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Rocky Creek Hospital

5th Australian Camp Hospital, 2/2nd and 2/6th Army General Hospitals, 1st Australian Mobile Laundry Unit, 2/1st Australian Convalescent Depot

  • Medical facility
  • Atherton Tablelands

Frazer Road/Rocca Road, off Kennedy Highway, Rocky Creek 4357

The Rocky Creek Hospital Complex was in operation from October 1942 until September 1945, and some 30,000 patients were treated at this facility. Located on the southern side of the Kennedy Highway, almost five kilometres north of Tolga, the site includes a theatre (entertainment) igloo and remnants of part of the 2/2nd Army General Hospital (AGH) on Frazer Road's road reserve.

The main section of the igloo is corrugated iron clad, and has a curved auditorium roof 34 metres long and 17.4m wide. The interior trusses are made of native timber. Along each side of the curved wall there are seven dormer windows with iron sides and skillion roofs, fitted with window panes of Caneite. A gabled stage and backstage area, clad in corrugated asbestos cement sheeting, extends 8.6 metres from the southwest end of the igloo and is 22 metres wide.

Remnants of the 2/2nd AGH are visible either side of Frazer Road, which runs southeast from the igloo. These include ward concrete slabs with drainage and toilet outlets, bitumen road remnants, walkways, garden beds, terracing, and building material scatters. Traces of the roadways of 2/2nd AGH are also visible from the air, in the cane fields east of Frazer Road.

History

The Atherton Tableland was chosen as the site of a major concentration of troops and stores during 1943, for a number of reasons. It was close to New Guinea; near a port (Cairns); had a cooler climate yet was suitable for training in jungle warfare; and it was a mostly malaria-free area for the hospitalisation of those suffering from tropical diseases. The physically exhausting terrain and climate of New Guinea meant that Australian troops had to be regularly rested and rehabilitated, preferably close to their theatre of operations.

The largest military hospital in north Queensland during World War II was built at Rocky Creek, between Atherton and Mareeba. Installation of medical infrastructure on the Rocky Creek site, north of Tolga, commenced on 6 October 1942 with the arrival of the 19th Field Ambulance. They were charged with the preparation of a camp for the 5th Australian Camp Hospital (ACH), which arrived from Redbank on 14 October 1942. The Commanding Officer, Lt-Col LA Little (AAMC) and Matron K Cahill, assisted by several nursing sisters and a few male orderlies, established a small camp hospital on the south eastern side of Rocky Creek. The 19th Field Ambulance left Rocky Creek on 17 October 1942.

The first patients were admitted on 20 October 1942. On 2 November the 1st Australian Mobile Laundry Unit arrived, while 20 Voluntary Aid Detachment members (VAD; later Australian Army Medical Women's Service, or AAMWS) commenced duties on 14 November, providing much needed nursing support.

In January 1943 an advance party of 2/2nd Army General Hospital (AGH) AIF arrived at the Rocky Creek Hospital site, replacing the 5th AGH which moved the next day, 5 January 1943, to a new hospital unit established at the North Cairns State School. The 2/2nd AGH, under the command of Colonel Talbert, the Commanding Officer, and Matron, Miss Jean Oddie, launched into the arduous task of expanding the small tent hospital into a large 1200 bed General Hospital. On 20 April 1943 the 2/2nd were joined by the 2/6th AGH AIF, who after serving two years in the Middle East arrived back in Australia.

The 2/2nd AGH's wards were located on the Frazer Road reserve and east of Frazer Road, north of Champion Road, while the 2/6th AGH was located west of Frazer Road, north of Marnane Road and east of Filippo Close. The 2/1st Australian Convalescent Depot was located south of the railway line, west of Frazer Road, with its administrative section and a mobile laundry unit north of the Kennedy Highway, on the east bank of Rocky Creek. The mobile laundry administration, medical stores and Red Cross Field HQ were located north of the highway and the theatre igloo, and the remains of a sewerage treatment works exist at the end of a track north of the stores site, near Rocky Creek. The 132nd General Transport unit was sited north of the curve of the Kennedy Highway, west of Mapee Road.

The 1200 bed 2/2nd AGH was constructed by a local Cairns firm, TJ Watkins PTY Ltd. There were 73 buildings in total, including facilities for the 4th Australian Static Laundry. The theatre Igloo, recreation hut and warehouses were also constructed by Watkin and PR Ayre. The 1200 bed hospital of the 2/6th AGH was built by AH Hodge and Sons of Toowoomba, while the 600 bed 2/1st Convalescent Depot was constructed by Clive Kynaston of Cairns. Patients treated at the Rocky Creek Hospitals usually arrived in Cairns from Papua New Guinea, to be transported to Rocky Creek by the 4th Australian Hospital Ambulance Train, which ran three times a week.

The 2/2nd and the 2/6th Hospitals both employed a similar layout. The two hospitals consisted of 40 wards, offices, stores and other auxiliary buildings. The wards were laid out in pairs, with a service annexe in between, forming a cross-shaped footprint. Most wards were constructed with canvas, and measured 60′ by 20′ (18.3m by 6m). Early wards had earth floors, watered daily to make them firm, and a rattan carpet down the middle isle. Other buildings were constructed from timber and iron. Later wards were set on a concrete slab and had a capacity of approximately 50 patients.

By March 1944 both hospitals had been transformed from tent to hut hospitals and the bed capacity had increased to 1400. However, by September 1944 the daily bed average had increased to 1760. The buildings still had canvas walls but the floors were concrete and each ward had its own amenities, such as a wood stove, kerosene refrigerator, a permanent toilet and an office and dressing room. In October 1944 electricity supply, originally generator powered, switch to mains power.

The concrete ward floors consisted of reinforced concrete slabs varying in thickness. The annexes were bordered and partitioned by concrete wall bases, from which protruded metal wall ties. The concrete wall bases were slightly flanged on either side. Wall sheets of asbestos cement would have been positioned on the flanges.

While the work hours for staff at the Hospital Complex were long, various facilities were provided for their enjoyment in the leisure time available. The complex included an open-air picture show, where bingo was often played before the main feature. There was also a log-cabin recreational room and a tennis court with an ant-bed floor. Others spent their time planting garden beds outside their quarters and the hospital wards. Movies were shown in the theatre igloo, constructed in 1943. A truck, with a projector on the back, would reverse up to the building along the built up driveway, so that the projector pointed towards the screen. Concerts and dances were also held in the building.

The staged closure of the Rocky Creek Hospital Complex began in 1944, and continued through to 1945. The 2/6th AGH was the first to close, in October 1944, followed by the 2/2nd AGH on 30 September 1945. Following the end of the war, military buildings at Rocky Creek were auctioned and either dismantled or relocated.

The Entertainment Igloo was purchased by Frank and Eileen Frazer in 1947. The stage was converted into a family home, in which the Frazers raised their 11 children. Following the death of her husband, Mrs Frazer stayed on at the igloo until 1995, when the igloo and land were donated to the Atherton Shire Council.

In the lead up to the 50th anniversary of victory in the Pacific celebrations in 1995, a War Memorial Park was established on the former site of the Mobile Laundry Administration Area through the efforts of a group of local residents.

Source/comments

Rocky Creek World War Two Hospital Complex (former), Queensland Heritage Register 601815

Pearce, Howard. January 2009. WWII-NQ: A cultural heritage overview of significant places in the defence of north Queensland during World War II. EPA, Brisbane.

National Archives of Australia, 286/3. Atherton Tableland Base Area, December 1942 - November 1944.

National Archives of Australia, ST285 Sheet 1, ST285 Sheet 2, ST285 Sheet 3, Rocky Creek 1200 bed hospital 1943.

Australian Army Hospital & Medical Base, Rocky Creek 1942–1946 WWII, and Australian Army 2/1st Convalescent Depot- Rocky Creek, 1943-1946, Site maps compiled by MW Alcock, 1995.

Australian War Memorial Images

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Last updated
30 June 2014