Saturday, August 8

Darwin remembers

On February 19, 1942, a military force attacked mainland Australia for the first time in recorded history. On this fateful day a strike force of 188 Japanese aircraft bombed the town without warning. During a 20 minute period, more bombs were dropped on Darwin than at Pearl Harbour two months earlier. A second raid several hours later attacked and seriously damaged the nearby Australian Air Force base.

At least 292 people died that day, including sailors from 21 ships that were destroyed or disabled. The town’s civilians were evacuated soon after. Incredibly, the area endured a further 62 raids before the Japanese turned their attention elsewhere. Sadly, Darwin’s destruction made headlines again in 1974 when Cyclone Tracey swept in on Christmas Eve, resulting in an emergency airlift evacuation of more than 8000 people over several days. I recall this event vaguely thanks to a pictorial story in a Women’s Weekly magazine my mother purchased at the time.

Today both destructive events are memorialised in and around Bicentennial Park which fringes the city’s coastal headland. Garry and I took a casual stroll to view the many monuments on our first evening in town, as well as the Territory's striking legislative building. We started our walk outside the old Town Hall. Here the broken shell of a stone building is all that remains, bearing silent witness to the cyclone’s awesome power.

Nearby is Christ's Church which also bares Tracey’s scar. A striking modern building is entered via a traditional stone porch. This was the original church’s only surviving structure. It was hard to believe that such study stone buildings could be so utterly destroyed. Tracy was clearly a frightening event for those caught in its midst.

Further along the headland we came across several sites immortalising the Japanese air raids. Perhaps the most poignant among them was Cenotaph, where plaques remembering the region’s war dead are set in an arc overlooking the harbour. In the distance we could see a visiting US warship at berth. I found it hard to believe that more than sixty years earlier a similar vessel, the USS Peary, had sunk in the same harbour after being struck by Japanese bombers. The event is remembered nearby with a gun salvaged from its sunken wreck. It was here we paused to watch the sun sink below the horizon.

Tomorrow morning we collect our self-contained camper van and head off into the heart of the Top End. Our itinerary includes Kakadu, Katherine Gorge and Litchfield National Park. Stay tuned for plenty of crocs, sunshine and dust.

Here it is – our temporary home on wheels. Garry has done his research. Our chosen van boasts a hot shower, toilet and even air-conditioning.

1 comment:

rhonda said...

Love the van !!!