Sunday History Photo / NT

Submitted: Sunday, Dec 06, 2015 at 06:07
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Stuart Highway part 2

Wycliffe Well was sunk circa 1872 for the Overland Telegraph Line but the water quality was poor. A bore was sunk in June 1937 as part of the general upgrading of facilities on the North-South Stock Route and it was from this supply that a two hectare Army farm was established until mid-1945.

Prior to WWII, at a location 12km east of Wauchope, the metal wolframite had been mined by tributers working for private enterprise. In 1942,the site together with another one at Hatches Creek were taken over by the Commonwealth in an effort to increase production of the strategic metal,used in the production of armaments.
Enlistments depleted the available workforce. However, this was technically overcome when 587 Chinese quarrymen, from Nauru and Ocean Island,were sent to assist. Working conditions were primitive, and food and shelter inadequate, resulting in a general strike on 7th August 1942. Relations between the Chinese and their Australian overseers were not very cordial and administrative incompetence added to a chaotic situation which resulted in a decline in production. Continued low production, availability of other supplies and decreasing demands eventually led to the field being abandoned. The Chinese were transported to Brisbane in November 1943 where they were used as construction workers for the United States Army.
Thetrack to the wolframite field and historic minesites is not suitable for conventional vehicles, and caution, even in 4WD vehicles, is advised.

At The Devils Marbles the original track has been retained and now provides off highway access to the Conservation Commission Reserve. The location was never utilised as an official stopping point but it would have been a very rare occurrence if a Northbound convoy did not stop for purposes of sightseeing at least for a short while. The variety of WWII photographs available attest to the site’s popularity.
At Bonney Well the convoys utilised this well sunk in 1879 as a convoy luncheon stop during the war years, although no evidence of military activity remains. The well has remained relatively intact since 1879 and has recently been restored.

The Section from Tennant Creek to Newcastle Waters features the WWII staging camp of Banka Banka which represented the secondovernight stop for the thousands of troops brought from the south by rail to Alice Springs and then ferried north by truck convoy to the railway at Larrimah. This highlights the magnitude of the tasks involved in turning what was little more than a series of dirt tracks following the Overland Telegraph Line into a major road, the Stuart Highway. The new highway provided an important means of transport for desperately needed personnel and supplies at a time when the sea routes were at risk due to enemy activity.The need for a reliable overland route became even more imperative after the first Japanese air attack on Darwin on 19th February 1942.

The east-west road, the Barkly Highway,which connected the railhead at Mt Isa with the southern terminus of the railway to Darwin, was also constructed during this period. The junction of this highway with the Stuart Highway is known as Three Ways and remains an important transport junction to this day.
By 1937,the Department of the Interior was responsible for maintenance to the north-south track under the supervision of the Resident Engineer, DD Smith. In April 1939, all government works in the Territory came under the control of the Administrator who was made aware of the poor condition of the road by the Military authorities. As part of the Army’s requirement for overland supply routes to Darwin, Federal funds were allocated by the Departmentof the Interior for the upgradingof the Overland Telegraph track into a gravelled all-weather road from the Tennant Creek district north to Larrimah siding. Michael Terry, a Bulldozer operator wrote: "Three hundred and one miles were scheduled for clearing,forming, grading in 90 days. The most ambitious, the fastest assignment, to be performed, under the toughest conditions, ever handed to our Road Engineers,and which permitted no ”ifs," no "buts," allowed no excuses for tardiness." Work was commenced in September 1940 and was completed by November that year. The work was undertakenby teams from the state road authorities: South Australia worked on the section from Tennant Creek to Fergusson Creek, Queensland was responsible for the section from Fergusson Creek to Dunmarra and New South Wales worked from Dunmarra to Larrimah. According to Michael Terry: "Every man made up his mind to see the job through - and he did...New SouthWales completed her 86.5 miles 63 working days. Queensland rushed her 90.5 miles , South Australia polished off her 124miles ,so that on November 29th, 1940,for the first time in the history of Man,the 301 miles between Tennant’s Creek Telegraph Station and Larramah siding were joined for speedy all-weather motor traffic.

The first Alice Springs-Larrimahtroop carrying convoy was despatched by Colonel Veale in March 1941. By June 1942, the North-South road had been substantially damaged and broken up under the punishing impact of the continuous military traffic. The possibility of building a rail link between Alice Springs and Birdum was ruled out as the cost was too excessive. In August 1942, the Country Roads Board of Victoria was engaged to rebuild and to seal the Larrimah to Alice Springs section. It established its headquarters on the western outskirts of Tennant Creek.

Following the Japanese air attack on Darwin in February 1942, which rendered sea supply routes hazardous, a daily supplementary service operated along the east-west road from Mt Isa to Larrimah. This motor transport service was carried out by the negro drivers of the 29th and 48th Quartermaster Regiments of the United States Motor Transport Command 1 which made its headquarters at Mt Isa on 28TH June 1942. Equipment available totalled an operating fleet of 1482 vehicles and approximately 3500 coloured drivers. Total Army personnel assigned to the operation numbered approximately 5000. A roundtrip from the railhead at Mt Isa to Larrimah took 12 days. By August, truck springs began to snap in increasing numbers, static parts such as radiator supports and trailer lunette bars broke, and radiator hoses were constantly breaking due to the washboard condition of the road.
Command officially disbanded on29th October 1943, although small units remained in case the war situation changed. During their tour of duty, the 29th and 48th Quartermaster Regiments mounted 173 convoys which, in addition to cargo, transported 2402 mail bags, and 4329 Australian and 842 American personnel. A medical account for the 29th Quartermaster Regiment for the month of December 1942 reported: "These colored soldiers have borne up well under the strain,but the constant sameness, the long days of sitting behind the wheel, of driving eight hours a day, going to bed, getting up the next day to face the same thing, and at the end of convoys to have to work nearly the entire three days they are in Base Camp to prepare for the next convoy, has resulted in a great lowering of physical resistance." Three Ways is still a popular stop-off along the Stuart Highway and is marked by a plinth in honour of Dr John Flynn,founder of the Royal Australian Flying Doctor Service.
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Reply By: Member - Tony H (touring oz) - Sunday, Dec 06, 2015 at 07:23

Sunday, Dec 06, 2015 at 07:23
Thanks Doug.....another good read
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Reply By: Tim F3 - Sunday, Dec 06, 2015 at 08:07

Sunday, Dec 06, 2015 at 08:07
Doug, i really appreciate the work you do,thankyou very much.
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Reply By: Member Bushy 04(VIC) - Sunday, Dec 06, 2015 at 08:27

Sunday, Dec 06, 2015 at 08:27
Well done Doug very interesting and good to see.
Keep up the good work Bushy.
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Reply By: Life Member - Fred B (ex-NT) - Sunday, Dec 06, 2015 at 08:53

Sunday, Dec 06, 2015 at 08:53
Getting a bit "home sick" were you Doug..! lol...
needed to take a trip down memory lane?
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Reply By: kevmac....(WA) - Sunday, Dec 06, 2015 at 09:37

Sunday, Dec 06, 2015 at 09:37
Keep going Doug you have my memories of the Territory on a thread.
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Reply By: Ron N - Sunday, Dec 06, 2015 at 10:06

Sunday, Dec 06, 2015 at 10:06
Top story, Doug, of a little-known major road engineering and construction project during WW2, and its critical importance for us during the War.
An interesting read is "Curtins Cowboys" - a now out-of-print book produced by the ABC, detailing the history and terrific work of the Australian Coastwatchers - the North Australia Observer Unit (NAOU) - nicknamed the "Nackeroos".
In the book, the auther details how the American Negro drivers, drove their 6WD Studebaker US6 trucks on the run across the Barkly Hwy, flat to the floor, regardless of road conditions.
The author speaks of how the dust was so bad, the drivers would drive standing, with the door open, with their left leg on the running board, the right leg holding the accelerator flat, left hand holding the door, and just the right hand on the wheel!
Of course, the old Studeys were flat out at 72kmh (45mph), so I guess the driving style wasn't quite as dangerous as it sounds!
The author also speaks of the drivers suffering from the constant corrugations so badly, that quite a number suffered from bleeding from the kidneys.
I couldn't imagine what it must have been like as a passenger in the back of those trucks!

Cheers, Ron.
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Reply By: rumpig - Sunday, Dec 06, 2015 at 14:55

Sunday, Dec 06, 2015 at 14:55
Brings back a few memories of our trip up to Darwin a few years ago. We stopped in and checked out Bonney Well which is a touch North of Devils Marbles on the Western side of the highway.

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And if you visit the Tenant Creek Telegraph Station further North, you might see this monument as you exit the property

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Follow Up By: Life Member-Doug T NSW - Sunday, Dec 06, 2015 at 16:53

Sunday, Dec 06, 2015 at 16:53
Thanks mate, some really good photo's you added to this weeks SHP. could you email me the full size photo of the sign (your top photo) with the Diagram , it's too small to read ,

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Follow Up By: rumpig - Sunday, Dec 06, 2015 at 18:39

Sunday, Dec 06, 2015 at 18:39
No worries Doug, have just emailed it to you now.
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Reply By: Bob Y. - Qld - Monday, Dec 07, 2015 at 14:19

Monday, Dec 07, 2015 at 14:19
Thanks Doug,

This episode has answered a question I've been meaning to ask you for many, many months!

Some time after you moved down to that "freeze ya arse off country", a couple of new heavy vehicle parking bays were constructed along the Barkly Highway, between Barkly Homestead and Qld border.

These new ones were named, no doubt to make Log Book entries more credible, but also to acknowledge those who might have helped the NT highways and transport infrastructure. The existing 2 parking bays at Kiama Creek are called "Frank Nilon" (who's he, Doug?) and the 2 new ones are called "DD Smith" and "Kurt Johanssen".

Kurt is about 2kms east of what I call the "Big Dipper", past Barry Caves. DD Smith is 5kms west of the Rankine Road turnoff.

These new bays are 3 lanes wide, and would probably accomodate 8-10 triples, depending on how the early "residents" parked. And the question I was going to ask? Who was DD Smith? :-)

Look forward to next weeks edition, Doug,


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Follow Up By: Life Member-Doug T NSW - Monday, Dec 07, 2015 at 16:08

Monday, Dec 07, 2015 at 16:08
Thanks Bob
one is easy to answer ,Kurt Johanssen was the man who invented what your driving...Road Trains . The other 2 proved easy too, hope this answers your Questions .

Kurt Johanssen

David Douglas Smith

Frank Nilon


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Follow Up By: Life Member-Doug T NSW - Monday, Dec 07, 2015 at 16:15

Monday, Dec 07, 2015 at 16:15
Just a little addition Bob... having spent 30 years in Trucks, 2 years Roadtrain Car Carrier I took a second look at the 2 photo's you posted, I do not like the idea of having trucks or any vehicle for that matter parked too close to the transit lanes, I would not be sleeping there , it'll only be a matter of time and someone will run into the rear of a trailer.

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Follow Up By: Bob Y. - Qld - Wednesday, Dec 09, 2015 at 10:16

Wednesday, Dec 09, 2015 at 10:16
Neither of those were good photos, Doug, to show the actual parking bay. just wanted the name in the photo to show you. :-)

This photo below should give you a better was just a long way to walk back to get the sign, and the truck parked safely, in the photo.

The truck is in the inside lane, with 2 more lanes to the left.....heaps of room.


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Follow Up By: Life Member-Doug T NSW - Wednesday, Dec 09, 2015 at 10:55

Wednesday, Dec 09, 2015 at 10:55
Hey Bob, yes that is better, and safer, but just think of the exercise you got walking....did the links answer your queries..

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Follow Up By: Bob Y. - Qld - Wednesday, Dec 09, 2015 at 11:16

Wednesday, Dec 09, 2015 at 11:16
Yes, thanks Doug.

Had already done some reading on Kurt years ago, but the other 2 blokes were a mystery. Those links cleared that up.

Imagine there would be some new parking bays, all named, along the Stuart and Victoria Highways now, as well as the other major roads?

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