History

Witton Barracks is a historic WWII site reimagined as a playground for ideas.

If These walls could talk ...

Witton Barracks has a rich history. 

The site sits on the banks of the Brisbane River in Indooroopilly. 

Once a rural area, Indooroopilly was transformed with the arrival of the Brisbane-Ipswich railway in the mid-1870s. Several large villas were later erected on the banks of the river. 

The barracks are located on part of the heritage-listed Tighnabruaich property, built c1890. They owe their name to a second residence, Witton House, which was relocated there by a subsequent owner in the mid 1910s. 

But the site is perhaps best known for the role it played during World War II.

After being requisitioned in 1942, Tighnabruaich became the headquarters for a joint US-Australian intelligence unit – the Allied Translator and Interpreter Service (ATIS).

Among their successes, ATIS translators broke the Japanese Army’s codes and translated a captured Japanese officers’ list that allowed the Allies to compile a Japanese Order of Battle.

In May 1944, they translated a captured Japanese plan (the ‘Z’ Plan), revealing Japan’s defence strategies against Allied assaults in the Pacific. 

In a book based on his experiences, ATIS member Arthur Page described Tighnabruaich as Australia’s Bletchley Park.

To find out more about the history of Witton Barracks, look at the timeline below.

A special thanks to the Brisbane History Group for sharing their knowledge of the history of the area.

A black and white photo of the corridor in the cell blocks
Number 2 on outside of old brick building

witton Barracks: A Timeline

Witton Barracks is located on the lands of the Jagera and Turrbal peoples.

They have been custodians of the area for many thousands of years.

Some suggest the name Indooroopilly comes from the Aboriginal word Yindurupilly, meaning “gully of running water”, while others believe it may come from Nyundur-pilly, meaning “gully of the leeches”.

1799
Post-British Contact

Matthew Flinders arrives in Moreton Bay.

1824

The first convict settlement in Queensland is established.

1842

Brisbane is declared a free settlement.

1853 Parish boundary map.

Photo: 1853 Parish boundary map. (Credit: Toowong & District HS/ Queensland State Archives (QSA))

1859

At the first sale of government land in the area, a 42-acre block (portion 46, parish of Indooroopilly) that includes the site where Witton Barracks is now, is sold to James Henderson.

Portion map showing portion 46.

Photo: c1880 Portion Map (Credit: St Lucia History Group (SLHG)/QSA)

1860

Henry C Rawnsley builds the first house in the area on a site further upstream (now occupied by the junior school of St Joseph's College Nudgee). He names it Witton Manor, after the UK home of his wife.

1876

The 42-acre block is subdivided to make way for the railway corridor. After Albert Bridge is completed in 1876, the Brisbane to Ipswich railway line opens in Indooroopilly. 

1889

Henry Charles Stanley, Chief Engineer for Railways in Queensland, buys the estate and builds Tighnabruaich on the site as his home. It is designed by his brother, the former Colonial Architect, Francis Drummond Greville Stanley. Stanley lives at Tighnabruaich until c1901. 

Albert Bridge being constructed. Tignabruaich can be seen in the background.

Photo: c1894/95 Albert Bridge/Tighnabruaich (Credit: State Library Queensland (SLQ))

1904
1900 estate map announcing Indooroopilly Bridge Estate is to be sold at auction.

Tighnabruaich is bought by Herbert Brealey Hemming.

Photo: 1900 estate map announcing Indooroopilly Bridge Estate is to be sold at auction. (Credit: SLQ)

1916
Witton house c1932

Hemming who now also owns Witton Manor, moves the 1860s timber residence from its original site onto the estate at Tighnabruaich. He renames it Witton House.

Photo: Witton House c1932. (Credit: SLQ)

Aerial of the Witton site in 1936.

Photo: Aerial of the site in 1936. (Credit: Queensland Government QImagery.)

1942

Hemming dies on 8 March 1942. In September, the site is requisitioned and becomes the headquarters for the Allied Translator and Interpreter Service (ATIS).

1942-45
1942 Building Plan. It shows Tighnabruaich and Witton House

The ATIS headquarters at Witton Barracks becomes the primary interrogation centre for POWs in Australia.

Photo: 1942 Building Plan. (Credit: SLHG/NAA)

1943

ATIS translators break the Japanese Army's codes (after the capture of codebooks from the Japanese Army’s 20th Division). The translation of a captured Japanese officers’ list allows the Allies to compile a Japanese Order of Battle.

1944

A captured Japanese plan (‘Z’ Plan) is translated and interpreted, revealing Japan's defence strategies against Allied assaults in the Pacific. 

1945
Brown file with the Department of Interior labelled on the front

The Commonwealth Government officially acquires the Interrogation Centre.

Photo: Department of Interior file. (Credit: National Archives of Australia (NAA))

1945

ATIS leaves and the site becomes the barracks for No.2 Australian Women's Army Service (AWAS) until the end of the war. The site is then used as barracks for No.7 AWAS until July 1946, and as a personnel depot until 1949.

1951
1950s site plan. There are lots of green buildings

The site becomes the Northern Command Provost Company’s barracks. Between 1951 and the 1980s it is the major military police barracks in Queensland.

Photo: 1950s site plan. (Credit: SLHG/NAA)

1959

The Q-Store (Quartermaster’s store) and Office building (c1959-60), and a Motorised Transport Cover (c1959-60) are purpose-built.

1968

Witton House is demolished to make way for a new barracks building (which has subsequently also been demolished). 

1980s site plan. It shows the cell blocks, Q-store, Motor Transport Cover and the Barracks.

Photo: 1980s site plan. (Credit: SLHG/NAA)

1984

The 1st Military Police Company moves to new barracks accommodation at Enoggera, and Witton Barracks is reduced to 30 full-time staff.

The exterior of Tighnabruaich, a two storey wooden villa.

Photo: Tignabruaich in 1991 (Credit: Wikimedia Commons/QSA)

1998

The site is subdivided by the Commonwealth. The Tighnabruaich house is sold as freehold to private owners. The remainder of the property is retained by the Commonwealth.

2016

Witton Barracks is purchased by the Brisbane City Council.

2024
Today
aerial view of the whole site

White Box Enterprises takes over the running under a community lease with a vision to reimagine the site as a community and social enterprise hub.

5 things to look out for when you visit witton barracks ...

  1. The three brick cell blocks. Step back in time as you visit the last remaining purpose-built structures of the Interrogation Centre, once the nerve centre of the Allied Translator and Interpreter Section (ATIS). They were the only purpose-built cell blocks constructed in Australia during WWII for holding enemy POWs. Each of the blocks included five cells with a passageway running the length of the block, and two ancillary opposite the passageway. Based on a 1958 inventory of room contents, the larger ancillary room (with a hot water cylinder) was probably a guard room, and the smaller a bathroom.
  2. The inside of a WWII cell. With preserved cell doors, barred windows, and original locking mechanisms above the doors along the passageway, these brick cells can transport you back to the war time era.
  3. The wire in the walls. Delve into the intriguing tales of intelligence gathering as you discover the hidden wire within the walls. According to historians, only a handful of people working there at the time knew the Japanese prisoners were being monitored. This wire was only discovered during the recent renovations. 
  4. The former POW exercise yard. Wander through the former exercise yard, which today exists as an open space between the buildings and offers a unique view of the whole site. It was used after WWII as a parade ground. The arrangement of buildings around the parade ground is a characteristic of Australian Army barracks.
  5. The Motor Transport Cover. A later addition, the 12-bay Motor Transport Cover was added to the Provost headquarters c1959-60. It included an office and store room at the north end, 12 vehicle bays, and an oil store room at the south end. What could you have found here then? Australia’s Provost units initially used US Jeeps and Harley Davidson motorcycles after WWII, then later British Austin Champs and Land Rovers, and BSA B40 motorcycles.

Site Tours

Want to find out more? Take a tour!

If you want to know more about Witton Barracks, why not take a tour courtesy of the Brisbane Greeters.

You can also reach out to Brisbane History Group, who have a home at the Barracks: Brisbane History Group They will be hosting history talks about Witton.