In 1925, Canberra was recommended as the new centre for long-distance naval wireless communication. By the late 1930s, construction was well under way on a receiving and transmitting station. The Naval Transmitting Station (once officially referred to as HMAS Belconnen) was located in the vicinity of Ginninderra Creek, in what is now the suburb of Lawson. The transmitting station was more commonly known as Bells. Together with the receiving station, HMAS Harman, Bells formed the most powerful naval wireless base in the British empire and the largest naval or commercial station in the southern hemisphere.
Bells made its first operational transmission on 22 December 1939, and for the duration of the war communicated with merchant and fleet shipping around the world. After 66 years of service that included the Korean War and Vietnam War naval communications and relaying the 1956 Melbourne Olympic results to the world, the site was decommissioned. The last message was sent from Belconnen on 17 June 2005.
The Naval Transmitting Station originally comprised three main aerial masts, elements of the Rhombic and Omni Vector aerial arrays, a transmitting hall, guard post and guard house. There was also a cricket pitch and a village site. The site also included tree plantings, shelter belt radiata plantations, subdivision, tennis courts and a road system.
Bells had its own village of 26 cottages, known fondly by those who lived there as ‘the Patch.’ The cottages were weatherboard, with tiled roofs.
The Bells site once occupied 143 ha of Commonwealth-owned land. A report in 2012 identified a need for decontamination. Recent FOI documents on the Naval Transmitting Station reveal those contaminants to include:
• PCBs (Polychlorinated Biphenyl) used in transformer oils;
• Dumping of materials, potentially including PCBs in the known landfill;
• The use of asbestos in building materials;
• Spills and leaks associated with four USTs (underground storage tanks); and two ASTs (aboveground storage tanks);
• Spills and leaks associated with the use of two chemical stores;
• Lead contamination of surface soils, associated with the use of lead paint; on aerials and buildings at the site;
• Demolition waste spread across the site;
• PAH (Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon) contamination associated with the incineration of materials; and
• Lead shot and the breakdown of lead and copper from a former pistol range.
The contamination and the presence of the endangered Golden Sun moth and a threatened small perennial herb, Ginninderra Peppercress, resulted in most of the land being identified for heritage (natural, cultural and technical) and nature conservation only, and its being off limits to the public. There are stories that the site is haunted by Ghosts.
Some of the former site has been developed to form the new Canberra suburb of Lawson.