What - go to a city? Darwin was always planned to be part of this trip

Thursday, Aug 13, 2009 at 00:00


We don’t do cities! Although we are usually not keen to visit cities when caravanning, Darwin was one we really wanted to see. Arriving late in the day without a booking we were lucky and were given a roomy site with suitable access in an otherwise fairly full caravan park. This was to be our base for a few days while having maintenance done, sightseeing and shopping in Darwin. For a park just off the Stuart Highway and in close proximity to the airport, it was surprisingly quiet.

Our first stop was in central Darwin to tour the underground fuel storage facilities built during WWII. Japanese air raids of 19 February 1942, 16 March 1942 and 16 June 1942 destroyed 7 of the 11 above-ground oil storage tanks that were located on Stokes Hill Wharf. Commencing in 1943, eight # tunnels were built at the great expense of 1.5 million pounds, but were never used as the war ended shortly after they were built. Only two are open to the public, and the location of some still remains a secret. The following website claims that only five of the proposed eight # planned were built. Darwin Oil Tunnels Two are underneath the present day Parliament House. The two near the wharf were opened to the public in 1992, fifty years after the bombing of Darwin. A photographic display of war time photos is on display along the entire length of the 171 metre long tunnel number 5. The rusted floor has been removed. Its capacity was 3.8475 million litres. Tunnel number 6 is 78 metres in length and has a capacity of 1,755 million litres. Both tunnels are 4.5 metres in width and 5 metres high.

From these tunnels, a series of steps goes to Survivor’s Lookout on the Esplanade, overlooking Stokes Hill Wharf and in close proximity to Government House, Parliament House and a number of other historic buildings. Plaques and photographs tell the story of the bombing of Darwin in 1942.

Port Darwin was named by Lieutenant Stokes of the British Navy in September 1839 in honour of his friend Charles Darwin. Thirty years later George Goyder arrived to establish a settlement in the north of Australia that the current site was selected. The port was used to supply the new settlement of Palmerston (now the city centre of Darwin).

A defence build up in Darwin commenced as early as the 1920s with the construction of nine naval oil storage tanks carrying 63,400 tonne of oil being completed by 1941. At that time Australia had been at war in Europe and the Middle East for two years.

With an increased naval presence already in place, and the establishment of coastal guns, Larrakeyah Barracks, the world’s longest boom net to prevent submarines from entering the harbour, hospitals, anti-aircraft defences and RAAF squadrons, Darwin was assuming a role as a strategic base for the defence forces.

With the entry of Japan into the war in December 1941, a general evacuation of woman, children, aged and infirm began.

On 15 February 1942 a convoy of ships carrying troops to reinforce Timor left Darwin. They came under heavy attack and returned the next day.

On 19 February 1942, Japanese headed towards Darwin with 81 medium bombers, 71 dive bombers and 36 fighters. There were at least 45 vessels in the harbour at that time and 21 were sunk or disabled. Many buildings, including those on the airfield and the Darwin Post Office were amongst those destroyed during the first air raid; the Post Office was on the site where Parliament House now stands. Twice as many bombs were dropped on Darwin than were dropped on Pearl Harbour ten weeks prior in two waves that morning. At least 292 people were killed with hundreds more injured.

These unexpected raids shocked the nation, although the magnitude of the damage was censored.

By late 1942, there were 60,000 troops based in the Northern Territory.Darwin sustained at least 62 more air raids to 12 November 1943, but none so severe as on the first day.

From signage at Survivors Lookout

The following day we went to the Aviation Museum near the airport, where a massive USA B52 bomber dominates the display shed. In 1965, B52s commenced operation in Vietnam during the Vietnam War which ran between 1955 and 1975. Australia did not send troops to join the US forces until 1962.

Underneath the wings of the B52 and all around are other planes and air force memorabilia and history outlines. All in all an interesting and enlightening day learning about the war history of the Australian forces.

When built in 1974, the Casuarina Shopping Centre was said to be the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. Now it only ranks as the largest in the Northern Territory with around 200 shops.

There was so much more we could have seen and done in Darwin, but three days in any city is more than enough for us, and we were keen to move on to other exciting places, with Litchfield National Park being next on our agenda.

Read more detail about this trip and see all the photos in our 2009 Travelogues

Red desert dreaming

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