Flooding exacerbates the noise of Dutson bombing exercises

An aerial view of the pockmarked Dutson Bombing Range clearly demonstrates why it’s an area unauthorised visitors should keep out of. The perimeter of the range is well signed to warn would-be trespassers. Photo courtesy of Defence

Julianne Langshaw and Liz Bell

A SUCCESSION of loud blasts and earth-shattering vibrations last week shook homes throughout the shire and caused pets and farm animals to bolt.

The blasts were caused by an Australian Army training exercise at Dutson, with the resulting sounds and vibrations travelling up to 50 kilometres in the wet, cold conditions.

People took to social media almost immediately after the first blasts, reporting loud thunder-like noises that also sounded like explosions.

Some said cattle had scattered and dogs had hidden under beds and escaped yards from as far away as Stratford and Maffra, while vibrations were felt as far as Alberton.

Loud noises at the Defence Force training facility at Dutson are not unusual, but the Gippsland Times is not aware of the noises and vibrations travelling as far before.

Bureau of Meteorology experts said the wet and cold conditions could have been a factor in people noticing the exercises more this time.

With the chief factor affecting the speed of sound being temperature, and sound travelling better in water than air, recent floods may have created the perfect conditions for sound to travel more effectively and be heard over a greater distance.

A RAAF spokesperson confirmed exercises had been conducted by the Army School of Ordnance at Dutson Training Area, which was undertaking small scale multi-item demolition.

The spokesperson said the training was being undertaken “to develop and hone an essential skill-set required for the safe use of explosive ordnance and the safe disposal of malfunctioned explosive ordnance”.

A Defence spokesperson said a series of “small explosive ordnance disposal activities” took place on the Dutson Training Range earlier last week to qualify a group of ammunition technicians.

“These technicians are responsible for the management of explosive ordnance which includes competence in disposal,” the spokesperson said.

“Defence routinely uses Puckapunyal Range, however a suitable area was unavailable to conduct this training and Dutson Training Range was used as an alternate site.”

The spokesperson said the training occurred from Monday, June 21 to Wednesday, June 23, with a number of detonations scheduled after 10 am each day to minimise noise effects.
“The training activity in this instance was much louder due to the east coast low which resulted in a higher than usual water table, that, when combined with the low temperature, amplified sound and vibration.

“Defence understands the importance of maintaining open and timely communication with the community and continues to work towards identifying ways to improve communication about training exercises that might impact on the public.

“Defence apologises for any disturbances and inconvenience caused by this unforeseen environmental set of circumstances.”

But a Stradbroke resident said when Defence Force exercises took place, it was not unusual for her house to shake and windows rattle in all types of weather.

She said her dogs were frightened by the detonations and she had seen cattle scattering in paddocks.

On Wednesday she counted 15 blasts.

“I’m questioning whether it’s the ideal place with urban sprawl,” she said.
“Is it still appropriate and the best option to be detonating bombs in that area any more given the development in the area, the vibration of homes and the impact on home owners?

“It’s a bit close to houses these days.

“I’m also worried about the effects on people with PTSD — especially veterans and those who were involved in the Longford explosion.”

The Dutson Training Area consists of about 3000 hectares of land on the south-western edge of Lake Wellington extending south to the Longford-Loch Sport Rd, and encompasses the western half of Lake Coleman.

The area is typical of the Gippsland Plain, being relatively uniform and of low relief, with several large bodies of water present in the area. Vegetation communities consist of swamp scrub, woodlands (damp sands herb-rich and plains grassy), wetlands (coastal salt marsh and estuarine) and grasslands.

Access to Dutson Training Area is prohibited, and presents a significant hazard to trespassers.

The hazard not only exists during range activation for Defence exercises, but also during times of inactivity because of unexploded ordnance on the range dating back as far as World War 2, much of which would now be in an unstable condition.

A RAAF spokesperson said unmarked bomb craters presented another significant hazard.