A GREAT PERMANENT MEMORIAL IS NOW IN PLACE
Cairns historians shine light on Z Force operations
Terry James' family has links to House on the Hill and the Z Special Unit which operated out of the location during World War II.
DEEP in enemy territory, as night began to blanket the sky, the operatives quietly slipped into the dark waters off Singapore harbour.
It was September 26, 1943 – the depths of World War II.
A crew of 14 commandos – trained at Mooroobool’s famed House on the Hill – were about to destroy seven Japanese war vessels after soldiers planted limpet mines on the ships’ hulls. Codenamed Operation Jaywick, it would be one of the facility’s most successful missions.
Former Cairns Historical Society president Stephen Fowler described how the specially-trained fighters spent the next 11 days avoiding enemy combat as they crept from hostile waters back to home territory.
“It was no mean feat to get back to Australia, but that type of training from the House on the Hill was able to prepare them for operations like that,” he said.
“They sank about 40,000 tonnes of Japanese shipping in Operation Jaywick, then managed to all get away. It was very successful.”
The crew, aboard a disguised fishing vessel christened Krait, had spent days making their way from Thursday Island, before heading across to Western Australia, then slinking to the Java Sea under cover of a heavy mist.
The next mission following Jaywick was not so successful. Codenamed Operation Rimau, all 11 soldiers were either captured or killed as they tried to escape.
Mr Fowler described the House on the Hill training base, located on Munro Tce in Mooroobool, as a significant part of North Queensland’s wartime history, where the M and Z special units secretly trained and planned missions.
“Cairns was a secondary port to Townsville for building up war resources, so you had many different strategic operations happening in the city at one time,” he said.
“Training was just one of numerous secret operations that were being done but there were also plenty of defensive operations.”
The house, originally owned by legendary pilot Sir Charles Kingsford Smith, was later bought by Cairns Deputy Mayor Terry James’ family, who re-purposed it as a restaurant in 1966.
Mr James told the Cairns Post he lived and worked at the popular night spot, which was filled with memorabilia from the Z and M forces, for quite a few years when he was a young man.
“It was very popular,” he said. “It was the nightclub in Cairns at the time. Everyone went there.”
Mr James explained his family sold the historical residence to the notorious Bellino family, who owned a series of Brisbane nightclubs when Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen was premier.
The building was later destroyed in a fire before apartments were built where the training facility once stood.