Tag: Photo Ramona Markowski
Mount Isa 4825
As World War II inched closer to Australia, miners in Queensland’s north-west volunteered their manpower to dig and fit out Australia’s first — and only — underground hospital.
Consisting of four tunnels, and only a stone’s throw from Mount Isa’s actual hospital, the underground structure was the town’s back-up plan should it be bombed like Darwin.
The threat was real, considering Mount Isa had its mine and plenty of valuable minerals nearby.
While the subterranean hospital was never utilised for its intended purpose, weekly drills involved staff relocating patients to the tunnels in preparation for an actual attack.
A maternity section and bassinets were in place, as was an area designated for emergency surgeries.
The tunnels began collapsing in the late 1970s but were repaired and have been open as a tourist attraction in 2001.
Knowing the history
One of the hospital’s many tour guides is Ramona Markowski, who has been volunteering for about four years after she moved to Mount Isa from the United States.
She said its “fascinating” story was a unique part of Australia’s history.
“It is the only underground hospital we have in Australia,” she said.
“Even though it was never used as a hospital, the nurses would come here after their shifts to sleep because it is so much cooler in the tunnels than it is outside.
“When it was built, the threat to Mount Isa seemed very real as the copper mine was seen as a strategic resource of great value to the Japanese.
“Reacting to the perceived risk of air raids, the director of the regional district hospital, Dr Edward Ryan, contacted the superintendent of the mine who offered the services of his company and his chief underground foreman to design and construct a series of tunnels to serve as an emergency underground hospital site.”
Building on their own time
Ms Markowski said local miners volunteered their time and completed the work in just two weeks between March and April 1942.
“The miners drilled, blasted and mucked out a series of four tunnels,” she said.
“Three run parallel to each other and the fourth intersects them, creating a capital E shape.”
“They had their supplies down there, the surgical tables were in place, and they did their drills every week — they were ready,” she added.
After the tunnels collapsed and two fires had burnt through them, a university team came to Mount Isa to reconstruct the hospital and, using wartime photos, replicate its original layout.
Now, tourists can walk through and see the incredible sight of an entire hospital system sitting in the side of a hill.