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At the ruins of Fort Bribie in 1993, John McKenna and Dr Noel Ure (photo Peter Ludlow)

In my 2001 book ‘Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection’ I made the following reference to the underground hospital situated at Fort Bribie situated at the northern end of Bribie Island:

The existence or otherwise of the underground hospital is a topic currently hotly disputed by Bribie’s residents. Many vehemently swear (literally) that years ago they descended its steps. Some entered and found it still set up and ready for use. Others could not open the door because sand had collected against it. All had returned years later only to find its steps completely covered by sand and, with fading memories and an overgrowth of scrub, its location ‘lost’.

And there are also those who just as vehemently swear (literally) that the underground hospital never existed. They say that all army personnel requiring hospitalisation were taken to Caloundra, so why should another hospital be built at Fort Bribie?

Perhaps the answer rests with Doctor Noel Ure, medical officer at Fort Bribie in 1943. He says: “The underground hospital DID exist because I set it up at Fort Bribie in 1943. It was a large underground room with steps descending into it. There were about 15 stretcher bed set up inside.

 “It is quite true that sick personnel were sent to the hospital at Caloundra. The purpose of the underground hospital was for emergency use in case of an enemy invasion of the Fort. We now know that this never occurred, and so the hospital was probably never used as such. But in 1943 at least, it DID EXIST!”

  Fifty years later, on June 18, 1993, we trek with Doctor Ure to the site of the underground hospital. He remembers it to be no more than 50 feet from the entrance to the Officers Mess hut. We use a site plan to locate firstly the foundations of the enlisted men’s latrines, and then work our way through thick entanglements of lantana across the foundations of the sergeants’ latrines, officers’ latrines, and finally their mess. There is a lantana-covered mound of sand where Doctor Ure remembers the underground hospital to be. It all looks so different. With a probe we search for cement beneath the sand. There is nothing, not even air vents common to the other underground structures of the camp.

Then, about 50 feet south of the officers’ mess, our probe hits something solid. We quickly shovel off the sand covering a cement slab.  About 2 metres long by 1 metre wide its pebbly texture resembles that of a path. Could it lead to the steps going down into the underground hospital?

We are hot, tired, thirsty, and scratched by lantana. Our shovel is no match for our imaginations. The hospital must still remain a mystery. Perhaps time, a metal detector, and a team of shovel and machete wielding volunteers may one day answer this intriguing question.