Hastings Deering’s ‘igloos’: the largest timber spanned structures to have been built in Australia

Now the WWII hangars are about to be showcased, on ABC National’s Blueprint for Living program with host Jonathan Green recording a segment with architectural historian Don Watson celebrating their repurpose and continual use.

The author of Queensland Architects of the Nineteenth Century: a biographical dictionary (1994) Mr Watson is presently working towards republication of his book along with extending the date range to 1975: to include the Second World War igloos.

“They were such an appropriate solution for war-time accommodation. Low cost, wide span, quickly erected using mostly unskilled labour, prefabricated on site with unseasoned timber of small cross section and in short lengths and taking advantage of the structural strength of native hardwoods”

he said.

They were developed from their original purpose as camouflage shades for parked aircraft into the largest span spaces of the war in the south-west Pacific. They were so interesting and successful in construction that the Americans claimed, and were often given credit, for the design.”

“The real story was remarkable in they were designed for use in Malaya, the idea brought to Australia by a refugee engineer from Singapore who utilised his contacts, notably the Brisbane contractor Manual Hornibrook (and George Boulton on Hornibrook’s staff).”

The largest igloos may still have been the largest clear-span timber structures to have been built in Australia. The larger ones in a group of five at Archerfield are close to the largest spans. Hastings Deering Igloo 2 is 353 ft long x 188ft 6inches wide.”

“The Hastings Deering Igloos, along with Hangar 7 at Eagle Farm, is on Queensland Heritage Register. How many remain in Australia is unknown. While they were built in large numbers, as far as I know, no one has systematically documented how many were built or how many survive.”

For Hastings Deering’s Facilities Project Manager Cliff Melvin, they remain a daily reminder of Queensland’s role in the war effort and the importance of machinery maintenance.

“Today we are working on Cat machines, but during the war, the igloo hangars were used for aircraft maintenance and stores,” Mr Melvin said.

“One of the hangars was used for removing planes’ engines to send to nearby Salisbury for testing. There were originally five igloo hangars and around 35 ancillary structures such as admin buildings, smaller work huts and guardhouse. Work starting in 1943 with all five completed by April 1944.”

“Today we are working on Cat machines, but during the war, the igloo hangars were used for aircraft maintenance and stores,” Mr Melvin said. Courtesy of Caterpillar

“They were initially shared by ANA and QANTAS in the repair and maintenance of military aircraft for the Department of Aircraft Production and then later for the US 81st Air Depot Group and the US 5th Air Force under the command of General Douglas MacArthur’s supreme headquarters.”

“Postwar the British Navy Fleet Air Arm continued the use of two Igloo Hangars until 1946. Also occupying the site were the RAAF and the RAF, with the RAAF remaining until 1955. Hastings Deering commenced relocating to the site in 1957.”

“There are other reminders of the Pacific War include some stormwater drains grated with Marston Mats made famous for quick runway construction by the Americans on islands in the Pacific.”

“Interestingly our founder Harold Hastings Deering served in the British Army and later the Royal Flying Corps in 1917, testing new aircraft for the RAF until May 1919, so no doubt the initial decision to preserve the buildings and repurpose them was tied to his past.”

Source: Hastings Deering

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