Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Flying Boat Base
43 Squadron Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Camp
Yappar Street, Karumba 4891
RAAF No.43 (General Reconnaissance Flying Boat) Squadron was formed at Bowen in May 1943 and an advance party moved to Karumba in early June to set up the new base for the squadron. The main party left Bowen for Karumba in mid August and Catalina flying boats of 43 Squadron were based at Karumba from 24 August 1943. The former aeradio quarters (A Block) was converted to an officers’ mess and the aeradio building (B Block) became the squadron operations building. Additional facilities were requisitioned including an upgraded concrete slipway, cantilever (nose) hangar and maintenance workshops. Construction of these items was completed by early December. RAAF 34 Operational Base Unit was established at Karumba in mid December 1943. The squadron mounted its first operational patrol from Karumba on 8 September 1943. In addition to general reconnaissance duties the Catalinas of 43 Squadron were engaged in mine laying and bombing roles, convoy protection patrols and offensive operations against Japanese shipping in the eastern islands of the Netherlands East Indies. RAAF No.43 Squadron move from Karumba to Darwin in April 1944 to conduct mine laying operations throughout the Japanese controlled Netherlands East Indies.
A Shell Oil Company depot was established at Karumba in 1937 to provide a refuelling base for the Short Empire flying boat service inaugurated by Qantas Empire Airways and Imperial Airways between Sydney, Singapore and London. Also in 1937, Amalgamated Wireless Australasia Limited (AWA), obtained a contract from the Department of Defence to design, install and operate a series of aeradio stations in Queensland, including facilities and quarters at Karumba. The AWA aeradio building (locally known as B Block) and the staff quarters (A Block) were constructed on the Norman River frontage by the federal Department of Public Works during 1938. By mid 1941 the Department of Civil Aviation had taken over the personnel and operation of the facilities from AWA.
During the late 1930s most other residents of Karumba obtained seasonal employment at Shand Brothers Gulf meat works which were erected about 1936 and operated from 1937 until 1939 when the company went into liquidation. The disused meat works were then bought by AW Anderson of Sydney and operated seasonally until their closure in 1941.
In August 1939, a month before declaration of war with Germany, the Australian Defence Committee in Canberra, reviewed the defence of Karumba and Groote Eylandt flying boat refuelling depots on the Gulf of Carpentaria. The committee recommended that rifle club guards be formed at both locations, consisting of flying boat base personnel issued with the necessary rifles and ammunition. When the Japanese launched their invasion of the Pacific in December 1941, the Karumba Rifle Club Guard represented the only defence unit in the eastern Gulf until February 1942 when their weapons were handed over to a newly formed detachment of the Volunteer Defence Corps (VDC) in the area. A month later the VDC unit opened fire on three unidentified vessels approaching Karumba whose occupants turned out to be Australian and Dutch nationals escaping from the Japanese at Ambon. No casualties resulted and the refugee party was flown to Brisbane in Dutch Dornier flying boats.
In response to increased Japanese activity in Dutch New Guinea and the islands to the north of Darwin, in late March 1943 the Queensland directorate of the Allied Works Council (AWC) received an urgent requisition for buildings and services for a RAAF operational base at Karumba, including workshops and hutted camp facilities. After the 'Gulf scare' of April 1943, in which it was feared a Japanese landing had occurred on the Gulf coast north of Karumba, North East Area defence policy was revised.
By July 1944 operations at Karumba were being scaled down and a number of buildings were no longer required by the RAAF. Following the war the Department of Civil Aviation retained control of the former AWA aeradio buildings. These were sold to Ansett Airlines in the 1950s and converted into the Karumba Lodge Hotel. Fire later destroyed A Block and B Block was recently rebuilt as a private residence.
Pearce, Howard (contributing author).
Allied Works Council (Queensland), AWC Minutes 1942–1945, BP1/1, National Archives of Australia, Canberra.
Roger Marks, Queensland Airfields WW2: 50 years on, Brisbane, 1994.
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.