American Postal Exchange Store and Australian Womens’ Army Service (AWAS) District Headquarters

Mareeba Government Assay Office

Atherton Tablelands

cnr Constance and Hort Street, Mareeba 4880

Plans to expand Cairns airfield were dropped in early May 1942 during the Battle of the Coral Sea. Instead the United States Army Air Force in Australia decided to establish a new advanced operational base at Mareeba on the Atherton Tableland. Mareeba would become far north Queensland’s main operational air base. Between May and July the 28th, 30th and 93rd Bombardment Squadrons of the 19th Bomb. Group began moving from outback bases at Cloncurry and Longreach to their new quarters at Mareeba airfield. From July 1942 to May 1943 thousands of American servicemen of seven heavy bomber squadrons from the US 19th and 43rd Bomb. Groups made Mareeba their home. During this time they launched missions against Japanese targets in New Guinea and throughout the South West Pacific Area.

American presence at Mareeba increased with the arrival of other support units. As work began on the airfield, Mareeba State School was taken over by the US 2 Station Hospital in expectation of casualties. Many other buildings in the town were requisitioned for use by American units including the disused Queensland government mining assay office in Arnold Park which is said to have served as a local American Postal Exchange, or PX store for US troops.


When the Ryan Labor government was elected in Queensland in 1915 Mareeba was becoming the centre for the booming Chillagoe, Wolfram Camp and Mount Mulligan mineral fields nearby. This laboratory and retort with its brick chimney was built by the government in 1916 as a mineral assay office to support the growth of the district’s mining industry. It was located near the court house which also served as the mining warden’s court. The assay office was closed in 1921 after a general post-World War I decline in mining in the Mareeba district.

In 1942 following Japan’s entry into World War II and the construction of Mareeba airfield, the assay office is said to have served as a US PX (Postal Exchange) store. In 1943 it is said to have become the headquarters for the Australian Womens’ Army Service in the town. After the war the building was used by the Forestry Department until the 1960s.


Pearce, Howard (contributing author).
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.