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Free Prospect Air Raid Shelter Tour

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by Dave Walsh (subscribe)
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Take a trip back in time
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Prospect Air Raid Shelter (Image: City of Prospect)

Many people in Adelaide have a curious passion for underground places. Long forgotten basements, secret wartime shelters, and mythical or real bunkers and tunnels in Adelaide all attract enormous interest.

The latter article was actually written in 2014, but when its content was recently recycled by ABC Adelaide it attracted just as much interest again. Many tunnel stories are myths. But wartime bunkers and air raid shelters are not hard to find even now, and the public can still get access to them occasionally.

With war in Europe looming in 1938, the State government began preparations to protect civilians with Air Raid Precautions (ARP). Eight ARP Sub-Control areas were established around the metropolitan area to coordinate civil defence responses to any attack. Each of these areas was provided with a securely protected underground bunker for civil defence communications and local Air Raid Wardens, and are usually referred to as "air raid shelters".

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Thebarton Air Raid Shelter at South Road Torrensville

These heavily protected concrete Sub-Control Centres were initially built in 1942 at Glenelg, Woodville, Port Adelaide, Prospect, Norwood and Unley. At least five of these bunkers still remain in some form, with the Prospect, Thebarton and Glenelg air raid shelters surviving largely intact. The shelters at Unley and Woodville have been heavily modified, while the rest appear to be long gone.

The air raid shelters were largely a reaction to the threat of Japanese invasion after Darwin had been bombed by air. Many other precautions were taken: the beaches were fenced off with barbed wire, searchlights and anti-aircraft guns were located at strategic places including Fort Largs, and top secret radar stations were established to provide early warning of attack.

Fortunately, the Japanese never made it to Australia during World War 2, and these underground bunkers near suburban ovals fell into disuse. Some were briefly used for other purposes, while the Thebarton air raid shelter became home to the Australian Society of Magicians. The Glenelg air raid shelter has been opened to the public on many occasions over the years.

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Inside Prospect Air Raid Shelter (Image: History Trust SA)

Since being decommissioned the Prospect air raid shelter has housed a slot car club, was used for St John Ambulance training and served as an amateur radio operators' centre. But after a rising water table flooded the building, it was deemed unsafe and fell into disuse

Until recently the Prospect air raid shelter was derelict and suffering water and other damage. With the help of the City of Prospect, the Prospect Local History Group has reopened the shelter, and now offers free guided tours of the air raid shelter and new ground level garden on selected days - see the Eventbrite listing for dates and to make reservations (essential).

The free tours of the Prospect air raid shelter are not held often - if you can find a suitable date, then make your bookings early to avoid disappointment. The History Group is hopeful that some local residents will come forward with their memories of the shelter, perhaps during World War 2. It will help them document the history of this wartime place and record it on interpretive panels to educate visitors.
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Why? Explore Adelaide's hidden World War 2 history
When: See Eventbrite link
Where: Willcox Ave, Prospect, SA
Cost: Free
Your Comment
This looks interesting, and it's local. I might check it out. Thanks Dave!
by Michael Genrich (score: 3|1664) 656 days ago
Australian Red Cross Volunteers regularly had practise runs in case if an emergency. They were sometimes told which day it might be on so that businesses could arrange for other staff and Mums could arrange care for their children. One van used to transport volunteers actually belonged to a company that distributed tea (tea leaves). One was near the Edwardstown area.
by r.eng (score: 2|502) 628 days ago
How very interesting
by Gillian Ching (score: 3|1732) 652 days ago
Great article Dave which has aroused my curiosity even more about war time South Australia. My grandmother was an air raid warden in RosePark as she lived near Rose Park Primary School and helped muster the pupils during practise alerts. As a child she told me there was a big underground shelter which ran under the Alexandra Avenue plantation from the stone construction on the Gurney Road? end of the plantation up to the rotunda adjacent to the school.I made enquiries about this through Norwood Council and Burnside Historical Society but to no avail .Maybe you know something of this? Kirsty Mortlock
by kamor (score: 1|14) 617 days ago
This tour (24 March) is already fully booked out. The next tour after that will be during History Festival and bookings can be made via Eventbrite. No admission without a ticket. Prospect Local History Group.
by david (score: 0|8) 638 days ago
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