Bowen Aerodrome and Explosive Stores

Bowen Airport


Bowen Connection Road, Bowen 4805

By 1939, when work began on Bowen aerodrome, the town already had a long association with amphibious aircraft of the RAAF, extending back to about 1926. Initial construction of the aerodrome was undertaken by the local Bowen and Wangaratta Councils with government advances. A single gravel runway had been completed by mid-1940 when the Department of Civil Aviation set about development of the airfield as a RAAF Advanced Operational Base. However, the site was soon considered inadequate for this purpose. Although it fell short of requirements for an operational base the aerodrome was taken over by defence authorities and extended, with a second runway being provided. The Main Roads Commission carrying out the subsequent work.


With the outbreak of the Pacific war Bowen, like other airfields on the north Queensland coast, provided a brief rest and refuelling stop for aircraft transiting northward to New Guinea. During 1943 Bowen aerodrome was used by amphibious aircraft of RAAF No.9 Fleet Co-operation Squadron, for the servicing and repair of naval spotter aircraft and for the delivery of mail and messages to ships of the RAN.

Bowen was selected as the aerodrome for carrying out chemical warfare trials for the 1st Australian Field Experimental Station based at Gunyarra railway siding near Proserpine. These tests were conducted on an irregular basis from 1944 and involved mustard gas bombing trials over Mission Beach, Hinchinbrook Island and the Tully rainforest. Two 'igloo-shaped' reinforced concrete explosive stores, located south of the aerodrome near the Bruce Highway, may have been constructed during this period for the storage of chemical weapons including mustard gas and phosgene bombs. The stores are similar to others built at the main RAAF chemical weapons stockpile at Talmoi siding in western Queensland.


Pearce, Howard (contributing author).
Main Roads Commission, The History of the Queensland Main Roads Commission during World War II 1939–1945, Government Printer, Brisbane, 1949.

Roger Marks, Queensland Airfields WW2: 50 years on, Brisbane, 1994.

Peter Nielsen. Diary of WWII North Queensland, Nielsen Publishing, Gordonvale, 1993.

Howard Pearce. WWII: NQ: A cultural heritage overview of significant places in the defence of north Queensland during World War II. Environmental Protection Agency, Brisbane, 2009.