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History preserved

Explore Fort Lytton on the southern bank of the Brisbane River. Photo: Tourism and Events Queensland.Explore Fort Lytton on the southern bank of the Brisbane River. Photo: Tourism and Events Queensland.

Step back in time

Embrace World War II (WWII) history in Queensland’s parks and forests. See remnants of once-thriving bases for military defence and troop training, recreation and rehabilitation. Marvel at the grit and tenacity shown in the defence of our nation and pause to recognise the sacrifices made by all.

Training the troops

Gun crew with their 4.7 inch QF Mark IV naval gun at Fort Lytton, 1943. Source: Australian War Memorial Photo ID 060050.

Gun crew with their 4.7 inch QF Mark IV naval gun at Fort Lytton, 1943. Source: Australian War Memorial Photo ID 060050.

Don't miss Fort Lytton's entertaining re-enactments. Photo: Queensland Government.

Don't miss Fort Lytton's entertaining re-enactments. Photo: Queensland Government.

Immerse yourself in our military past at Fort Lytton—one of several coastal fortifications built along Australia's coast to safeguard shipping lanes and ports.

From 1881 until the 1930s, Fort Lytton was Brisbane's front line of defence and is regarded as the birthplace of Queensland's military history. Regular training camps in military warfare were a highlight of Queensland's political and social calendar and almost every Queenslander in the First Australian Imperial Force (AIF) had a connection with the fort.

Fort Lytton was surrounded by a water-filled moat and its heavy armaments were concealed behind grassy ramparts connected by underground passages. After WWII, the fort had outlived its usefulness and fell into disrepair until petroleum refining company Ampol took over the site in 1963. The fort became a national park in 1988 and today protects this important link to our military past.

Experience wartime history brought alive on a Go Back in Time guided tour, cannon firing, school holiday activities, special History Alive re-enactment or unique night-time promenade theatre

Read more about Fort Lytton’s history.

Island defences

Rous Battery on Moreton Island. Photo: Mark Daly (c) Queensland Government

Rous Battery on Moreton Island. Photo: Mark Daly (c) Queensland Government

Gun emplacement on Bribie Island. Photo: Rose Gray (c) Queensland Government.

Gun emplacement on Bribie Island. Photo: Rose Gray (c) Queensland Government.

Communication personnel of Z Special Unit on Fraser Island, 1944. Source: Australian War Memorial Photo ID P01134.002.

Communication personnel of Z Special Unit on Fraser Island, 1944. Source: Australian War Memorial Photo ID P01134.002.

The hospital ship Maheno during World War I. Photo by John Dickie. Alexander Turnbull Library. Ref: 1/1-002212-G.

The hospital ship Maheno during World War I. Photo by John Dickie. Alexander Turnbull Library. Ref: 1/1-002212-G.

Reminders on the Forts walk, Magnetic Island. Photo: (c) Deb Simmons.

Reminders on the Forts walk, Magnetic Island. Photo: (c) Deb Simmons.

Other coastal defence batteries were scattered on islands along the Queensland coastline.

Bribie Island

Among the foredunes along Ocean Beach on Bribie Island you’ll find weathered gun emplacements and searchlight buildings. Constructed in 1939, the buildings are characteristic of the six inch gun batteries used to defend Brisbane and Queensland's coastline during WWII.

Fort Bribie was strategically located near the island's northern tip to secure the passage south, and was the principal defence site of Moreton Bay. The shallow waters of the bay are scattered with small islands, banks and sandbars, so large ships are limited to the main north-west shipping channel that runs close to shore near Bribie Island. To further increase the defence capabilities of the island, a Skirmish six inch battery was established at Skirmish Point in 1942.

Shifting sand has left the northern searchlight and other structures exposed on the beach, and severe weather has reduced their stability. The battery at Skirmish has been mostly lost to erosion. When you visit the island, make sure you obey the signs and keep clear of the structures.

Moreton Island

Moreton Island also housed major coastal defence bases during the world wars. In World War I, Cowan Cowan Point accommodated the main defence base, although natural sand movement means very little of the base is visible today. WWII saw two large defence battery-complexes built—one at Cowan Cowan and the Rous Battery at Toompani beach.

When you’re on the island, wander along the road built by the Civil Construction Corps during WWII and imagine a time when this track was used to move troops, supplies and heavy guns. Make sure you venture down one of the smaller trails branching off the main track to the Rous Battery buildings, perched on the dunes.

Fraser Island

Fraser Island also had an important WWII role. The Fraser Commando School trained personnel for the Special Operations Australia unit (sometimes referred to as Z Special Unit or Z Force). The hand-picked personnel were trained to operate undercover behind enemy lines—gathering intelligence, organising guerrilla warfare and leading raids on Singapore Harbour. Follow the cliffs on McKenzie’s historical walk and take the short side track to the ruins of the training school.

Fraser Island also has a wartime connection with New Zealand. Once a lauded WWI New Zealand hospital ship that treated countless Australian and New Zealand soldiers, the Maheno ran aground on the eastern beach in 1935. During WWII the relatively-intact wreck was used as a target for explosives training by the Z Special Unit. The RAAF declared it a live bombing range and it was pounded by 250 and 500 pound semi-armour piercing (SAP) bombs. Afterwards, it was left to decay on site with a broken hull and both masts gone. Take in the hulking ruins on the Eastern Beach scenic drive—remember to take your camera!

Magnetic Island

Further up the Queensland coast, Townsville was a major base for the military and its harbour, Cleveland Bay, an important assembly point for shipping. A signal station and coastal battery were built on Magnetic Island in 1942–43 to control shipping and defend the harbour. Two 3,000,000 candle-powered searchlights, capable of spotting aircraft at 30,000 feet, were built at Horseshoe and Florence bays, and a radar screen constructed high in the hills above Arthur Bay. The fort complex was armed with French 155mm M3 guns on Panama carriage mounts. The Australian Coast Artillery Units operated the forts complex until the end of the Pacific War in 1945.

Head off on the Forts Walk and immerse yourself in the wartime era. Signs at the site guide you through the complex where you’ll see the remnants of the command post, searchlight tower, ammunition store, radar and signal stations, gun sites and direction finder.

Orpheus Island

North-west of Townsville, the ruins of Orpheus Island‘s Yanks Jetty is another reminder of Australia’s role during the wars. The jetty was a degaussing (demagnetising) station for American ships and/or submarines. Mines in the surrounding waters were activated when they magnetically attached to vessels (that’s the function of the spikes). Demagnetising protected the allied vessels from the mines.

Hinchinbrook Island

On Hinchinbrook Island an American B-24 Liberator bomber crashed on Mount Straloch's southern slopes on 18 December 1942. The bomber, known as the ‘Texas Terror’, crashed during a violent storm, killing all 12 people on board. Fresh from the factory and heading for the battlefields of New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, the B-24 was being flown from Amberley to the bomber base at Iron Range in Far North Queensland. Read more about the crash.

Dunk Island

Dunk Island was also part of a network of surveillance points along Australia's east coast. An airstrip was built in 1941 and, in 1942, the No. 27 Radar Station (RS) Dunk Island was constructed by the Royal Australian Air Force on the highest point on the island, Mount Kootaloo. 27RS was a light-weight air warning (LW/AW) radar, powered by two large diesel generators in bunkers partly below ground. During the war the island’s resort became the living quarters for the men staffing the radar station. They forged the track to the top of Mount Kootaloo to install, and then operate, the radar equipment. Walking the track was not permitted at night so the men climbed the track during the day and slept in a tent next to the radar until the midnight shift changeover. The station was dismantled when the war ended in 1945 and today all that can be seen are the rusty remains of the turning mechanism for the air warning aerial.

Fitzroy Island

Walk to the lighthouse on Fitzroy Island and stand on what was once the site of a radar station, established in 1942. The Number 28 Radar Station, along with coastal artillery gun emplacements on Cape Grafton, served to protect Grafton Passage. Both were disbanded and removed at the end of the WWII.

Stanley Island

Off the coast of Cape York, Stanley Island (Flinders Group National Park (CYPAL)) housed Number 45 radar station and camp. Today you can still see paved paths to the remains of old facilities, concrete pads and water tanks.

Northern tactics

The top WWII gun emplacement on the Cape Pallarenda headland. Photo: Fiona O'Grady, Queensland Government.

The top WWII gun emplacement on the Cape Pallarenda headland. Photo: Fiona O'Grady, Queensland Government.

Remains of World War II officers' mess fireplace. Photo: Tamara Vallance, Queensland Government.

Remains of World War II officers' mess fireplace. Photo: Tamara Vallance, Queensland Government.

The quarters of the 2/1st Australian Convalescent Depot at Lake Barrine, 16 August 1943. Photo: Australian War Memorial.

The quarters of the 2/1st Australian Convalescent Depot at Lake Barrine, 16 August 1943. Photo: Australian War Memorial.

HQ 1 Corps troops at Lake Eacham, 17 December 1944. Photo: Australian War Memorial.

HQ 1 Corps troops at Lake Eacham, 17 December 1944. Photo: Australian War Memorial.

By 1942, Townsville was the supply base for the South-West Pacific war, used by both the Australian and United States military. In 1943 the Pallarenda Battery was built to protect the northern entrance to Townsville Harbour and the shipping passage between the mainland and Magnetic Island. Construction included two gun emplacements, two searchlight installations, a command post and a sizeable camp. Today you can stroll along the 500m Forts Walk to the gun emplacements and searchlight station on the headland, and check out all there is to know about the quarantine history of the area from a display at the station. Read more about the wartime history in Cape Pallarenda Conservation Park.

Also in 1942, the Commander-in-Chief of the Australian Military Forces, General Sir Thomas Blamey decided to use the Atherton and Evelyn tablelands as a base for rehabilitating and training troops. The area was close to the battlefields of New Guinea, and the climate would give the troops respite from the tropical heat of the coast and assist in the convalescence of sick and wounded soldiers. The tablelands also provided a training area similar to that of the South-east Asian environment. Troops began arriving during 1943, and established bases, training grounds and other amenities across the landscape. Eventually around 320 army and ancillary units were based there across 160 sites. 

Follow the Heritage Track at Millstream Falls National Park to explore the most complete remains of a camp and training site. Imagine the daily lives of the 7th and 9th Division soldiers who lived, ate, slept and trained here. See the remains of camp sites, walking tracks, water drains, concrete slabs, trenches, training areas, corduroy roads, a flag pole site and training and parade grounds. Read more about the military history of Millstream Falls.

Stop for a cup of tea and scones at Lake Barrine and drift back to a time when the teahouse was the quarters of the 2/1st Australian Convalescent Depot. Nearby Lake Eacham was used as an amenities centre for AMF personnel. You can’t see them anymore but the soldiers built a diving platform and jetty, toilets, changing sheds, picnic facilities, paths and steps.

Hidden history

Many of our other parks and forests have interesting histories that are hidden by time. The Forestry Sub-Department gave permission for a military bunker to be built in the forest at Bunyaville, under Regulation 54 of the National Security (General) Regulations. The area was also designated a bomb cemetery and experimental explosive ground for the Australian and American forces. In late October 1944, American munitions disposal activities ignited a bushfire in the forest.

Coominglah State Forest housed detention centres for German and Italian prisoners of war.

Danbulla National Park and State Forest hosted a large camp, training areas and observation point. One of the recreation igloo buildings from the Danbulla camp was relocated to Malanda after the war and is now the Malanda Show Pavilion. The present day Kauri Creek rainforest walk passes through the old target areas of a firing range that, in those times, were grassed paddocks.

North Island (Brook Islands National Park) was used for mustard gas experiments. There’s nothing left and the island is now a restricted access area to protect seabirds and shorebirds.

The Iron Range area of Cape York Peninsula was a staging post for at least 50,000 American and Australian troops. Airbases, camps, bridges, bunkers, gun emplacements, defensive pits and other structures were built throughout the area. Difficult conditions made worse during monsoonal weather probably contributed to some of the several military aircraft crashes in the area. While evidence of this busy time is still evident in the area, the rainforest has taken over all that remains within Kutini-Payamu (Iron Range) National Park (CYPAL). Read more about the history of Kutini-Payamu (Iron Range) National Park (CYPAL)

Last updated
5 March 2018