Wondecla Military Camps
6th Australian Division Camp Site
- Military camp
- Atherton Tablelands
Longlands Gap-Herberton Road, Wondecla 4887
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.
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.
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 United States (US) 43rd Division, destined for the assault on the Philippines.
The brigades of the 6th Division came together at Wondecla to train as a jungle establishment. Under this establishment battalion sizes were reduced to about 800 men. However, it was a year before all the sick and wounded returned to the ranks and other reinforcements were received from Militia units. Along with training there was time for recreation including swimming carnivals, boxing tournaments and a 6th Division rugby league championship in which the 2/3 Battalion were victorious.
In late 1944 the 6th Division returned to New Guinea to contain Japanese troops in the Aitape-Wewak district. Wewak was captured in May 1945 and the Japanese surrendered in August of that year.
Pearce, Howard (contributing author).
Bibliography: 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.