Antill Plains Airfields


Adjacent to the Flinders Highway/western rail link, Antill Plains 4811

The Antill Plains airfields were constructed during the early months of 1942. Often misspelt as “Anthill” in reference to the numerous termite mounds in the locality, the unusual name actually refers to an early landholder. The main Townsville–Charters Towers highway ran through the middle of the three strips and the Antill Plains rail siding was in the vicinity of this base.


Other airfields also lined the road to Charters Towers. Fighter aerodromes (such as Anthill Plains) were always located nearer the coast to provide speedy interception in case of carrier attack. Medium bombers were located further out (Woodstock and Charters Towers), with heavy bombers being based at the extremity (Reid River). These had the greatest operational range and were vital if any strike was to be made against a retreating carrier force.

Owen Cary was a Signaller in the Australian 9th Infantry Battalion and arrived in Townsville around April 1942. The Battalion arrived at Stewart Creek junction near Townsville at night. They then boarded another train that took them to Antill Plains where they camped for several days. Carey’s memories of the Antill Plains rail siding are of heat, spear grass and no tents.

There must have been an aerodrome just over the back of us as 'Bel Aero Cobras' (sic) fighter planes used to take off and fly over us, just above tree top height. They seemed to go like a bat out of hell as we weren’t used to fighter planes, or any planes traveling so fast.

These were likely to have been Bell P39 Airacobras of No. 35 and 36 Pursuit Squadrons (US). They left Anthill Plains (next to Oak Valley) at the beginning of May; however, around a dozen of these fighters were forced down or destroyed between Cooktown and Horn Island during a severe storm.

The four graded Antill Plains airfields are now partially covered by the waters of the Ross River Dam catchment area. The Townsville–Charters Towers highway that ran through the vicinity was moved to the south-east during the early 1970s to clear the catchment area. The airfield locations can still be seen from the air and are more clearly defined when the dam waters recede in the dry season.


Unpublished memoir of O K Cary Signaler 9th Infantry Battalion 1941–1944, written December 1985 (Author collection).

The North Queensland Line: The Defence of Townsville in 1942". Ray Holyoak unpublished

Honours Thesis, James Cook University, Townsville 1998.

Defence Schemes - Australia: Plans for the Defence of Townsville and the North East Area - Second Report of the Joint Planning Staff, Mar 1942, AWM 54, item 243/6/119.