Entry to Charles Darwin National Park explosives stores
12 July, 2015
This morning we are booked in for a Frontline Australia World War II tour around sites of interest in Darwin. At the time the city was bombed Darwin was a very different city, and Australia in general was different to today. News reached the rest of Australia more slowly, no television footage, only newsreels that were viewed days after an event. No social media to spread the word instantly and show scenes of the bombed sites, and the carnage that ensued.
On 19 February 1942 mainland Australia came under attack for the first time when Japanese forces mounted two air raids on Darwin. The two attacks, which were planned and led by the commander responsible for the attack on Pearl Harbour ten weeks earlier, involved 54 land-based bombers and approximately 188 attack aircraft which were launched from four Japanese aircraft-carriers in the Timor Sea. In the first attack, which began just before 10.00 am, heavy bombers pattern-bombed the harbour and town; dive bombers escorted by Zero fighters then attacked shipping in the harbour, the military and civil aerodromes, and the hospital at Berrimah. The attack ceased after about 40 minutes.
The second attack, which began an hour later, involved high altitude bombing of the Royal Australian Air Force base at Parap which lasted for 20–25 minutes. The two raids killed at least 243 people and between 300 and 400 were wounded. Twenty military aircraft were destroyed, eight ships at anchor in the harbour were sunk, and most civil and military facilities in Darwin were destroyed.
The air attacks on Darwin continued until November 1943, by which time the Japanese had bombed Darwin 64 times. During the war other towns in northern Australia were also the target of Japanese air attack, with bombs being dropped on Townsville, Katherine, Wyndham, Derby, Broome and Port Hedland
Darwin was consistently bombed over a two year period, but the initial bombing was unexpected and over that time over 243 people were killed. Statistics relating to those who died vary, firstly because indigenous people were not accounted for, and there was always a transient population. Models and photographs showing the sites that were bombed is a shock, and the fact that the city has survived and rebuilt is a credit to all those involved in its rehabilitation.
There are still explosives stored in Charles Darwin National Park, only one facility is open for inspection, and it displays posters of the time, and a demonstration of what a bunker would have been like then. The images below are Pete and me at the entrance to the bunker (bullet holes in the door!) and the interior.
Next stop was a cruise around the harbour to view sites where the gun placements were stationed, where the Navy ships are moored, and to the middle of the harbour to the spot where the USA ship “Peary” was bombed, and sunk. Unfortunately we were not totally prepared for the Japanese bombers, some of them first flew around Darwin then returned over the land and bombed from the rear – whereas our guns were pointing out to sea where any invasion was anticipated.
A pearling lugger, once a common sight in Darwin Harbour (above) and gun emplacements in Darwin harbour (right, just below the lookout tower). The primary targets were the post office building (now Parliament House, see image below right) where an entire family was killed, and the end of Stokes Wharf (below left).
The impressive Darwin Military Museum was our next stop, first to catch a short video about the first bombing of the city, and then to view the many exhibits ranging from the vehicles used in the war, memorabilia, a gun emplacement, a bunker, tanks etc. The images below are the entrance to the Military Museum (left) and war memorabilia (right).
Other exhibits included memorabilia of uniforms etc, (below left) and military vehicles (below right).
The visit to the Military Museum concluded our World War II sites, and we were delivered back to our hotel, in time for a quick lunch and to get ready for a 2pm collection for our afternoon tour, the Darwin City Sites. Firstly we drove again to the Charles Darwin National Park, but this time to another part of the park to a lookout to view Darwin city from across the harbour. We also found some green ant nests in a tree. Green ants are also often referred to as weaver ants because of their ability to weave leaves together to form nests bound with silk produced by their larvae. Most of the nest construction and weaving is conducted at night with major workers weaving towards the exterior of the nests and minor workers weaving within the interior. a mature colony of green ants can hold as many as 100,000 to 500,000 workers and may span as many as 12 trees and contain as many as 150 nests. Green ant colonies have one queen and a colony can live for up to eight years. Minor workers usually remain within the egg chambers of the nest tending the larvae, whereas major workers defend the colony territory, assist with the care of the queen and forage.
You don’t mess with the green ants, in fact we stayed clear of them – this YouTube video shows how mad they can get !
Next stop was the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (below right), again very impressive exhibitions. A Ben Quilty exhibition had just opened (below left),
and the Aboriginal exhibition (not forgetting Albert Namitjira) (below left and right) and graphic Cyclone Tracy display (below centre) were all fantastic.
Before heading off to our next port of call we drove to Dudley’s Point for a prime view of the city from the other side of the harbour (below).
And then on to the picturesque George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens. We had been told that there was a resident python, and were lucky to see it sleeping in its favourite tree when we arrived (left, lazing along the large branch). We had time to wander through the Gardens to see many of the native flora, and to bring a perfect day to a close.
The Mindil Beach markets had been on all day as the Tin Can Regatta was the main attraction in the early afternoon (markets are generally on in the evening). Our Guide for the day, Will, kindly dropped us off at the markets. It was very crowded and hot, but exciting to be there among the food, arts and craft.
We bought half a dozen oysters and a pizza to share, and then sat on the beach (with hundreds of others) for the highlight of the day, the sun setting over the Timor Sea. And again it didn’t disappoint us. The sun was a golden globe as it sunk slowly, then the water turned a dazzling silver as the sun dipped below the horizon. About 10-15 minutes later the afterglow sent a vivid aura of orange and gold across the horizon, breathtaking to watch.
An expectant crowd waits for the sun to set….
A silver afterglow follows the setting sun….
The sky lights up with orange and gold…..
The vivid aura lights up the entire horizon.
Then to find a taxi, and get back to our hotel – very tired but an exhilarating day. Tomorrow we have a lazy morning, then an afternoon tour to the Jumping Crocs – can’t wait for this one!