Cairns Trinity Wharf Warehouses No 2 and No 3

Cairns No. 6 Wharf Sheds 2 and 3

Naval/port facility

Wharf Street, Cairns 4870

The Cairns waterfront was an important military facility and major centre for the movement of materials and troops during the South West Pacific campaigns of World War II. As the closest Australian port to the New Guinea and Island frontlines, from 1943 Cairns became the main Australian port of embarkation for troops bound for hard-fought amphibious landings on the north coast of New Guinea, and subsequently on the islands of Borneo and Bougainville.

Cairns wharf warehouse sheds Nos. 2 and 3, and their early reinforced concrete wharves survive as a reminder of Cairns waterfront development in the early 1900s. The corrugated iron clad sheds with their steel truss frame roofs, remain in good condition given their age and the events and activity that surrounded them during World War II.


Impetus for the establishment of a port on Trinity Inlet came from the newly discovered Hodgkinson goldfields. In 1884 Cairns was selected as the port and rail terminus for the Herberton tinfield and construction of a railway inland to the Atherton Tableland began. This assisted the fortunes of the port and in effect secured the fortunes of the struggling settlement. The other early port settlements of Cooktown and Port Douglas dwindled as a result of Cairns railway connection.

Cairns Harbour Board was established in 1906 to oversee improvements to the port and construction of an extensive new system of wharfage was planned. The new wharfs were to be built of reinforced concrete which had been proven as more suitable than timber in the tropical environment. Cairns became the first port in Queensland to adopt reinforced concrete wharves to any extent. The first concrete section, known as No. 3 Wharf, was completed in 1912. By 1915 the adjoining No. 2 and No. 4 wharves had been completed and equipped with sheds and the Harbour Board had taken possession of the defunct Chillagoe Company’s wharf, which was completed by 1921 as No. 1 Wharf.

With Japan’s entry into the war, Cairns became the strategic centre of far north Queensland. From early 1942 Australian and Dutch vessels of all sizes began arriving at the port from the Netherlands East Indies, New Guinea, New Britain and the Solomons, crammed with civilian evacuees, mainly missionaries, planters and NEI nationals.

The wharves were extended in 1942 and again in 1943 to create six continuous berths. From June 1942, Cairns became US Sub Port Base Two and early in 1943, US Base Section Five of the giant US Army Services of Supply organization (USASOS). In January 1943 the ancient depot ship HMAS Platypus steamed into Cairns and took up a permanent mooring near the shore station. The RAN and the USN concentrated their operations in Trinity Inlet which became the principal naval base for repair, refuelling, victualling and maintenance of minor naval craft such as Australian corvettes, Fairmile patrol launches, and US torpedo (PT) boats.

After the war No. 2 and 3 sheds were refurbished and by 1948 a clock tower had been added to the end of No.3 shed. In recent years No.2 shed has become the Cairns cruise ship terminal, while No.3 shed is used by the port authority for storage and offices for the Customs Service.


Pearce, Howard (contributing author).

Cairns Wharf Complex, Queensland Heritage Register place 601790, Brisbane, 2009.

Vera Bradley. I Didn’t Know That: Cairns and districts Tully to Cape York, 1939–1946, Service personnel and civilians, Boolarong Press, Brisbane, 1995.

Commonwealth Parliamentary Paper No.15. Defence Construction in Queensland and Northern Territory, Joint Committee on War Expenditure, Seventh Progress Report, November 1944, Commonwealth Government Printer, Canberra, 1944.

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.