Rocky Creek World War Two Hospital Complex is a heritage-listed military hospital at Kennedy Highway, Tolga, Tablelands Region, Queensland, Australia. It was initially built in October 1942, with further construction continuing over the course of much of World War II. It was added to the Queensland Heritage Register on 25 February 2000.
The Rocky Creek World War II Hospital Complex was in operation from October 1942 until September 1945 as part of the medical installations established in North Queensland during World War II. Some 30,000 patients were treated at this facility in almost three years.
In the 1930s, the threat of war with Japan became imminent. As Japanese aggression moved across the Pacific in the early 1940s, a military presence in North Queensland gradually intensified. The Australian Army first began investigating the resources of North Queensland in the late 1930s, and when war was declared on Japan on 9 December 1941, the construction of military installations began immediately. The bombing of Darwin (March 1942) and Townsville (July 1942), and the arrival of American troops in the north (from March 1942), added further impetus to the establishment of facilities in the area. When hostilities extended to Papua New Guinea in May 1942, the military presence in the north intensified further still.
The installation of medical infrastructure on the Rocky Creek site commenced on 6 October 1942, with the arrival of the 19th Field Ambulance from Calcium. They were charged with the preparation of a camp for the 5th Australian Camp Hospital (ACH). The 5th ACH arrived at Rocky Creek 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. Their duties complete, the 19th Field Ambulance left Rocky Creek on 17 October 1942 to set up camp just outside of Kuranda, where an Advanced Dressing Station (ADS) was to be established.
Over the next few weeks, activity at the site increased. The first patients were admitted on 20 October 1942, and were joined the next day by more patients when the 1st Australian Camp hospital left Wondecla and removed its patients to Rocky Creek. 2 November saw the arrival of the 1st Australian Mobile Laundry Unit, while 20 VADs (later 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, signifying a new phase in the hospital’s development, and an intensification of activity. The 2/2nd AGH AIF replaced 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, they were joined by the 2/6th AGH AIF, which, after serving two years in the Middle East (Greece, Crete, Jerusalem and Gaza), arrived back in Australia to find themselves transferred to Rocky Creek.
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. The train ran three times a week.
The Rocky Creek Hospital Complex covered a site of 763 acres, encompassing private land purchased by the Australian Military Forces, and Crown Land. The Complex initially consisted of the 2/2nd AGH, the 2/6th AGH, the Mobile Laundry Administration Area, the 2/1st Australian Convalescent Depot, and associated medical installations. The 1200 bed 2/2nd AGH was constructed by a local Cairns firm, TJ Watkins PTY Ltd at a cost of £143 667. There were 73 buildings in total, including facilities for the 4th Australian Static Laundry. The Entertainment Igloo, recreation hut and warehouses were also constructed by Watkin and PR Ayre, at a cost of £2796. 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.
Both the 2/2nd and the 2/6th Hospitals employed a similar layout and were constructed using similar materials. 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. Most were constructed with canvas, and measures 60 by 20 feet (18.3 m × 6.1 m). 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, switched to mains power, supplied by the Barron Falls Hydro Electricity Board.
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. On these flanges would have rested sheets of asbestos cement which formed the walls. They were probably nailed at the base to a wooden runner which would have sat on top of the wall base. The metal ties probably passed through the wood and continued up between the walls to the roof, or were bent over the wood if not in use. Where the asbestos cement sheets met the concrete, cover strips would have been nailed. Scatters of pieces of these cover strips are found over most of the site.
One of the wards in the 2/2nd AGH was the Malaria Experimental Ward. Participants involved in the experiments were all volunteers, and the trials involved groups of 5-6 volunteers being injected with parasites from the Anopheles mosquito which carries the malaria virus. Treatments were confidential and all volunteers signed a statement absolving the Army and medical staff of responsibility for any side effects.
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 which was utilised by both patients and medical staff. Others spent their time planting garden beds outside their quarters and the hospital wards. Movies were shown in the Entertainment 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, which subsequently moved to Darley (Victoria). Following the end of the war, military buildings at Rocky Creek were auctioned and either dismantled or relocated. Some are to be found in the district today, having been purchased by local residents and farmers. Portions of land were sold as freehold allotments and many were subsequently converted to agricultural use. 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. Mr Frazer manufactured cane furniture in the auditorium. Following the death of her husband, Mrs Frazer stayed on at the igloo until ill health forced her to move to Cairns in 1995. 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. Various memorials, a flag pole, interpretive shelter and a sheltered park bench have been erected at the Park. Anzac Day commemorative ceremonies are now conducted at the park, while the remains of the Rocky Creek site are often visited by locals and visitors to the area where either they, or a relative, spent time at the hospital during the Second World War. It was also intended that the local Tolga State School use the Memorial Park for the purposes of education, in particular to develop an understanding among students of the importance of the Rocky Creek Hospital Complex during the Second World War.