Saturday, 20 December 2014

Cyclone Althea - 1971

On Christmas Eve 1971, Cyclone Althea struck Townsville with gusts of wind close to 200kph.  Three lives were lost, hundreds were injured and 500 Army personnel were recalled from leave to assist with the cleanup effort.
The suburb of Pallarenda, after Cyclone Althea in December 1971.
Photo:  CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.

The suburb of Pallarenda was described in the local press as having suffered the worst of the cyclone in Townsville, with an estimated 30 to 40 per cent of homes in the suburb “write-offs”.

The North Queensland Register vividly described what remained of the suburb, saying “Althea left a shambles of smashed homes and cars, trailing power lines, torn up trees and roads.”

“Roofing iron, timber, fibro and in some cases, whole roofs, were lifted and hurled onto the houses behind them, causing a tremendous amount of damage.”

Many people felt their homes might have withstood the wind and rain, but the flying iron and timber smashed windows and roofs, allowing the wind to “play havoc with the remains.”

As one resident put it, “The house just exploded everywhere. All the second floor went.”
Damaged houses in Pallarenda, after Cyclone Althea.
Photo:  CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.

The Register reported that Army engineers from 18 Field Squadron had constructed a road into the area, which was isolated from the rest of the city when heavy seas damaged Heatley’s Parade.  Electricity, water and all communication to the suburb was also cut.

Pallarenda storekeeper Mr Livio Collesel spoke very highly of the assistance provided by the Army.

“The Army have been magnificent.  They have been a great help,” he said.

“They have been supplying people with tarpaulins and transporting people across damaged roads.”

“They also delivered fresh bread and milk supplies to the people.”
Boats washed up on Palmer Street after Cyclone Althea.
Photo:  CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.

Within days, the Prime Minister, Mr McMahon visited Townsville, and pledged unlimited financial aid to help restore the shattered city.  The Courier Mail reported on McMahon’s visit, describing it as a “morale building one”.

“We have put no ceiling on Commonwealth aid.  It will be in two parts, for personal hardship and for reconstruction,” Mr McMahon said.

Mr McMahon said the visit had given him “some idea of the total damage” which he said was “completely indescribable”.

“But the people you meet give you an enormous sense of pleasure to know that you are an Australian,” he said.

“They are getting on with the job.  They aren’t grouching.  They only want some help.”

Unfortunately, Mr McMahon’s pledge of “unlimited aid” was to be based on a dollar for dollar arrangement with the State government.  This meant that the federal government would contribute one dollar for every dollar given by the State, so that the funds available were actually quite limited.
Damage to a house in Heatley, caused by Cyclone Althea.
Photo:  CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.

Mr John Dean, the chairman of the fund committee said that there just wasn’t enough money to go round.

“We are going to have to knock back a lot of people,” Mr Dean said.

“No one is going to get anywhere near enough to replace what he has lost,” he said.

Mr Dean said most grants were likely to be around $100, with the maximum grant amount set at $1000.

In the face of so many appeals for grants, those earning more than $90 a week were immediately deemed ineligible to receive any assistance.

Eighty per cent of the $150 000 fund was shared between pensioners and those whose weekly income was less than $50.

The total amount claimed by people seeking help from the fund was $2 million.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Survivors of the Rangitane sinking

In January 1941, the SS Nellore steamed into the port of Townsville with a cargo of passengers who had survived the sinking of multiple vessels by German raiders in the Pacific in late 1940.
Survivors from the RMS Rangitane and other vessels sunk by German raiders during World War II, arriving in Townsville aboard SS Nellore, January 1941.
Photo: CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.

At 3.30am on 27 November 1940, the New Zealand Shipping Company’s RMS Rangitane was about 300 miles east of New Zealand when it was attacked by three German surface raiders – Komet, Orion and Kulmerland.

En route to Britain, the Rangitane was laden with dairy goods, frozen meat and wool, and carrying more than 300 crew and passengers, including a number of women and children, when it was intercepted.  The Rangitane’s captain sent a distress signal to New Zealand and the German’s opened fire. 
Two boys who survived the sinking of their ship by German raiders.
Photo: CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.
The heavy shelling claimed a number of casualties and caused fires to break out on the ship.  Passengers and crew were transferred to the German ships by lifeboat and the Rangitane was sunk.

The prisoners spent weeks below decks aboard the German ships in cramped, hot and noisy conditions, with meagre food and water rations.  With so many prisoners on board, the German captains became concerned about the lack of food and water and decided to put the prisoners ashore at an island off New Guinea called Emirau.    

Six days later they were picked up by the SS Nellore, operating under instructions from the Royal Australian Air Force.

The newspapers of the day reported that the survivors had been “disembarked at an Australian port”, unable to give a specific location because of wartime restrictions.  In fact, the survivors were landed at Townsville. 

The Nellore had 496 people aboard who had survived the sinking of seven separate ships by German raiders.
Survivors from the sinking of the Rangitane and other ships sunk by German raiders, aboard the SS Nellore, arriving in Townsville, January 1941.
Photo: CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.

Although it wasn’t able to actually say that the steamship had landed at Townsville, the Townsville Daily Bulletin reported on the reception of the Nellore, saying “the refugees received a warm welcome from watersiders and others about the wharves when their ship was berthed”.  A Red Cross truck loaded with fresh clothing and toiletries for the survivors was waiting at the wharf too, along with hundreds of cheering locals.

“Members of the Red Cross Society and the Australian Comforts Fund did splendid work among the raider survivors,” the Bulletin said.  While the former took care of the essentials, the latter handed out cigarettes, newspapers and other little luxuries.

The Cairns Post reported on how grateful the women aboard Nellore were for the reception they received in Australia.

“Although their English is inadequate to express their gratitude, a group of Polish stewardesses smiled their thanks for gifts offered by members of the Australian Comforts Fund and told in quaint, disjointed sentences what had been done for them at New Guinea and Townsville in the way of providing clothes and entertainment.”
Survivors from the sinking of the Rangitane and other ships sunk by German surface raiders.
Photo:  CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.

The Rangitane was the largest passenger liner sunk by surface raiders during World War II.  In a tragic twist of fate, the ship that brought the Rangitane survivors to Townsville - the Nellore - was itself sunk in June 1944, after being torpedoed by a Japanese submarine.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Then and Now - A Walk in the Cairns CBD - Part Two

Cairns is home to many wonderful heritage buildings in its central business district. A stroll around the CBD provides a glimpse into the city’s rich and diverse history.

Former Public Offices
Former State Government Offices, corner Abbott & Shields Streets, Cairns, c. 1936.
Photo:  State Library of Queensland.
Former State Government Offices, now the Cairns Regional Gallery, 2014.
Photo:  Trisha Fielding.
Designed by architect RC. Nowland of the Government Architects’ Office, construction on this building began in 1934. Nowland also designed the Cairns Post building and the former City Council building, and similar design elements can be seen in all three buildings, most noticeably the classical columns. When it was officially opened in 1936, it housed the State Government Insurance Office, Government Tourist Bureau, Land Commission, Agricultural Bank, Forestry Office, Public Curator, District Foreman of Works, various Government Inspectors and visiting Tax Inspectors and parliamentarians. In 1995 the building opened its doors as the Cairns Regional Gallery.  The intersection this building is located on was the original location for the Cairns World War One Memorial, which has since been moved, and is now located on the Cairns Esplanade, opposite the RSL.

Dr Koch Memorial
Dr EA. Koch Memorial, in original location, corner of Spence and Abbott Streets, Cairns, 1903.
Photo:  State Library of Queensland.
Dr EA. Koch Memorial, Cairns, 2014.
Photo:  Trisha Fielding.

This memorial honours the work of a beloved Cairns doctor - Edward Albert Koch, who died in Cairns in June 1901, at the age of 57.  In the 1880s Dr Koch had been among the first to recognise the role of the mosquito in transmitting malaria, and his fever remedy and preventative measures played a significant role in controlling malaria in far North Queensland in the late 19th century and first half of the 20th century.

Designed and built by Townsville monumental masons Melrose & Fenwick, the top half of the memorial is made from Italian marble, and sits on a granite plinth. The memorial was paid for by public subscription and as was fashionable at the time, designed to be both functional, as well as aesthetically pleasing. The memorial was a functioning drinking fountain. 

The memorial had a lamp on top because it was originally located in the middle of an intersection.  It remained in its original position until the mid-1960s.  It was moved to its present location next to the Casino in the mid-1990s.

There are some design similarities with Dr Koch’s memorial and the WJ. Castling memorial, on The Strand, in Townsville, (also by Melrose & Fenwick) although the Castling memorial was erected five years after the Koch memorial, in 1908.  For more info, see Castling Memorial

From the Cairns Morning Post, 16 June, 1903: 
The Unveiling Ceremony His Excellency, Sir H. Chermside, on Saturday afternoon unveiled the handsome memorial to the late Dr. Koch, which has been erected by the citizens of Cairns at the intersection of Spence and Abbott Streets. The ceremony was an impressive one and fully 600 people were present, including members of the Oddfellows, Hibernians, and Druid Friendly Societies.
Former Cairns City Council Chambers

Former Cairns City Council Chambers, c. 1932.
Photo:  State Library of Queensland.

Cairns City Library, 2014.
Photo: Trisha Fielding.
The Cairns City Council Chambers were constructed in 1929-30, and replaced the timber council chambers. The building, designed by architects Hill and Taylor, reportedly cost £15,000 and was and built by Mr Alex McKenzie. The foundation stone was laid by Mayor Alderman WA Collinson on 20 November 1929. 

The Council Chambers originally comprised a T-shaped plan with a central columned vestibule to Abbott Street, flanked on either side by three bays of verandahs (now enclosed) with each section having a separate hipped roof.  In about 1961 the building was extended by a further three bays to either side with matching facade detailing. The rear verandahs were also enclosed, and the original timber floors were replaced with concrete slabs.

It is now home to the Cairns Library.

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Saturday, 15 November 2014

Old Quarantine Station - Pallarenda

In the 1880s a quarantine station was established at West Point on Magnetic Island for the purposes of isolating sick passengers on passing ships.  This station was damaged by severe cyclones Sigma in 1896 and Leonta in 1903 and owing to a lack of water and the difficulty of the distance from the mainland, the government decided to build an alternative station on the mainland.
Former Quarantine Station, Pallarenda, Townsville, 1976.
Photo:  CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection
The new Quarantine Station built at Pallarenda commenced with the construction of a timber jetty, which was completed by early 1914.  Over a period of seven months, commencing in November 1915, buildings at West Point were systematically dismantled and the building materials transported by barge from Magnetic Island to the mainland, for re-use at the Pallarenda station.  

Buildings that were moved included the hospital building, the married quarters, the hospital kitchen and the dining room.  These buildings had new functions at the new Quarantine Station at Pallarenda, which was in use by 1917.

Although materials from the old station at West Point were used at Pallarenda, new buildings were also constructed at the Pallarenda station, including a Disinfecting Block.  This building had tram tracks running through it.  Luggage was brought from the jetty on a trolley via the tracks through to the disinfection block where it was fumigated.  In contrast, the quarantined passengers had to walk from the jetty to the bath house, where they showered and changed.

Passengers were segregated according to the same class system that had divided them on board their ship.  There were separate quarters for men and women and the first and second class passengers had separate living and dining facilities.  In keeping with the racial attitudes of the day, there was a separate area for Asian passengers.  Housed in what was called the “Asiatic Shelter Shed”, these passengers slept in hammocks suspended under a shed with a concrete floor. 

The station was put to good use in the early part of the twentieth century, particularly during the Spanish Influenza epidemic in 1919 and during sporadic outbreaks of bubonic plague that occurred until the early 1920s.
Signage at the former Quarantine Station, Pallarenda.
Photo:  Trisha Fielding.
In August 1920 the steamer Roberto Figueras was on its way to Noumea when it arrived in Cleveland Bay carrying 1000 Vietnamese, 32 of whom were ill with suspected typhus.  Those who were sick were transferred to the quarantine station, while all others remained on board the ship, which took in supplies of coal and fresh water while it sat idle. 

The illness turned out to be meningitis, and 13 of those who had fallen ill, died at the station, and were buried there.  These were the only deaths to occur at the quarantine station during its use.        

During World War II the Quarantine Station continued its quarantine function, whilst also being used as an army hospital.  At this time a number of fortifications were built nearby, including two gun emplacements, two searchlight installations and a command post. 
The remains of WWII fortifications, Pallarenda.
Photo:  Trisha Fielding.

In 1974 the newly-formed Australian Institute of Marine Science moved into the site, bringing six temporary laboratories with them.  AIMS relocated in 1977 and in 1986 the area became an environmental park.  The Department of Environment and Resource Management have also been housed at the site.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Prelude to Peace

The signing of the Armistice between Germany and the Allies on 11 November, 1918 signalled the end of the First World War and sparked a celebration in Townsville, the likes of which the city had never seen before. 
A float outside the Railway Station, ready to celebrate the Armistice signed between Germany and the Allies on 11 November 1918.  Photo: CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection
The first news about the signing of the Armistice reached Townsville on Friday, 8 November, and the Mayor, Alderman J E. Clegg, invited the public to gather together at the Town Hall at noon the next day. However, this news turned out to be premature, as the agreement hadn’t been signed yet. 

Considering that the events of the previous few days all pointed to the likely cessation of hostilities, Alderman Clegg felt it was only a question of hours before the German command gave way, so the celebration went ahead anyway. At the Mayor’s request, all businesses closed at 11.30 am, and a procession was organised by the Returned Soldiers’ Association which marched from the Post Office to the Railway Station and back to the Town Hall. 
Floats in Flinders Street, celebrating the signing of the Armistice, November 1918.
Photo:  CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.

The signing of the Armistice remained unconfirmed until the night of Monday, 11 November. The following day there were jubilant celebrations in Townsville. Most of the workers in the railway workshops, the waterside workers and employees of local traders, marched in Flinders Street from 9.30 am until noon. The City Council’s regular meeting was postponed. 

At 3 o’clock a crowd assembled in front of the Railway station, with all sections of the community eager to participate. The procession was made up of an estimated 55 motor vehicles, 36 motor and horse lorries and about 100 cabs, buggies and spring carts, all of which were elaborately decorated. 
Crowds assemble outside the Town Hall in Flinders Street, celebrating the signing of the Armistice, November 1918.
Photo:  CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.
The procession stretched over a mile and a half and passed through Flinders Street three times. Celebrations went on into the evening and included a huge bonfire on top of Castle Hill, and a patriotic concert held on The Strand. 

The Cairns Post considered Townsville’s enthusiasm for the celebrations “unprecedented”, and described all the colour and noise of the celebrations on 12 November. 

“Early in the morning the whistles of vessels in the harbour were set going and continued for hours. The waterside workers took up the movement by ceasing all work, and headed by two motor lorries bedecked with flags and accompanied by a couple of pipers, marched into town and along Flinders Street.” 
Parade celebrating the Armistice in Flinders Street East, Burns Philp building on the left, 12 November 1918.
Photo: CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.
“One by one the business places closed and bevies of girls rushing into the street with flags of all sorts, commandeered whatever vehicles were available, delivery vans, motor and horse vehicles, and tradesmen’s carts, and within an hour the main street presented an unprecedented spectacle.” 

“All sorts of toy trumpets, bullock bells, kerosene tins, dinner gongs and anything that could produce a noise, was called into requisition, and the din was continuous, until lunch.” 

“An adjournment was then made until 4 pm, when the most remarkable procession ever seen in Townsville paraded the main street, accompanied by three bands, two orchestras, pipers and a bugle band. The decorations of all conceivable kinds of vehicles were brilliant, and the throngs lining the streets were immense.”
Women and children crowd on to a motor vehicle in the parade to celebrate the Armistice that ended World War I.
Photo: CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Then and Now – A Walk in the Cairns CBD – Part One

Cairns is home to many wonderful heritage buildings in its central business district. A stroll around the CBD provides a glimpse into the city’s rich and diverse history.

Cairns was established in 1876, primarily as a port to service the northern goldfields.  Early industries that supported the development of Cairns included the timber industry and both gold and tin mining. Later, agriculture became an important industry, particularly sugar cane, but bananas and rice were also important early crops.  Tourism was important to the Cairns economy too, even as early as the 1890s.

The Boland Centre
Boland’s, c.1928. State Library of Queensland image

Boland’s, 2014. Image: Trisha Fielding 

This building was built in 1912/13 for Michael Boland, an Irish immigrant who came to Australia in the 1880s and became a successful businessman and prominent citizen in Cairns.  This ornate and striking building occupies the corner of Lake and Spence Streets and is one of the earliest examples in the Cairns region of the use of concrete to construct large buildings.  The three-storey building housed a large department store and continues to be used for commercial purposes today.  It is a rare surviving example of its kind – that is, a large, pre-World War I department store.

Former Adelaide Steamship Co. building
Former Adelaide Steamship Co. Ltd, 1976Image: Cairns Historical Society

Former Adelaide Steamship Co. Ltd, 2014Image:  Trisha Fielding
This building was built in 1910 for the Adelaide Steamship Company Limited, which had been established in Adelaide in 1875.  The company had established a branch in Cairns around 1905, but was operating as an agency in Cairns as early as 1895.  The Queensland Heritage Register describes the building style as a tropical adaptation of the “Arts and Crafts”, a style that started in Europe.  A local heritage trail brochure describes it as “Spanish Revival Style”.  It was built by Cairns contractors Wilson & Baillie, at a cost of almost £3,000.
The Adelaide Steamship Company’s SS Manunda, entering Cairns Harbour,
Image:  State Library of Queensland.
Office of the Cairns Post newspaper
Cairns Post building, c. 1930Image: State Library of Queensland

Cairns Post Building, 2014.Image:  Trisha Fielding
The history of newspapers is often a bit tricky to chart, and the Cairns Post appears to have gone through a few different incarnations.  The Cairns Post was started in the early 1880s by Frederick Wimble in a small building in Lake Street.  It was later called the Cairns Morning Post and in 1909 it was renamed the Cairns Post.  The building that exists today in Abbott Street was built in 1908 and designed by architect Harvey Draper.  It was originally only the first three bays on the left and was extended to its present size in 1924. 

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Townsville Flying Squadron Club House

For almost sixty years the Flying Squadron club house on Palmer Street was a landmark on the Ross Creek skyline.  Built over several years in the early 1920s by volunteer labour, it was both a boatshed and a dance hall, all rolled in to one.
Townsville Flying Squadron Club House, Palmer Street, c. 1925.
Photo: John Mathew Collection, CityLibraries.

The sailing club house on Ross Creek was built on land obtained from the Townsville Harbour Board and built by the club members, who volunteered their time on weekends over several years.  The working bees saw 30-40 members pitching in with everything from clearing ground and the sinking and laying of foundations in the muddy creek bed to building the dance floor. 
Flying Squadron club house under construction, 1920s.
Photo: John Mathew Collection, CityLibraries.

Most of the materials for the building were supplied at cost price by club members who were also skilled tradesmen.  Skiffs were stored in the boat shed underneath and the top floor housed a superb dance floor, which meant the club house became a popular venue for dances and annual balls.  Its location on Ross Creek took full advantage of the sea breezes, which cooled the dance hall in the summer.
Fancy Dress Ball held at the Flying Squadron Club House, 1920s.
Photo:  John Mathew Collection, CityLibraries.

The Townsville Daily Bulletin reported in 1930 that the sailing season had opened with “great style” on a very pleasant Saturday afternoon in September.  Mr R Hayles loaned his vessel, the Malita, to the Townsville Flying Squadron for a flagship, which was “decked out in bunting and carried a fine crowd of ladies and gentlemen.”
Those lucky enough to have been invited on board were treated to a performance by a small orchestra aboard the Malita.  The orchestra included the club’s piano, which had been moved from the ballroom and was played by Mr Vic Foley during the trip.  Mr Foley was accompanied by Miss V. Cameron on the violin and Mr Patterson on the banjo.  

According to the Bulletin, “the three players were most unselfish with their services, and were responsible for much of the success achieved.”

“A very fine afternoon tea was served by the ladies’ committee, and this in conjunction with the ideal weather, the sweet music and the racing, made the function one of the most enjoyable that has been held in the City.”
Some of the men who helped to build the Flying Squadron Club House.
Photo: John Mathew Collection, CityLibraries.

American forces commandeered the club house during World War II and used it to store sugar.  According to Mr A Duffield, who was a life member and past treasurer of the Townsville Sailing Club, the sugar stored during the war, “wrecked the dance floor forever”.

The Bulletin interviewed Mr Duffield in late 1979, when the Flying Squadron club house was about to be demolished.  The club house had fallen into disrepair after a number of years of neglect.  The sailing clubs who had once made it their home had long since left, after navigation of their skiffs became difficult and dangerous in the busy Ross Creek shipping traffic.

Mr Duffield spoke fondly of the club house, particularly of the dances that were held there.

“When the modern up tempo dances arrived the whole building would rock and roll”, Mr Duffield said. 

“Sometimes I thought it would roll off its stumps in the middle of one of the razzle dazzle dances”, he said.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Australia's first Japanese Consulate

In the late 1800s, north Queensland’s burgeoning sugar industry prompted an influx of Japanese migrants that resulted in the establishment in Townsville of the first Japanese Consulate in Australia in 1896.
The Japanese Consul to Queensland and guests, outside the former Japanese Consulate in Victoria Street, Townsville, February 1969.
Photo: Alex Trotter photo, held by CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.
Britain’s 1894 treaty with Japan - the Anglo-Japanese treaty of commerce and navigation - signalled the emergence of Japan as a significant power on the international political stage.  Queensland was the only Australian colony to support the treaty, probably because it saw the opportunity to profit from potentially lucrative trade with Japan. 

By the mid 1890s there were several thousand Japanese employed in the sugar cane, pearling, and bĂȘche-de-mer industries throughout north Queensland.  The establishment of a consulate was aimed at both ensuring the rights of Japanese workers, as well as fostering trade opportunities.

The first Japanese Consul was Mr Tsunejiro Nakagawa, who chose the former home of John Graham MacDonald, an explorer, pastoralist and Townsville Police Magistrate, as the most suitable location for the Consulate. 

Instead of erecting an entirely new building in a Japanese style, which risked offending the colonial sensibilities of the day, the Japanese Government leased MacDonald’s Victoria Street residence, known as Kardinia, which had been built in the 1880s.
The last Japanese Consul in Townsville, Goro Narita and his wife, 1906.
Photo: CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.
The house occupied a commanding position overlooking the city from Stanton Hill and from here the Japanese Consulate set about establishing a respected profile in a nation that, for the most part, saw the Japanese as an “inferior” race.

The following year Mr Nakagawa relocated to Sydney when a second Japanese Consulate was established there and the Consulate in Townsville remained until 1908.

In 1969, a joint research study of the Great Barrier Reef, between James Cook University’s marine biology department and Japanese scientists, foreshadowed unprecedented cooperation between Australia and Japan.  In the post-World War II era, Japan looked to put its militaristic image behind it by building commercial and scientific partnerships in the region.

The Townsville Daily Bulletin reported in February 1969 that Japan’s Consul-General to Australia, Mr S. Tanetani, believed that cooperation between Japan and Queensland would reach “new heights” over the next few years.

“I feel more than confident that apart from unveiling many hitherto unknown facts about marine life it will also serve as further proof of the friendship between our people,” Mr Tanetani said.

The Mayor, Alderman Phillips, also held high hopes for the research expedition, believing that the joint study would serve two purposes: “to fully understand the wonders of the reef and also to pave the way for a mutual understanding between our two nations that will never be put asunder.”

“It is now widely known that our Japanese friends are taking greater interest in the development and progress of our nation,” Alderman Phillips said.

“And we in North Queensland are perhaps more aware of this interest than anyone else in Australia,” he said.

It was perhaps the moment when Australian-Japanese relations came full circle, from the cordial days of the Japanese Consulate in Townsville, through to the dark days of World War II, when Japan was the north’s most terrifying enemy; and on to a brave new era of cooperation for the mutual benefit of both nations.
Japanese Consul, Rinzaburo Tayui, 1903.
Photo:  CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

NQ Troops Embark for War, 1914

On June 28, 1914, the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo sparked a chain of events that swiftly brought Europe to the brink of war.
Troops marching across Victoria Bridge to the Townsville wharf, before embarking for Thursday Island, August 1914.
Photo:  State Library of Queensland.
Within weeks, Austria declared war on Serbia; Germany declared war on Russia, then France, then Belgium; France and Great Britain declared war on Germany; Austria declared war on Russia; and Serbia declared war on Germany.  Japan soon entered the war as well, declaring war against Germany on August 23.

But it was Great Britain’s declaration of war against Germany, on August 4, 1914, that brought Australia into the war that became World War I.  A few days before war was declared, Labor leader Andrew Fisher, who was at that time leader of the opposition, famously pledged to support Great Britain, “to the last man and last shilling”.

In anticipation of a declaration of war against Germany, Prime Minister Joseph Cook offered to place Australia’s Navy at the complete disposal of the British Admiralty, and pledged to send 20,000 soldiers to any destination that was required, if war was declared.

Charles Bean’s official war history cites a cablegram sent from Australia to Great Britain that highlights the extent of Australia’s determination to support the war effort.

The communication read: “In the event of war the Government (of Australia) is prepared to place the vessels of the Australian Navy under the control of the British Admiralty when desired.  It is further prepared to despatch an expeditionary force of 20,000 men of any suggested composition to any destination desired by the Home Government, the force to be at the complete disposal of the Home Government.”

In Townsville, local and regional troops numbering around a thousand were assembled and sent to garrison Thursday Island as coastal defence.  They embarked on the SS Kanowna, a commercial steamship that had been requisitioned for the purpose and which became a hospital ship later in the war.
Troops embarking SS Kanowna at Townsville,  for Thursday Island, August 1914.
Photo:  State Library of Queensland.
Their departure from Townsville on August 8 attracted a crowd of over 6,000 well wishers.  The soldiers marched through the city, across Victoria Bridge and down to the wharf, where the Mayor, Alderman Swales addressed the assembled crowd.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, I hardly know how to address those present, as there are so many regiments represented, so I will call them soldiers of the King and I am sure they will make a name for themselves in Australia,” he said.

“They have our sympathy and good wishes, and during their absence the citizens of the North will look after those who are left behind.”

When the Kanowna cast off at noon the combined bands played “Rule Britannia”, followed by “Onward Christian Soldiers”.  As spectators watched the ship sail away, “God Save the King” was played and a salute was fired from the fort.

The Townsville Daily Bulletin described the scene at the wharf as a “magnificent send-off” and reported that it was a day which would be “remembered in the history of Australia as that on which the first contingent of her new citizen force was sent forth on active service conditions”.