Centaur House Memorial Hostel, Magnetic Island

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.

Centaur House, Magnetic Island. From Centaur OMEG, Centaur House Records, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

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’.

Newspaper clipping from OMEG, Centaur House Records, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

Miss Maree Loughnan of Roma, Winner of the Centaur Memorial Fund’s Most Typical Australian Woman Quest 1950. From OMEG, Centaur House Records, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

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 State Library of Queensland. 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.

Letterhead. From OMEG, Centaur House Records, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

Newspaper clipping of Centaur House. From OMEG, Centaur House Records, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

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.

Leaflet showing Centaur House. From OMEG, Centaur House Records, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

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:


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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Thank you Madonna, this is a very interesting account of the Centaur House Memorial Hostel on Magnetic Island. it is a shame that the severe weather event led to a decrease in patronage and subsequent sale.

Thanks Diane for your interest in the blog series. I was amazed that the construction meant that it defied Cyclone Althea. The lovely thing is that the plans are in the Centaur Memorial Fund collection at SLQ. Even the people who own the hostel now are interested in them. Going by the pictures online, it hasn't changed that much!Perhaps those of associated with the Centaur Memorial Fund for Nurses should book it out mid-winter.I am looking for stories from anyone who stayed there.

It seems to me from the look of this interesting blog that there was a tremendous effort right across various regions to honour nurses after the sinking of the Centaur. This continues to amaze me.

Hello SueThank you for your comments. The history of the CMFN continues to amaze me as well, and I've been researching it for some years now. The Townsville Committee was the only one that did not disband after the inaugural year of campaigning in 1948 and had to obtain special permission from Brisbane to do so.In trying to understand this local motivation, my sense is that Townsville Harbour was a military hub and a stop for most of the military ships. 2/3 AHS Centaur stopped at Townsville on its first practice run in March 1943.In those days, the local hospital played host to the medical staff of these ships and I suspect that the nurses of the Centaur were known in Townsville. Several of the Fund's Townsville Committee members either worked at the Townsville Hospital or were on the Hospital Board.For me, it underscores that the public held nurses in great esteem.

Another great blog Madonna. I do look forward to reading each one. This one was of special interest as I stayed at this Centaur Holiday home when I was a trainee nurse in either 1963 or 1962. I loved the photos and recognised the side staircase as our accommodation was upstairs. I can also remember there had been a big fire through the island and there was a baby koala in residence as his mother had died in the fire. The koals was so tiny. This blog brought back some great memories for me Thanks you.

Madonna,I found your recount interesting which generated more questions for me as I reflected on the numerous memorials we see today for Centaur.Are there of QLD or even other State accommodation which was dedicated to nurses as a result of the sinking? I am curious haw many other Centaur groups still active today? Not sure if you have encountered them Madonna, however it would be an opportunity to collaborate.thank you for your thought provoking piece.

Fascinating read on some of our nursing history. Thank you.

This was really interesting to read. Thanks for doing the hard work.

Wow, how thoughtful that they made a place for nurses to go on holidays. I wonder if after 'living in' hospital nurses' quarters that they saw spending their holidays in shared accommodation as a familiar way of life.

I always enjoy your research related to the Centaur Memorial Fund Madonna. Thank you

Thank-you Madonna - very interesting. Imagine going to holiday in a Convalescent and Rest Hostel for nurses how time has changed in such a relatively short period

Thanks for all of your posts. On memorials, there are many to WWI and WWII nurses. Each state generated a major memorial to nurses post WWII. In Victoria it was the [War] Nurses Memorial Centre, later the Nurses Memorial Centre. The name was changed because civilian and military nurses were killed as a result of war.The Western Australian Nurses Memorial Charitable Trust exists, following the closure of the WA NMC which was a property. Likewise, the SA NMC had property and now is the Nurses Memorial Foundation of South Australia. Like the Centaur Memorial Fund, these organisations provide grants and scholarships to nurses. Other memorials have been taken over by professional organisations like the Australian College of Nursing. There were other memorials at training hospitals and in local communities.In the Centaur Fund records at SLQ, there are some accounts of how nurses enjoyed the Magnetic Island Facilities.

A friend tells me that this blog brought back memories of a 2 week school trip, taken in 1949 from Melbourne to Magnetic Island return. A class of girls and 2 teachers travelled by train to Townsville, then Hayles' MV Malanda to Magnetic Island. They stayed at the Arcadia resort. One of the girls purchased a copy of the magazine "True Confessions" as reading material!

My friend Margaret Mabbitt in Victoria recalls that she and some friends from her general training group at the Melbourne School of Nursing had a holiday at Centaur House Magnetic Island in 1957. It was just after Margaret had finished her midwifery training at The Women's in Melbourne. The Murray was in flood so the bus trip to Sydney was delayed. Then the train trip to Brisbane was slow. Then she caught the old Sunlander to Townsville.Her friend Sister Kath Tweedy was living in Townsville then and ran the Red Cross Blood Bank there. Kath joined them. One thing Marg remembers about the hostel was the numerous pineapples in the garden.

spent many school holidays on Magnetic Island but this is the first time I have found about this marvellous story

Thanks for this wonderful story.. again you have unearthed a bit of lost Queensland History... who would have thought the Centaur Memorial Fund had such a large footprint... thanks again.

Thanks to retired nurse and midwife, Margaret Mabbitt (Melbourne), I have some photographs of her holidaying at Centaur House, Magnetic Island, in July 1956, with Kath Tweedy. The Ashworths (first caretakers) had a farm which Margaret and Kath visited. Margaret has asked me to offer the photographs to SLQ.

Thanks for this story Madonna. We lived on the Island 1975-1979 and holiday there every couple of years as do our children. We are heading up again next week from (sunny) Ballarat which actually got to 9 degrees c yesterday. I will make a point of checking it out at Arcadia this time.

Hello Michael, It will certainly be a change from B'rat. Do visit the Arcardia Beach Guest House. The building structure is unchanged when one compares it to these photos. I doubt if the cement tank is still there. Feel free to send an update via this blog. And visit the historical society, they were interested in this history too.

My Aunt and Uncle Elsie and Percival Lowe’s were involved in Centaur House.Perc was on the Board of the Townsville Hospital. I remember staying at Centaur House with my aunt for a few days.

Hello Judiththanks for posting. How great to hear from a relative of Percy Lowe's! Percy was behind everything in Townsville as far as the Centaur Fund was concerned. Once he stepped down it didn't progress with the same level of steam.I'd love to chat with you if possible. I am keen to know more about him.In the first instance, it would be great if you could email me at mgrehan@unimelb.edu.auMany thanksMadonna Grehan

I wandered Australia for 5 months in 1985 and stayed at Centaur House. It was by far my favorite stay and I made good friends with the warden, Norma. When she came to the States, I returned the favor by welcoming her to my home in Washington DC. I traded sketches of the hostel in return for lodging. If you want to see the sketches or photos from that time, let me know. If you know what happened to Norma, I would appreciate knowing that as well. She was incredibly dear to us and everyone at the hostel loved her.

Hello Marian
How lovely to hear from you in the USA. And thank you for commenting on the blog. I'm glad your stay at the Centaur House Memorial Hostel on Magnetic Island was so memorable. I imagine it was a lot quieter there in 1986 than it is these days.

The Hostel was sold by the Centaur Memorial Fund in 1974. It has continued as holiday accommodation and today is a backpackers. I am sorry I can't help you with Norma's name, but the Magnetic Island Museum people may be able to advise you about that.

We'd love to see some sketches if you are willing to email a copy. I'll investigate if we can add them to this blog if you have no objection. We would of course add a reference that they were done by you.
Feel free to contact me at mgrehan@unimelb.edu.au
Many thanks
Dr Madonna Grehan

Thank you, Madonna for your post. Spent many happy weekends at Centaur House with nursing colleagues during the early sixties. Also stayed on a couple of occasions at Centaur House in centre of Brisbane.

During late 1980’s Centaur House was a very popular backpacker YHA facility
A verandah was constructed at the rear by island carpenters
It maintained the same atmosphere as when it was a nurses holiday facility

thanks Jeanette and Peter
feel free to contact me mgrehan@unimelb.edu.au if you'd like to add your story to the history of the Centaur Memorial Fund.
Madonna Grehan