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Published January 24th 2017
Derelict buildings from another age
Century Old State Heritage Listed Dry Creek Explosives Stores
During the early history of South Australia there was a widespread need for explosives. Dynamite was used extensively in mining, quarrying, construction and tree removal, and large quantities were imported from interstate and overseas. The problem was only where to store the explosives safely.
The North Arm Powder Magazine at Port Adelaide was the main explosives stores from 1858, with two nearby hulks (old ships) supplementing the storage. It was soon realised that the magazine posed a risk to everything nearby: "the hulk already stationed there was capable of holding a sufficient quantity of dynamite to destroy the whole of Port Adelaide". A new solution was needed.
Explosives Were Shipped to the North Arm Powder Magazine in Port Adelaide (Image: State Library SA PRG-280-1-12-31)
In 1906 the Dry Creek explosives magazines were built in a large reserve of 287 acres. Ten separate buildings each capable of storing 30 tonnes of explosives were laid out in a long line, each surrounded on three sides by a large earth mound. Ships initially unloaded their cargo of explosives at North Arm Powder Magazine for it to be taken to the explosives stores by horse and cart.
A few years later a jetty was built at Broad Creek, and a 1.5 mile horse-drawn tramway transported explosives directly to the door of the magazines. At the south end of the narrow gauge (2') tram line, railway lines connected Dry Creek explosives magazines to the Dry Creek railway station. A Magazine Keeper lived in a four room house originally from the Torrens Island Quarantine Station, with a lean-to kitchen and verandah added.
Sentry Guarding Dry Creek Explosives Depot 1915 (Image: State Library SA PRG-280-1-12-136)
During World War 1 the military used No 1 and No 2 magazines, posting a guard of 30 men there to defend the site. By the start of World War 2 a factory in Victoria produced enough explosives for Australia's needs, and the use of shipping to transport them dwindled. From 1946 most explosives were transported by rail to the Dry Creek explosives stores.
One of the Vandalised Abandoned Buildings at Dry Creek
Each of the explosive magazines is identical, made of timber framed corrugated galvanised iron with a porch entrance, vented roof and skylight. The huts once sat on timber supports which have been replaced with concrete posts, now crumbling. Wide roof eaves are held down with cast iron ties to counter the effect of strong winds. The ends of the surrounding earth mounds were capped with concrete in recent decades, but continue to be eroded by the weather.
Infrared Alarm System at Dry Creek Explosives Stores
On the opposite side of the tram line along mound extends the full length of the Dry Creek explosives magazines. Some of the magazine stores are equipped with a now derelict security system. It used an infrared light source and mirrors to create an invisible beam around the hut perimeter, but now the systems have been vandalised and are inoperative.
No artificial lighting, electricity or camera was permitted inside the explosive magazines for safety reasons, to avoid the possibility of triggering a sensitive detonator.
1903 Photo of Dry Creek Explosives Magazines (State Library SA B-58207)
The Dry Creek explosives depot continued operations in much the same way until about 1965, storing mainly mining and construction explosives. Most of the tram tracks were torn up in 1966 when two Leyland trucks were purchased to transport the explosives to the stores. However, it's still possible to see parts of the original tram line.
Today the abandoned buildings of the explosives stores are steadily deteriorating in condition. Vandalism is the main threat - at one time these buildings were remote, but now they are increasingly accessible to urban explorers and street artists. Rust and the passage of time is eroding the walls, while the support piles slowly sink. With the possibility of a large housing development being built nearby, the threat to these anachronisms increases dramatically.
Fortunately, the area where the Dry Creek explosives depot is located is snake infested, and it is covered by CCTV for a sensitive installation nearby. Despite high fences people have been tempted to try to access the site, causing more damage than has occurred already. That access will come at some personal risk.
Fascinating article. I would love to visit this site to photograph and document it, especially any evidence of the narrow gauge railway/tramway! Is there a way to gain access without causing "problems" ?
Dave, Some years ago the Chamber of Commerce and Industry organized a tour through the "Penrice" Soda Ash Plant at Osborne. During the tour, they said that the plant had opened in 1937. I kept on thinking, why would they open such a plant then? and why in such a location? So in a quiet moment I asked the guide, saying that the explanation given didn't sound true and what was the official reason for the plant? He said that with the build up of war efforts around the world in the late 1930's, the government had commissioned the plant to make saltpeter for munitions. The location was because they had ready source of salt from the Dry Creek salt pans, and a ready source of electricity from the Osborne Power Station. The munition works were based in Woodville and Hendon. In fact the factories concerned had wooden floors so that no sparks occurred if tools etc were dropped on the floor