A NEW book covering the history of the former artillery training area at Tianjara has tried to shed light on the amount of unexploded ordnance that may be present in the popular bushwalking area.
Tianjara, by Bob Snedden, who has had an interest in the area since the mid 1960s has spent the best part of the last 15 years investigating the areas fired upon by the military during the range’s 40 year operation.
The Tianjara Artillery Training Area [TATAS] came into being in December 1942. With Australia deeply engaged in World War II there was a need for such a military training area which could accommodate live firing field artillery exercises.
The area was perfect, it was unencumbered by the urban expansion and air traffic curfews that restricted military training in many other locations.
At the time the South Coast was sparsely populated, predation of coastal shipping by the Japanese Navy was well known with several merchant ships sunk between 1942-43 and the accessible nature of the beaches made it potentially vulnerable to attack by Japan.
The 8000 hectare area of coastal hinterland land west of Nowra, between Sassafras Mountain and Pigeon House Range, was leased by the Commonwealth.
The initial lease was for 16 years but in 1960 it was renewed for another 20 years and the lease area extended further south to take in an extra 4000 hectares.
The area was used for artillery training well into the ’80s.
In 1981 most of the land was taken back from the military and included in Morton National Park.
“The landscape, isolated and uninhabitable - no roads they came later - targets were often selected at random - we just fired.”
Mr Snedden, who had been a keen bushwalker in the area, was first alerted to the existence of Unexploded Ordnance (Uxo) by Major James Sturgiss, a local landowner and grazier, from whom he gained a great deal of knowledge on the Sassafras area and led to his writing “Sassafras the Parish of Sixty Farms.”
This, along his own observations and knowledge of the military activity led to his interest in the management of the former training area after it was returned to the state.
“In 1996 these lands were included into the declared Budawang Wilderness Area and the tenure of the land changed from being used regularly for almost 40 years as a military field artillery practice, to become a declared wilderness. That aroused my interest in the extent of contamination,” he said.
Over the years Mr Snedden has driven a campaign to firstly have the area recognised as being contaminated by Uxo and “safe” areas designated.
“Unexploded Ordnance is known to exist around the landscape but it was never quantified due to the absence of records. It could never be remediated due to the nature of the diverse terrain,” he said.
“The risk to the visitor has been the subject of occasional discussion over many years but any attempt to develop a comprehensive strategic approach to its management has eluded attention due to a lack of knowledge of the area's military history and appreciation of the risks to safety presented by residues and wastage associated with military activity.”
Through detailed examination of official records and community liaison with former defence service men and women, who trained or were training at Tianjara during its active life, Mr Snedden has been able to discover that firing took place over the entire range.
In 2012 the Department of Defence identified the whole TATA as an unexploded ordnance contaminated site, with the NPWS undertaking a professional review of historical records and risk assessment in 2013.
“There was no real records kept where the firing occurred and what may be left out there unexploded,” Mr Snedden said.
“There are even reports of fire waterbombers setting off some bombs during the 2002 bushfires.
“As there are no actual record of where firings occurred it came as no surprise to learn of the area considered to be contaminated is now determined to be around 25,000 hectares.
“The entire Tianjara area was used at times for artillery practice and there is a real risk the whole area is potentially hazardous.”
Mr Snedden hope this book may assist with information in the future management of the area.