Australian Army Officers’ Club, Mess and Quarters
Barron Valley Hotel
- Military accommodation
- Atherton Tablelands
53 Main Street, Atherton 4883
Known locally as the BV, the hotel is an Atherton institution. A large two-storey building of brick and concrete construction, it is located on Main Street in the heart of the commercial centre of Atherton. The hotel comprises four wings built around a central courtyard. The enclosed brick verandah which covers the footpath is the principal feature of the front façade. At street level the front of the hotel retains its early wall tiling. The public bar has changed little since the war years and above the entrance doors a glazed sign bears the name of the hotel in large stylised letters. The newly completed hotel was requisitioned by the military during World War II and was returned to its civilian owners in 1945.
The original Barron Valley Hotel-a bush shack beside the track from Port Douglas to the Herberton tinfield-was built on this site in the 1890s. It was soon replaced by a single-storey hotel which was also a Cobb & Co. station and general store.
In 1908 it was rebuilt again as a two-storey timber establishment known as McCraw’s Barron Vally Hotel, which became a social centre in the timber-logging and farming community of Atherton.
Sconder Nasser, a Lebanese migrant whose family had emigrated to Clermont in Queensland in the late nineteenth century, took over the ownership of the hotel in 1930. Sconder and his wife Amelia, moved to Atherton after the disastrous 1916 Clermont flood. Initially they both worked at the Exchange Hotel across the street (destroyed in 1933 and rebuilt as the Grand Hotel) before purchasing the Barron Valley Hotel. In the late 1930s Nasser decided to replace the two-storey timber hotel with a more substantial building and engaged the well-known Cairns architects Hill and Taylor, to design it. The new Barron Valley Hotel was a two-storey brick building with 30 bedrooms, a billiard room, two bars and a lounge and dining room which could be opened up to form a large dance floor or ballroom. The hotel was opened with a dance evening in July 1941.
In late 1942 following Japan’s entry into World War II, the Commander-in-Chief of the Australian Military Forces Lieutenant General Thomas Blamey, ordered a survey of the Atherton Tableland with the intention of developing facilities for a rehabilitation and training area for Australian troops to be returned from the Middle East. Units of the Australian 6th and 7th Divisions started arriving on the Tableland in January 1943 and began establishing tent encampments around Atherton, Wondecla and Ravenshoe. The 9th Division returned to Australia during February and the following month began moving into camps around Kairi, Tinaroo and Danbulla.
Transfer of the headquarters of the Australian Army in north Queensland from Townsville to the Atherton Tableland created a constant flow of military traffic through Atherton’s Main Street. Many of the town’s buildings housed both Australian and American forces. The School of Arts building was taken over by the Red Cross and the Girl Guides hall by the Australian Army historical section, while the Sharples Theatre became an army canteen. The military took over the Atherton Showgrounds establishing 3 Australian Field Bakery and building the giant Australian Army Canteen Services igloo-warehouse, which today serves as the showground pavilion, now known as Merriland Hall.
The Barron Valley Hotel was initially taken over by United States forces as an American Red Cross Service Club. In mid April 1943 the hotel was requisitioned by the Australian Army as 3 ADCS Officers’ Club, Type A. It served for two and a half years as a club, mess hall and quarters for Australian Army officers passing through the Tableland. Army personnel including members of the Australian Womens’ Army Service served as waiters, cooks and bar staff. For a few months before moving his headquarters to Port Moresby Lieutenant General Blamey made the hotel his base.
Sconder’s son Harold Nasser returned from military service in 1945 and took over the running of the Barron Valley Hotel which resumed its former role as Atherton’s social centre. Since the war the BV has provided accommodation for many visitors including several Queensland governors. Members of the Nasser family were still the hotel licensees in 2010 and the dining room continues to be regularly used for meetings and social functions by local community and sporting groups.
Pearce, Howard (contributing author).
Barron Valley Hotel, Queensland Heritage Register place 602587, 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.
PD Wilson. North Queensland: WWII 1942–1945, Department of Geographic Information, Brisbane, 1988.