions of which were manufactured by the Ford Motor Company at Geelong. These mines were for the Admiralty.

1940

A further order was placed for 3,500 mines, for Australian requirements, to be stored at Swan Island. During the course of the war, Australian-made mines were laid round New Zealand by H.M.A.S. Bungaree, which also laid defensive fields round Noumea and along the Great Barrier Reef. A total 0f 12,987 mines were produced before production ceased shortly after the end of the war.

1948

Cleaning up after the war was a complex business:

"Consequent on the decision to transfer to the R.A.N. Mine Depot, Swan Island Mines and components on R.A.A.F. charge at Darwin, a party of nine members of the Swan Island staff left Melbourne in early May by air for Darwin. ...

The mines were in rather poor condition ... and it was the job of the Swan Island party to sort out the sheep from the goats. ... They worked under fairly difficult conditions ... and after approximately 9 weeks of hard toil the so called good mines and components were packed and crated ready for shipment south. ...

651 No. of these mines ... were shipped to Melbourne in L.S.T. 3501 and are at present being unloaded at Swan Island." (RAN Mine Depot Swan Island Newsletter, August 1948)

To read what happened to the mines left in Darwin, visit the RANAD Darwin page.

Staff of the depot comprised:

Officer in charge, LCDR G.T. Saunders
Clerical and typing staff - 4
Foremen - 2
Storehousemen - 3
Chargeman of Fitters - 1
Fitters - 2
Electrician - 1
Carpenter - 1
Assistant Laboratoryman - 1
Assistants (Mine Depot) - 42

1949

Changes were afoot to the existing storage safety distances:

"Far-reaching changes appear in the new tables of Safety Distances issued last year by the United Kingdom Committee, following the large scale test explosions conducted in Germany and elsewhere since the war ended. We are now examining our own storages and tonnages to see what the effect would be if the new distances were applied to existing explosives area, and the results to date clearly indicate that we need more room." (Naval Ordnance Branch Newsletter, May 1949)

1951

Ship loading operations did not always go to plan:

"Abnormally high winds and sea caused some exciting and indeed anxious times as the following incidents at Depot and Geelong A.M. 6th, 7th and 8th January respectively will illustrate. Four men in a dinghy sent to secure a line to a lighter at the buoy decided it was time to jump for it with the result that one succeeded in reaching the lighter and the remainder fell into the sea, one of the victims being sent to the local medico suffering from the effects of shock and immersion. A pot of tea and change of clothes sufficed for the others who carried on working. The Geelong victim tripped over a line and dived into a charted depth of five fathoms which he claims is wrong and declares that the depth is nearer ten fathoms, as he measured every foot of the descent to the mud. ... Some potent medicine produced by the tugs crew enabled him to continue the journey to Swan Island.

On 18th January the tug left Geelong with lighters Nos. 1303 and 562 in tow, the rear one laden with 700 Boxes Picrite - all went well in the comparatively calm waters of Corio Bay but things began to happen when approaching West Channel. A rather big sea hit the watchmen's hut on 1303 and it disappeared over the side together with sundry lighter stores which had been stowed therein for safety. Almost immediately afterward the towing bollard on No. 562 fractured, this causing the lighter to yaw badly and foul the other tow line which parted. The tug Master considered the state of wind and seas too dangerous to attempt recovery at that stage and reported the matter to Point Henry Signal Station Keeper, who in turn reported the matter to O.C.M.D. The Depot M.B. 139 set out to search for the missing lighter, but were beaten to it by another tug despatched from Geelong. The lighter was recovered near Point Richard Light, much to the relief of all concerned as it was realised that the Depot Boat was ill equipped to handle such a heavy tow in the conditions prevailing at the time. We did the next best thing however by leading the tug, sans chart, and little knowledge, through the West Channel to "Woomera's" buoy, happy to reach safety without further mishap. All Depot boats and lighters were damaged to some extent due to bad weather. " (RAN Mine Depot Swan Island Newsletter, February 1951)

Facilities at Swan island were sometimes rudimentary:

"Loading lighters at Swan island jetty is a slow process particularly when handling heavy equipment with the existing hand operated crane (1900 or earlier vintage) ...Much better things are expected when the proposed 2 ton electrically operated crane is erected."(RAN Mine Depot Swan Island Newsletter, February 1951)

Mosquitoes were hampering operations; staff were however optimistic that the mosquitoes would be bringing the rabbit population under control, via the medium of myxomatosis.

Trials with New Zealand Spinach were being undertaken to stabilise traverses.

1952

The Island was on the move:

"Due to the abnormally high tides and almost continuous N.W. to S.W. winds, sometimes of almost gale force the Island has been almost awash on several occasions and much damage has been done to the Shore Line which has changed considerably. ... buildings Nos. 110 and 112 are much closer to the sea than formerly and further south the sea has broken through to the Swamp Area ... " (RAN Mine Depot Swan Island Newsletter, May 1952)

1953

November: An electric wharf crane had been received from the U.K. and was awaiting installation after strengthening of the North Jetty.

1954

Chippie's delight:

"A new carpenter's shop has been set up adjacent to the protective packaging room in the same building. New power driven woodworking machinery, namely a bandsaw, a hand planer and jointer and a tilting table saw bench has been received and set up. Previous to now the carpenter's shop boasted only one power machine and that an old saw bench which came out of the Battle Cruiser "Australia". Its motor was of 1910 vintage driven from our now nearly extinct D.C. power supplies." (RAN Mine Depot Swan Island Newsletter, August 1954)


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Robert Curran
borclaud @ tpg.com.au