Brisbane at War

Brisbane at War

Image: Air raid shelters down Elizabeth Street, Brisbane, 1942 [SLQ 166469]

A look the impacts of the war on Brisbane

Brisbane was home to fewer than 350,000 people in 1941. Over the next three years the city itself had reached over 700,000 with up to one million U.S. military personnel passing through the city en route to the Pacific War. By mid-1943, nearly 100,000 US troops were stationed around the city. The strains on transport, hotels and food supplies were unprecedented. Suddenly, many of the freedoms which Brisbane people took for granted had vanished. In daily life, from shopping to schooling, winning the war came first.

It began on 22 December 1941 when a US naval convoy arrived at Brett’s Wharf, escorted by the heavy cruiser USS Pensacola. Although the USS Pensacola did not actually birth in Brisbane, the convoy’s troops were billeted at Eagle Farm. Over the following years, Sandgate, Petrie and Strathpine housed major air force bases and warships and submarines crowded the banks of the Brisbane River at New Farm. Australian and American troops poured in from southern States, filling camps in and around Brisbane along with British, Dutch, and Filipino troops. City offices and university buildings at St Lucia became military headquarters. Private homes, schools and other buildings were taken over for military use. To meet the perceived threat from Japanese carrier aircraft, the Brisbane City Council began the construction of over 200 surface shelters*. These concrete and sandbagged boxes were designed to be used after the war was over and changed the face of the city.

Office buildings had taped windows and sandbagged entrances, water mains filled with salty river water for fighting fires ran from North Quay along Ann and Elizabeth Streets. Lights were turned off for each night’s ‘brown-out’. Brisbane had become the Command Centre for one of the largest wartime campaigns in history.

Gas and electricity companies, Police, Ambulance, even the Salvation Army, Fire Brigade and Boy Scouts formed a civil defence network. Junior police officers at a Roma Street Control Centre co-ordinated the many civil defenders, amongst them Air Raid Wardens. Fears of an air raid on Brisbane lasted for a long time after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Inside the MacArthur Museum you will see our newsreel and displays that depict life on the home front and the transformation of a 'country town' into a focal point in the war against the Axis Powers.

Guided Tours

Explore our exhibits with knowledgable volunteers guiding you.

Easy Location

Located within a walking distance from train and bus stations in Brisbane's shopping district.

Group Discounts

Visiting with a group? Get discounts of up to 50% off!

Real Photos & Newsreel Footage

See real photos, videos and newsreel footage from the war.

Itinerary

Onsite Accessibility
Wheelchair access. Access to the building and all public areas are wheelchair accessible.
Facilities
Public toilets are located in the Museum premises. Male and female toilets have wheelchair access.
Food
Cafes and eateries. Located conveniently inside the adjacent MacArthur Central precinct, you will find a number of cafes and restaurants and a food hall upstairs. Alternatively, the Queen Street Mall offers a number of cafes and food outlets.

Museum Entry

Adult
17+ years
$10/person
  • 1 day pass
  • Access to all exhibits
  • Free tour guide
  • Video, photo & audio material
Student
with valid ID
$5/person
  • 1 day pass
  • Access to all exhibits
  • Free tour guide
  • Video, photo & audio material

Reviews

Excellent exhibition of MacArthur and life in WWII Brisbane- his HQ office is well preserved. You can self guide or go with a guide at no extra cost. Choose the guide he knows his stuff.
Gerald Varley
December 2021
This is an excellent resource for anyone who wishes to learn more about general MacArthur's tenure in Brisbane. Not only because of the video, photo and audio material, but because the museum is staffed by people who lived through the time. Thank you for such a wonderful exhibit.
Chris Read
September 2020
Just as it says, General Douglas MacArthur's HQ in our own Brisbane. Great volunteer staff who greet you and guide you to MacArthur"s office/museum and very helpful and informative. Good information, videos and displays of the war and of course MacArthur's office itself. Walk where MacArthur walked and worked during this terrible time in our history and feel the history and perhaps the man's presence from a time past.
Mike Smith
July 2018

$10/adult

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Payment Options

We will gladly accept online payment in the methods below, as well as cash or cheque in person.

Have a Question?

Feel free to reach out and we're happy to answer any questions you may have.

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