The Atherton Tablelands to the west of Cairns played an important military role during World War II.
- Over 100,000 servicemen were stationed on the Atherton Tablelands between 1942 and 1945
- The area was also home to the largest field medical hospital in the southern hemisphere during World War II.
- Atherton War Cemetery is the third largest of its kind in Queensland
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”