In this entry for the Centaur Memorial Fund Series, Dr Madonna Grehan, 2015 John Oxley Library Fellow, discusses the history of Centaur House Memorial Hostel on Magnetic Island.
Magnetic Island’s “Centaur House” was a Memorial Convalescent and Rest Hostel for nurses on a quarter acre block at 27 Marine Parade, Geoffrey Bay. The land comprised Resubdivision 16 of Subdivision 1 of Portion 48V, County of Elphinstone, Parish of Magnetic (Certificate of title No N34760 Volume 267, Folio 60). It was situated halfway between the well-known Arcadia Guest House and the safe Arcadia surfing beach with its shark-proof netting.
Opened officially on 1 November 1953, the Magnetic Island hostel was dedicated to the memory of the nurses of the 2/3 Australian Hospital Ship Centaur. The idea for the memorial came in 1949 from Percy J. Eustace, Secretary of the Townsville Committee of the Centaur Memorial Fund and a member of the Townsville Hospital’s Board. The Hospital Board owned the block of land, having accepted it as a gift in 1927 from Charles Marendy, a local businessman. Permission of Queensland’s Department of Health and Home Affairs was necessary to give permanent tenure to the Centaur Memorial Fund.
With the building cost estimated at £10,000, fundraising began in 1950. Singer Miss Gladys Moncrieff toured the north with a concert party. Hayles’ Magnetic Island Pty Ltd donated the proceeds of a cruise on the new MV Marena. The Townsville Committee ran art unions and street stalls. Businesses held fashion parades. Any money raised in the Fund’s name, north of Mackay, went towards the hostel project, including sales of Red Roses on Centaur Day, 14 May, and proceeds from the Fund’s 1950 gala event called ‘Queensland’s Floral Festival and Most Typical Australian Woman Quest’.
Centaur House Memorial Hostel was designed by three Townsville architects: L.E. Williams, J.G. Rooney and M. Hunt. Copies of their plans are held in the Centaur Memorial Fund collection at SLQ. The hostel had five bedrooms upstairs for ten guests, a hallway, a 9ft verandah all round, writing room, two more guest rooms, bathrooms and lavatories. The ground floor housed a large lounge, buffet, kitchen, and living quarters for a married couple.
In April 1950 the Premier of Queensland, Ned Hanlon MP, set the first stump. Built by Mr C.A. Howlett, the total cost was £8295. Donors furnished the hostel, providing beds, table tennis table, wireless, books for the library, and a new “Pope” washing machine. Frank Saywell, a Sydney businessman and philanthropist, donated money and an electric stove.
On Christmas Eve 1971, 90% of the structures on Magnetic Island were destroyed by Cyclone Althea. Centaur House was unscathed, owing to its substantial construction. The ground floor and stumps were concrete. The frame was hardwood, walls of wood and fibro, and a corrugated fibro roof. The hostel had its own lighting plant, and there were two large rain water tanks and a bore. Prior to construction in 1949, the Fund ensured availability of a consumable water by sinking a spear into the ground to 13 feet. A sample was sent off to Mr Stevens of the Tropical Institute to test the salt concentration.
Mr and Mrs Ashworth were inaugural caretakers. Over five years, they improved the grounds, creating rock and coral bordered gardens, planting paw paws, pineapples and other fruit trees, and concreting a large area at the rear at their own expense. Mr Ashworth established a poultry run and hostel guests were treated to roast duck on Sundays. He was also a local taxi driver, conveying people and goods from Picnic Bay. Mrs E. Stanley took over in 1958. She was followed in 1959 by Mrs M.E. Stefanson.
Centaur House Memorial Hostel was open to any female nurses who wished to visit. It was popular with nurses from southern Australia and from overseas. Accommodation and meals for a week in 1959 cost £8/8/0 (approximately $253 today). But achieving full patronage was always a challenge and in 1962, the hostel ran at a loss. With basics such as the kerosene refrigerator needing replacing, an advertising brochure was expected to attract custom. After Cyclone Althea, Centaur House hostel closed for several months and patronage fell dramatically.
In early 1973 ongoing difficulties in attracting caretaking staff and falling patronage led the Townsville Committee to recommend the property’s sale. The decision was approved by the Centaur Memorial Fund’s Executive in Brisbane in November 1973. Centaur House Memorial Hostel was purchased by Graham and Betty Jackson for $25,000. It continues to operate, now called Arcadia Beach Guest House.
Dr Madonna Grehan
Madonna is interested to hear your stories of Centaur House Memorial Hostel, via the reply function on this page.
Dr Madonna Grehan was the 2015 John Oxley Library Fellow. Her previous research on the Centaur Memorial Fund can be found here:
- ATNA Nurses’ Rest Home, 17-19 Mallon St, Bowen Hills
- Avenging the Nurses: Government’s response to the sinking of 2/3 Australian Hospital Ship Centaur
- Centaur Day, 14 May, and Red Roses for Remembrance
- Queen of the Nurses Quest
- How to crown a Queen
- Brisbane’s first street markets – The Spring Hill Fair
- The Diggers’ Friend: Sadie [Sarah] Charlotte Macdonald 1875-1970 (with Marg Doherty)
- Two men and a presentation cricket bat
- Len Shillam’s 2/3 AHS Centaur Memorial, 1957
- At the Brisbane Ekka, 1950-1977 – the Centaur Memorial Fund’s money spinner
- Flotsam from the 2/3 Australian Hospital Ship Centaur
- Fiesta Gardens 1948 – a touch of Hollywood at Slacks Creek (with Dr Hilda Maclean)
SLQ holds the records of the Centaur Memorial Fund for Nurses, including photographs, correspondence and ephemera. Newspaper extracts from the Townsville Daily Bulletin, Brisbane Telegraph and Courier Mail, were sourced from the National Library of Australia’s search engine, TROVE.
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