Hidden in Plain Sight: the WW2 Munitions Factory at Salisbury

A current aerial photograph of the site (NearMap)

1946 aerial view of the entire Munitions Factory Site  (Brisbane City Council)

A site plan of the Rocklea Munitions Factory, c1941 (National Archives of Australia Item No: 4168754)

One of the munitions buildings covered with camouflage, 1943 (National Archives of the United States)

Women working at cartridge assembly machines similar to those used in this building (National Archives of Australia)

Women assembling cartridges at the Rocklea factory (National Library of Australia)

The interior of one of the mess buildings (State Library of Queensland)

The Southern Guard House (right) and entry gates 1941 (State Library of Queensland)

The original size of the factory when built (Brisbane City Council)

A view of the Case Factory and Machine Shop building along Engineering Street, 1940s (National Archives of Australia)

The interior of the Case Factory building when in use by General Motors after the war (National Archives of Australia)

Inspecting shell cases after manufacture (State Library of Victoria)

Women loading 25 pound shells with cordite bags (State Library of Victoria)

Architectural Plans for the Laboratory Building (National Archives of Australia)

A female worker machining 25-pounder shells  (State Library of Victoria)

Air raid shelter on Assembly Street (my photo)

Air raid shelter on Assembly Street (my photo)


Located on either side of Evans Road at Salisbury, the former buildings of the Rocklea Munitions Works can be considered a place of international heritage significance due to the crucial role the site played in making ammunition used by troops during the Second World War. Despite this incredible history and the fact the buildings are hidden in plain sight, it is largely unknown by people in Brisbane.

A munitions factory is a place where ammunition is produced for guns and other weapons. The ammunition manufactured at Rocklea was used by Australian and Allied forces during the Second World War. The Rocklea Factory mainly manufactured ammunition for “small arms”, such as revolvers and rifles, but also produced cases for the shells for large field guns and smoke shells. 

The site at Rocklea (now in the suburb of Salisbury) was chosen to build the factory on 22 January 1941 and construction of the buildings began shortly afterwards. The site contained about eighty buildings when completed, of which around twenty still survive. The factory commenced operation in November 1941 and it  was the only government munitions factory built  in Queensland during the Second World War and was also one of the largest construction projects undertaken in Queensland at the time. One of the buildings on the site, the Case Factory and Machine Shop, was the largest building in Queensland when built. Due to the risk of being a strategic bombing target, many of the buildings  were covered in camouflage to make them look like roads and bushland. A number of air raid shelters were also built around the complex for staff to shelter in.

At the peak of operations, the factory employed over 3000 people and operated twenty-four hours a day. As so many men were away serving overseas, the factory employed thousands of women. Many of these roles and other factory work were previously only undertaken by men, however the women proved themselves more than capable. As the work was for the “war effort” it was also more socially acceptable  for women to work in these type of roles. In addition to the factory work, there were also medical, administration, food service and many other types of staff located on the site.

Many of the original buildings survive, although now adapted to new uses. A range of different types of buildings survive, including the factories themselves, staff dining rooms, storage buildings, medical facilities, a bomb shelter, guard house, laboratory and an explosives storage magazine. The building materials and design provide evidence of what they were used for. For example, the factory buildings had saw-tooth roofs with glass panels, to maximise the amount of light on the factory floor in a time before very bright lighting was available, and explosives and flammables were stored in brick buildings to reduce fire risk compared to being stored in timber buildings.

These buildings survive as tangible evidence of the absolutely crucial contribution this site, these buildings and the employees of the factory made to the war effort. As such, the complex holds an incredibly important place in Queensland and Australia’s history. It also provides an opportunity to commemorate the hundreds of thousands of support workers like the employees of this site, and particularly all the women, who didn’t serve on the frontline, but played an incredibly important role in Australia’s successful military campaigns during the Second World War.

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