Belconnen Naval Transmitting Station
(BNTS) decommissioned in 2005. Since then, Dr Peter Dowling, a member of
the ACT National Trust and a former RAN Communicator, has been campaigning for
the retention of the transmitters, aerials and associated equipment at Bells
and for the Station to be preserved as an important part of the Navy's history and
Australia's defence history.
Peter has been actively involved in
organising seminars and meetings to hopefully preserve some of the history of
BNTS. His sitreps (and other articles) are linked below for those wishing to follow the story .
The battle goes on and looks like continuing for some time.
Museum Proposal for Naval Site - The Canberra Times 2 April 2008
Antenna Towers Felled - 20 December 2006
Sitrep - November 2006
Canberra Times article - Wed 1
Sitrep - October 2006
Sitrep - September 2006
Sitrep - August 2006
Seminar - July 2006
Sitrep - June 2006
Initial Letter -
Museum Proposal for Naval Site
(BY ROSSLYN BEEBY SCIENCE AND ENVIRONMENT REPORTER - The Canberra
2/04/2008 6:57:53 AM
The Department of Defence is considering a proposal to transform its Belconnen
naval site into a national communications museum and wildlife education park.
If the concept is accepted by Defence, the 143ha site at the centre of
Canberra's kangaroo cull controversy would remain Commonwealth land and its
combined attractions could raise millions of dollars as a tourism venue.
It would also protect the site's grasslands from future housing subdivision.
The Belconnen land was recently classified by Defence as surplus to requirements
and caused a pre-election spat last year between ACT Liberal senator Gary
Humphries and ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope over its potential for future
Last year, Senator Humphries announced Coalition plans to sell off 32ha for
housing, with Mr Stanhope claiming he had already established a "business case"
for ownership of the site, potentially for low-income housing and a nature
But the recent public outcry over plans to cull more than 400 kangaroos at
Belconnen prompted Canberra musician and children's entertainer Tiga Williams to
come up with an original plan to combine the site's naval history and wildlife
"If we can go ahead and move the kangaroos and leave just
a small population, then Canberra could have a unique tourism attraction that
would be an international drawcard, particularly for Japanese and Korean
tourists," she said.
"If they knew they could get off the plane and see kangaroos up close and within
less than an hour from the airport, they'd come to Canberra for sure."
Williams said her parents and other family members had worked at the
heritage-listed naval transmission station and she had grown up "listening to
incredible stories" about its role in military communications.
"I was told it was in communication with the HMAS Sydney before it engaged with
the Kormoran. It played such an important role in Australia's war history that
it deserves to be better known. Tourists might not drive out there just for that
alone, but if you could go there and learn about Australia's wildlife, that
would make it really special."
Williams is a children's "eco-tainer", performing theatre with an environmental
message at schools and festivals. She performed regularly with virtuoso
Aboriginal didgeridoo player Alan Dargin until his death this year.
"A lot of people in Canberra probably know me as the girl in the kangaroo suit,
but there's a lot more to what I do as an educational performer than just
dressing up as a 'roo," she said.
Williams said she had approached contacts at Defence with her idea and was
encouraged to draw up a proposal to submit to Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon.
"They seemed to be really interested. Ideally, if there was a wildlife-carers
hospital at the site, tourists could see joeys and other wildlife being fed."
Performing as a kangaroo at tourism events, Williams said
she had gained "a pretty fair idea" of the expectations international tourists
had about seeing Australian wildlife.
"They want to see them moving about in the landscape, not in a little enclosure.
They want to see family mobs and they want to see them hop over a reasonable
distance. Belconnen is perfect for that."
Belconnen VLF Antenna Towers Felled:
The three 600ft towers at Belconnen Naval Transmitting Station have stood over
the Canberra skyline since 1938, providing the support for the 44kHz VLF
top-loaded vertical antenna. At 3.24pm and 4.07pm on Wednesday 20 December 2006
the western, and central and eastern towers respectively, were felled when
explosives cut guy wires on one side and the other two sets of guys pulled the
tower between them.
Videos of this event are online, each only
about 2MB, on YouTube.com at:
Tower 1 (72s)
Towers 2&3 (63s)
The central and eastern towers at BNTS
being felled, at 4.07pm,
20 December 2006. The western tower fell at 3.24pm.
Sitrep on the Future
of Bells - November 2006
This notice, regarding the dropping of the LF towers at Bells, has been
issued by Department of Defence in the Canberra Times for the benefit, it
seems, of residents of Belconnen.
It seems that our arguments for retention of, at the very least, one of the
masts continues to fall on ears who do not wish to hear. It also seems that
Defence, and in particular our Navy, has little concern for its own history
Sitrep on the Future
of Bells - October 2006
Another update on the Bells
saga. The Department of Defence is doing a social history study of the
station and has engaged a consulting firm from Adelaide to do the job. I
have been in contact with the consultant and they would like to contact as
people as possible who either lived or worked at Bells.
I have attached a notice which will enable any RANCBA member who would like
to participate in the project to contact Defence. Participation could range
from an interview either over the phone or on-site, photographs or a written
account of the experience of working at Bells - as much as the person wishes
to give. Can you post it on the web site?
I would strongly urge anyone who would like to participate to contact
Defence as this is a unique opportunity to compile a personal history of
Bells - it will not come around again.
My team has been informed that the three Low Frequency masts will be dropped
sometime within the next four weeks (probably within the next three weeks).
We have asked the Minister for Defence that at least one of the masts (the
one nearest the building) be retained in situ or if it has to be dropped, to
be retained in a horizontal position as a representative sample of the three
large towers. I'm not sure how successful this request will be.
Thanks for your help
Follow this link to read the .pdf
notice of the Social History Project
Sitrep on the Future
of Bells - September 2006
On Thursday 14 September a small group representing the ACT National Trust
and Engineers Australia met with Senator Sandy MacDonald, Parliamentary
Secretary for the Minister of Defence , to discuss the future of the
decommissioned Belconnen Naval Transmitting Station. The delegation
John Anderson, President, Canberra Division, Engineers Australia (EA,
Keith Baker, Chairman, Engineering Heritage Australia, EA,
Robert Breen, Chairman, Engineering heritage Canberra, EA (former RAAF comms
Paul Cohen, Chairman, National Trust of Australia (ACT) Heritage Committee
(former Army engineer),
Dr Peter Dowling, Heritage Office, National Trust of Australia (ACT) (just a
former humble sparker (s)).
The meeting was at the invitation of the Senator and was a response to the
communiqué coming from the July seminar in Canberra regarding the future of
Bells which was sent to the Minister for Defence.
Defence has the property on their disposal list and they intend to sell the
instillation and the land sometime in the future.
It was made clear to us that the three LF masts will be dismantled (the
aerial wiring has already been removed) and that a contractor has already
been selected and work will be starting soon. We in turn made it clear to
the Senator that the advice coming from Department of Environment and
Heritage giving permission to dismantle the masts was flawed and was not
consistent with the specific requirements under the legislation. We have
asked that a portion (one-third) of the central mast next to the building be
retained as a representative sample. Not an ideal compromise by any means.
We came away from the discussions with Senator MacDonald with a feeling of
having been sincerely listened to and with the hope that much of the
significance of the station might be saved for posterity. But I for one was
left uncertain on their intentions with the transmitters and equipment
inside. When I visited Bells three weeks ago some of the more modern
transmitters had been removed (at least one has gone to Darwin) but much of
the original equipment is still in tact. It was a bit like déjà vu walking
back into the building after an absence of near 30 years. The transmitter
are a unique example of a Defence communications facility containing
examples of Low Frequency (LF) and High Frequency (HF) communications
transmitting technology spanning the period 1930s to the 21st Century. They
are a “National Treasure”, as one of our group made it clear to the Senator.
Our next step, at the invitation of the Senator, is to prepare a proposal
outlining the future use of the station. Our preferred outcome is to see it
being used as a national radio museum presenting the evolution of
communications technology from the very early days up to and including the
IT era which we are in today. As the grounds around the building (the former
aerial farm) contain endangered native grass species and endangered insect
species, which are also heritage listed, as well as a large mob of Eastern
Grey kangaroos we would also like to see the area used as a temperate
grasslands habit research centre. Both functions could exist and operate
side by side. This then will be the basis of our proposal to Defence.
If any RANCBA member has ideas for other options for the station then we
will be very glad to hear them. The more ideas, support coming from members,
the stronger our proposal will be.
So the ‘battle’ still goes on. It will be going on for some time yet I
Sitrep on the Future
of Bells - August 2006
Firstly my apologies to you for the delay in keeping you informed of the
outcome of the recent seminar on Bells. I have been away in Melbourne. As
you would know over 70 people turned up for event – a number much higher
than I had expected, but nevertheless appreciated greatly. This number is
strongly indicative of the level of concern among people who have been
associated in one way or the other with the transmitting station. I have
also received several emails from people living outside of Canberra
expressing their concern and support.
I have attached a copy of the communiqué which was formed at the meeting.
This communiqué has been sent to the Minister for Defence, the Minister
for Environment & Heritage, commonwealth opposition shadow ministers,
members of the ACT Legislative Assembly and commonwealth and Territory
government bodies. The communiqué is a strong statement of concern by
members of the seminar, many with expertise in heritage management and
legislation and many ex serving personnel who are concerned for the future
However, I fear that the department of defence is still intending to go
ahead with the dismantlement and removal of the station’s transmitting
equipment and aerials acting on the decision by the Minister for
Environment & Heritage. My group has yet to receive a response regarding
the communiqué from the Minister.
I would like to thank you and other members of the RANCBA for attending
the meeting – seeing familiar ex-communicators in the audience was very
I have received information that Bells will be open for guided tours on
29th & 30th August – if any members wish to visit Bells they can ring the
station on 6241 4922 and book a place (it may be the last time to see
Bells in the way it should be retained).
Please follow this link to
read the communique agreed at the meeting.
Seminar on the Belconnen Naval Transmitting Station - Its Heritage
Significance and Uncertain Future - 20 July 2006
Organised by: Engineering Heritage Canberra (Engineers Australia Canberra
Heritage Group) in conjunction with the National Trust of Australia (ACT).
Thursday 20 July 2006 - 2.00pm to 4.00pm
Venue: Auditorium, Engineering House, 11 National Cir, Barton
The Department of Defence is preparing to dispose of the Belconnen Naval
Transmitting Station (BNTS). This iconic feature of North Canberra has
high military, engineering and social heritage significance and concerns
exist that this important symbol of Belconnen, the ACT and the RAN
presence in the capital, will be lost.
In 2005 the Minister for the Environment and Heritage rejected an
application to include the Belconnen Naval Transmitting Station in the
National Heritage List. This action was taken, even though the Minister
accepted that the place may have outstanding heritage value. He considered
that decommissioning the place would not reduce the potential National
Heritage values and did not pose a present threat to any potential
National Heritage values.
On Thursday 20 July, Engineering Heritage Canberra in association with the
National Trust of Australia (ACT) will conduct a seminar to provide an
understanding of what is intended, an historic overview of the facility
and its role in World War II and since, the heritage and environmental
aspects of the station and options for its future. Speakers will be Dr
Brian Egloff of Canberra University, Dr Peter Dowling of the National
Trust, an archaeologist and former RAN communicator and Duncan Marshall,
consultant and heritage specialist.
All interested parties are invited and encouraged to attend this important
event in Australia’s and Canberra’s heritage.
Sitrep on the Future
of Bells - June 2006
Thanks for your help in posting the information regarding Bells on the
RANCBA website it was much appreciated.
The campaign to save the dismantlement of the aerials and transmitting
equipment from Bells is still going.
I have had several responses from ex-communicators through the RANCBA
website (some I haven't caught up with for 30 years) who have expressed
their personal concern for the future of Bells. I am compiling a list of
names, ranks and postcodes of those who have already contacted me. The
list is growing but I would like to have more names on it.
I have been involved in the campaign through the ACT National Trust and
now I have the help of Engineers Australia (EA) whose headquarters are
here in Canberra. EA , which has several ex servicemen and former comms
electricians (Navy, Army & Airforce) in their membership, are equally
concerned about the future of Bells and have shown their willingness to
help save the place. Together, we have organised a seminar on the future
of Bells to be held here in Canberra on 20 July. Several speakers have
offered to give short talks on the history, heritage significance and
future of Bells. The main outcome of the seminar for the National Trust
and Engineers Australia to develop a 'communiqué which we will present to
the Minister for Defence, Minister for Environment & Heritage, and their
respective departments. We will also invite these government bodies as
well as the media to the seminar.
The details of the seminar
are attached (follow this link). Can I ask another favour from you in posting this letter
and the attached flyer to the website.
All members of the RANCBA are most welcome to attend the seminar - there
will be plenty of room - they can participate in the final session if they
wish or just come along, sit and listen. At the moment we have a gap in
our list of speakers - we would like someone to talk about the technical
side of the equipment. If there is any member out there who feels they
could fill this slot, please contact me at:
Thanks again for your help
Peter (Skeet) Dowling
CAMPAIGN To Save Bells
I am sending you this email and the accompanying article because of my
concern for the future of the Belconnen Transmitting Station.
As most members will know Bells was decommissioned last year and now is no
longer used as a transmitting station. As a result the Department of
Defence intend to dismantle at least two of the prominent LF towers, most
of the HF masts and aerials which will be broken up for scrap metal and
dismantle and remove most of the transmitting equipment from the interior
of the building.
As a member of the ACT National Trust I have been campaigning for the
retention of all the transmitters, aerials and associated equipment at
Bells and for it to preserved as an important part of the Navy's history
and Australia's defence history. The site was heritage listed some time
ago but this does not seem to be stopping the Department of Defence from
going ahead with their intentions.
As part of the campaign to save Bells I have been interviewed on radio, TV
and have had an article written in the local Canberra Times.
This has resulted in some response from a few former communicators and
families who once lived there. But this response has not been high. I,
along with other colleagues have written letters to the Minister for
Environment and Heritage, Senator Campbell, asking him to rethink the
decision to dismantle and remove the equipment but our requests have been
rather tersely dismissed.
I am therefore asking you, if you could post this letter and the attached
article I have written for the National Trust magazine, on the RANCB
I would like to hear from as many ex-communicators and present RAN
communicators who would support the campaign.
The National Trust has employed a media advisor who is willing to help
bring this matter into the wider public arena via local and state media
organizations and to keep the pressure on the Government and Department of
Defence to change their intentions. A strong show of support from RANCB
members would help us in our campaign. We would also like to organise a
meeting of ex-communicators here in Canberra (a venue is being organised)
who are concerned for the future of Bells. We intend to conduct this
meeting in mid July if we can get support from members. the meeting will
be an hour or so long and there will be two or three speakers who will
speak on the history of Bells and why it should be saved.
If members wish to support this campaign and/or would be willing to attend
the meeting please email me at
If we can get up to 60 people who feel that Bells should be kept as it is
and be available for visits then we will have a substantial argument to
present to the relevant Ministers and the Department of Defence.
Peter (Skeet) Dowling
Please follow this link for Peter's National
Trust magazine article.
Please follow this link to read the Navy News article about the closure of
Bells in 2005: