Wangaratta Historical SocietyNewsletters

Beersheba Barracks
Researched by Way Back When – Consulting Historians.
Of late we have had inquiries about the Beersheba Army Barracks and the Drill Hall in Wangaratta. As the Historical Society has very little information on them Joan Canny enlisted the help of “Way Back When” – Consulting Historians to do some research for us, so over the next few Newsletters we will print some of their findings.

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Overview of the Beersheba Barracks Site
Parish Maps from the 1850s show the Beersheba Barracks site surrounded by the same roads and boundaries that it is today. Initially selected by Samuel Lascar some time before 1857, the land was transferred through various owners until it was acquired by the Commonwealth Government on 13 May 1943 under the Land Acquisitions Act, Most of this land was designated for an aluminium factory, now Bruck Mills, but it appears that a small corner, approximately ten acres, was allocated to the Army.

The site was named Beersheba Barracks in 1955 at a time when Australian Army depots were being renamed after well-known war campaigns. The site is named after the Battle of Beersheba, one of Australia’s iconic World War I conflicts, which was part of the Sinai and Palestine campaign. Beersheba was the scene of an historic charge by the 4th Light Horse Brigade, arguably Australia’s greatest battle victory, on 31 October 1917.

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Army presence in Wangaratta
While the site is known as- Beersheba Barracks today, it has a long history that predates its 1955 name. The site is highly significant as one of the last remaining symbols of the long history of the Army in Wangaratta. Many of the buildings and sites that tie Wangaratta to its military past no longer exist The Drill Hall in Rowan Street that dated back to World War I has been recently demolished. The buildings on the Beersheba Barracks site are believed to be the only remaining military structures in Wangaratta.

By the time of the Boer War at the turn of the 20th Century, Wangaratta was clearly touched by the colony’s militar-y pursuits as locals were serving in the armed forces, After the outbreak of World War I, Wangaratta was declared the centre of recruitment for the Upper-Murray Military District and became a training centre where recruits attended daily training sessions at the Wangaratta Showgrounds and Drill Hall.

During World War II Wangaratta was again called on to play a role in recruiting troops. Battalions moved through Wangaratta throughout the war years using the Showgrounds to the north of town and the Drill Hall in Rowan Street for training.

While there is no mention of the Beersheba Barracks site during this time, it is likely that it was in these early years of World War 11 that the site began to be used for Army training purposes. As with other sites in Victoria, the land was likely to have been leased from the owner by the Commonwealth Government before its acquisition in 1943. It is also likely that the Nissen huts would have been located on the site at this point, though no records have been found to confirm this date.

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Use of site for migrant hostel and Army training depot
Between 1950 and 1955 a migrant hostel known as a Hostel for New Australians was located on the Beersheba Barracks site. It was reputed to be the best migrant camp in Victoria at the time in terms of facilities.

Housing migrants at disused Army sites was a common practice in late 1940s Australia. As very little accommodation was built specifically for migrants in this period, it can be concluded that the Nissen huts were already on the site when the migrant hostel began in 1950.

In 1954 the migrant hostel was declared surplus to requirements by the Department of the Interior and was made available for disposal. The same year the Department of the Army proposed to acquire the land for use as a training depot.

The Army argued a strong case. It proposed to concentrate the entire 2nd Armoured Brigade, comprising several armoured regiments located around Victoria, in the North Eastern district. Two squadrons occupied the nearby Rowan Street training depot but this site had limited yard space and troops were forced to use the adjacent roads for drills. The hostel site would facilitate efficient training and provide adequate accommodation for several regiments on one location.

While the Army acknowledged that the buildings were not up to contemporary construction standards. They felt that they would provide for all the more essential training and administrative requirements. Importantly, the site offered adequate space for elementary driving as well as accommodation for training stores and equipment. The Nissen huts were declared to be in good order and it was thought that they would last ten years, while the remaining buildings should last 20 years. It was hoped that new standard buildings could be provided on the site when funds permitted.

The site, comprising approximately ten acres of land and a number of buildings, was valued in 1954 at £15,850. The buildings on the site and their value, as determined by the Department of Works were:
Land£1330
Manager’s residence
(for use as married quarters)
£2500
Staff quarters£2500
Stores and administrative building£2000
Kitchen with mess room and boiler room£2500
Ablutions I SAL block£2520
20 Nissan huts (each 42 fool x 16 foot)£2500

The Minister for the Army approved the acquisition of the land and buildings for use as a training depot and the funds were made available in September 1954. The land was sold to the Army by the Department of the Interior on 14 December 1954, for a total value of £15,850.

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Military use of the site
Two regiments have been attached to the Beersheba Barracks — the 8/13 Victorian Mounted Rifles and the 4/19 Prince of Wales Light Horse. The depot was the regimental headquarters at various times for each of these regiments, which are both part of the 2nd Armoured Brigade, 3rd Division.

During the latter part of the 1950s and 1960s Beersheba Barracks was used as a base for training camps and courses for armoured corps, artillery, engineers and intelligence. Annual camps for entire regiments drawn from across Victoria were held at Beersheba Barracks. Personnel would spend a week in the area participating in drills and mobile exercises. Other units also used the Barracks, most commonly for overnight and short- term accommodation when passing through the area.

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On site buildings
At the time of the conversion from migrant hostel to Army depot in 1954, discussion occurred regarding the removal of a number of the Nissan huts on site. In July of that year the huts not coloured blue on the attached plan were still on site, but were not required by the Army, who requested that they be removed by the Department of Immigration. It is noted that the Army paid for the acquisition of only 20 huts. Three months later, in October, the Department of Immigration was considering moving some or all of the 47 Nissen huts at the Wangaratta hostel to Melbourne hostels. It is unknown where or exactly when these buildings were moved, but they are no longer on the site.

Two or three Nissen huts, which were being used for storage, were removed from the southern end of the Beersheba Barracks site to make room for armoured trucks some time in the 1980s. The huts exacerbated seasonal extremes, but they have since been upgraded and lined. The largest hut was used as a kitchen/mess/storage area.

There were two or three homes on the site at one stage. It is believed one of the homes was destroyed by fire in the early to mid 1960s. The houses were built for the administrators of the hostel and were used for staff accommodation when the military took over. It is possible that they were used as married quarters for the Regimental Sergent Major and the Quartermaster of the 8/13 regiment stationed at the site in the 1950s and 1960s.

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Current use of the site
4 Brigade’s Combat Services Support Battalion took over the running of Beersheba Barracks approximately five years ago. The site is currently part of the town’s disaster plan, specifically designated for use as emergency accommodation due to the site’s resistance to flooding. In 2003 the site was used to house Army personnel brought in to fight bushfires. Since 1991 local cadets have also used the Beersheba Barracks depot for parading. The site is currently used by the 33 Army Cadet Unit, It appears that the depot ceased to be used to train Army Reserve Soldiers in the Light Horse Regiment in 1998, but was re-opened for Reserve training in February 2000 by 4 Brigade Administration Support Battalion. The Air Training Corps also began training Air Cadets at Beersheba Barracks in 1999 and continue to use the site today.

Index
Beersheba Barracks
Overview of the Beersheba Barracks Site
Army presence in Wangaratta
Use of site for migrant hostel
Military use of the site
On site buildings
Current use of the site

Beersheba Army Barracks Sisley Ave,Wangaratta


Beersheba Barracks

Beersheba Barracks
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Last modified: 02 April 2014