Sunday History Photo / NT

Submitted: Sunday, Dec 20, 2015 at 06:52
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Stuart Hwy Part 4
Larrimah retains many of its wartime sites, notably the rail siding, repeater station, BIPOD installation and camp areas. The Wayside Inn is a focal point of the township. A military town by origin, Larrimah was established as an expedient solution to nearby Birdum‘s inaccessibility during the wet seasons. The site was essentially the Southern most railroad junction and accordingly the military developed it as a rail head and major staging camp.

In late 1941, the Army's requirement for direct voice communications was realised and a repeater station was constructed adjacent to the Larrimah siding in early 1942. Originally comprising two Sidney Williams huts, the site was later developed and used throughout the war years in conjunction with similar sites at Barrow Creek, Tennant Creek, Newcastle Waters and Pine Creek. Together they provided a military network of communications between Darwin and the South.
With the Japanese advancing rapidly throughout the Pacific, the Allies were pushed from the islands to the North, for a time the American war effort was seemingly directed from "the Porch of the Birdum Hotel",as the regular reports indicated. Larrimah developed rapidly,with two sidings, one for fuel and a second for freight and passengers, established at the railhead. Warehouses, alarge staging camp, canteen and field bakery were constructed and a large Bulk Issue Petrol and Oil Depot (BIPOD) was installed on the town's Southern outskirts.

The RAAF later developed the huge airfield and stores complex at Gorrie to the north, and a Rail Transport Office (RTO) was also established at Larrimah siding. Larrimah became a focal point for the transfer of personnel and stores from Alice Springs and Mount Isa to Darwin and the military centres in the region and, over the war years, played host to over 150 units. These ranged from the extensive 8th Australian Staging Camp and its 61 buildings, including a five tonne ice-making plant, to the 48th Australian Depot Cash Office, US 29th and 48th Quartermaster Trucking Companies camp, Ordnance, Provost and Stores units. All combined to play a vital role in the North Western Area of operations. War's end saw the military withdraw from the area and the buildings sold off by the Commonwealth Disposals Commission. A number of units, notably communications and BIPOD personnel, remained at Larrimah following the cessation of hostilities, but military activities effectively ceased in early 1946. The town grew from there and the Birdum Hotel was dismantled and its components utilised in the construction of the present Wayside Inn. Gorrie Airfield is located 10 km north of Larrimah is marked by an interpretive sign near the entrance to the access road.

The sign below was missing the last time I was there, it was probably taken by a tourist. There was 2 very large signs

The RAAF‘s No 9 Stores Depot is 3.1km north of Gorrie Airfield information sign on the eastern side of the Stuart Highway. Construction work started on Gorrie Airfield in November 1942 by No 1 Airfield Construction Squadron and later by the Allied Works Council. The runway was sealed in early 1943 by gangs of the Country Roads Board (Vic). Some £400 000 of US funds were utilised for the construction of the runway and airfield facilities. Number 9 Stores Depot was established east of the North South track in late 1942, whilst 14 Aircraft Repair Depot commenced activities in early 1943. Numbers 1 and 8 Airfield Construction Squadrons were involved in the erection of 90 Sidney Williams 'comet' huts for the complex which also included four Bellman hangars and six Singapore hangars by late 1943. The Airmen‘s Recreation Hall was opened on 27 November 1943,the occasion being marked by a mixed dance. The Airmen's recreation hut was a classic, built mainly from ‘scrounged‘ material, as was the hospital,church and some other facilities. The Station Sick Quarters opened on 14 July 1943 with a staff of one doctor and two medical orderlies; two nursing sisters arrived in October 1943.

Mataranka hosted over 100 military units during the war years. A wide range of units established themselves in the immediate area, ranging from No 42 Australian Camp Hospital, Ordnance, Supply and Transport, Abattoir to Engineers and Provosts.

Part 5 and final next week

I wish you all a safe and enjoyable week leading up to Christmas.
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Reply By: Member - Alan H (QLD) - Sunday, Dec 20, 2015 at 08:22

Sunday, Dec 20, 2015 at 08:22
Thanks again Doug.

This series is of great interest to many who travel the road and should not forget the effort put in by others during the war years

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Reply By: kevmac....(WA) - Sunday, Dec 20, 2015 at 10:32

Sunday, Dec 20, 2015 at 10:32
Thanks once again Doug.....have outdone yourself on this series. can hardly wait for next Sunday
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Reply By: Frank P (NSW) - Sunday, Dec 20, 2015 at 12:58

Sunday, Dec 20, 2015 at 12:58
For those wanting a file copy of this series, here is Part 4 in Word (.doc) format:


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Reply By: Ron N - Sunday, Dec 20, 2015 at 13:05

Sunday, Dec 20, 2015 at 13:05
Good work, Doug! I love the construction of the sleeping hut in the 1st pic! - it looks like building materials were in pretty short supply, when that hut was built!

The AWM has the best collection of photos of the North-South Road being constructed and in use.
Here's a link to the AWM search page, below. You have to untick every box by unticking "select all", and just tick "collections" - then type "North South road" into the search box.

It's difficult to neatly select all the photos taken in the Northern Territory, because the "North-South" search results, bring up a lot of "North-South" results from other regions of conflict.
However, you can narrow the search results by clicking on "Related Places" on the LH menu, then clicking on a selected place listed in the drop-down menu.

AWM search

Searching for "military road" and then selecting "road construction", brings up photos of the Alice Springs-Darwin section being bitumenised in 1942.

Notice how many trucks (particularly in the period up to mid-1942) are running without mudguards and bonnets?
The mudguards often cracked and fell off with constant shaking from the corrugations - and the bonnets were often taken off to ease overheating problems in the dreadful Summer heat.

The convoys were limited to 30mph (50kmh) maximum speed, and about every 50 miles (80km) the loaded convoy stopped to allow the tyres to cool.
The old "rag" or bias-ply tyres resulted in dreadful heat buildup with the heavy loads.
In some Northern places, cooling troughs were constructed that the trucks drove through to cool the tyres.
These were long narrow channels spaced wheel-width apart, and filled with water a few inches deep.
The trucks were driven through them slowly to cool the tyres.
The system obviously wasn't entirely effective, and it wasn't widely used. I've seen a photo of the troughs, but I can't find it now on the AWM site. I might have seen it in a newspaper article.

It's interesting to see the difference in the amount of manual labour used early in the War, when the amount of mechanised equipment was extremely limited - as compared to the period from about March 1942 on, when huge amounts of American mechanised equipment began to arrive, both here and in New Guinea.

I can recall the old New Guinea veterans telling me of their utter amazement at what the Americans brought with them in early 1942 - Briggs & Stratton powered washing machines, ice-cream makers, vast amounts of building materials, concrete and bitumen plants, and earthmoving equipment, the likes of which, they could have only previously dreamed about.

Cheers, Ron.
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