2/2nd Australian General Hospital
Afton Downs Station
- Military camp
- Atherton Tablelands
Watten Siding, Hughenden-Winton Road, Watten 4821
After returning from service in Egypt with the Australian Imperial Force, the personnel of the 2/2 Australian General Hospital were transferred to a new tent hospital at the remote Watten railway siding south of Hughenden.
The hot, humid, dusty conditions made living and nursing difficult. Selection of the hospital site on an area of soft, boggy black soil had been criticised by the building surveyor, who asked for confirmation of his instructions, saying that if the hospital were built there 'it would be the joke of the district'. However, the Department of Interior confirmed that it was to be built on the site selected for strategic reasons, the location having been chosen by senior Army officials.
In late 1942, some months after the arrival of the 2/2 AGH, the hospital was devastated by a cyclonic storm and was abandoned after tents were blown down and the whole area flooded. Rows of concrete floor slabs and gravelled roads now mark the extent of the Watten general hospital site.
After travelling from Brisbane to Hughenden by rail the personnel of 2/2 AGH reached Watten railway siding early in July 1942 and set up a temporary tent hospital at the Afton Downs homestead turn off, 18 kilometres down the Winton road. The facility was at first referred to as the 'Hughenden Hospital at Watten siding'. Within days a military convoy arrived with patients for admission. The first hospital death was recorded on 28 August, when a soldier of 26 Battalion CMF, died and was later buried at Hughenden Cemetery.
During late July, work commenced on construction of a permanent hospital at Watten under the supervision of the Townsville office of the federal Department of Public Works. An inscription in concrete still visible on a mess floor slab, reads 'Watton 28/8/1942'. However, construction proceeded slowly because of the isolation of the location and difficulties in obtaining building materials and competent workmen. In November the department agreed to demands for establishment of a worker’s canteen because of the isolation of the place.
Shortly before the destruction of 2/2 AGH in a cyclonic storm, complaints were sent regarding the delay in completing the work. Eventually the Army decided not to complete the whole of Watten hospital, only the southern section providing 800 beds. The northern section was to be made weatherproof only. However, the wet season weather intervened.
Personnel of 2/2 AGH moved from their flooded hospital site at Watten to occupy the recently completed Australian Army hospital at Rocky Creek near Atherton on 5 January 1943. Watten hospital was abandoned.
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, 19.