Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) 23 Inland Aviation Fuel Depot
BP Fuel Depot
- Supply facility
Phillips Street, Cloncurry 4824
Known as Shell Hill, RAAF 23 Inland Aircraft Fuel Depot (IAFD), Cloncurry, derived its name from the Shell Oil Company, which managed the depot. The wartime underground storage tanks survive, although the reinforced concrete pump house and a nearby underground air raid shelter were recently demolished during expansion of facilities by the current operator of the depot, the British Petroleum Company.
As the threat of war with Japan increased during 1941, Cloncurry suddenly became strategically important as an outback railway centre and a key aerodrome on the inland air route between Brisbane and Darwin. The existing civilian aerodrome was extended and developed to RAAF requirements as a refuelling base and a staging field for heavy bomber movements and fighter aircraft in transit.
The Queensland Main Roads Commission assisted in the development of a low hill close to the railway on the southern edge of Cloncurry, as a bulk fuel storage depot for the RAAF and four large steel storage tanks were built. The hill was excavated for construction of the tanks. Reinforced concrete bases were poured and the steel plated tanks were assembled by contractors to oil company specifications. Upon completion of the bottom row of plates the base and steelwork were water tested. The rest of the plates were then assembled, welded and tested. After the steel sides were in place, protective concrete sidewalls were poured to protect against bomb damage. Concrete roofs were installed, supported on internal steel cased concrete columns, and finally the sides of the tanks were covered with earth and rock. Aviation fuel was railed from Townsville for storage in the underground tanks, and from there it was pumped into 44-gallon drums for transfer to the aerodrome.
During 1942 and 1943 a series of Inland Aircraft Fuel Depots were built for the RAAF in Queensland and other states, for bulk storage of fuel in tanks, plus the storage of drums of tetraethyl-lead spirit to boost the octane level of the fuel. The depots were located alongside the railway networks so fuel could be delivered by train and trucked to nearby airfields. In Queensland the depots were built on inland railway lines as the North Coast railway was considered too vulnerable to Japanese air and sea attack. Six such depots were built in Queensland-7 IAFD at Toowoomba, 8 IAFD at Gayndah, 9 AIFD at Charters Towers, 21 IAFD at Yarraman, 22 IAFD at Roma and 23 IAFD at Cloncurry.
Construction of the tanks at Cloncurry was underway by the latter half of 1942, although the progress was hampered by the lack of available workers in the town. The work was jointly undertaken by the Main Roads Commission and a private contractor working for the Shell Company. Construction was completed about April 1943, when the directorate of the Allied Works Council received a request for additions to the guard house at RAAF IAFD, Cloncurry. The tanks were heavily camouflaged during the war. Downgrading of the operation of the Cloncurry IAFD installations commenced in February 1944 as the frontline moved north to the Pacific islands.
Pearce, Howard (contributing author).
Allied Works Council (Queensland), AWC Minutes 1942–1945, BP1/1, National Archives of Australia, Brisbane.
Howard Pearce (Ed.). Heritage Trails of the Tropical North: A heritage tour guide to far north Queensland, Environmental Protection Agency, Brisbane, 2001.
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.
Main Roads Commission, The History of the Queensland Main Roads Commission during World War II 1939–1945, Government Printer, Brisbane, 1949.