Wondecla Army Entertainment Hall
Wondecla Army Camp Theatre
- Atherton Tablelands
Longlands Gap Road (cnr Wieland Road), Wondecla 4887
A large timber truss igloo theatre was erected on the main Herberton-Evelyn Road (today the Longlands Gap Road) for the troops of the 6th Division. Like similar military camp theatres on the Tableland at Rocky Creek and Danbulla, the Wondecla theatre was about 42 metres in length and 22 metres wide and stood 7.5 metres in height. It was clad in corrugated iron and combined two structural elements-an igloo auditorium with an attached stage area. The igloo was built on a concrete floor slab with two external drains running each side of the building and concrete footings to support the trusses which span the interior space. Each truss is composed of two curved half-trusses which are pinned at the footings and at the apex where they meet. The trusses are made entirely of light pieces of hardwood nailed together and clad with corrugated iron. The stage area is a more conventional timber-frame weatherboard building with a gable roof about 9 metres in height.
From December 1942 the headquarters of the Australian Army in north Queensland was transferred from Townsville to the Atherton Tableland, with the main administrative centre around the town of Atherton. Units of the Australian 6th and 7th Divisions began arriving on the Tableland in early 1943 and started occupying encampments around the settlements of Wondecla and Ravenshoe. By February and March 1943 a huge schedule of construction work under the direction of the Allied Works Council was underway involving the building of tent encampments, hutments, stores, bakeries, mess kitchens and hospitals.
Apart from the camp theatre, the only other buildings at the camp were the officers’ messes, the store, a canteen, and corrugated iron sheds for the kitchens. The majority of the encampment was set out under canvas tents. The first picnic race meeting was held in April setting the pattern for many more to follow.
Units of the 6th Division established their encampments near Wondecla railway siding south of Herberton during the early months of 1943. The 6th Division of the Second Australian Imperial Force (2/AIF) had served in the Middle East, North African and Greek campaigns; and the New Guinea campaign including the crucial battles of the Kokoda Track and Buna-Gona, before returning to Australia for recuperation and regrouping.
The encampments were located near the Herberton golfcourse and racecourse with the main concentration centred around the Divisional theatre igloo south-east of Wondecla railway siding. Divisional headquarters were at the southern entrance to the camp, nearer the present Kennedy Highway junction. Other units of the 6th Division were camped at Wongabel railway siding closer to Atherton.
Units of the 6th Division began returning to Wondecla from the Salamaua and Wau, New Guinea campaigns in September and October 1943. During late 1943 and early 1944 three squadrons of the 2/6 Australian Cavalry Commando Regiment arrived at Wondecla for jungle warfare training with the 6th Division. A Jungle Range Course was constructed at Opossum Creek near Longland Gap. The range consisted of courses for Bren light machine guns, rifles, and sub-machine guns.
Due to rapid development of the Pacific war and strategic uncertainty over the role of Australian forces in the region the Division remained at Wondecla for about a year. For the men of all 2/AIF Divisions training endlessly in north Queensland, 1944 was the most frustrating year of the war. From October to December 1944 the units of the 6th Division left Wondecla to embark at Cairns for the Aitape-Wewak campaign to relieve the infantry regiments of the US 43rd Division, destined for the assault on the Philippines.
The Wondecla camp theatre, used for both church services and concerts, was left empty but intact on the departure of the Australian Army from the Atherton Tableland after 1946. During the 1990s the hall was occupied and partly refurbished as a residence. The stage structure received substantial damage during Cyclone Larry in 2006.
Pearce, Howard (contributing author).
Vera Bradley. I Didn’t Know That: Cairns and districts Tully to Cape York, 1939–1946, Service personnel and civilians, Boolarong Press, Brisbane, 1995.
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.