Australian Army Canteen Services warehouse
- Supply facility
- Atherton Tablelands
Mazlin Street (cnr Robert Street), Atherton 4883
In November 1943 an Australian Army Canteen Services (AACS) warehouse, of the timber truss arch “igloo” type, was erected at the Atherton Showgrounds. Atherton was the centre of a major troop concentration on the Atherton Tablelands. After the war the igloo was purchased by the Atherton Show Society, becoming known as Merriland Hall.The igloo is situated within the Atherton Show Grounds, at the corner of Robert and Mazlin Streets, and consists of the corrugated iron-clad igloo (now the auditorium) and a 1958 brick frontage which contains part of the backstage area and dressing rooms. A weatherboard clad cafeteria with a gabled roof has been attached to the rear (north side) of the igloo. The igloo is approximately 200′ (60m) long and has an overall width of 100′ (30m), standing on a concrete slab foundation. There are sixteen trusses spanning the interior space, each made entirely of sawn pieces of native hardwood nailed together. A raised timber dance floor has been constructed in the front section of the building. Raised galleries, approximately 4m wide, have been constructed along either side of the dance floor for seating. The west side of the auditorium has been modified to include both male and female toilets in a narrow concrete-block extension.
The Atherton Tableland was chosen as the site of a major concentration of troops and stores during 1943, for a number of reasons. It was close to New Guinea; near a port (Cairns); had a cooler climate yet was suitable for training in jungle warfare; and it was a mostly malaria-free area for the hospitalisation of those suffering from tropical diseases. The physically exhausting terrain and climate of New Guinea meant that Australian troops had to be regularly rested and rehabilitated, preferably close to their theatre of operations.
From December 1942 the headquarters of the Australian Army in north Queensland transferred from Townsville to the Atherton Tableland, with the main administrative base established around the town of Atherton and the nearby settlement of Tolga. This created a constant flow of Army traffic through Atherton’s main street, and many of Atherton’s buildings were used to house both Australian and American forces. The School of Arts building was taken over by the Red Cross, and the Girl Guides hall was used by the Australian Army for its historical section, while the Sharples Theatre became an Army Canteen. The Barron Valley Hotel was requisitioned by the Australian Army as an Officers Club, and briefly acted as General Blamey’s headquarters.
The military also took over the Atherton Showground in 1942. Bake houses (3rd Australian Field Bakery Unit) were built on the western side of the show ring and supplied fresh bread for all the forces in the area. In November of 1943 a large igloo warehouse was erected at the showground for the Australian Army Canteen Services (AACS) by the Queensland Building and Engineering Co., under the auspices of the Allied Works Council (AWC). The AWC was formed in February of 1942 to co-ordinate and facilitate the needs of the Australian and US military forces in Australia during the war. The work carried out by the AWC included roads, camps, hospitals, ammunition depots, aerodromes, mess and recreation facilities, and gun emplacements.
For the construction of the AACS igloo, D. Prangley was in charge, under the supervision of R C Nowland, a government Senior Architect. Australian War Memorial photographs of the igloo’s construction also claim that work was supervised by the 54th Australian Deputy Commander Royal Engineers (Works).
Although the original US design was intended to be covered with camouflage netting, the igloos built for Queensland were sheeted with iron. These changes provided a stronger, more durable building. The AACS igloo is constructed with nailed hardwood timber arches, where each arm is made up of two half arches more or less freely pinned at two abutments close to ground level and at a central or crown pin. Each half arch consists of two adjacent trusses laced together at top and bottom chord level and each truss consists of a top and bottom chord laced together in arch form. As a result, each half truss is made up of four main timber chords sprung into arch form, and light timber bracing nailed into position to form a curved open-lattice box truss. The centre section of the roof has been angled up into a low-pitched gable with rafters rising up from the upper chords of the trusses to meet a ridge beam running down the centreline of the igloo.
The igloo was purchased at a bargain price by the Atherton Tableland Agricultural Society after the war. After the Shire Hall, built in 1898, was destroyed by fire in 1948, the igloo became a Community Centre. A committee was formed to manage the hall and they set about building a dance floor measuring 5,000 square feet with a further 2,000 square feet of galleries for seating. The committee gave a Grand Ball to celebrate the opening and the Merriland Hall went on to host most of the social and cultural occasions of Atherton for many years. In 1958 a brick frontage and additions to the stage and dressing rooms were constructed.
Merriland Hall. Queensland Heritage Register 602016
Pearce, Howard. January 2009. WWII-NQ: A cultural heritage overview of significant places in the defence of north Queensland during World War II. EPA, Brisbane.
Pullar, M. 1997. Prefabricated WWII Structures in Queensland. A Report for the National Trust of Queensland.
National Archives of Australia, 286/3. Atherton Tableland Base Area, December 1942-November 1944.
Australian War Memorial Images.