102nd Australian Casualty Clearing Station
Skull Creek Hospital
- Medical facility
- North and Cape York
Junction of Skull Creek and Burster Creek, Bamaga 4876
Skull Creek Hospital was built in rainforest alongside the Cape York telegraph track, just east of the junction of Skull and Burster Creeks. Several concrete floor surfaces are still evident. They include the main ward and the patients’ kitchen. The kitchen slab contains a cast-iron combustion stove while a corrugated iron water tank is located nearby. A row of 44-gallon drums marks the nurses’ latrine.
By May 1942 Horn Island airfield had received four of a total of eight Japanese air raids causing damage to a number of RAAF aircraft that were caught on the ground. As it was not possible to provide an emergency dispersal strip in the Torres Strait, attention turned to the area around Red Island Point near the tip of Cape York. A suitable airfield site was located and units of the US Army 46th Engineers General Service Regiment were sent to Cape York to start work on clearing and construction of the runway and dispersal areas. The strip was known as 'Jacky Jacky' to the Australians and 'Red Island' to the Americans. To overcome the confusion the commander of the US Fifth Air Force in Australia, directed that the name of the airfield be changed to Higgins Field in honour of Flight Lieutenant Brian Higgins, RAAF, killed in air operations on 25 May 1943.
By early 1943 a growing number of military personnel and construction workers were stationed at and around Higgins, and the associated radar and port facilities at Mutee Head and Red Island Point. With Japanese air raids and increased activity on Horn Island and at Merauke, the need for dispersed hospital facilities on the tip of Cape York became urgent.
From June 1942 a number of proposals were put forward for a base hospital at Cape York. A site was chosen south of Red Island Point and about eight kilometres west of Higgins Advanced Operational Base, near a fresh water spring which gave water in ample quantity all year round. The location had good natural cover afforded by surrounding trees to help camouflage the buildings. Because of the heavy tree cover the approach to the site could be achieved without giving a lead to its location.
Work may have already begun on the construction of a hospital at Cape York before a stop was ordered by the Australian First Army in December 1942. Any buildings erected were to be handed over to commander of Torres Strait Force.
During 1943, the Townsville builders, John Stubbs and Sons, were contracted by the Department of Public Works, through the Allied Works Council, to commence or complete work on the construction of a 90 bed hospital on Skull Creek.
On completion the hospital, which may have been reduced to a capacity of 60 beds, was staffed by a detachment of nurses and orderlies of 102 Australian Casualty Clearing Station from New South Wales. The unit was stationed at Skull Creek for about ten months before transferring to New Guinea. During this period, many of the patients treated at the hospital were Australian casualties from Merauke in Dutch New Guinea and local Aboriginal people, particularly women requiring assistance in child birth.
Pearce, Howard (contributing author).
Allied Works Council (Queensland), AWC Minutes 1942–1945, BP1/1, National Archives of Australia, Canberra.
Vera Bradley. I Didn’t Know That: Cairns and districts Tully to Cape York, 1939–1946, Service personnel and civilians, Boolarong Press, Brisbane, 1995.
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.