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Wednesday, 31 August 2022

World War II Crude Oil Tanks; Now a Cairns Art Gallery

Written by Teja
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When I planned to have my birthday at the Great Barrier Reef, I decided to splurge and allocate the bulk of my budget to going on a dive live-aboard and to joining a marine volunteering program. But for my slow travel days in between, I thought I should pick out low-budget options for what to do in those half days left over from doing the laundry and other chores. And admission was free for the Tanks Art Centre.

It was the name that intrigued me. Why would it be called ‘Tanks’? But I shouldn’t have wondered too much. In typical Australian straightforwardness, it was called that because the galleries are literally inside former fuel bulk storage tanks!


Tanks Art Centre


The entrance arch seemed to consist of junked pieces of old pipelines. A cassowary figurine stood upon the valve handle at the top of the arch. The whole entrance was shaded, for the area had a forested feel - as though the tanks were still camouflaged, as they intentionally once were. Hanging from the arch were letters, simply spelling ‘TANKS’. Aboriginal mosaics decorated the walls flanking it on either side.


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Beyond, wide pathways connected the individual converted tanks that housed the gallery and art spaces. The grounds were planted with tree ferns and tropical palms amongst tall, slender trees. It gave it a jungly look. The pipe connections have been left on the sides of the tanks. Most have had the pipelines disconnected, but there was one that still has the pipeline running from it towards Cairns.

Not all the tanks were open to enter. The tank that is always open is the one housing the art gallery, whereas the other two converted tanks are designed to be used as performance or event venues. Inside, the gallery tank is surprisingly spacious, large enough for a few rows of wall art displays and plenty of space for sculptures here and there.


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The unusual history of Tanks Art Centre

There is a reason why Tanks Art Centre has a hideaway vibe. The oil tanks were not just any fuel storage tanks, but were specifically constructed to store crude oil to refuel Allied naval ships docking in Cairns during the Second World War in the Pacific. As such, the location was selected accordingly, nestled against Mount Whitfield, and camouflaged

It was only in the 1990s that the area was re-developed by the Cairns City Council to meet the need for a local arts space.


How to get there:

It is easy to get to Tanks Art Centre by bus from Cairns. I got on the 131 bus towards Raintrees Shopping Centre, and alighted at the stop for Cairns Botanic Gardens on Collins Avenue. The fare was A$4.80; the ticket purchase is old-school, in cash on the bus from the driver.

It took me a few moments to figure out where it was, as it lay beyond the Cairns Botanic Gardens Visitor Centre. The route has a lot of mango trees, and if they’re fruiting there will be many ripe mangoes just everywhere on the ground. It baffles me why people don’t come specifically to carry off the mangoes!


What to Do at Tanks Art Centre

Aside from checking out what’s on display at the gallery, you also have the option of planning ahead to come for specific performances or festivals, join the historical tour, or browse the Sunday markets. But I didn’t do any of these, since they didn’t fit my itinerary, and I was particularly sorry to miss the Sunday market.

But I did combine the trip with a visit to the adjacent Cairns Botanic Gardens, which also has free entrance. In fact, I returned specifically to re-visit the botanic gardens for yet another half-day of forest bathing, without having to actually go on a Wet Tropics Rainforest tour.

Between the Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics Rainforest, both these places are massively overshadowed by far more famous tourist attractions around Cairns. But you know, sometimes you just want a break from going on tours after tours, and why not have it take the form of a very cool, quirky art centre?

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Teja is an environmental scientist and a sustainable travel storyteller on a voyage for homes in a thousand strange places. Teja writes to inspire insightful travel.

Website: Teja on the Horizon

Last modified on Wednesday, 31 August 2022

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