In November 1964, the Commonwealth Government announced that as a result of National Service, Australia’s Army had expanded sufficiently to require a new defence base to be built and that the most likely location for it would be Townsville.
Aerial view of Lavarack Barracks, August 1967. Part of the suburb of Aitkenvale can be seen in the top right of the photo.
Source: Townsville City Libraries.
Positioning an army base in the north of Australia was a strategic move made in response to conflicts in South East Asia. A base in north Queensland would allow for rapid mobilisation of resources should future conflicts occur in the Pacific. It would also give the Army the opportunity to train in jungle terrain, with the Paluma Range considered ideal for such purposes.
It was hoped that suitable land for a base could be found within a 10 to 15 mile radius of Townsville, so that army personnel and their families could have access to the same amenities as the majority of their civilian counterparts. An area of approximately 20,000 acres at the foot of Mt. Stuart was chosen, and attempts were made to buy the land from the owners – the Queensland Meat Export Company – but it was later acquired under the Compulsory Land Acquisition Act.
It was estimated that the Lavarack Barracks project would cost $26 million. This was to be a significant investment in Townsville that secured its immediate future growth as it was expected to increase the city’s population by 8,000. This estimate took into account 4,000 army personnel plus their families.
Construction on the first building phase of Lavarack Barracks began in 1965 and went relatively smoothly, but the same could not be said for the construction of sufficient housing for married servicemen.
The government was well aware when it chose Townsville as a potential site for a base, that there would not be enough housing available for married quarters, as it was estimated that 700 new homes would be required.
However, 300 acres of unused land west of Gulliver that was already owned by another Commonwealth department, was seen as an ideal site for a housing development. A small outlay was required to compensate two parties that had been promised the use of portions of the land, namely the Townsville Hospital Board and the Anglican Church. The army housing area east of Nathan Street was to be called Vincent, while the area west of Nathan Street would retain the name of Heatley.
Early in the planning there were disagreements between the City Council and the Government over the cost of basic services to the new suburb. The Commonwealth offered to do all the work on roads, kerbing, storm water drainage and individual water connections, but believed the sewerage and water reticulation was the local council’s responsibility.
The dispute dragged on for twelve months, which set completion dates back significantly. The Department of Defence had expected 300 houses to be built by December 1967, and a further 400 houses to be completed by the following December. The first 135 homes were constructed by the Department of Works, and the remainder were built by the Housing Commission.
When the Army inspected the houses they found a number of unacceptable cost-saving measures had been implemented, which included low ceilings, unpainted fibro exteriors and no ceiling insulation. There were also no fly/insect screens, even though at that time as many as 200 cases of Dengue Fever were being reported in the city annually.
The name Lavarack Barracks was chosen by Prime Minister Harold Holt, in honour of Lieutenant General Sir John Lavarack, former chief of General Staff, and Governor of Queensland from 1946 to 1957.