Serial No. 1381, Bowen

The Australian Government had little expertise or interest in radar technology at the start of the Second World War. By 1942 however the continent’s coastline was dotted with scores of radar stations operated by locally-trained technicians using, in many instances, Australian-designed and built radar equipment. This is the story of one such unit – Bowen’s No.55 Radar Station (RAAF).

Built in anticipation of a possible Japanese aerial attack against Australian mainland targets, approval for development of the Bowen radar station (costing £9,700) was granted in early November 1942.1Encl. 27A, Air Force Headquarters – CAS [Chief of Air Staff] (Organisation) – Establishment – Radar Stations – General, NAA: Series A705, Control Symbol 231/9/1031, ID 3336324, https://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/SearchNRetrieve/NAAMedia/ShowImage.aspx?B=3336324&T=P&S=107.  Land and buildings necessary for the development were then requisitioned via the National Security (General) Regulations). The site selected for the installation was an elevated sandstone plateau at Cape Edgecumbe, two miles north-east of the port. Continue reading “Serial No. 1381, Bowen”

A camoufleur’s art

For more than a century official war artists have helped shape our understanding of Australian military history. Often selected on the basis of their pre-war reputations, the works produced by official war artists such as Sidney Nolan, Russell Drysdale, Arthur Streeton and Albert Tucker have become staple offerings for a nation now locked into a  permanent cycle of military commemoration. 

Far eclipsing the output of these official war artists however is the great body of work produced by Australia’s unofficial war artists. Despite its greater authenticity (much official war art having been produced by non-participants, after the event), this vast output remains largely undocumented, unstudied, and unappreciated. Continue reading “A camoufleur’s art”

Unplanned

A Mk.V Spitfire over northern Australia, similar to that which Flying Officer Morton force landed near Gundare Station in south-west Queensland (author’s collection).

In early June 1944 the RAAF’s No.457 Squadron, one of three Spitfire units recalled from Britain for homeland defence, began exchanging its near-obsolete Mk.V aircraft with more effective Mk.VIIIs. As deliveries of the latter began arriving in the Northen Territory, squadron pilots would ferry equal numbers of the former south for overhaul and re-assignment – typically to Operational Training Units or mainland fighter squadrons.

Originally from Emerald in Central Queensland, twenty-one year old Pilot Officer Alexander Henry Morton (405639) was one of ten 452 and 457 squadron pilots tasked mid-July 1944 with ferrying Mk.Vs south to No.6 Aircraft Deport at Oakie [sic] in south-east Queensland. Continue reading “Unplanned”

Gundaroo’s Ventura

I just remember the biting cold thinking, all the while, that perhaps we shouldn’t have been traipsing – in winter – through bush-land in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales, especially while it was sleeting. Thoughts of all that wasted organisational effort might have dissuaded me from postponing, along with the knowledge that any future date – that winter – could have been just as bleak. We were young, and the prospect of visiting a Lockheed Ventura crash site, so close to Canberra where we all lived, must have been incentive enough.

Squadron Diaries (Form A50s) need to be approached with some cicumspection, this 13 Squadron entry showing A59-55 departing for repairs a week after it had been destroyed at Gundaroo. The navigator on that occasion was E G Whitlam, who returned to Canberra years later as the Australian Prime Minister (NAA A9186,35).

Continue reading “Gundaroo’s Ventura”