Backward Glance - Fort Bribie and the grim days of World War ll - Part 2
  • Wednesday 25 July 2018

Today we resume the story of Bribie Island at the time of World War II.

There was also a role for Caloundra as the Dawson family found out when their home, situated on Queen of the Colonies Parade, Moffat Headland, was commandeered by the Army, as well as Caloundra State School.

A tunnel called the “Dugout” ran up the hill from a gun emplacement near the beach and came out near the Dawson's home.

Bystanders in Caloundra, near Black Flat, were intrigued in late 1939 when a C60 International truck, owned and operated by brothers Jack and Reg Sallaway of Maleny, arrived with a heavy load.

The truck was carrying a five-metre-long gun barrel, removed from a refurbished HMAS Sydney.

Col Barnett, of Caloundra, had successfully tendered to transport two ex-naval guns from Fort Lytton to Caloundra and onward to Bribie Island, so he enlisted the assistance of the Sallaways and Conondale’s Ray Tilney.

The two guns were taken across Pumicestone Passage from Black Flat, Caloundra in Barnett's barge, named “Droger”.

The gun was so long that the muzzle had to go through the doorway of “Droger's” wheelhouse and it weighed so much that every bump lifted the front wheels of Sallaways’ truck off the ground during transportation.

Landings had been established on the island at spots known locally as the Deep Hole and The Cross.

Ti-tree ramps on either side of the Passage were utilised until the military jetties at Golden Beach and Bribie Island were built in 1941.

Col Barnett’s team carted reinforcing steel, gravel and cement to the Fort Bribie site for several months, including the 12-metre-long logs which were used in the construction of the gun emplacements.

When one of the big artillery guns was installed at N Battery Bribie, it had a five-metre barrel and weighed approximately 10 tons.

Gunner N. Hempsted was stationed at Fort Bribie with the 8th Battery Royal Australian Artillery and was involved in the first test shot.

He recalled the day the first gun was test fired at N Battery Bribie.

“The gun was loaded and the sound of the firing was heard at Landsborough, nearly 17 miles (27 kilometres) away, rattling the crockery of many coastal homes. Just as the gun was fired, a vessel appeared out of the misty rain, about a half a mile out to sea.

“The skipper must have received such a shock; he did a right hand turn and disappeared into the fog.”

In 1942, Singapore fell to the Japanese with grave consequences for the allies - 15,000 Australian service men became POWs.

Many Australians feared that the Japanese would overwhelm Australia.

It was not long after the loss of Singapore that Darwin was bombed in air raid attacks and enemy midget submarines attacked Sydney Harbour. These were worrying frightening times.

During the 1942 Federal election period, claims were made in parliament that the government was committed to abandoning Australia, north of Brisbane, and debate broke out across the country.

The “Brisbane Line” was a controversial scheme lacking substance, allegedly formulated during World War ll to concede the northern portion of the Australian continent in the event of an invasion by the Japanese.

Although a plan to prioritise defense in the vital industrial regions between Brisbane and Melbourne had been proposed in February 1942, it was rejected by Australia’s Prime Minister and the Australian War Cabinet.  

By May 1942, Australia was involved in the Battle of the Coral Sea.

Australian-based signals intelligence units detected the Japanese thrust to occupy Port Moresby was imminent.

Due to early detection of the proposal, both USAAF and the RAAF aircraft were deployed to Papua. 

Eleven US submarines based in Brisbane covertly left Brisbane, as well as many naval vessels from Australia and US.

The battle took place from May 4-8, 1942 and changed the course of the war in the Pacific region.

Japan had been defeated in this battle and forced back, optimism returned with the significant victories of the Coral Sea and the Midway Islands.

American General Douglas MacArthur was appointed Supreme Commander of the South West Pacific region arriving in Brisbane in July 1942, effectively escaping from Japanese forces which had made their way through the Philippines where he had been serving.

General MacArthur commanded the Pacific war effort from MacArthur Chambers on the corner of Queen and Edward Streets, Brisbane.

This building now houses the MacArthur Museum.

On October 6, 1942, Supreme Commander in Chief General MacArthur wrote a secret document (now released) to Australian Prime Minister John Curtin.

It stated: “Peculiar and misleading impressions can be obtained from statements in which numbers alone rather than fighting combat strength, are presented.

“If I were to make a professional criticism it would be on the broad lines of over emphasis of the defense principle, especially to the Australian continent itself.

“The defense of Australia, if it is to be successful, must be waged on outer perimeter territories rather than within the area that is to be defended.”

MacArthur further advised Prime Minister Curtin that he was apprehensive about the lack of Australian army combat troops in Australia who were still in the Middle East and called for Australia’s 9th Division in Egypt to be allowed to return to Australia to assist in the Pacific region, including Papua New Guinea.

At that time, Australia military force numbers were seriously low on the home front.

America assisted Australia with troops until some of the battle hardened Australians fighting in the Middle East could return by converted ocean liners which had been made into troop carriers.

In 1943, Australian politician Eddie Ward claimed that the Brisbane Line plan had been removed from official records.

Mr Ward alleged that a previous government had planned to abandon most of northern Australia and produced a hand drawn map with no substance nor military connection.

In 1943, a Royal Commission found the Brisbane Line claim to be unsubstantiated.

The commission for evidence concluded that no such documents had existed and previous governments had not approved plans, nor had documents been removed as alleged.

Although the policy was denied, it had made fertile ground for the Brisbane Line mythology to expand.

Many troops that had fought in the Middle East now trained in the North Coast region in readiness for war that lay ahead in New Guinea.

Due to the lack of fighting forces the Citizens Military Forces (CMF) who had previously only undertaken basic military training served alongside the Middle East veterans.

Months later, the men of the 39th Battalion, a mixture of CMF and AIF, halted the Japanese advancement along the Kokoda Trail after four crucial days of fighting.

Americans trained at an American radar installation run by US Air Corps until 1943 in Caloundra.

From February 1943 until January 1945, No 24 Radar Station, previously occupied by the Americans, was used by the RAAF with half of the group being women.

The Australian Women’s Army Service (AWAS) formed in 1941 which released men for advanced battle areas.

By 1944, there were 20,023 active members of the AWAS.

 Some of the women were stationed at Fort Bribie in 1944 where their accommodation was in long barracks still showing signs of male habitation.

To brighten things up, the amenities unit provided paint, fabrics and sewing machines and it wasn’t long before Fort Bribie had painted walls and curtains to brighten up the place.

By 1945, hostilities had ceased in Europe and Japan surrendered in August of that year. 

World War ll was over and the people of Australia danced in the streets – our troops would be coming home.

Today, most of the memories from this dark period of our military history are gone.

Time has eroded the structures, gradually exposing and eroding elements of the Bribie Fortification over time.

The main surviving concrete elements, including the northern searchlight, now stand on the beach, sometimes with waves splashing at the concrete remains.

The eroding fortifications of Woorim and Bribie are both heritage listed, reminding us of a time when fear was amongst us and many Australians defended our shores.

Thanks to Sunshine Coast Council’s Heritage Library Officers for the words and Picture Sunshine Coast for the images.


Image Details 

Hero image  – Removal of World War Two R.A.N. signal tower at Wickham Point, Caloundra, ca 1970

Image 1 US Colonel Whitney aide to General Douglas MacArthur with Jean MacArthur, wife of General Douglas MacArthur, outside Strathallan Guesthouse, Caloundra, ca 1944

Image 2 – WWII Fort Caloundra AWAS Accommodation, Ocean Court, Caloundra, 1944

Image 3 – Royal Australian Navy Signal Station with celebratory flags for V.P. Day, Caloundra, 1945

Image 4 – Coastal Artillery Fortress Command Post 'The Camp', 15 Burgess Street, Caloundra, ca 1985

Image 5 – Abandoned Australian Army gun emplacement, Bribie Island, 1969

Image 6 – Abandoned Australian Army gun emplacement, Bribie Island, ca 2001

Image 7 – Remains of northern searchlight tower at Fort Bribie, Bribie Island, ca 2001. The structure was originally in the sand dunes but is now isolated by beach erosion.