2/1 Australian Convalescent Depot
Lake Barrine Tea House
- Atherton Tablelands
Gordonvale-Atherton Road (Gillies Highway), Barrine 4884
Lake Barrine-the largest of the Atherton Tableland crater lakes-was formed by volcanic activity as recently as 10,000 years ago. Logging of rainforest timber in the area commenced during the 1880s and to prevent the complete loss of the large kauri and cedar pines around the lake the Forestry Department and local council formed what was known as the Lakes Trust to protect the lake and surrounding land from logging. In 1888 the natural and recreational significance of Lake Barrine was formally recognised and the crater lake, along with a band of shoreline vegetation, was proclaimed a scenic reserve. Since the 1920s several generations of the Curry family have been running a tea house at Lake Barrine and providing boat cruises for visitors.
Local residents, George and Margaret Curry pioneered the tourist use of Lake Barrine in 1920 living on the edge of the lake in a corrugated iron hut with George working as a ranger appointed by the Lakes Trust. After several years of occupation the Curry’s applied for a grant and received a perpetual lease over an acre of land on the shore of the lake. Lake Barrine started to become a popular destination for visitors after the opening of the Gillies Highway in 1926. This steep, winding, single-lane pack-horse track provided the only reliable motor vehicle access from Gordonvale on the coast to Atherton on the Tableland until the wartime completion of the Cairns-Kuranda road in June 1942.
A timber teahouse and dance hall was erected by the Curry’s in 1928. The teahouse was extended and converted to a guest house in 1935. Since then it has had many uses, including as a guest house, an aquatic centre and a school. With the Japanese bombing of Darwin after Japan’s entry into World War II the students of some boarding schools in north Queensland were transferred away from the coast for safety reasons and the schools were then commandeered by Allied forces for military use. On 2 March 1942, less than two weeks after the bombing of Darwin and the day before Japanese fighter aircraft attacked Broome, Wyndham and Derby in Western Australia, students of St Augustine’s College in Cairns were evacuated to Lake Barrine guest house
In late 1942 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 rehabilitation and training of Australian troops brought home from the Middle East to defend the country. Units of the Australian 6th and 7th Divisions started arriving on the Tableland in January 1943 and began setting up tent encampments around Atherton, Wondecla and Ravenshoe. During February 1943 the 9th Division returned to Australia and the following month began moving into camps around Kairi, Tinaroo and Danbulla. Soon over 40,000 personnel were quartered on the Atherton Tableland, and Lake Barrine became a recreational centre for Australian troops on jungle warfare training. On 27 May 1943 for example, the 2/24 Battalion of the 9th Division bivouacked at the lake and held a swimming carnival.
On 16 August 1943 the guest house at Lake Barrine was taken over by a detachment of the 2/1 Australian Army Convalescent Depot. (The 2/1 was a 1200 bed unit based at the 2/2 and 2/6 Australian General Hospital at Rocky Creek between Atherton and Mareeba.) A detachment of the 2/1 Australian convalescent Depot remained at Lake Barrine for the duration of the war.
The Curry family returned to Lake Barrine after the departure of the military and reoccupied the guest house. Members of the family continue to operate the guest house and boat trips around the lake. In 1988 Lake Barrine was included in the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area and in 1994 it joined Lake Eacham as part of the Crater Lakes National Park.
Pearce, Howard (contributing author).
Lake Barrine Crater Lakes National Park. DERM, Brisbane, 2010. (Online information)
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.