Castle Hill, Townsville – Indigenous name : Cootharinga

Castle Hill  dominates the skyline in Townsville, in Queensland’s Far North. Not only is it the landmark that provides orientation in this city, the views across to Magnetic Island are just spectacular.

In my previous visits to Townsville I’ve always had an uneasy relationship with the giant pink granite monolith that sticks out like a sore thumb, though this trip I’ve finally made my peace. Rising to a height of 286 metres (938 ft) above sea level it is only 62 ft short of being claimed a mountain. It was listed on the Queensland Heritage Register in 1993.

The Hill’s vantage was used by visiting American soldiers during World War II. An observation bunker still sits on one corner of the Hill. ( According to local legend, the visitors famously offered to demolish the hill and use the rock to build a bridge to Magnetic Island.)

Looking back at Townsville from Magnetic Island.

With six months of a weekly Walking Group routine under the belt we thought we’d tackle one of the walking tracks to the summit. No better time than winter because of Townsville’s soaring summer temperatures as well as the Death Adders (snakes) that inhabit the bushland.

After studying the options in a guide that ranked the tracks by designating the number of PUFFS to complete – 5 PUFFS being the hike requiring the most physical effort – we selected the 1 PUFF Hiking Track. This was not a matter of being slack, but rather for romantic notions. You see, the Erythrina Track is also known as “The Ladies’ Track” because it was the inconspicuous route that ‘female friends’ took to visit the soldiers manning the pillboxes on the top of the Hill in WWII. Aaaargh, ain’t love grand……….

The 360 degree views were spectacular though I would argue the 1 PUFF ranking and suggest it be better considered 1 Breathe Away From Rigor Mortis. 

Looking across to Magnetic Island. The white structure in the right hand corner is the Far North’s latest cultural icon : the football stadium.

Next visit we aim to join the annual swim across Cleveland Bay to the Island. Only joking. Life is too precious…..

Jezzine Barracks, Townsville (Part 2)

Townsville played an important role during WW2 and its significance is highlighted in monuments scattered around the 15 hectare heritage Jezzine Barracks precinct.

During WW2 Townsville played host to more than 50,000 American and Australian troops and air crew, becoming a major staging point for battles in the South West Pacific. The first bombing raid on Rabaul in Papua New Guinea was carried out by six B-17s based near Townsville.


The Battle of the Coral Sea in May 1942 is considered the most significant sea battle ever fought off the coast of Australia.  There is a fascinating diagram imprinted on the concrete walkway near the 5th US Airforce Memorial which guides you through the manoeuvres. 


The memorial itself is quite impressive in its simplicity yet it has a commanding presence with its views across to Magnetic Island and demands reverence. The information states “The United States 5th Air Force Memorial is dedicated to the men and women who served and those who paid the supreme sacrifice while serving with the U.S. 5th Air Force during the South West Pacific campaign of World War Two.”


In July 1942 there were three small Japanese air raids over Townsville. No lives were lost and structural damage was minimal, as the Japanese missed their intended targets. This   structure I found quite sobering.


Make sure you spend the time reading the information on the plaques attached to the memorial. Absolutely fascinating! You can read the plaques here:

https://monumentaustralia.org.au/themes/conflict/ww2/display/92837-united-states-5th-air-force-memorial

Jezzine Barracks is most definitely worth a couple of visits as it is not only situated on a breathtakingly beautiful piece of coastline, the history is fascinating. Just be wary of the crocs and stingers …….🐊🐊

NOTE :

NOTE:  Back in 2012 an Australian historian, Ray Holyoak, from James Cook University, was researching why US congressman Lyndon B Johnson visited Townsville for three days back in 1942. He found that about 600 African-American troops were brought to the city to help build airfields and bridges. These troops, from the 96th Battalion, US Army Corps of Engineers, were stationed at a base on the city’s western outskirts. Two white USA officers handed out serial abuse in the form of racial taunts and violence which resulted in a large-scale siege lasting eight hours.

Holyoak uncovered several documents hidden in the archives of the Queensland Police and Townsville Brigade from the night of 22nd May, 1942, confirming that the soldiers took to machine guns and anti-aircraft weapons and fired into tents where their white counterparts were drinking. More than 700 rounds were fired.

At least one person was killed and dozens severely injured, and Australian troops were called in to roadblock the rioters. 

Holyoak also discovered a report written by Robert Sherrod, a US journalist who was embedded with the troops which never made it to the press, but was handed to Lyndon B Johnson at a Townsville hotel and eventually filed away into the National Archives and Records Administration. For political reasons this incident was hushed up.

You can read more here: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-02-10/historian-reveals-details-on-townsville-mutiny/3821906


Next Time : Surviving the Townsville heat with fruity drinks with umbrellas in them.

Jezzine Barracks, Townsville (Wulgurukaba)

It’s been thirty years since my last significant visit to Townsville 1,400 kms north of Brisbane. I did visit fleetingly ten years ago and not so fondly remember the tropical heat pushing me to a pub at 11am for a refreshing G&T and having to take a minimum of four showers a day to stop from smelling myself in the humidity.

Townsville, Australia’s leading garrison city, has undergone some mammoth changes in recent years and is a vibrant centre which manages to meld its Indigenous, Military and Colonial histories in equal parts.

Case in point, Jezzine Barracks, named after a fierce battle at Jezzine in Syria in 1941, which is a definite addition to your Must Do List.

The Traditional Owners of Garabarra are the Wulgurukaba people and the Bindal people, who retain an enduring ‘connection to country’ despite the impact of non-Aboriginal settlement in the area. For thousands of years Garabarra was the centre of a common food foraging area for local Aboriginal people – an area with immeasurable cultural and spiritual values.” – Wikipedia..

This area became a military base in 1886 and up until 2006 was very much Secret Squirrel territory. The area had been utilised for 120 years and is situated on the Kissing Point Headland on the northern end of The Strand, Townsville’s esplanade bordering the city central, with an outlook across to Magnetic Island and the Coral Sea.

Townsville is just coming out of a 10 day weather event like most of the East Coast.


Opened to the public in 2014 this 15-hectare heritage precinct now commemorates the military and Aboriginal heritage of the area, including majestic water views. There are 34 specially commissioned public artworks, extensive interpretive signage, a coastal walkway connecting to Rowes Bay, as well as the restoration of significant elements of the Kissing Point Fort complex.

The Seven Sisters – based on the seven sisters who came from the heavens to create all that was beautiful, being “Women’s Business”.


The site also includes the Army Museum of North Queensland – closed for my visit but I’ll be back there soon- as well as traditional plantings along the ethno-botanical walk, the Crossed Boomerang Amphitheatre, and the Kennedy Regiment Plaza ( which is bordered by it’s proud history).

The picnic and barbeque areas are popular with both visitors and locals and for a change of pace, a gorgeous little Art Gallery located in old army huts will provide your wallet with the opportunity to enjoy a little dance.

Parade Ground highlighting the regiments that were based at Jezzine.

An example of the history that borders the Parade Ground.
You’ve got it made when you have a Prawn Shell dish from Townsville:)

Next post I will cover the monument commemorating the The United States 5th Air Force Memorial that is featured at Jezzine Barracks. I’m still processing Townsville’s role in military history and it’s connection to the Battle of the Coral Sea ( which of course was not covered in our schooling. Please note sarcasm).

Khaki Town by Judy Nunn

Khaki Town by Australian author Judy Nunn had an interesting byline that had me throw caution to the wind and spend $1 at a charity store. Bargain! It said:

“ inspired by a true wartime story that has remained a well-kept secret for over seventy years”. 

Historical fiction I read this in a single sitting under the comfort of ceiling fans and followed up with a little research.  This is what I discovered:

TRUE STORY:

Back in 2012 an Australian historian, Ray Holyoak, from James Cook University, was researching why US congressman Lyndon B Johnson visited Townsville for three days back in 1942. 

During World War II, Townsville was a crucial base for campaigns into the Pacific, including the Battle of the Coral Sea. To this day it remains a garrison town.

About 600 African-American troops were brought to the city to help build airfields and bridges. These troops, from the 96th Battalion, US Army Corps of Engineers, were stationed at a base on the city’s western outskirts. Two white USA officers handed out serial abuse in the form of racial taunts and violence which resulted in a large-scale siege lasting eight hours.

Holyoak uncovered several documents hidden in the archives of the Queensland Police and Townsville Brigade from the night of 22nd May, 1942, confirming that the soldiers took to machine guns and anti-aircraft weapons and fired into tents where their white counterparts were drinking. More than 700 rounds were fired.

At least one person was killed and dozens severely injured, and Australian troops were called in to roadblock the rioters. ( I suspect alcohol may have played a part which would account for so many lousy shots).

Mr Holyoak also discovered a report written by Robert Sherrod, a US journalist who was embedded with the troops which never made it to the press, but was handed to Lyndon B Johnson at a Townsville hotel and eventually filed away into the National Archives and Records Administration.

For political reasons this incident was hushed up.

Khaki Town is based on these events though very much embellished and personalised with stories about the troops and their interaction with the citizens of Townsville, as well as the relationships between white Australians and aboriginals.

The author also includes a tale of coffins containing the bodies of African Americans on a train from Mt Isa, west of Townsville, which I confirmed here:

https://www.ozatwar.com/usarmy/africanamerican.htm

Sister Eileen Richardson recalls the Americans arrived in Mount Isa and took over Hilton Hall which was owned by Mount Isa Mines, which became the 17th Station Hospital. She remembers a tragic incident where 73 Negro soldiers died after drinking a home brew which was made in disused cyanide drums, which were probably surplus from the mines. The cyanide would have seeped into the inside seams of the drums. The 73 coffins were loaded on a train and sent to Townsville possibly to the US Military Cemetery in Townsville.”

Khaki Town also covers the anti American sentiment by the Aussie soldiers who declared the yanks to be “ over paid, over sexed, and over here”.  Apparently, American troops were also known as paw paws – “green on the outside and yellow on the inside” – which I had never previously heard

The racism in this novel is ugly and Australia is hardly as pure as the driven snow with its White Australia Policy. Regardless, a good read that opened my eyes to an interesting facet of our history. I look forward to reading Holyoaks further research.

The Strand, Townsville, looking over to Magnetic Island

PERSONAL NOTE:

LBJ visited Australia during his presidency in 1966. My ex, a Townsville lad, to this day argues that the biggest thing ever to happen in FNQ was the visit for a day to Townsville by the President, beaten only in popularity by a visit from Elvis Presley’s car. It’s that kind of town.