Truganina Explosives Reserve and Tramway (Historical)

  bevans Site Admin

Location: Melbourne, Australia
Historical context

The Truganina Explosives Reserve is linked to both defence and industry, as explosives were used in both areas (mining and quarrying). Explosives in Melbourne had been stored (among other places) on the banks of the Saltwater River at Maribyrnong (i.e. Jacks magazine 1878), but in the 1880s this storage magazine was beginning to be too closely placed to residential and industrial areas. Moreover, the nature of explosives was changing as the new nitro-glycerine-based explosives were developed, replacing the earlier version, gunpowder. For a while in the 1880s a storage hulk, the Sydney Griffiths', was used for storage of explosives, anchored off Altona (Barnard, 1999) Storage of explosives in hulks anchored round the bay had been the practice since 1853 (Gibson, 2000)

Specific history

In 1896, 555 acres of land was acquired from George Chirnside on the north east side of Skeleton Creek and a complex of storage magazines, as well as a loading jetty, were constructed over the next four years and opened on 1 May 1901. Later much of the reserve was excised for various purposes, such as the sewerage purification plant. When a new explosives storage area was opened at Point Wilson in 1962, Truganina Reserve was limited to 40 acres and many of the explosives magazines were dismantled.

This Magazine was established under the 'Truganina Powder Magazines Act' passed in October 1896 which provided for the acquisition of land at Laverton, due to the Maribyrnong Gunpowder Magazine being unsuitable for storage of modern high explosives. The Act also authorised the establishment of a tramway along Queen and Merton Streets, which was constructed by the Department of Land and Works on land was acquired from George Chirnside. Management of the reserve and operation of the tramway was vested with the Victorian Commissioner of Trade and Custom. As such this was initiated as a Victorian Colonial project, but soon became part of the Commonwealth defence facilities following Federation.

Contracts were soon let for:

§ pier 1618 feet long.

§ 24 magazines.

§ magazine keeper's and assistant keeper's houses.

§ 7 miles of fence.

§ a bridge.

§ 2 feet gauge horse tramway to the Laverton Railway Station.

§ sidings and sheds at the Laverton Railway Station.

§ 24 wagons for use on the tramway.

Local historian Cliff Gibson writes that from 1901-1936 explosives were carried by rail from Deer Park Explosives factory to the Laverton Railway Station. From here they were carried by horse tram to the reserve for storage in the magazines. As needed, explosives could be taken via the internal tramway to the pier and loaded into explosives lighters and from there to the hold of waiting ships. From 1936 explosives were carted from the explosives factory at Deer Park to the reserve by road, using specially built diesel powered trucks.

Early Plans

Plans of what was then described as a 536 acre reserve and building complex, were produced in 1900-04. These show detailed layouts of the tramway and the names of tenants and their magazine allocations. The 1900 plan also shows a single masonry house and corrugated iron clad stables at the frontage linked by a drive to the tramway. The corrugated iron front fence is also shown. The tramway itself had 8 branches on the loop and exit lines to the east across the Skeleton Creek and west (Laverton) along Queens Street. Names on the plan include N Guthridge, J Abraham(s), C Russell, JJ Morris, Curtis & Harvey, and George Bowden, among others. Bowden, for example, was Inspector of Signals at the Victorian Railways and no doubt had a need to store the explosive powder used in his signals. J Abraham (or Abrahams?) was the manager of the Shell Transport & Trading Co. A contract plan of 1899-1900 shows details of a new timber tram bridge over a creeklet connecting the new Laverton line along Queen Street with an existing east-west line leading to the jetty. The tram line west of this connection is not shown in the 1900 plan.

A later map from the 1930s shows each rectangular magazine, is allotment and its construction (brick or corrugated iron) plus an additional weatherboard main house fronting the line of Queen Street which was still an unmade road. Details along the main tram route into the complex included two weatherboard offices, corrugated iron clad stables, packing shed, a fibro cement clad house and tram shed. There was also a brick rocket house on the east of the site, isolated, and a number of lighting conductors dotted around the site. The pier is also shown located to the south-east of the keeper's house on what is now the Doug Grant Reserve (reclaimed from Hobsons Bay). There was a weatherboard store on a promontory at its end and another weatherboard building midway.

As had happened on many previous occasions, the growth of residential development near the reserve forced its closure and the construction for the Australian government of an explosives storage facility at Point Wilson. Correspondence between the Lands Department and explosives manufacturer, Nobel (Australia Ltd), reveals their long term association with this site, starting in 1927 and, prior to that, with the firm Cape Explosives Works Ltd. Nobel wrote to the Department in 1962, noting the opening up of the Point Wilson magazine and the consequent cessation of their lease at the Laverton magazine. The effective date of surrender of the lease was 14 June 1962 (VPRO). Cliff Gibson states that the last explosives to be shipped from the Truganina reserve was via the ketch 'Falie' on 11 May 1962. The magazine and blast mounds were removed but 40 acres was retained for testing. Since that time the State Government has negotiated a transfer of the land for use as part of the Altona foreshore reserve.

Chronology of Government Contracts

Cliff Gibson prepared the following chronology of government contracts for works on this reserve 1897-1906, which are taken from the Government Gazette:

§ Contract No. 1772 let to Ross, Fraser & Co. for erection of jetty and shed, Skeleton Creek, £2697 pounds 15 shillings. (25 January 1897, p.2668)

§ Tenders called for fencing of Explosives Reserve, Skeleton Creek. (July 1897, p.2976)

§ Tenders called for erection of (powder magazine) Keeper's Quarters at Explosives Reserve, Skeleton Creek. (3 September 1897, p.3425)

§ Contract No: 1772 let to WR Cooper for erection of Keeper's Quarters Skeleton Creek, for £996 pounds/12/-. (8 October 1897, p.3751)

§ Contract let to CD Hall for extras on contract No. 1485 of 1897-98 for fencing at Explosives Reserve, Skeleton Creek, £149/9/3. (23 September 1898, p.3437)

§ Contract let to James Mullin for construction of 5 brick Powder Magazines at Skeleton Creek £2083. (18 November 1898, p.4326.)

§ Submitted for the approval of His Excellency the Governor in Council that the sum of £178/3/6 be paid to Messrs. Rylah and Mclean for the supply of second hand rails, crossings etc., for tramway, Explosives Reserve, Truganina, without tenders being called for same. Approved by the Governor in Council on 29 December 1899. (January 1900 p.19)

§ Tenders called for construction of tramway from Truganina Explosives Reserve to Railway near Laverton Station. (4 January 1900 p.54)

§ Tenders called for picket fencing, piling etc., Explosives Reserve Truganina. (4 January 1900 p.54)


Contract let to Wehl Bros. for supply of rails etc. for Tramway, Explosives Reserve, and Truganina. £690. (19 January 1900 p.207)

§ Contract let to CD Hall for construction of Tramway from Truganina Explosives Reserve to Railway near Laverton Station for £905 pounds. (G.G. 2 Feb. 1900, page 457.)

§ Tenders called for a timber bridge, Explosives Reserve Truganina. (21 December 1899 p.4782)

§ Contract let to T. Coate for construction of a timber bridge at Explosives Reserve Truganina for £110/5/3. (2 February 1900, p.457)

§ Contract let to CD Hall for construction of picket fence, piling etc., Explosives Reserve Truganina, for £295 pounds. (9 February 1900, p.523)

§ Submitted for the approval of his Excellency the Lieutenant Governor in Council that the sum of £1329 be paid to the Railway Department for the construction of a Railway siding at the Powder Reserve, Truganina. (Approved by the Lieutenant Governor in Council on 27 February 1900) (2 March 1900 p.819)

§ Orders in Council that the sum of £157/8/- be paid to Messrs. John Sharp and Sons for supply of red gum timber for Explosives Reserve Truganina without tenders being called. (1 June 1900 p.1897)

§ Contract let to CD Hall for extras on Contract 1899 1900/ 1780, Tramway, Explosives Reserve Truganina £602 pounds. (27 July 1900, p.2909)

§ Contract let to JW Duncan, for construction of Tramway and branch lines to Explosives Magazine, Truganina, £194/10/-. (29 November 1900, p.4426)

§ Contract let to WP Leonard, for erection of powder shed at Laverton Station, £314/11/-. (G5 December 1900, p.4491)

§ Contract let to M. Sorenson for 14 explosives trucks for Explosives Reserve Truganina, £424. (21 December 1900, p.4904)

§ Contract let to W. Lord for construction of about 7 miles of fencing, Explosives Reserve Truganina, £449. (11 January 1901, p.102)

§ Contract let to JW Duncan for erection of new shed and alteration to existing shed on jetty, Explosives Reserve Truganina, 362 pounds, (25 January 1901, p.286)

§ Contract let to Z. Williams for constructing 32 chains of tramway at Explosives Reserve Truganina, £309/18/6. (29 March 1901, p.1331)

§ Contract let to J.W.Duncan for extras on contract 190001/1617, New shed and alterations to shed on jetty, Explosives Reserve Truganina, £11 pounds 6 shillings. (12 July 1901, p.2642)

§ Contract let to J.W. Duncan for racks etc. at Explosives Reserve Truganina, £335. (2 August 1901 p.2946)

§ Contract let to J.W. Duncan for extras on Contract 1900-01/ 3.479, tramway & branch lines to Explosives Reserve Truganina, £96/13/-. (G.G. 2 Aug. 1901 page 2946.)

§ Contract let to M. Sorensen for extras on Contract 190001/1534, for 14 Explosives trucks, Truganina, £64/18/7. (16 August 1901 p.3131)

§ Tenders called for supply of eight explosives trucks and repairs to two existing trucks Truganina Explosives Reserve. (8 February 1906 p.907)

§ Contract let to M. Sorensen for supply of eight Explosives trucks, Explosives Reserve Truganina £338/15/-. (14 March 1906 p.1481.)


Hobsons Bay City Council, Hobsons Bay Thematic Environmental History, 2003

Graeme Butler & Associates (2001) Altona, Laverton and Newport Districts Heritage Study

Priestley, S (1988) Altona. A Long View p.118

G Vines, oral, 1999

Vines, Gary and Andrew Ward & Associates (1989) Western Region Industrial Heritage Study (Sites 77 and 100)

State Library of Victoria map room - Melbourne Army Ordinance map 848, zone 7, sheet South J55, 1933

Cliff Gibson 1999. Truganina Explosives Reserve, Government Gazette Notices re the construction of the Truganina Explosives Reserve, provided to City of Hobsons Bay 1999 (n.d.), with details of other holdings on the reserve, including times and wages books 1928-39, and detailed notes on its history in comments dated 20 June 2000

Cliff Gibson (1999) The handling and shipping of Explosives in the Port of Melbourne (Submission for Information Victoria award)

Land Victoria historic plans collection and parish plan put-aways

Powder Magazine Act 1896

Leader 15 June 1901

Light Railways July 1984 pp.18-19

Victorian Public Records Office (VPRO) VPRS 5357/P

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  penov Chief Commissioner

Location: By the shore of Bass Strait.
Back in 1943, I was at RAAF Laverton for about a year until the Transport Squadron I was with moved to Essendon  There were Transport Squadrons in almost every state and of course in New Guinea. We started off with Lockheed Lodestars then re-equipped with Dakotas.

At that time there was no tramway from Laverton to the Explosives reserve on the bay, but an "Explosives Road" had been built from Fitzgerald Road along the line of what is now Merton Street on the east side of the (then) two lane Geelong Road and under the (then single line) Geelong Railway. It then ran as an unmade road along the line of Merton Street then Queen Street to the Truganina Reserve on the edge of the
bay. The road tunnelled under both lanes of Geelong Road and there was no level connection to Fitzgerald road. The connection is shown on Melway no. 1 , issued about 1966, and Fitzgerald Road crossed over the Ballarat railway line and entered the explosives area of Deer Park.
There was horse drawn rail transport from the reserve to the ships at the end of the pier.

It is assumed that the tramway would have ben removed about 1936 when trucks took over the movement of explosives from Deer Park.

edited 6pm 11/10/11 after re reading original submission
  sthyer Deputy Commissioner

I have a copy of a 1930 VR map of Laverton station yard. It shows the tramway commencing from the north side, up end of Laverton station, running east to where the current road/creek crosses under the railway line. The tramway crossed under the VR line here, just to the west of the creek, looped back towards the west then ran south down what is now Merton St (at least I assume this, the VR map shows 2 unnamed streets east of Linden but these days, and in 1966, there is only one. i suspect the VR map is one street out in naming side streets)

The map was updated a number of times over the years but does not give a date for the cessation of tramway operation. It does note the explosives shed as being dismantled in 1951 (corres. 4297/51). I have never field checked to see if any remnants survive, but it is highly unlikely.
  S_class Locomotive Fireman

George Bowden, among others. Bowden, for example, was Inspector of Signals at the Victorian Railways and no doubt had a need to store the explosive powder used in his signals.


Sorry I'm having weird mental images of exploding semaphores for some reason, could you or another elaborate on the use of explosive powder in the signals department I assume it's for torpedos/detonators (or whatever we call them in Australia)?

Great read for procrastinating on exam revision BTW Laughing
  St12NR18 Locomotive Driver

Location: Victoria
Get over yourself mate I only asked because she wanted to know if it was worth anything but it's all good she sold it to some railway group in Ballarat Smile
  UP9372 Assistant Commissioner

Location: Banned
Explosives box the size of a car. That much explosives would be enough to blow up the whole of Ballarat. But it must be true as you say so, or your mum. It all sounds a bit fanciful you know. Go on, tell the truth, it is all bullsh*t.
  St12NR18 Locomotive Driver

Location: Victoria
This is pretty much a picture of what it looks like .

The box looks like this or shed whatever you call it ..

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