BOB Snedden believes it could only be a matter of time before someone is injured by unexploded ordnance (UXO) on the the former artillery training area at Tianjara.
Mr Snedden has spent more than 15 years researching the historic use of the former artillery area west of Nowra, and believes a similar incident to earlier this year near Newcastle where a man and his daughter were injured when UXO they collected at Stockton Beach and took home exploded, could happen locally.
He has called for stronger signage in the area, which is popular among bushwalkers, to warn them of the possible dangers.
Tianjara is never far from Mr Snedden’s thoughts. In 2017 he produced a book on the history of the range, which had been used for various forms of military training from 1942 to 1983.
Mr Snedden said there were some serious lessons to be learned from the incident at Newcastle that could assist in the future management of Tianjara.
He’s had an interest in the area since the mid 1960s and spent more than 15 years investigating the areas fired upon by the military during the range’s 40 year operation but it was working on the Budawangs Bushwalking and Camping Strategy document that really sparked his research.
His research included talking to numerous personnel who used the range but a “chance encounter” with Cris George, a retired naval airman and risk assessment professional solidified his beliefs.
Mr George was a former auditor on the Army Safety Management System and in the past had had some management responsibilities during the life of the Tianjara Artillery Training Area (TATA) and proved invaluable.
“The item up in Newcastle was found at Anna Bay on the northern end of Stockton Beach. During WWII the area was a major artillery training area and bombing range,” he said.
“The item of ‘interest’ was found on the beach and taken home where it exploded injuring the man and his young daughter.
“Although that former range has undergone extensive remediation, remnant UXO still remains.”
He said there had already been numerous reports of UXO being discovered at Tianjara and a similar instance could easily happen locally.
“In 2013, after an extensive review by Department of Defence, Tianjara in Morton National Park was subject to a realignment of boundaries to the area of contamination, and those boundaries have now been greatly extended,” he said.
“The area considered to be highly contaminated has increased by more than double and the area of slight contamination has also been extended to recognise a potential contamination over an area twice the original Permissive Occupancy (PO).
“Due to the terrain and the lack of detailed records the extent of contamination at Tianjara can never be quantified.”
He said records advise the entire area was used for artillery training and the (former) Crown Land PO was believed by the military (1991) to be “extensively contaminated”.
“The point of comparison with the area near the Stockton Beach range and Tianjara, is both had been advised as slightly contaminated and those lands are now both in a national park,” he said.
“Unlike Tianjara, the land at Stockton has been extensively examined and remediated but, as it turns out this has not been not completely successful.
“At Tianjara, in the slightly contaminated area, due to the terrain, remediation has been confined to reassuring safety on selected tracks, trails and campsites.
“For, the substantially contaminated area the only access is the Tianjara Trail and the Mt Bushwalker Track where ‘off track walking’ is now prohibited.”
He said the Tianjara land could never be properly examined and remediated due to the terrain.
“The distinction between slight and substantial contamination becomes meaningless from the duty of care responsibilities of National Park and Wildlife Service if someone was injured anywhere in the affected lands,” Mr Snedden said.
“At Tianjara, the area deemed ‘slight’ contamination, signs warning of it having been used for military training and that UXO may exist, have been erected.
“As the records advise, the entire PO was used the existence of UXO is probable, not maybe.
“The signage installed in the ‘slight’ area by NPWS only advises of the presence and danger of UXO and provides no guidance as to where the visitor can walk safely.
“Given the recent experience at Stockton and that no guarantees can be given at Tianjara, it would more appropriate from a duty of care perspective to instruct visitors, for their own safety, they should always remain on tracks trails and campsites that have been remediated.
“This approach is taken and shown to work in other areas similarly affected.”