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MacArthur Museum: WW2 in Brisbane

Home > Brisbane > Family | Exhibitions | Fun Things To Do | Historic Houses | Museums
by Sigrid Parker (subscribe)
Travel writer, with teenage kids, who treats Brisbane as a holiday destination...every weekend!
Published June 6th 2012
There is definitely a surge in interest in war history, particularly the stories of the First and Second World wars and our involvement in them. Almost upon us is the 100 year anniversary of the Anzac legend and the battles of Gallipoli (2015) but not all our war effort took place overseas.

How much do you know about what went on during the Second World War in Brisbane? Here, in our home town, just 70 years ago?
War Effort
Recruiting women for Brisbane's war effort

Question: From 1942 to 1945 was Brisbane the command centre for the war on the Pacific culminating with the bombing of Japan that ended the war?

Brisbane's war effort is little known - the above is true, by the way - so let me introduce you to the best place to get a feel for what was going on at the time: the Macarthur Museum in the heart of the city.

There's something for everyone at this charming museum. Military enthusiasts (ie. boys of all ages) will enjoy footage of battles and digitised newspapers of the day showing how tense the situation was. The political and strategic importance of Brisbane to the Allies explains a lot about our ongoing US Australia alliance still in operation today.

There's the social history perspective - what it was like living (rationing), restrictions (the Army requisitioned all binoculars for the war effort) and going to school (or not) in a garrison town.

And, yes, romance, the love stories that prompted the Battle of Brisbane: US marines versus our Aussie soldiers over our local lasses.
Macarthur Chambers building
1930s heritage listed Macarthur building

Entry to the museum is on Edward St but I think I'm in the wrong place as I wait for the lift to level 8. This is no grand museum entrance but a narrow hallway in one of the grand old buildings of the 1930s.

I learn that at the time the entire building was commissioned for the war effort. In early 1942 US General Douglas Macarthur arrived in Brisbane and set up headquarters for the Allied Forces in the South-West Pacific.

And so Brisbane became a supply and command centre for all operations in the Pacific area. Normally a small town of 350,000, numbers swelled as over 100,000 military personnel from the US, British, Filipinos and Holland were based here. Old footage of the hundreds of ships and submarines docked in the Brisbane river is extraordinary.

Fortifying Brisbane was deemed essential. Australia at this time was vulnerable to attack from the Japanese. It was feared that Australia would be near-impossible to defend given its size and impossible-to-defend shoreline.

Then in March 1942 Darwin was bombed. Anticipating an attack on Brisbane, office windows in the city were taped, entrances sandbagged, blackouts were in effect nightly and over 200 air raid shelters were built.

This is a story you normally associate with the war in Europe. Not Brisbane.

The most poignant story of all, though, is the war brides story.

I won't tell you how this tale ends. Check it out at the museum.
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Why? Love and life during tough war years, still within living memory
When: Tuesday, Thursday and Sundays - 10 am to 3 pm
Phone: 07 3211 7052
Where: Between Queen St shops and the Botanic Gardens
Cost: Adults: $5.00; Children, Seniors, Groups: $2.50; Families: $12.00.
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