Hastings Deering igloos a piece of WWII history

The Hastings Deering war igloos as used today. Image: Hastings Deering.

Hastings Deering’s igloo hangars, which date back to World War II, are about to be showcased on ABC National’s Blueprint for Living program, celebrating their continual use.

Host Jonathan Green and architectural historian Don Watson will be looking into the igloos’ past before Hastings Deering repurposed them for use.

The hangars are currently home to Hastings Deering’s Caterpillar machinery, but in the war days they were used for aircraft storage and maintenance.

Hastings Deering facilities project manager Cliff Melvin said the hangars were a daily reminder of Queensland’s role in WWII, as well as the importance of machinery maintenance.

“There were originally five igloo hangars and around 35 ancillary structures such as admin buildings, smaller work huts and guard house,” Melvin explained.

“They were initially shared by All Nippon Airways (ANA) and Qantas in the repair and maintenance of military aircraft then later for the US 81’s air depot group and the US 5th air force under the command of General Douglas MacArthur’s supreme headquarters.”

After the war, the British Navy fleet air arm continued to use two of the hangars, along with the Royal Australian Air Force and Royal Air Force, before Hastings Deering moved to the site in 1957.

“Interestingly, our founder Harold Hastings Deering served in the British army and later the Royal Flying Corps,” Melvin said.

“So, no doubt the initial decision to preserve the buildings was tied to his past.”

As well as their connection with the Hastings Deering founder, Watson said the igloos are special because no one knows how many others of their kind remain in Australia.

“They were so interesting and successful in construction that the Americans claimed, and were often given credit for the design,” he said.

“The real story was remarkable; they were designed for use in Malaya, the idea brought to Australia by a refugee engineer from Singapore.”

Watson said the igloos were so well-built for wartime use due to their low cost, wide span and quick build times, using unseasoned timber.

The Hastings Deering igloos are on the Queensland heritage register for their significance to Australian history.

The podcast will be available in the next couple of weeks.

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