The Tocumwal air force base

My family was aware of Tocumwal and its houses long before they became a feature of the streets of O'Connor. My father, Hartley Hollier, was a serving member of the RAAF from 1936-46 and was actually stationed at Tocumwal when the 'Tocumwal houses' were in that town, newly-built and functioning as they had been designed to function.

The Tocumwal air force base was part of the 'Brisbane Line' strategy of World War II. The Brisbane Line was, in fact, an imaginary line drawn on a map connecting Perth with Brisbane. This effectively divided Australia into two segments. The thinking was that we could afford to lose everything above the line, if needs be, to an invading Japanese force - but we would fight to the death to keep everything below it. For this reason various air force bases were strategically placed just inside the 'line', and Tocumwal was one of these locations.

What we know as the 'Tocumwal houses' were built in Tocumwal for the purpose of setting up the air force base. The whole base was designed to look like any Australian country town, and was virtually all accommodated in the 'houses'. It had roads and streets laid out and I imagine that the aircraft hangars and workshops might have looked like the local school or public hall. The houses had no partitioning inside and most of them served as sleeping quarters for the men. They had a half-hourly bus service and the bus would pick up personnel and drop them where they needed to go. The vital purpose for designing a base in such a form was that, should enemy surveillance aircraft fly overhead, all that they would see would be an ordinary town.

After the end of World War II the air force base at Tocumwal was no longer needed. I imagine there was at first a feeling of, 'What on earth are we going to do with all this lot?' But, concurrently, Canberra was developing fast by the mid-1940s and someone had the brilliant idea (or so it would seem, with hindsight) of bringing the houses and re-erecting them here. Sylvia Hollier (contributed 1996)

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•  The Tocumwal air force base

•  Constructing the Tocumwal air force base

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The Tocumwal Archive was first developed by Mary Hutchison and Katherine Pepper with the support of
PhotoAccess and funds from the ACT Government through its Heritage Council.

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