It’s easy to forget just how concerned  ordinary Australians were for their safety during World War II. This was not without reason, given the bombing of Darwin and the arrival of Japanese midget submarines in Sydney Harbour.   A giant metal boom was suspended across the harbour  with the object of snaring enemy craft.  I love the fact  that this metal was later recycled to make our  beloved Hill Hoist clothes lines.

Mini rifle ranges began to appear on the rooftops of Sydney’s city office buildings.  Mind you, there was a downside to this.  On August 15 1941 The Sun reported the case of a man who nearly lost his life to ‘friendly fire’.

In Sydney on Wednesday, a man found in his hat a spent bullet, which grazed his scalp. It is believed that it was fired on one of the numerous small-bore practice ranges, which have been installed since the outbreak of the war.

The military authorities said that miniature ranges had a defence value as they taught civilians the “feel” of a gun, and the rudiments of marksmanship.

Every miniature rifle club had to submit proposals to the Army and plans and arrangements were made to send out  a competent officer to inspect the sites. The Army then provided plans which made provision for the maximum angle necessary for safe firing……It was stipulated that stop-butts of wood with a steel backing should be provided at the ‘safe’ angle.


Meanwhile, as WWII continued, residents had begun constructing air-raid shelters, urged on by the  government.

SYDNEY – Friday.  June 29 1940. As part of a plan to obtain the co-operation of the civil population in national emergency services, a series of  model air raid shelters that can be erected cheaply in backyards of private homes will be constructed in the Domain next week. The shelters….will give protection against blasts and splinters from incendiary bombs.

Naturally there were those who preferred to design and build their own. When a house in the harbourside suburb of Cremone was advertised recently, a photo was included of its surviving concrete bunker.  At one point the owner had attempted to demolish it, but his hammer  scarcely made a dent.

 A Sydney Backyard air-raid shelter.
Built to last.

By 1942 the city’s wealthy residents were spending up to £150 converting spare rooms and garages into more comfortable shelters. Mr J.R. Knox was the managing director  of a Sydney sand supply company. He said that the most expensive shelters were made by erecting a three-foot thick sandbag wall inside the spare room or garage. A resident in the exclusive  suburb of Vaucluse  even had a sofa covered in sandbag colour to match the walls.

There was such an enormous demand for sand that all manner of people became dealers and distributors; city fruit and vegetable sellers with hand-carts and even children with their little soapboxes on wheels

A Sydney's  WWII air-raid shelter.
Room for the dog?


Wheelbarrow with campanulas The barrow was used  in digging a WWII air-raid shelter.

When I moved to the Blue Mountains there was an old wheelbarrow lying in the undergrowth of the adjoining garden. My elderly neighbour Joan  was happy for me to have it, so my husband and I hauled it over the fence.  It was extremely heavy, and appeared to be home-made. I mentioned this to Joan over morning tea one day. ‘Oh yes’ , she said. ‘My father used it to dig an air-raid shelter during WWII, when we were living in Sydney.’

Joan’s father was William (Bill) Duffell, who was still living with injuries and shellshock suffered in WWI. When WWII broke out he and a neighbour decided it would be a good idea to protect their families.  Subsequently, the shelter was constructed in the suburb of Earlwood.  Joan recently provided some interesting details.

The air raid shelter was dug by hand. It was 12ft by 12ft & at least 12ft deep with concrete render inside. There were 12 concrete steps down to get into it. Each step was 1ft high. A steel lid covered the whole of the stairwell, which opened with the aid of counterweights with steel cables attached to the lid, running along pulleys. Diagonally opposite the stairs was an escape hatch about 3ft x 3ft, to get out if the main door jammed after a bombing.

Joan’s daughter and I had a bit of fun one day  when she tried to reclaim her family history. Hmm, good luck Nicole, you might need to call for reinforcements!

Home made barrow used to dig  an air-raid shelter in WWII
Haha, too heavy to move!


  1. Time run out so lost all that I typed – annoying.
    My gt grand mother Annie Newey had a bomb shelter built in her property at Brookvale.
    My parents Tom and Helene McKeown were living at Woolhara when the Japanese bombed the city.
    A shell landed at the bottom of their street – dad had to return to duty at Victoria Barracks – he had just got home after a very long shift!
    My grand mother Jean Pearce and daughter Jean lived at Manly and my aunt Jean went to work in the city.. Every time the ferry went across the net boom had to be opened.

    Some family memories

    • Pauline

      Thanks for sharing your family stories of that time, Vicki. The war impacted on Sydney more than many of us realize. Sorry you had trouble posting, I don’t know why that would be.

  2. i can type very fast but twice I was timed out on the ‘maths’ thing at the bottom.

  3. Hi Vicki,
    I’m curious. You say you type very fast . . . surely not using an awful mobile phone? I’m presuming you are using a proper keyboard? Would love to know, as a fast old-fashioned typist myself.

  4. Hi Vicki,
    I’m curious. You say you type very fast . . . surely not using an awful mobile phone? I’m presuming you are using a proper keyboard? Would love to know, as a fast old-fashioned typist myself.
    Thea Doe.

    • Pauline

      Hi Thea, Pauline here. I’m presuming you have had trouble leaving a message. I wish I could help, but I can’t. I have never been able to work out why some people have a problem and yet others can leave very long messages first go and never have a problem. It’s a complete mystery to me. Unfortunately there has to be an anti-spam system or thousands of rubbish messages get through.

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