World War 2 Trail

For World War II buffs or descendants of servicemen a tour of the Atherton Tablelands transforms into an engaging history trail. More than 100,000 troops were based in 160 sites around the Atherton Tablelands from 1942.

With a cooler climate than Cairns, the area still provided excellent jungle warfare training for those heading off to places like (Papua) New Guinea and Bougainville. Servicemen were also treated for malaria at camp hospitals. The Atherton Tablelands was the largest Australian military base with camps at Tinaroo, Kairi, Wongabel, Herberton, Wondecia, Ravenshoe, and Mt Garnet as well as  Atherton/Tolga area.

Make a poignant start at the Atherton War Cemetery, the third largest in Queensland. On the corner of Rockley Rd and Kennedy Highway, it contains 164 graves of soldiers and airmen. The graves follow the principles set down by the War Graves Commission – permanent, uniform headstones with no distinction for military or civil rank. It also has a Cross of Sacrifice, the elegant signifier of Commonwealth War cemeteries.

Atherton Tablelands World War 2 Trail - Atherton Cementery by @renandassis

Atherton Tablelands World War 2 Trail – Atherton Cementery by @renandassis

Rocky Creek at nearby Tolga is home to a major memorial and old hospital complex. Rocky Creek War Memorial Park is the site of the 2/2 Australian General Hospital, laundry and medical stores site. The hospital treated more than 30,000 patients from 1943-45. There are 94 unit plaques around the park. There is an overnight stopping area for self-contained motor homes and caravans for $5 a night.

A nearby “igloo” was used for films, concerts and dances. It’s rumoured Hollywood star Bob Hope once performed there – Road to Rocky Creek maybe? It was later a cane factory and family home before falling into disrepair and is now a refurbishment project by Tablelands Regional Council. You’ll find both on the Kennedy Highway just outside of Tolga.

Atherton Tablelands World War 2 Trail - Rocky Creek by glam_travelAtherton Tablelands World War 2 Trail – Rocky Creek by glam_travel

If you head north to Mareeba you’ll find the site of a busy WWll airfield. Mareeba Airfield was renamed Hoevet Airfield by the Americans after one of their own – Major “Pinky” Hoevet – was killed in 1942. It was home to American bombardment and fighter squadrons and later the RAAF. There is a memorial at the airfield, which is about 4kms south of the town.

Going south, between Atherton and Ravenshoe there are many historical markers along the roads, identifying the campsites of various units.

Just west of Ravenshoe is Millstream Falls National Park where you can combine WWll fossicking with waterfall watching and maybe a swim. The park is rich in WWll history as more than 1000 men from 7thand 9thDivisions lived here mostly in tent accommodation. Sites, walking tracks, concrete slabs, trenches, corduroy roads and training and parade grounds are clearly evident. As is occasionally a bit of live ordinance – don’t touch!

Atherton Tablelands World War 2 Trail - Millstream Falls by @jodielbray

Atherton Tablelands World War 2 Trail – Millstream Falls by @jodielbray

If you want to mix your history with a little light refreshment, Atherton RSL has a Japanese 37mm anti-tank gun on display outside and Mareeba RSL has a 70mm mountain gun. Both were captured in Bougainville.

And Rainforestation near Kuranda has an inimitable way of getting you round the bush – on a fleet of restored WWll army ducks. Be transported back to the jungles of Papua New Guinea and Bougainville on these tough old amphibious six-wheel drive vehicles as you tour the rainforest and lake.

Written by Tanya Snelling. Originally published 5th July 2018