Ravenshoe Military Camps
7th and 9th Division Camps (1942-45)
- Military camp
- Atherton Tablelands
Millstream National Park, Kennedy Highway, Ravenshoe 4888
Units of the Australian 6th and 7th Divisions began arriving on the Tableland in January 1943 and started occupying tent encampments around the settlements of Wongabel, Wondecla and Ravenshoe. Units of the 9th Division returned to Australia from North Africa during February and by April had begun reforming at camps around Kairi, Danbulla and Barrine.
Ravenshoe military camp was home to infantry battalions and support units of the 7th Division in 1943 and the 9th Division in 1944. Individual encampments were built to hold about 1000 men each and comprised mostly tent accommodation with concrete slabs for latrines and ablution blocks. Concrete grease traps and drains were installed at open-air kitchens. Tent messes for officers and troops had raised timber floors and locally built stone fireplaces for winter warmth. Networks of rock-lined paths linked various tent sites and locally crushed granite was used for paths and tent floors to reduce mud. Motor transport units had extra facilities such as roads and parking areas as well as ramps and pits for maintaining vehicles.
In late November 1942, almost a year after Japan’s entry into World War II, the Commander-in-Chief of the Australian Military Forces, Lieutenant-General Thomas Blamey ordered a survey of the Atherton Tableland with the intention of developing facilities for a rehabilitation and training area for volunteer army troops of the Second Australian Imperial Force (AIF) recently returned from the Middle East.
Key purposes of the scheme were-recuperate troops in a cooler climate while engaged in jungle warfare training; provide suitable hospitalization for malaria and tropical disease cases; and locate personnel and maintenance installations close to the New Guinea frontline with access to railway and port facilities.
From December 1942 the headquarters of the Australian Army in north Queensland transferred from Townsville to the Atherton Tableland with the main administrative centre around the town of Atherton. A huge schedule of construction work under the direction of the Allied Works Council was commenced in January 1943 involving the building of tent encampments, hutments, stores, bakeries, mess kitchens, entertainment halls, hospitals and sewage plants. Because of the difficulties in obtaining fresh vegetables, building contractors were required to establish vegetable gardens for their Civil Construction Corps (CCC) workforce.
Work had just commenced on construction of the camp when units of the 7th Division began arriving there in January 1943. The Division comprised three brigades each of three infantry battalions-18 Brigade (2/9 Battalion, 2/10 Battalion, 2/12 Battalion): 21 Brigade (2/14 Battalion, 2/16 Battalion, 2/27 Battalion): 25 Brigade (2/23 Battalion, 2/31 Battalion, 2/25 Battalion). Support units included: Royal Australian Engineers, 2/4 Field Regiment and 2/9 Armoured Regiment (Tank).
After return from the Middle East, 18 Brigade had participated in the battle of Milne Bay in September 1942 which resulted in the first defeat of Japanese land forces in World War II. Meanwhile 21 and 25 Brigades had been responsible for reversing the Japanese advance on the Kokoda Track. Then followed the battles of Buna and Gona on the north coast of Papua, in which 18 and 21 Brigades suffered high casualties in eliminating the Japanese beachheads.
With the capture of Buna and the end of the Kokoda campaign, the 7th Division battalions returned to Australia to recuperate and retrain at Ravenshoe. On arrival at the camp area it was found that only basic access roads had been constructed due to the CCC’s heavy workload which included constructing its own camp, and many building tasks were taken over by platoons of the Divisions’ Pioneer Battalion. By March 1943 all infantry brigade headquarters and their respective battalions were camped along the Ravenshoe-Mount Garnet road (now the Kennedy Highway) from near Millstream Falls to Archer Creek.
During July 1943 troops of the 6th and 7th Divisions took part in invasion training with US Army paratroopers at Mount Garnet. After amphibious landing exercises near Cairns, divisional battalions began boarding transports for Port Moresby. Australian operations on the north coast of New Guinea involving the 7th and 9th Divisions continued with the advance towards Salamaua, the capture of Lae and the subsequent advance up the Markham and Ramu River valleys. Another hard campaign followed in the Finisterre Ranges including the intense battles on Shaggy Ridge.
After the landing at Finschhafen and the taking of Sattelberg, the 9th Division began returning to Australia from New Guinea early in 1944. After a period of leave, in March 1944 the Division was reformed at the vacant Ravenshoe camp where many of the units had to be virtually rebuilt due to the high turnover as men were discharged or transferred. An entire Militia battalion-62 Battalion of nearly 400 men-was broken up to provide infantry reinforcements. Due to rapid development of the Pacific war and strategic uncertainty over the role of Australian forces in the region, the 9th Division remained at Ravenshoe for over a year before seeing action once more, this time on Borneo.
For a brief period from September to November 1944, all three AIF Divisions (6th, 7th and 9th) were encamped on the Atherton Tableland. For the men of the units training endlessly, 1944 was the most frustrating year of the war. By the time they embarked on their final campaigns in March, April and May 1945 some units had not seen action since 1943. While Australian 1 Corps had originally been intended to participate in the liberation of the Philippines, these plans were dropped and the Corps was instead tasked with taking the Borneo oilfields involving the last Australian amphibious landings of the war by the 7th and 9th Divisions, at Balikpapan, Tarakan, Brunei and Labuan.
By mid-1945, it was clear that the Pacific conflict had moved away from Australia’s shores. After the Japanese surrender in August that year Ravenshoe and the other Atherton Tableland camps were decommissioned. Buildings and structures were disposed of at auctions and most remaining debris was burnt or buried.
Pearce, Howard (contributing author).
Allied Works Council (Queensland), AWC Minutes (1942–1945), BP1/1, National Archives of Australia, Canberra.
Vera Bradley. I Didn’t Know That: Cairns and districts Tully to Cape York, 1939–1946, Service personnel and civilians, Boolarong Press, Brisbane, 1995.
Ian Holloway. Report on the status of Army training bases circular 1944 in Millstream National Park. QPWS, Environmental Protection Agency, Atherton, 2005.
Peter Nielsen. Diary of WWII North Queensland, Nielsen Publishing, Gordonvale, 1993
Howard Pearce. WWII: NQ: A cultural heritage overview of significant places in the defence of north Queensland during World War II. Environmental Protection Agency, Brisbane, 2009
PD Wilson. North Queensland: WWII 1942–1945, Department of Geographic Information, Brisbane, 1988.