American Red Cross Services Club
Central Hotel/Parkview Tavern
Gordon Street, Gordonvale 4865
Before the Pacific war Gordonvale had been a small quiet country town south of Cairns surrounded by sugar cane farms. Most of the men worked at the Mulgrave Central Mill and community life revolved around the mill, the railway and the pubs. By the end of 1942 the townspeople had experienced troops coming and going, but nothing prepared them for the arrival of about 3,500 US Army paratroopers of the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment, more than doubling the local population.
On 28 November 1942, a week before the paratroopers reached Gordonvale, a detachment of the US Army 2 Station Hospital from Mareeba arrived and set up a 150 bed hospital, taking over the Gordonvale, Commercial and Central Hotels in the town’s business centre. The Central Hotel was allocated for use as an American Red Cross Service Club.
Formerly known as Thomas’s Central Hotel, the pub is thought to have been built about 1910 and named after the nearby Mulgrave Central Sugar Mill. It was commonly referred to by the troops of the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment, as the USO Club (United Services Organisation). The club was managed by two American women and American Filipinos were employed as cooks. Local women volunteered to help run the club, serving hamburgers, apple pie and ice cream, strong coffee, iced tea and Coke.
Local ladies helped keep up the morale of the 503rd by organising dances and sending out trucks to collect and chaperon local women as dance partners for the Americans. Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of US President Franklin Roosevelt and head of the American Red Cross, visited the club in September 1943. The movie star John Wayne also paid a visit to the club. After the Parachute Infantry Regiment moved to New Guinea in August 1943, the American Services Club remained open for Australian and US servicemen stationed in the Gordonvale area until late 1945. The Hotel remains a popular venue in Gordonvale.
Pearce, Howard (contributing author).
Vera Bradley. I Didn’t Know That: Cairns and districts Tully to Cape York, 1939–1946, Service personnel and civilians, Boolarong Press, Brisbane, 1995.
Clive Morton, Gordonvale, Personal Communication.
HC Morton, Mulgrave Shire Historical Society Bulletins 13–15, ca.1982.
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.