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Air Raid Shelters in Brisbane

Home > Brisbane > Free | Places of Interest | Travel
by Simon Pikusa (subscribe)
I am a consulting structural engineer, walker, birder and occasional writer.
Published September 30th 2022
Why are there concrete shelters in Brisbane's parks? We pass by them many times by car, bus, bike or on foot. They are not immediately distinctive. They blend in with trees, benches, play equipment, birds, dogs, people and the noisy buzz of the city. For most of us, the shelters have always been there.

Albert Park Shelter
Wickham Terrace

One drizzling morning at Wickham Park, I used one of these shelters and stopped and looked at it. Why is this made from concrete? What determined the proportion of the floating roof slab? My eyes followed the detail of the grooves and steps around the edges and noticed moss, spalling and cracking from age. My hands felt the rough impressions from timber formwork. A little searching found a heritage register that noted these structures were Second World War air raid shelters. More fragments from articles, old building codes and drawings from the Brisbane City Council Archives revealed a story of a creative design response to the threat of bombing by the Japanese.

Wickham Park
Wickham Park

These above ground 'pillbox' type shelters all had brick or concrete perimeter walls at least one foot thick that were designed for blast protection. The walls in combination with the central columns would have given these shelters significant redundancy and strength so that if damaged the roof would not easily collapse, as had occurred in some box type shelters under German bomb blasts in England. But we will never know how they would have performed because Brisbane was never bombed. The city architect, FA Costello, intended the walls to be removable to leave a park shelter suggesting, perhaps, a confidence in the outcome of the war. This secondary design has become the main use of these structures.

Pillbox Shelter Detail
Pillbox Shelter Detail

Costello was a modernist, which you can see from the form of the slender roof - cantilevering six feet each side from the columns and extending for forty feet. The shape and tapers follow the forces, for economy and give a feeling of lightness in a solid material. And this was achieved then by new engineering analysis and design techniques for reinforced concrete plates. The design engineer noted on the council drawings was CB Mott, who is one of Queensland's eminent engineers.

Of the over two hundred shelters constructed, less than twenty remain today. As well as in Wickham Park, you can find others at

  • Albert Park (Wickham Terrace)

  • Annerley (Hefferan Park)

  • Buranda Playground, Sword Street, Woolloongabba

  • Stones Corner by the library

  • Kangaroo Point (Raymond Park)

  • Kelvin Grove and Windsor (Lutwyche Road)

  • Morningside (Wynnum Road)

  • Nundah (Sandgate Road)

  • East Street and Wickham Street, Fortitude Valley

    A clever design for short term safety in wartime has left an important stylistic and sculptural legacy in Brisbane's parks.

    Hefferan Park Annerley
    Hefferan Park Annerley
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    Your Comment
    I would not have realised what they had once been, from looking at what is there today.
    by Gayle Beveridge-Marien (score: 4|10456) 169 days ago
    Wow, Simon, I've definitely learnt something new and ... historical today ... interesting article!
    by Elaine (score: 3|9212) 161 days ago
    Thank you, Simon, for this article. In my childhood (1950s) there was one of these shelters in Florence Street, Wynnum Central, which had been converted into a bus stop. I used to catch the bus there each day after school. It was only many years later that I learned of its original purpose. Its good to know that some have been preserved.
    - Lynn Aberdeen
    by aberd (score: 0|6) 145 days ago
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