Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) 27 Radar Station
Dunk Island, Family Islands National Park
- Radar/signal station
- North and Cape York
Mount Kootaloo, Dunk Island 4852
RAAF 27 Radar Station was formed in Townsville in October 1942 and the unit moved to the Barrier Reef resort on Dunk Island in November. Today the spindle, cog wheels and turntable for the antenna turning mechanism of an Australian AW Mk I assembly is all that remains of RAAF No. 27 Radar Station, erected in 1942 on Mount Kootaloo at Dunk Island.
Radar was a most secret technology during World War II. It had been developed in Britain prior to the war and the details were shared with Australia and other commonwealth countries. Delays in acquiring British radar equipment, due to the demands of the Battle of Britain, spurred an innovative period of radar development by Australian scientists at the Radiophysics Laboratory (RPL) of the University of Sydney during 1941.
As the war with Japan approached, there were in Sydney two very important manufacturers with the expertise to produce specialised radar equipment, namely HMV (His Master’s Voice) and the New South Wales Government Railway Workshop. These two organisations were capable of producing air warning (AW) equipment, particularly the RPL-designed transmitter/receivers and aerials.
On news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, scientists at RPL began building an AW radar set by modifying the electronics of an experimental coast defence radar developed by the army. The rough but effective AW set was completed in a week and provided Sydney’s first air warning system. The Australian-designed AW Mk I radar was developed from this.
The men camped at Brammo Bay in sleeping quarters which were previously part of the island’s first resort, built on the site of the original beachfront bungalow of the writer, naturalist and recluse, Edmund Banfield-Dunk Island’s most famous resident.
Site preparations continued at Dunk Island before the radar unit could carry out its assigned tasks, with Cardwell Shire Council being called upon to construct a power station. Once operational the unit employed two substantial diesel generators, both of which would have been capable of supplying most of the power needs for the nearby town of Tully. The station equipment and facilities were very effectively camouflaged and were difficult to locate from the air.
The radar station became operational on 9 November 1942, but it could not commence full operations until radio communications were established with RAAF 9 Mobile Fighter Sector at Cairns. This was overcome by Christmas Day 1942 when the station commenced operating around the clock, seven days a week. By this time the unit strength stood at one officer and 26 airmen. To reach the mountain-top radar station from their camp on the beach, the men had to walk up a steep and narrow winding track. Personnel were unable to use the path at night, therefore the midnight to 8am shift had to reach the radar before dark and sleep in a tent alongside until their shift commenced, when their beds were taken over by the shift coming off duty.
A short grass airfield had been privately cleared at Brammo Bay by 1939, and the strip was licensed by the Department of Civil Aviation by March 1941. However, during the war it was normally only used for emergencies or urgent operational requests. Australian and US warships operating in the Coral Sea used the sheltered waters of the Family Group of islands to replenish supplies from the mainland and from other vessels including fleet oilers.
As the war moved further north 27 Radar Station’s activities became more routine and on 12 September 1945 the unit officially ceased operations. By mid-October the majority of the equipment had been moved off the mountain although the more difficult pieces were left behind and remain there today. By the end of October the unit had departed from Dunk Island and was finally disbanded in December 1945.
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.
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.
PG Smith, Wing Commander, RAAF, Radar Station Dunk Island 1942–1945, Copy of letter in possession of Queensland National Parks office, Cardwell.