Nelson Bay could be hiding a 70-year military secret and the very real prospect of a cache of US manufactured vehicles and weapons in a web of bunkers and tunnels left behind from the Second World War.
And while the vital role played by Port Stephens during the 1939-45 war above the ground has been well documented, mystery surrounds what took place under ground on the Tomaree peninsula.
Now a couple of researchers have made it their mission to solve the decades-old puzzle after being granted approval to investigate two former Defence sties - one at Fly Point and the second near Tomaree Head.
With the consent of Port Stephens Council, Charles Tennyson and Mark Rawson are hopeful of commencing in October the hunt for wartime treasure at Fly Point with the guidance of maps, eyewitness accounts and the scant military records available to them. [At Tomaree Head, National Parks & Wildlife Service has granted permission to investigate only, excavation approval is required from Family & Community Services].
"Ultimately we want answers. We know the tunnels exist but we want to know what was left behind, in terms of military equipment and caches," said Mr Tennyson, who with Mr Rawson established the company Allied Salvage.
"There are very few records left behind and it is near impossible to get information from bureaucrats, so we have had to rely on ground penetrating radar and satellite mapping. It is painstaking work."
Mr Tennyson said that signs of drilling and blasting found in andersite and coffee rock (sort of sandstone) near the reserve at Fly Point had offered enough evidence for the self-funded duo to seek permission to probe deeper.
At its August 13 meeting, Port Stephens Council granted Mr Tennyson development consent to undertake archaeological investigations into the location of war tunnels at Fly Point reserve.
The council also agreed to pay half ($4,480 from mayoral funds) the cost for the removal of up to six trees to allow for excavation work.
"The tunnel is expected to hold World War 2 military items and has the potential to become a new tourist attraction in Port Stephens," the council report stated.
Mr Tennyson said that last week's approval from NPWS to investigate tunnels near Tomaree Headland could provide many of the answers to years of mystery and hearsay. He said investigations would focus on the power supply used by military units, along with any possible vents for the suspected underground sites.
"Before 1939 the Fort Tomaree site was in its natural state and the area had no power, no water or other major services of any description, until installed by the RAAF, RAN, AIF, US Army and US Navy," he said.
"The 1942 Fort Tomaree map is quite accurate with its buildings and defence locations. We did find extra foundations not on the map that were identified as shower and ablution blocks with plumbing and drainage.
"Buried communications lines were found which consisted of very thin separate copper lines housed in thin lead pipe with steel elbows, as well as spent shell casings, but no live ammunition was discovered. There were sink holes in different sizes, while exterior roof camouflage was used and surf battery consisting of a concrete slurry and local rocks."
From the research data the pair say they formed a conclusion that an underground area did exist and needs to be fully investigated further for the safety of the marine park and Nelson Bay community.
"Our research was to understand the top before investigating below to find the answers relating to power supply for the fort and possible sink holes or vents."
IN OTHER NEWS