Stratford Explosives Magazine and Detonator Store

JM Johnston Pty Ltd

Ammunition facility

Magazine Street, Stratford 4870

The powder magazine and detonator store at Stratford, north of Cairns, were constructed in 1901 for Queensland’s Marine Department. From early June 1942 until mid May 1945 the magazine was occupied by the Australian Military Forces, who used the concrete buildings to store explosives. The former magazine is located at Stratford, to the west of Cairns airport, on the north side of Magazine Road (north of the railway line).

The explosives store is a rectangular building with a hipped corrugated iron roof and three square ventilators on the roof’s ridge. The walls are of concrete with a concrete render, and have numerous vents, with the longer north and south elevations having a central doorway flanked by three narrow windows to each side. The east and west elevations have three narrow windows, and the south entry has a small timber landing.

The store for detonators is a small square plan building, with a hipped corrugated iron roof with a square ridge ventilator, located to the east of the explosives store. The walls are also concrete with a concrete render, with a door to the south and a single narrow window to each side.


In early 1942 Townsville became the base for Allied operations in the South West Pacific, but later that year naval base operations focused on Cairns, as this port was less congested. In addition, in late 1942 the Atherton Tableland was chosen as the site of a major concentration of troops and stores during 1943, and Cairns became the port for the “Atherton Tableland Project"; the main Australian Army base area for the continuing campaign in New Guinea.

A military guard of 19 men was stationed at the Stratford magazine well before the build-up on the Tablelands. The guard was apparently in place by May 1940, when town water was connected to the magazine for their benefit.

For over a century control of all explosives and gunpowder imported into Queensland was the province of the Harbour Master’s Department (1860-62), the Department of Ports & Harbours (1862-93), the Marine Department (1894-1928), and the Department of Harbours and Marine (1929-63). In 1964, responsibility was shifted to the Queensland Department of Health. On the goldfields, magazines were initially administered by the Mines Department, as control of magazines outside ports was not vested in the Marine Department until 1907.

The Stratford magazine, built in 1901, was the second government magazine in Cairns. The first government magazine was a barge, 50′ by 16′ (15m by 4.9m), anchored off the east side of Trinity Inlet since October 1884. This was the reason for the naming of Magazine Creek on that shore. In mid-1900, the Cairns magazine was receiving explosives at the rate of 2,716 cases per annum and the amount was increasing rapidly. Explosives were imported to Cairns, stored at the government magazine at a cost, and then sold to the mining companies and merchants on the Atherton tin fields and Chillagoe copper fields. Explosives were also used in the construction of the privately-funded Mareeba to Chillagoe railway, commenced in August 1898. The first stage of this railway was opened in October 1900, opening up new mineral fields and plantations and creating a greater demand for explosives in the process.

In consequence, the Marine Department requested in 1900 that a new magazine be constructed at Cairns. A suitable site of nearly 22 acres at Stratford was proclaimed a provisional Reserve for Explosives Magazine on 30 May 1900. It was five miles from the centre of Cairns, fronted the Cairns-Mareeba Railway, and was in a sparsely populated area.

The contract was let to JC Thomson in November 1900. During construction, mass concrete was substituted for brick walls, in consequence of which costs were reduced. The buildings were completed in mid-July 1901, at a cost of £2471. The magazine provided storage capacity for over 6,000 cases of explosives. Ventilation in the main magazine was supplied by roof ventilators and air holes covered by grates in the thick concrete walls, and the timber floor was built 3′ (.9m) above ground to allow air to circulate beneath. The explosives magazine and detonator store were surrounded by a high fence of galvanised iron, and the reserve was fenced with hardwood posts and rails. In addition, the Railways Department had constructed a loop line and siding to the magazine.

By early 1940 the Government had made the decision to erect new magazine facilities, including caretaker’s quarters, at Queerah, on the southern outskirts of Cairns. The Queerah magazine buildings were completed in October 1941, and by March 1942 all explosives from the Stratford magazine had been transferred there.

From mid-1942 until May 1945 the Stratford magazine site was occupied by the Australian Military Forces, who used the concrete buildings to store explosives. During the military occupancy, most of the galvanised iron fence around the magazine buildings was removed.

After the war, the site was utilised as a yard and depot by the Department of Public Works until 1953. The site is currently used for storage by sawmill operators JM Johnston Pty Ltd. The former magazine keeper’s cottage has been removed.


Explosives Magazine and Detonator Store (former), Queensland Heritage Register 600754

Morton, G. March 1984. Cairns (Stratford) Magazine for Explosives. Report for National Trust of Queensland, Cairns.

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