DSTO has a long and somewhat disjointed history, but the one constant over the years has been the extrordinary science that it has produced.
- Cecil Napier Hake
DSTO in Victoria
Defence science in Victoria can be traced back to 1907 when the Commonwealth government appointed the Victorian Inspector of Explosives, Cecil Napier Hake, as the Chemical Adviser to the Department of Defence. Hake was thus Australia's first defence scientist and went on to establish the first Defence laboratory at Victoria Barracks on St Kilda Road in Melbourne in 1910. Called the Chemical Adviser's Laboratory, it later became known as the Australian Arsenal Branch.
The Branch was later relocated to the then outer suburb of Maribyrnong, and became known as the Laboratories of the Munitions Supply Board, and later in the same year Munitions Supply Laboratories or MSL. It was known as the Munitions Supply Laboratories for the next 30 years, before it went through another series of name changes, finally becoming the Defence Standards Laboratories, which it was to remain for the next 20 or so years.
While DSTO's Maribyrnong site grew out of the munitions industry, DSTO's site at Fishermans Bend was born out of the need for a domestic aeronautical research capability. H.E Wimperis, a former Director of Scientific Research in the British Air Ministry recommended that an Engineering Research Establishment be established by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Reseach (CSIR). He emphasised that the laboratory should be located close to centres of aeronautical industry and performance testing, identifying the site at Fishermans Bend as excellent for this purpose.
Construction of the Fishermans Bend site started in August 1939, one month before the start of the Second World War. The first staff to work at "the Bend" arrived in April 1940 and in May 1940, the laboratory formally became the Division of Aeronautics, part of CSIR, with L.P Coombes, formerly of the Royal Aircraft Establishment Farnborough, as Chief .
DSTO in South Australia
In South Australia, DSTO's existence began when the British and Australian governments agreed in principle to cooperate in long-range weapons research. Britain's vulnerability to attack by the new ballistic missile technology became apparent in the latter stages of World War II when German V2 rockets were launched from The Hague in Holland and directed on to London. With warfare now able to be conducted from a distance, the British government was keen to embrace the new technology and, with it, the development of guided weapons, in order to deter future aggressors.
Britain looked to its Commonwealth territories late in 1945 in order to find a partner and a suitable site for a proving range because of the unavailability of suitable sites at home and the need to ensure safety.
A large tract of arid land in the north-west of South Australia was chosen following extensive inspections. The one-time Salisbury Munitions Factory, built between 1940 and 1941 to service the demands of World War II was selected as the project's technical base.