World War II Tablelands Tour established by the National Servicemen’s Association, Rotary club


The Atherton Tablelands to the west of Cairns played an important military role during World War II.

Between 1942 and 1945, the area was home to the largest field medical hospital in the southern hemisphere, with around 60,000 patients cared for by over 2,000 staff.

In addition to this, over 100,000 soldiers, mainly from the 6th, 7th and 9th Divisions (2nd Australian Imperial Force), completed their jungle warfare training between Mareeba and Atherton.

History buffs, amateur historians and loved ones of WWII diggers can now retrace the steps of their ancestors with a new tour that visits significant military sites on the Tablelands.

The four-hour tour is organized by volunteers in conjunction with the Tablelands branch of the National Servicemen’s Association of Australia (NSAA) and the Rotary Club of Atherton.

The tour includes Queensland’s third-largest military cemetery as well as the Tolga Museum, Rocky Creek War Memorial, hospital ruins and the so-called Igloo, which served as an entertainment complex for the military.

Nicole Smith and John Hardy OAM organized the Atherton set tour.(Provided: Atherton Tablelands WWII Historic Tour)

An idea to start a tour

Nicole Smith of the Atherton Tablelands Information Center said the idea for the tour came about after NSAA Tablelands branch president John Hardy took some of the center’s volunteers on an informal tour around military sites local.

“John has so much local knowledge, so we brainstormed and came up with an organized tour,” she said.

“The last place we visit is the war cemetery where we are holding a memorial service.”

Proceeds from tours go to the NSAA Tablelands branch, the Rocky Creek Rotating Igloo Restoration Project, Rocky Creek War Memorial Park, and the Tolga Museum.

Black and white photo of Australian soldiers in the jungle carrying guns and bags
Australian servicemen train for the jungle at Danbulla on the Atherton Tablelands.(Provided: Australian War Memorial)

A step in the Tablelands

Ms Smith said the tour was important in keeping the memories of people who served and trained in Far North Queensland alive.

“We ask people before they go on tour to tell us about their family history, and we often find that loved ones have spent time here,” she said.

“We also often find photos of their family members in our scrapbooks, which is quite gratifying,”

Field Marshal Sir Thomas Blamey chose the Tablelands region in 1942 as an ideal staging post for the war in the South West Pacific against the advancing Imperial Japanese Army.

Climate, location, terrain, and proximity to supply lines and battlefronts all played a part in his decision.

People listening to a lecture on a concrete slab in the bush which is the ruins of the old military hospital
John Hardy OAM (right) shows guests around the ruins of an Australian Army General Hospital.(ABC Far North: Phil Brandel)

Bringing History to Life

Mr Hardy said much of the history was forgotten when it came to North Queensland’s involvement in the Second World War.

“People don’t realize how many servicemen and women were here. We had over 600 units stationed here during World War II,” Mr Hardy said.

He said they started the tour last year just “as a trial”.

“We mainly welcome baby boomers on the tour who are retracing the footsteps of their parents or distant relatives.”

A stone sign pointing to Rocky Creek Memorial Park with people listening to the tour in the background
The new tour includes Rocky Creek Memorial Park near Tolga.(ABC Far North: Phil Brandel)

Brian Bromfield of Bathurst decided to take the tour after researching his family’s military history.

“Nicole did some research and we found that not only was my uncle sent to Tobruk, but he was actually here on the Tablelands in 1943 and then again in 1945,” he said.

“The tour made me realize how difficult it must have been for them. There were no frills and you got through it the best you could.”


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