Cooktown Aeradio Station

Cooktown Civil Aerodrome

North and Cape York

MacMillan Street, Cooktown 4895

Known as the 'Civil 'Drome', Cooktown’s first commercial aerodrome was constructed in 1937 to accommodate the DeHavilland Rapide biplanes of Australian National Airways. The airfield was built on an area of level ground at the edge of a coastal mangrove swamp. Due to the area being inundated during most high tides the facility required a long levee bank around its seaward perimeter and extensive flood mitigation measures to contend with rainwater. The areas surrounding the runway still became very soft in the wet season and pilots had to take care not to become bogged.

To assist aircraft using the airfield, Cooktown Aeradio Station was constructed at the civil 'drome by TJ Watkins for the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA), also in 1937. The main station building contained two rooms, one the operating room and the other a store room. The station contained radio telegraphy and morse key equipment, and a compact cathode ray tube used mainly for locating ships. A large bank of receivers was tuned to local frequencies in use. Nearby were the transmission masts and several other buildings containing living and sleeping quarters, and a kitchen and mess.


In January 1941 the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) was examining proposals for construction of an Advanced Operational Base at the Cooktown civil 'drome. Construction of bomb dumps, fuel facilities, accommodation and fresh water supplies at Cooktown, were requested by RAAF 24 Squadron based in Townsville, but little happened until just before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

In late November 1941 work began on upgrading the civil 'drome for completion by the end of December after a bulldozer was shipped from the Bloomfield River timber mill and two tractors were freighted from Coen. Cooktown aerodrome was officially handed over to the RAAF on 5 January 1942. The airstrip was built by the road construction firm, T & K Constructions under tender for the Department of the Interior.

In May 1942 about 300 troops of the US 104 Coastal Artillery (Anti-Aircraft) arrived and set up a range of light and heavy anti-aircraft gun positions around the civil 'drome and on hills overlooking the airfield. They were joined by other American units including 3 US Army Camp Hospital.

During mid-1942 the inferior civil 'drome continued to be used for staging and refueling while work was completed on the new Cooktown Mission Strip which was used predominately by the USAAF for refueling. The civil 'drome with its aeradio station was selected as the location for the RAAF operational base unit (OBU) at Cooktown and in April 1942, RAAF No.27 OBU was established at the 'drome. However by October 1942, operating conditions for both military and civil aircraft using the airstrip had deteriorated badly and it was decided to relocate the OBU to the new mission strip, leaving the old 'drome to civilian aircraft use.

Cooktown Aeradio Station, maintained since the war by DCA, continued to operate until the civil 'drome was closed down after the 1949 cyclone and all operations were moved to the wartime mission strip which is now Cooktown Airport. The aeradio station at the site of the civil 'drome, is now used as a private dwelling.


Pearce, Howard (contributing author).

Vera Bradley. I Didn’t Know That: Cairns and districts Tully to Cape York, 1939–1946, Service personnel and civilians, Boolarong Press, Brisbane, 1995.

Main Roads Commission, The History of the Queensland Main Roads Commission during World War II 1939–1945, Government Printer, Brisbane, 1949.

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.

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

Don Sinclair, Cooktown at War: A record of activities in Cooktown during World War Two, Cooktown and District Historical Society, 1997.