St Christopher's Chapel

A Chapel In The Bush

According to legend, Saint Christopher served Christ by carrying pilgrims across a bridgeless river. He was martyred in the year 250. Originally the patron saint of ferrymen, he was later adopted for all travellers.

The little bush chapel at Nerimbera, built by American servicemen in the Rockhampton area during the Second World War, is most appropriately named for Saint Christopher.  Among the 70,000 American ‘travellers’ in the region, many found peace in Saint Christopher’s Chapel.

After the United States troops left, there was a gradual deterioration in the building until Henry Beak, whose property ‘Broadmeadows’ adjoins the chapel, began to take care of it.  Although several institutions have since assumed responsibility Henry Beak has maintained his caring role through the years.  No one is better fitted to recount the brief history of the chapel.  As a third generation member of a Central Queensland pioneering family, he is well aware of the need to preserve the nation’s heritage.  Saint Christopher’s Chapel is a unique part of this heritage.

Lorna McDonald, Rockhampton, June 1986.

  1. The Beginning
  2. The Decline
  3. The Long Way Back
  4. The Americas Return
  5. The Fight Begins
  6. The Present... The Future

The Beginning

In November, 1984, more than 170 American army veterans left their homes throughout the United States to visit Australia for a sightseeing tour.  But the tour had an objective that set it apart from the average overseas tourist jaunt.  These veterans of World War Two were returning to a site that had given them strength of mind and body….St. Christopher’s Chapel.

The small, rustic Chapel at Nerimbera, near Rockhampton in Central Queensland, was built on Harbour Board land, made available to the U.S. Army by the Queensland Government, by members of the 542 Engineers, Ship and Shore Battalion in 1943.  This unit later saw action in New Guinea and the Philippines.

The area around the Chapel was largely used as a convalescent camp for American troops based around Rockhampton and other U.S. units which had been sent to Rockhampton to rest after combat operations in the islands.  During the peak time of the American occupation, more than 70,000 American troops from the 24th, 32nd and 41st U.S. Army combat divisions, and one Army Corps – “1 Corps”, were stationed in the Rockhampton area.

During the period of Occupation several chaplains, seeing the need for an interdenominational Chapel, approached the Corps Commander for assistance.  The 542 Engineers Ship and Shore Battalion was given the task of construction under the supervision of the chaplains…two Protestant, a Roman Catholic padre and a Jewish rabbi.

When the work was completed, late in 1943, the four chaplains consecrated St. Christopher’s Chapel as a place of Divine Worship where non-denominational services could be held, with each chaplain contributing to the service.  Among the best known, and most highly respected of the Clergy was Chaplain Attenbury who regularly held services at the Chapel.