07 / February / 2017

A Lysaght-Behlen prefabricated hut from the Vietnam War is now basking in the Queensland sun after 45 years in storage at the Wallangarra Army base on the New South Wales border.

The hut, originally intended for use as a soldiers' mess hall on the battlefields of Vietnam, now stands proudly at the beach-side township of Toogoom, 16km north west of Hervey Bay on the Fraser Coast, and serves former soldiers and the community as the Toogoom and District RSL sub-branch.

Lysaght-Behlen pre-engineered portal frame buildings, so-named because they were made using Lysaght-Behlen galvanised steel building panels manufactured in Australia by Lysaght under licence from the Behlen Manufacturing Company in America, were first used for military purposes during the Vietnam War.

Like the Aussie soldiers they accommodated, the huts were made of stern stuff - namely Lysaght-Behlen 3” panels (or 76.2mm in modern terms) which were rollformed from a continuously galvanised steel strip with a heavy zinc coating.

With their 3” deep profile and longitudinal stiffening ribs providing high structural strength, and with a high load-carrying capacity and long spanning ability, the heavy gauge, deeply corrugated Lysaght-Behlen panels were a material that could serve the unique purpose of a structural member as well as a roofing and cladding material and could therefore be used to create completely frameless structures.

Toogoom and District RSL sub-branch President Ken Higgins said the hut was one of hundreds Lysaght manufactured for the Australian Army during the Vietnam conflict, which ran between 1962 and 1972.

"These huts were widely used as mess and recreation halls," the Vietnam Veteran explained. "At Nui Dat we had one the same as this with a veranda at each end - we played darts at one end and at the other end the corporal ran the bar.

"By 1971, Australia was starting to pull out of Vietnam but these buildings were still being manufactured and stockpiled at Wallangarra and many became surplus.

"We got onto this one through military contacts and just before Anzac Day 2014 the army sent a dozen soldiers, an engineer and a cook up here and they built it for us as a training exercise."

The Toogoom Community Hall became a small army base where the soldiers showered and ate while camping nearby during the construction period.

Local volunteers then painted the building and lined it with timber panelling made from the hardwood tongue and groove packing cases in which it had arrived. 

"The hardwood timber we put in added to the bracing; it's now so strong that it's cyclone proof and local authorities want to use it as an emergency centre," Mr Higgins said. "It's self-contained and wired for a generator, so if the power goes out we just turn the generator on and everything runs as normal.

“If we do have a disaster such as a flood or cyclone, people can at least come here, get a meal and be comfortable out of the weather."

Officially opened on Sunday, June 14, 2015, the old-but-new hut is a tribute to the Vietnam War and aptly located on the Fraser Coast Military Trail which also includes sites of interest such as the military museum in Maryborough, Vietnam Memorial at Toogoom, cenotaphs and war memorials as well as the Fraser Island training ground for Z Force and the hangars at the Maryborough airport.

"The Toogoom sub-branch is proud of its new home," Mr Higgins said. "This is not about talking war; there's nothing glorious about war. We want to make this a pleasant, enjoyable place to visit and be used by all and sundry.

"Cadets will use it and we also plan to run community health programs and have speakers come here to talk about such things as rural fire fighting and first aid. 

Mr Higgins said that since Toogoom had received its Lysaght-Behlen army hut, many men's shelters, sporting clubs and Scouts had also been putting them to good use in other places across Australia.

"It's amazing that in 2015, as we commemorate 100 years since the Gallipoli landings and 50 years since the middle of the Vietnam war, these huts built by Lysaght all those decades ago are now seeing daylight and that company is still one big family,” he stated.

"It's a pretty impressive performance; the steel came out of the packing in good nick – there was no rust – and almost everyone who comes in says: 'Just look how thick that steel is!'"