Cooktown Coastal Radio Station
AWA Coastal Radio Service Station
- Radar/signal station
- North and Cape York
Hope Street, Grassy Hill, Cooktown 4895
The men who manned the coastal radio stations on remote outposts of north Queensland and the Torres Strait during World War II were employees of Amalgamated Wireless Australasia Limited (AWA). They worked under difficult conditions. Repairs for old and obsolete radio equipment which constantly failed in the humid environment were a major concern. Without access to spare parts the operators would improvise with scrap material and be back on air relaying messages to and from the war zone to bases in the south.
Cooktown Coastal Radio—call sign VIC—occupied a ridge below the Grassy Hill lighthouse overlooking the Coral Sea, and was constructed around two large brick and reinforced concrete buildings. Each contained three rooms with one building providing space for the radio office and the other containing a battery charging room. Nearby a solid timber mast for radio transmission, towered about 60 metres, secured to the ground with steel guy wires.
Establishment of a Coastal Radio Service in Australia was first proposed in a report on Australian naval defence in March 1911. Two long range stations were eventually built at Sydney and Perth and a chain of less powerful maritime radio stations were constructed around the coastline of Australia. The Navigation Act of 1912 required ships able to carry more than 50 passengers to be equipped with wireless communications and one or more qualified operators.
By August 1914 at the start of World War I a network of 19 coastal radio stations had been established around Australia, most between 1912 and 1913. Five stations were located in Queensland, at Brisbane, Thursday Island, Rockhampton, Cooktown and Townsville. The Cooktown Coastal Radio Station was commissioned in June 1913. Further stations were quickly established by AWA in the Pacific islands. The Navy Department took over control of the Coastal Radio Service from the Post-Master General (PMG) in 1915. With the end of World War I the PMG resumed control of the stations from the navy in 1920.
In March 1922 the Commonwealth government granted AWA an exclusive right to construct and operate stations in Australia for a commercial wireless telegraph service linking Australia with Britain and Canada. Control of the existing Coastal Radio Service, then numbering 27 stations, was also transferred to AWA.
On the outbreak of World War II in September 1939 the operators of the Coastal Radio Service came under the control of the Australian Navy (RAN), while AWA retained its ownership and management role over the network. Staff continued to be employed by AWA, but military guards were placed at all radio stations. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, staff at the Darwin, Thursday Island and Port Moresby stations were given RAN rank. Normal commercial communications with ships were stopped for the duration of the war, with ships maintaining radio silence except in emergencies.
The northern coastal radio stations assisted the RAN’s coast watching service, receiving and relaying information about Japanese activities to and from coast watchers operating behind the lines. These stations had a dedicated receiver constantly tuned to a particular frequency. The coast watchers used teleradios which operated on the same frequency. Receivers at northern coastal radio stations were left on loudspeaker 24 hours a day to ensure all messages were heard. All intelligence information was channelled to Naval Intelligence Division, Navy Office, Melbourne.
Towards the end of the war radio communications had improved to the extent that some coastal radio stations could be closed. Cooktown Radio Station was closed in 1945 and subsequently the timber tower was destroyed by fire. The buildings fell into ruin until recently restored by a new private owner of the property.
Pearce, Howard (contributing author).
Dunn,P. Coastal Radio Service in Australia during WWII, Australia @ War, 2003
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.
Don Sinclair, Cooktown at War: A record of activities in Cooktown during World War Two, Cooktown and District Historical Society, 1997.