Did You Know that the Eagle Farm Racecourse Was a Military Camp in WW2?

For more than 150 years, the Eagle Farm Racecourse has been highly regarded as one of Queensland’s best racecourses. Did you know that it was once called Camp Ascot, the first military camp established by US Army troops in Australia during the Second World War?

Horseracing in Eagle Farm

Queenslanders enjoyed horse racing before the 1850s in Moreton Bay and New Farm.

Following the closure of the New Farm racecourse in the 1860s, a new site with a grandstand that could seat 350 people was planned in Ascot. The opening of the Ascot Railway Station a few years later brought more race-goers to the racecourse.

Established in 1863, the site then known as Ascot Racecourse or Brisbane Racecourse did not just host horse racing activities but also social and business events.

A news feature on Eagle Farm Racecourse from the 1880s.
Photo Credit: Trove/National Library of Australia

Upon the opening of the Eagle Farm Racecourse, the Queensland Turf Club (QTC) assumed leadership and created the Brisbane Racecourse Act in the 1870s. QTC also sought to offer the facilities for other purposes to fund its maintenance and operation. Thus, cricket and polo matches, as well as various club events and meetings, were also hosted on the racecourse.

Racegoers watching a close race.
Photo Credit: Trove/National Library of Australia

Between the 1880s to the 1930s, the Eagle Farm Racecourse saw a lot of expansions and improvements to address the congestion as railway facilities were updated with more stations in the northside amidst the boom in the racing industry.

More news about the racecourse developments.
Photo Credit: Trove/National Library of Australia
The new Leger Stand.
Photo Credit: State Library of Queensland

Before World War II, the racecourse had an overhead pedestrian bridge, a new Members’ Stand, a lavatory block, and an extension to the St Leger Stand. 

1941: Building Camp Ascot and Camp Doomben

On the 22nd of December in 1941, the ‘Pensacola’ Convoy reached Brisbane’s Brett’s Wharf at Hamilton. The first US Army troops marched up Racecourse Road and there they established tented sites, Camp Ascot and Camp Doomben, at the racecourses. 

Camp Ascot military tents.
Photo Credit: Brisbane City Council Library

During the war, the only racecourse to operate as intended was the Albion Race Track.

As an important sporting and recreation facility in Brisbane, Queenslanders did not allow the Americans to alter the buildings or damage the three concentric racetracks. Inspite of that, the Americans still received personal items, such as writing paper, library books and magazines from the Australian Comforts Fund.

1942: Arrival of the 648th US Engineer Regiment

The US Engineer Regiment described the camp as a “big fancy racetrack” in spite of its meagre facilities. The troops had to chop wood every day to supply the kitchen’s fireplace. The kitchen itself only had a makeshift tin shack with coal stoves, an open hearth with primitive utensils. The men slept on the wooden floors of their tents and bathed in the open-air showers.

The entrance to Eagle Farm Racecourse Camp Ascot.
Photo Credit: Brisbane City Council Library

1943-1944: Camp Turns Into Tent City

Colonel Harold Doud’s Special Intelligence Service (SIS)  relocated into Camp Ascot, which was packed with U.S. Army Bell Tents. They placed a temporary movie theatre in the main grandstand and added two warehouses including a Mess Hall with a reading room in the member’s car park. They placed prefabricated, de-mountable huts around the camp but outside the fenced racing circle.

The tented army camp at the Eagle Farm Racecourse
Photo Credit: Brisbane City Council Library
The officers at Camp Ascot
Photo Credit: Australian War Memorial

By August 1945, the SIS vacated Camp Ascot and moved to San Miguel in the Philippines.

In May 1946, the Victory Cup Meeting marked the return of racing to the Eagle Farm Racecourse.

Additional features like a camera tower, the Judge’s Box, the John Power Stand, and the Race Day Stalls were added to the site between the 1950s to the 1980s.

Eagle Farm Racecourse Today

The  Eagle Farm Racecourse was listed on the Queensland Heritage Register in 2004 as a combined entry with the Ascot Railway Station. The Brisbane Racing Club (BRC) now manages the racecourse after a merger with the QTC. 

The BRC upgraded the racetracks and associated facilities following a $1.2 billion development project. The BRC also introduce non-racing developments with the continued operation for the racing facilities.

A new access road and a residential tower, as well as a boutique hotel, were completed in 2018. The racecourse could also accommodate over 1,600 cars in its refurbished carpark during major race days. 

Meanwhile, the Ascot Railway Station was electrified in 1988. Passenger service lines have been limited to Doomben in 1998, where there are newer bus connections.

Traverse Through Historic Sites at the Ascot and Hamilton Heritage Trail

Whilst real estate prices in Ascot and Hamilton are amongst the highest in Brisbane, most residents don’t know about the diverse and fascinating history of the area. For example the connection of Ascot’s name to the racecourse, the 154-year history of the Hamilton Hotel, the chaos of keeping the Eagle Farm Women’s Prisoners away from the men, the role of Brett’s Wharf in WW2, local resident Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith, the evolution of Racecourse Road and many other fascinating evolutions.

The Ascot and Hamilton Heritage Trail is a 3.5-km walk, including 18 points of interest that help illustrate the development of both Ascot and Hamilton. The trail starts off just outside the Hamilton Hotel and ends at the entrance to the Eagle Farm Racecourse.

Visitors who want to learn more about the stories and events that shaped the history of the area can check out Brisbane City Council’s Gallivant Through Ascot and Hamilton Heritage Trail brochure. The document also includes more information on the location of public transport and access for people with limited mobility. Take note that some sections of the heritage trail are steep and may be difficult for some visitors to access.

Brief History of Ascot

The evolution of Ascot officially started after the establishment of the famous racecourse in 1865 by the Queensland Turf Club. The development made the area more attractive and further helped to define its distinctive character. The land was granted to the club by the Colonial Government in 1863. Subsequently, the first race meeting was held two years later.

The name ‘Ascot’ used to be a reference to the famous English racecourse. As more people visited the racecourse, Ascot became more closely associated with this part of Brisbane. The rail line was then extended from Eagle Junction to Racecourse Station in 1882 and the station later adopted the name Ascot in 1897.  

Ascot and Hamilton Heritage Trail

The Hamilton Hotel

Ascot and Hamilton Heritage Trail Hamilton Hotel
Hamilton Hotel, Hamilton, ca. 1929. (Photo credit: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Negative number: 1902)

Gustavus Hamilton established the hotel in 1865 and named it The Hamilton. The hotel then became a reference point in the district. Not long after, the area around the hotel adopted the name The Hamilton.

Eagle Farm Women’s Prison

At first, female convicts were held in the Female Factory, on the site which is now occupied by the General Post Office on Queen Street.

The factory was surrounded by high stone walls to limit fraternisation with men, but this proved to be ineffective. Authorities then decided to move the female convicts to Eagle Farm, away from the attention of male convicts as well as soldiers, who were forbidden from crossing Breakfast Creek.

The site of the Eagle Farm Women’s Prison was only accessible through the convict-hewn track which is now known as the Kingsford Smith Drive. The women’s prison may no longer be standing today, but it is an important archaeological site located about two kilometres away from Schneider Road.

Brett’s Wharf and the Apollo Barge Assembly Depot

Ascot and Hamilton Heritage Trail Brett's wharves at Hamilton
Brett’s wharves at Hamilton taken about 1953. (Photo credit: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Negative number: 43721)

Did you know that Hamilton, Ascot, and Eagle Farm experienced some of the most intense war-time activity seen in Australia during World War II?

Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour on 7 December 1941, US forces were redirected to Australia. Brett’s Wharf played an important role as the receiving dock for the US Air Force’s unassembled aircraft.

Substation No. 12

Built at a time when electric trams travelled to Hamilton, Substation No. 12 is one of only two substations built in Brisbane that combined the substation functions for both the electricity supply and the tramway system.

The Hamilton substation was the first of this type of installation to be built in Brisbane in 1947. Meanwhile, the other Substation No. 42 on Waterworks Road at Ashgrove, was built in 1948. Such a dual facility was an unusual but efficient use of a site, as it incorporated both types of substations within a single building.

By the 1960s, the Council viewed trams as an inefficient, expensive, and inflexible form of public transport. This lead to the decision to discontinue the service across Brisbane in 1969.

Kingsford Smith Drive

Ascot and Hamilton Heritage Trail Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith
Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith.(Photo credit: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Negative number: 52185)

In 1953, this road was renamed Kingsford Smith Drive in honour of one of Australia’s most important aviators. Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith was born in a house near the corner of Riverview Terrace and Hamilton Road.

Hamilton Town Hall

This structure was built in 1920 as the Hamilton Town Hall and Hamilton Town Council Chambers.Brisbane architect, MT Stanley designed the hall which became the venue for Council business community meetings and social occasions like dances.

After its use as a community hall ended, residents petitioned for it to become the site of a School of the Arts, a move that did quite succeed. Today, it is the site of a public library.

Tivoli Gardens Theatre

Opened in 1907, the Tivoli Gardens was a popular, open-air  Vaudeville theatre in Brisbane and is famous for its Vaudevillian acts. Miss Bella Sutherland, a famous performer on the vaudevillian circuit both in Australia and internationally, established the theatre.

The 1,000-seat, canvas theatre served theatre enthusiasts for eight years. Times changed and with the advent of cinema, the Tivoli Gardens Theatre was converted for use for cinema screenings until it finally closed in 1921.

St Augustine’s Anglican Church

Photo credit: staugseq.com.au

The brick church was completed in 1920 as St Augustine’s Thank-offering and War Memorial Church.

Queensland artist, William Bustard designed the artistic church windows.He was popular for his work with stained glass. Examples of his works in Brisbane can be seen in St John’s Anglican Cathedral, St Stephen’s Catholic Cathedral, and Brisbane City Hall. The set of windows in St Augustine’s are considered to be the only remaining complete set of Bustard’s windows.

Racecourse Road

Racecourse Road was the direct path from the river to the racecourse.

In the late 1800s, only a few houses dotted between the river and the racecourse. These include residences to two sharebrokers, a cabinet maker, and two horse trainers.

In the early 20th Century, the Racecourse Road quickly evolved into a busy street, lined with more houses, shops, and businesses, with electric trams running back and forth.

Remarkable Historic Homes


Lynford is considered as one of the finest examples of Tudor Revival homes in Brisbane. The stately, heritage-listed residence on Windermere Road is made of brick, stonework, stucco, and timber with a distinctive gabled roofline.

It was designed and built in 1928 by notable architect E.P Trewern. It has been subsequently renovated by Brisbane-based architect Richard Groves to accommodate modern inclusions.


Windermere house at Ascot, Queensland. (Photo credit: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Image number: 27279-0001-0001)

The grand residence was built around 1886 for a politician named J.G. Appel. Prominent architect, Richard Gailey designed the Windermere house.

Chateau Nous

Built in 1938, this exceptional example of Functionalist architecture is reminiscent of the glamorous 1930s Hollywood parties. The American-educated Douglas Roberts designed the house, whose simple, geometric style was a far cry from the traditional “timber and tin” residences in vogue at the time.

In what was considered “ultra-modern” at the time, the house had an all-electric kitchen, which was designed in a utilitarian, minimalist manner. Remarkably, it also had an electric dumb-waiter which enabled meals to be delivered to the breakfast room upstairs.

A sizeable air raid shelter was even built in the yard to protect the family from World War II bombing runs.

The original owners left Chateau Nou in the 1960s but it remains a private residence to this day.


Nyrambla epitomises the development of Ascot in the late 1800s when grand residences were built on the apex of the suburb’s hills. The 2-storey residence was designed in 1885 by James Cowlishaw, an early Brisbane architect. 

Owned by bank manager Henry P Abbott, Nyrambla was originally built on 15 acres of land before portions of it were divided off to make up surrounding streets, two of which have been named Henry and Abbott in commemoration. Today, Nyrambla is a private residence.

Tattersalls Lodge

Built in the 1890s, this house was used as accommodations for horse trainers and their families. Before the house was built, it was originally the site of the Tattersalls Stables, which was leased to trainers of prizewinning horses because of its close proximity to the Eagle Farm Racecourse.

At the turn of the 20th century, the house changed hands and became FitzGrafton Lodge, owned by James McGill a respected horse breeder and grazier, who bequeathed it to his son upon his death. McGill Avenue, a road adjacent to the racecourse, was named after this family.

Like Nyramble, Tattersalls Lodge is privately owned.

Hamilton Fire Station

Firefighters posing in their vehicle in front of Hamilton Fire Station. (Photo credit: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Image number: 97520)

Most of the housing stock in Brisbane in the late 19th Century consists of timber. As more houses emerged in the developing area, the locality needed a permanent fire station that services Ascot and Hamilton. The Hamilton Fire Station was then built in 1920.

Ascot Railway Station    

Originally called Racecourse Station, the line from Eagle Junction to Ascot Station was opened in 1882. The extension of the line provided race-goers with an efficient way to get to and from the races as the trains exclusively run for race days.

Eagle Farm Racecourse    

Avid race-goers, did you know that the first race meeting was held at the Brisbane Racecourse in 1865? The former Brisbane Racecourse is now popularly known as Eagle Farm Racecourse. Today, Eagle Farm Racecourse remains to be Brisbane’s premier racecourse.

Camp Ascot

Photo Credit: The Queenslander/Wikimedia Commons

As mentioned earlier, Ascot has been extremely active during World War II. In fact, Eagle Farm Racecourse became the first US camp established in Australia.

These historic sites and events have undeniably influenced the suburbs of Ascot and Hamilton. Looking for some things to do in Ascot or Hamilton? Why not go on a historic walk and check out the Ascot and Hamilton Heritage Trail.