80-year-old threat found in Aussie forest highlights nationwide problem

'If it looks like a bomb it probably is, and anyone who finds one is urged to leave it alone and contact police.'

The discovery of several unexploded bombs in a state forest highlights a little-known nationwide problem affecting dozens of sites around Australia.

If you’re curious, the Defence Department has created a map showing areas where there is potential for unexploded ordnance (UXO) to be lying undisturbed. Several locations close to the nation’s capitals, including offshore sites in Melbourne, and a spot in Sydney’s Royal National Park, have been highlighted red, meaning they have “substantial potential”.

The most recent find occurred just 40km west of Cairns, Queensland inside Bilwon State Forest at the end of October. Vision taken by rangers documents one of the bombs being blown up by experts. They’ve warned hikers that despite having rusted since they were left behind 80 years ago, inside they are still intact, “highly dangerous and ready to explode”.

Fire breaks in the Bilwon State Forest (left) were being patrolled, when the bombs were found in a hole (right).
Queensland rangers were patrolling fire breaks (left) when they discovered the bombs (right). Source: DES

Why are there bombs in the Queensland forest?

The three bombs were found in a remote part of the forest by rangers inspecting firebreaks that had been erected last year. It’s the third find in the state forest, with others documented in 2014 and 2016, and so the department of environment has issued a piece of simple advice, “If it looks like a bomb it probably is, and anyone who finds one is urged to leave it alone and contact police”.

A map from Defence highlighting the sites where UXO devices potentially lie. There is a legend on the left.
A map highlights the sites where UXO devices potentially lie. Source: Defence

Ranger Ben Finnerty said the bombs likely relate to the area’s rich World War II history.

“The Mareeba Airfield was built in 1942 with two runways and served as a base for the Australian and United States air forces,” he said.

“After the war, the southern runway remained active, and the northern section of the airfield was used for agriculture. We believe the UXOs were either used for war-time drills or accidentally discarded in the bushland.”

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