Military and historical sites

Photo credit: Maxime Coquard © Tourism and Events Queensland

Discover the stories behind the remnants of our military history preserved in Queensland’s parks and forests.

    Explore our parks to see remnants and reminders of once-thriving bases for military defence and troop training, recreation and rehabilitation. Hear the stories, marvel at the grit and tenacity shown in the defence of our nation, and pause to recognise the sacrifices made by all.

    Birthplace of military history

    Fort Lytton is the birthplace of Queensland’s military history. Established in 1881 to defend Brisbane, the fort is a typical 19th century garrison—a pentagonal fortress with heavy armaments concealed behind grassy ramparts connected by underground passages, and surrounded for greater protection by a water-filled moat.

    Fort Lytton was also a training ground—regular training camps in military warfare were a highlight of Queensland's political and social calendar with military manoeuvres and ceremonial displays. During WWI, almost every Queenslander in the First Australian Imperial Force (AIF) had a connection with the fort.

    Until WWII Fort Lytton was Brisbane's front line of defence. It was upgraded during WWII as a secondary defence position, with more modern batteries established on nearby Moreton and Bribie islands. After the war, Fort Lytton’s defence role was over and the site was abandoned. Ampol took over the site in 1963 to build an oil refinery, while maintaining the site. Fort Lytton then became a national park in 1988 and today is dedicated to portraying Queensland’s rich military history. Go Back in Time and enjoy a guided tour, cannon firing, school holiday activity, special History Alive re-enactment or unique promenade theatre performance at night.

    Defending the coast

    Other coastal defence batteries were established along the east coast of Queensland, mostly during WWII, to strategically protect important harbours.

    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 6 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 6 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.

    Explore our parks to see remnants and reminders of once-thriving bases for military defence and troop training, recreation and rehabilitation. Hear the stories, marvel at the grit and tenacity shown in the defence of our nation, and pause to recognise the sacrifices made by all.

    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 2 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 on the Rous Battery track 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.

    K’gari (Fraser Island)

    While there was no defence battery on K’gari (Fraser Island), it had an exciting role to play. During WWII the island hosted the famous Fraser Commando School, where personnel were trained 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. All operations were top secret and it wasn’t until 1980 that they could share their experiences openly and finally be thanked for their courage and service. Follow the cliffs on McKenzie’s historical walk and take the short side track to the ruins of the training school.

    K’gari (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 (after it was decommissioned) 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 Royal Australian Air Force (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 and stay at least 3m from the deteriorating wreck!

    Watching the coast

    As war moved into the south-west Pacific in late 1941, Queensland’s eastern coastline was vulnerable to attack by enemy shipping, submarines and aircraft. A chain of radar stations was established along the coast to keep watch …

    Magnetic Island

    On the northern 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 to experience panoramic ocean views and immerse yourself in the wartime era. Discover how service personnel lived and worked on the island. 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.

    Cape Pallarenda

    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 2 gun emplacements, 2 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.

    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 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. Take your own boat to the south-west side of the Orpheus Island and camp at Yanks Jetty camping area (permits required) to check out this war remnant.

    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. The wreck isn’t accessible but you can read more about the crash.

    Dunk Island

    Dunk Island was part of the surveillance network along Queensland’s coast. An airstrip was built in 1941 and, in 1942, the RRAAF constructed No. 27 Radar Station Dunk Island the on the highest point on the island, Mount Kootaloo. 27RS was a light-weight air warning (LW/AW) radar, powered by 2 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. Today you can walk the Mount Kootaloo circuit and, near the lookout at the summit, check out the rusty remains of the turning mechanism for the air warning aerial of No. 27 Radar Station, slowly being reclaimed by rainforest.

    Fitzroy Island

    Walk to the present-day lighthouse on Fitzroy Island and stand on what was once the site of a WWII radar station. In 1942, as the threat of invasion increased, the RAAF constructed No. 28 Radar Station, which, together with coastal artillery gun emplacements on Cape Grafton, served to protect Grafton Passage into Cairns. No. 28 Radar Station monitored all aircraft and shipping movements in and out of Cairns. A Naval War signals station and coastal artillery gun emplacement were also established on the island, along with a (temporary) lighthouse erected in 1943 to guide shipping through Grafton Passage. This lighthouse was not what you’d expect—simply a powerful light in a small ‘shed’ with a window facing the ocean! A concrete pad located a short way along the Summit track is all that remains today. Air Force and Navy personnel lived in accommodation at the base of the lighthouse road in Welcome Bay. The radar station was disbanded and removed at the end of the WWII; and the lighthouse was taken over by the Commonwealth Lighthouse Service.

    Stanley Island

    Off the coast of Cape York, Stanley Island in the Flinders Group National Park (CYPAL) housed No. 45 Radar Station and camp. Late in 1942, the RAAF personnel set up the station and began operations. They also established their camp, with tents, kitchens and latrines, all in the inhospitable landscape of these remote islands with steep rugged terrain, surrounded by coral reefs. No easy task! On a hill high above the beach on Stanley Island you can still see paved paths to the remains of old facilities, concrete pads and water tanks. Yachties and the occasional cruise ship visit the Flinders Islands today.

    Training the troops

    Also in 1942, the Commander-in-Chief of the Australian Military Forces (AMF), 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 across 160 sites.

    Follow the World War II 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 have become hidden over 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.

    At Barakula State Forest from 1942-1945, hundreds of Italian, Albanian, German and other internees (alleged ‘enemy aliens’) of different nationalities were forced to construct roads and firelines, and undertake silvicultural treatment and other forestry works. Very little remains of the internee camps today.

    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).