First Australian Army Headquarters
Mareeba State School
- Atherton Tablelands
Atherton and Constance Streets, Mareeba 4880
After departure of the American hospital Mareeba State School was taken over by units of the First Australian Army, based around 1 Australian Army Headquarters and Signals, a rear echelon command. Advance parties of the First Army began transferring from Mareeba to New Guinea in April 1944 and by October that year most of the unit had moved from Mareeba State School to new quarters at Lae on the north coast of New Guinea, where it commanded all field operation for the Australian Army in that theatre.
While on the Tablelands, all troops there, including 1 Aust Corps and relevant Divisions came under its command. The GOC was Lieutenant-General V.A.H. Sturdee. Administration of Mareeba State School was subsequently returned to the Queensland Education Department and continues as an important community learning centre for Mareeba and the Tableland.
The first state school was built on the arrival of the railway from Cairns in 1893 when the surveyed township of Granite Creek was named Mareeba. During the early 1900s the old school underwent conversion and new buildings were erected and extended. Substantial remodelling of the later school took place during 1937 about five years before Japan’s entry into World War II.
On 8 July 1942 US 2 Station Hospital was established with 250 beds under tents in the grounds of the state school. It was set up by a detachment of the US Army 46th Engineer General Service Regiment and plans were prepared at the Townsville office of the Allied Works Council for conversion of the main school blocks to permanent hospital facilities. State school students were taught at the nearby Catholic school of St Thomas of Villanova. For a period of two years during World War II, St Thomas’s School housed the entire student population of Mareeba.
A detachment of US 2 Station Hospital at Mareeba was sent to Gordonvale in November 1942, to set up a 150 bed hospital by taking over the Gordonvale Hotel and Commercial Hotel in the town’s main precinct, in preparation for the arrival of the US 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment at Gordonvale.
US 2 Station Hospital continued to operate from the school until after the transfer of the USAAF heavy bomber squadrons in mid-1943 moving closer to the New Guinea frontline.
Pearce, Howard (contributing author).
Hugh J Casey. Engineers of the Southwest Pacific 1941–1945, Vol. VI: Airfield and base development. US Government Printing Office, Washington, 1951.
Peter Nielsen. Diary of WWII North Queensland, Nielsen Publishing, Gordonvale, 1993.
Howard Pearce (Ed.). Heritage Trails of the Tropical North: A heritage tour guide to far north Queensland, Environmental Protection Agency, Brisbane, 2001.
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.
Lieutant-Colonel (R) J.S.D. Mellick OAM, ED, MID - who served on the First Australian Army General Staff at Mareeba.