Atherton War Cemetery

Atherton General Cemetery (War Plot)

Atherton Tablelands

Rockley Road, Atherton 4883

The third largest war cemetery in Queensland and located at the southern entrance to the Tablelands town of Atherton, the Atherton War Cemetery contains 164 graves, each with simple white marble headstone. At the top of each headstone is engraved the national emblem and the service or regimental badge, followed by rank, name, unit, date of death and age. The cemetery forms an important memorial to the Australian soldiers and airmen who died on the Atherton Tableland during the Pacific conflict as a result of war wounds, accidents or sickness.


With the decision to develop the Atherton Tablelands as a rehabilitation and training area for Australian troops returning from the Middle East came the need for the development of a major hospital program in anticipation of mounting casualties. The Australian Army General Hospital complex established at Rocky Creek railway siding between Atherton and Mareeba became the largest medical facility to be built in north Queensland during World War II. Containing some 2000 beds it was a key component in preparations for the New Guinea and island offensive that commenced in mid-1943. Initial development of the hospital was underway by October 1942 with the arrival of a small camp hospital detachment.

An earlier Atherton cemetery was closed in 1928 after the area was found to be too small and swampy for future use and during the same year a new cemetery reserve was gazetted on an open hillside at the southern entrance to the town. The Atherton War Cemetery was created on land adjoining the Atherton General Cemetery in 1942. The first burial at Atherton War Cemetery took place on 4 January 1943, a day before the arrival of the 2/2 Australian General Hospital at Rocky Creek. Gunner AM Hemsworth of the Royal Australian Artillery was the first of 164 Australian war dead to be buried at the War Cemetery.

Graves at the Atherton War Cemetery were initially marked with simple wooden crosses. In January 1944 the cemetery was resurveyed by members of the 7th Graves Registration and Enquiry Unit and the layout was redesigned in keeping with the principles of the Imperial War Graves Commission. The wooden crosses were subsequently replaced by rows of white marble headstones and the earlier central flagpole was replaced by the Cross of Sacrifice-a tall finely proportioned stone cross with a symbolic bronze sword attached to its face. The last wartime burial at the Atherton War Cemetery took place on 1 December 1946 for Lieutenant F Stuart-Boyle of the Australian Army Ordnance Corps. The cemetery contains the graves of 151 Australian Army and 12 RAAF personnel, and one member of the Young Mens’ Christian Association.


Pearce, Howard (contributing author).

Atherton War Cemetery, Queensland Heritage Register place 602765, Brisbane.

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 (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.