Forgotten Australian Radar Station Sites Rediscovered

A possible Japanese invasion was the rationale behind the establishment of radar stations along the coast. Source: Australian War Memorial

Remnants of a radar station from World War II near Jurien Bay and 200 kilometers north of Perth have been found by a handful of servicemen and volunteers. There were 22 sites established along the West Australian coast after Japan threatened to invade, between 1943 and 1944. Senior archaeologist Bob Sheppard said, “They were the eyes of the nation really looking out into the ocean for the defenses.” He is heading a heritage survey at the radar station near Jurien Bay which is known as Radar 48.

The stations played a crucial role in the war for the allied forces. Japan aircraft and submarines attacked Australia several times during the war.

The radar stations were responsible for a large part of the “secret war” of communications. Radar stations facilitated communication concerning the location of enemy planes. The life on those radar stations was certainly not easy. Sheppard elaborated his thoughts by saying, “This looks like a really nice place today, but if you’re isolated out here for long periods of time on your own … I think it would have been pretty tough.”

Over the course of two years, there were about 200 personnel who spent time at the station. There is great military significance associated with these sites, but not many of them have been preserved. The hope is that the survey will help put some of the military history of Radar 48 back together. This would likely generate greater awareness of the protection provided for the nation’s coastline by these men. The story needs to be told.

Thus far, 1942-inscribed .303 rifle cartridges, bully beef tins, medicine bottles, a bunch of brown bottles, and other artifacts have been found at the site. The items of particular interest have been gathered and stored, but more regular items (rifle cartridges) have been left. One of the archaeologists, Zack Sheppard, said, “We’re leaving it here

One of the archaeologists, Zack Sheppard, said, “We’re leaving it here because, in archaeology, it’s usually better to leave things in the ground so, in the future, more people can come here and spend more time, and archaeology remains forever.” The survey team opted to take a bunch of rubbish from the site as well.

Bunkers, underwater tanks, radar foundations, concrete igloos, and other solid structures that sheltered generators are still there. However, many of them are showing signs of wear and tear due to weather or from having been vandalized. Mr. Sheppard is pretty sure that most people are unaware of what they even are; by telling the story, people will be instilled with some pride in the military heritage of the west coast.

CEO Tony Nettle hopes the unmarked site will eventually be protected. The city of Dandaragan is funding the project. He stated, “A lot of people don’t actually know what is here because it’s fairly inaccessible, so it’s important to make sure what history we do have here is preserved and looked after.”

He is also curious to see if there ends up being any evidence to support the rumors that the Japanese forces shelled the area. Nettle believes there could definitely be some significant finds to come. Some of the finds could even impact history as we know it – of West Australia and as to how far the Japanese actually reached in WA too. It is a special site that deserves to be recognized.

Nettle went on to say, “A lot of the memorials to the war and to military are related to people who died overseas in battles and things, but there was a real military presence along the West Australian coast that just tends to be ignored. I think we need to bring those stories of those soldiers home to the local communities … and make them, the communities, feel as though they’re part of that legacy of military heritage.”

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE