Cape River Meat Works
2/1 Field Butchery Company Meat works
- Factory site/industry
Flinders Highway, Cape River 4816
Construction of the Cape River Meatworks, initially referred to as the Pentland Meat Store, at Cape River, was underway by November 1942 and the plant was operational by July 1943. As the war moved further north to the Pacific islands, production at the meat works declined and by mid-1945 the army had no further use for the facility which was left under a caretaker.
Arrival of Australian and American forces in north Queensland during 1942 placed a huge strain on the food resources of the region. Townsville and Charters Towers were particularly hard hit with the military drawing on food supplies, water, electricity, firewood and ice. Local residents were required to obtain ration coupons for daily essentials including meat and other foods. Meat was strictly controlled and even hospital patients were required to surrender two meat coupons a week.
By mid-1942 the Charters Towers district housed expanding troop contingents at Sellheim army camp and Charters Towers, Macrossan and Breddan airfields. Since 1941 the Australian Army had been using Brownson’s slaughter yards at Charters Towers to process meat for troops in the Townsville district and New Guinea under the control of the 2/1 Australian Field Butchery Company. Export beef was frozen for sea shipment and transported to the port of Townsville, or chilled and flown to Port Moresby from Breddan.
With the Charters Towers slaughter yard processing increasing quantities of beef the army began searching for a suitable location for a second meatworks in the district. Two sites were considered that offered good water supply, rail and road access and were a safe distance from the coast. The first was on the Flinders River near Hughenden and the second on the Cape River about 10 kilometres east of Pentland. The latter was chosen because of the quality and quantity of the water. Proximity and availability of cattle from the district meant that stock could be walked to the meat works, reducing transport coasts. Also, with an army convalescent hospital operating at Pentland, patients were available to assist with light duties.
Throughout the post-war period Cape River meatworks continued expanding with new plant and equipment under private ownership. This later construction erased most evidence of the wartime meat processing plant. After the decline and closure of the plant in 1989, the later installations were partly demolished and abandoned in 1996. Evidence still remains of the wartime army camp site overlooking the Cape River, including numerous kitchen, mess and sleeping hut slabs and concrete footings.
Cape River meatworks was a project of the Department of Supply and Transport and the Queensland Meat Industry Board (QMIB). By mid-November 1942 the contract for construction of the Cape River meatworks had been awarded by the QMIB to the builders, Hutchison and Sons with the approval of the Allied Works Council (AWC). The QIMB asked the AWC to requisition power generating plant and machinery belonging to the Toowoomba Bacon Cooperative Company, and the Toowoomba butter factory. Initially Hutchison Builders were banned from using Civil Construction Corps men on the job as the AWC was not the constructing authority and the project was transferred to the AWC to overcome this issue. Army construction detachments included troops of the 3rd Military District Maintenance Section, Royal Australian Engineers and the 2/1 Field Butchery Company. The QMIB continued to handle the engineering design for the work.
The meatworks was in full operation by August 1943 and the kill averaged about 70 head of cattle a day, more than half of which were frozen for long distance delivery. The freezer rooms were the first buildings erected and these were constructed of locally made cement bricks. The Babcock and Wilcox boiler which provided steam for the works came from a sawmill at Warwick and consumed up to seven tons of hand-cut cordwood a day. A brick flue connected the boiler to a high steel chimney.
Cattle arrived at Cape River by rail after being purchased by civilian buyers under the direction of the Department of Commerce and Agriculture. The department also supplied meat inspectors who graded the meat and monitored conditions. Local cattle were delivered by hoof. The Cape River road crossing caused problems during the wet season and it was not unusual for trucks to be bogged for days. A road bridge was not built until 1964.
By late 1945 the army had no further use for the meatworks and it lay idle for several years until purchased by a Queensland grazier, John Kelly, for the slaughter of cattle and horses. Subsequent owners included Tancred Brothers of Sydney who substantially rebuilt the meatworks between 1962 and the 1980s. The meatworks closed in September 1989 at the end of the last killing season.
Pearce, Howard (contributing author).
Allied Works Council (Queensland), AWC Minutes 1942–1945, BP1/1, National Archives of Australia, Canberra.
Robyn Muller, Cape River Meatworks: From go to woe, 1942–1989, 1999.
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.