The last photo taken of Annika Ferry shows her standing on a World War II bunker, silhouetted against an orange and blue sunrise over the ocean.
The 21-year-old Sydney woman had hiked to Blue Fish Point – a scenic coastal spot overlooking Manly – with her best friend Bec Bennett on the morning of June 24, 2020.
Just moments later, she would be dead.
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Annika wanted to take Bec, who is on the Australian Olympic team, to the spot to cheer her up after the Tokyo Games were cancelled due to the COVID pandemic.
The duo had a boogie in the car on the way before walking through the rugged terrain down to the bunker. They had planned to watch the sunrise and have breakfast there.
It was a spot the pair had been to many times before – they often sat in the derelict World War II bunker that overlooked the harbour.
One of the last photos taken of Annika Ferry. Credit: Supplied
As the sun came up, part of the roof of the bunker collapsed.
Authorities said Annika fell and hit her head, causing catastrophic injuries.
But family say they were told she was crushed by the weight of the collapsed concrete and died at the scene. 7NEWS.com.au has requested a copy of coronial findings into her death.
“(Annika and Bec) were totally prepared. They weren’t being reckless, “ Bennett’s mum Jenny said.
“(Annika) thought she was taking Bec to a beautiful spot for solace.”
Annika and Bec. Credit: SuppliedAnnika and her brothers. Credit: Supplied
At the time, police called her death a “sad accident.” But a months-long 7NEWS.com.au investigation has found that authorities were warned the bunker was unsafe decades before it collapsed – and there’s no record of any repairs.
Experts say her death speaks to a bigger problem – and warn that more needs to be done to prevent the dozens of bunkers around the country from turning into death traps.
And Jenny says bunkers are a “ticking time bomb.”
“It should never have happened. It didn’t need to happen if they used our taxes for the right reasons.”
A ‘derelict’ and ‘unsafe’ bunker
Annika’s older brother Anton was on his way to a business meeting when he got a call from his dad that fateful morning.
“It’s hard to explain the feeling but basically … you just kind of shut down, everything in your life turns a bit surreal. You don’t believe it’s true. You don’t think it’s real,” said Anton, who was the first to show Annika the Blue Fish Point bunker two years before she died.
“You start thinking of the last moments you talked to her. Not one worry you’ve ever had matters … you would replace every single thing in your life just to have her back.”
Annika was smart, funny, adventurous and kind. She studied renewable energy hoping to help make the world a better place and dedicated her young life to helping others – from building wildlife enclosures in Ecuador to helping build schools and orphanages in Africa and India.
“We were so excited to see what she would have done because she was on the path to already doing so much good,” Anton said.
Annika and Anton. Credit: SuppliedA memorial was held for Annika at Balgowlah Heights. Credit: Supplied
“Everyone loved her. There’s nothing bad I could say about her, which is sad because she was the best of us and she had to go.”
The NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) said it had “recently undertaken the identification, prioritisation, and recording of all 175 known military structures within the Sydney area.”
But documents obtained by 7NEWS.com.au through a freedom of information request reveal that the Blue Fish Point bunker that collapsed and killed Annika Ferry was labelled “derelict” and “unsafe” in 1991 – almost three decades before the tragedy, and years before Annika was even born.
There’s no reference in the documents released to 7NEWS.com.au to any repair work on the Blue Fish Point bunker following that 1991 report until Annika’s death. 7NEWS.com.au asked NSW’s Department of Planning and Environment whether any repair work had been done following that report, but the department provided no details of any repairs.
In a publicly available 2007 report commissioned by NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, heritage architect Paul Davies found that the fortifications at North Head sites – where the Blue Fish Point bunker is located – were in “poor condition.”
Annika and her family. Credit: SuppliedAnnika was a lover of animals and the environment. Credit: Supplied
“The only perceived risk is that of potential collapse of the ruins due to visitation,” Davies wrote of the health and safety risks associated with the North Head sites.
Davies recommended the sites be monitored, and that the department should “consider restricting access to sites as they deteriorate”.
He recommended that the sites should be allowed to fall into ruin – although work should be undertaken to avoid risk to visitors.
Again, there is no reference in the documents released to 7NEWS.com.au to any repair work on the Blue Fish Point bunker following that 2007 report.
‘They were then basically just left to decay’
Bunkers like the ones where Annika died are dotted along Australia’s coast – crumbling remnants of what once were key defence fortifications in a different era.
Before Annika’s death in 2020, there had been no deaths or injuries recorded at any of the disused military structures around Sydney, a National Parks and Wildlife Service spokesperson told 7NEWS.com.au.
But experts warn that other accidents could still happen.
During World War II, bunkers were erected along Australia’s coast to defend against foreign threats.
Many of the structures were made from reinforced concrete and were built to withstand artillery blasts, but they were never meant to last, according to Australian National Maritime Museum head of knowledge Peter Hobbins.
An aerial view of the bunker at Blue Fish Point on the day Annika died. Credit: 7NEWSThe Blue Fish Point bunker. Credit: 7NEWS
Following World War II, the bunkers were largely managed by the Department of Defence before they were stripped of armaments in the 1960s and handed over to national parks.
“Somewhere in all of that process, there wasn’t a huge amount of value put on these empty concrete shells,” Hobbins said.
“They were then basically just left to decay.”
Decades on, many of the structures still exist and are easily accessible along popular walking trails. Now they’re often used as a place to drink, graffiti and for people to get up to “other nefarious activities,” says Hobbins.
In his 2007 report, Davies found some structures were in a poor condition and needed urgent attention.
The Blue Fish Point bunker following Annika’s death. Credit: Department of Planning and Environment/ Archival Photographic Record reportAnnika walked to the bunker with her best friend Bec. Credit: Supplied
He also found there was poor record keeping, no consistent approach to risk assessment and a lack of funding to monitor and maintain all the structures.
At the time, he recommended that the NPWS make it a high priority to prevent unsafe access to sites, remove health and safety risks identified in the report, and undertake urgent stabilisation works where there was a risk of collapse.
He also recommended that the sites be monitored and a maintenance report be implemented at each site.
“Provide higher levels of security to ‘at-risk’ sites as a matter of urgency,” he wrote.
Since then, Davies has had no involvement in their maintenance.
“I have no idea what they’ve done,” Davies told 7NEWS.com.au.
A bunker in Malabar Headland National Park. Credit: Department of Planning and Environment/ Archival Photographic Record reportPart of an observation site in Kamay Botany Bay National Park. Credit: Department of Planning and Environment/ Archival Photographic Record reportA fortification in Kamay Botany Bay National Park. Credit: Department of Planning and Environment/ Archival Photographic Record report
“All of the structures have issues – there’s no question. Some of them are catastrophic in terms of, they are at risk of failing. Others just need some love and care if they want to be retained long term.”
“The World War II ones are the ones that were built quickest and most ephemerally … they’re the ones that are failing most,” Davies said.
“They’re probably all reached the point where they’re close to end of life.”
Hobbins also has “major concerns” about the state of some of the bunkers.
Because the structures are close to the coast, they’re exposed to salt water – and that means the steel reinforcing rods inside the concrete often rust, he said. As the steel rusts, it expands and cracks the concrete, Hobbins said.
A bunker in Kamay Botany Bay National Park. Credit: Department of Planning and Environment/ Archival Photographic Record report
“That makes these structures quite fragile and potentially dangerous.”
Other environmental factors, such as tree roots and moss, are also contributing to the gradual decline of these structures, as is deliberate vandalism.
“All of these factors mean that even though we think of these heavy duty concrete bunkers as being eternal, they’re actually reasonably fragile,” Hobbins said.
“They’re long past their intended use by date.
“They’re certainly often fun to go in and explore and imagine what it was like to be in there during wartime… but some of them, I’m very aware, are dangerous.”
A coastal bunker in Malabar Headland National Park. Credit: Department of Planning and Environment/ Archival Photographic Record reportAn observation tower in Malabar Headland National Park. Credit: Department of Planning and Environment/ Archival Photographic Record report
Freedom of information documents show that NPWS is planning to repair and stabilise some of the structures in Malabar, Cape Banks and Henry Head, according to a budget list of works from April 2022.
In a response to 7NEWS.com.au, NSW’s Department of Planning and Environment said four structures at Blue Fish Point had been assessed by an engineer and stabilised, with warning signage and measures to prevent public access.
“NPWS has undertaken a significant amount of works on structures that are promoted and have high level of visitation such as Malabar, Bear Island, Georges Head, Middle Head, and Cape Banks,” the statement said.
“Management of these sites includes asbestos removal, scaling spalling concrete and other loose elements, drainage and closure of tunnels with sand to prevent access, and installation of balustrades and handrails.”
A National Parks and Wildlife Service spokesperson told 7NEWS.com.au that structures with known or perceived risks that require further assessment have risk management actions in place, including signage and barrier fencing.
“People are reminded to observe all signage and barriers for their safety.”
A difficult balancing act
Before Annika’s death, the Blue Fish Point bunker was grey, covered in graffiti and easily accessible, according to Annika’s family.
Following the tragedy, it was closed and a temporary fence was erected. Steel rods and doors were installed to help prop up the structure and keep people out. Future plans are being made to keep the bunker open in a safe way.
It was also painted white covered in flowers by Annika’s friends and family. A plaque paying tribute to Annika was also airlifted into the site and sits in front of the structure, overlooking the ocean.
According to the Department of Planning and Environment, permanent steel door and aperture screens, steel column supports, and signage have been installed on the Bluefish structure.
There’s more that needs to be done in the other sites, say experts – but addressing the issue isn’t always easy.
The World War II bunker at Blue Fish Point was closed and painted white following Annika’s death. Credit: Department of Planning and EnvironmentThe bunker was fenced off and painted white following the tragedy. Credit: Supplied A 1991 report labelled the Blue Fish Point bunker as ‘derelict’ and ‘unsafe’. Credit: Department of Planning and Environment
All the fortifications are listed as heritage sites, meaning they are protected under law.
Davies says their management comes down to one key conflict: what do you do with a historically significant place that has no use?
“How much money do you spend on something that eventually is just going to disappear?” he questioned.
The issue of managing the future of the bunkers is a problem that is not unique to NSW – or even Australia, Hobbins said. It’s an issue facing countries all around the former British empire.
And while some structures can be preserved or stabilised, that’s not always an option.
“Others are really very dangerous and really do need to be closed off.”
Annika and her family. Credit: Supplied
But that could present another problem.
“If you close them off, you encourage people in a way … a locked door is always seen as an invitation to go in and explore.
“Some of them are falling down. Some of them potentially should actually be demolished. I don’t like to say that as a historian, but I think that they’re a risk. I don’t think they serve much historic value in some places.
“Then it becomes that sort of question of diminishing returns… how much time should you put into keeping up a crumbling, concrete bunker, if nobody goes there and it’s not telling any stories.”
While Hobbins said Annika’s death was a “freak and horrible accident” he warned there could be more incidents if action isn’t taken.
Annika and her dad Jim. Credit: Supplied
He said the state needs an integrated approach to how the structures are going to be managed.
“There will be, possibly tragedy at some of these sites if they’re not closed down.”
Anton initially wanted the bunker to be torn up following her death.
The bunker, once his thinking spot, became a place he detested.
Now he thinks the bunkers should be kept but says they need to be evaluated and made safe.
“If you asked me two years ago, I would’ve said blow them all up. But now, I love them all. It’s a part of my childhood. We used to go up there and hang around the bunkers,” he said.
“It’s something that needs to stay there. But… they need to go and reconstruct them and make sure that they’re 100 per cent safe.
“I wouldn’t wish anyone to go through what we did because of a bunker.”
If you have a story to share, contact the journalist at EDaoud@seven.com.au.
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