Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Genealogy notes 20 Feb 2012 - Day 4 of Darwin battlefield tour

Regular readers will know that I'm on the Unlock the Past and Mat McLachlan Battlefield Tours War Comes to Australia tour and I'm a bit behind in my blogging as the days are quite full and there isn't that much time to write my blog let alone keep up with my emails, tweets and other social media. Plus the heat and humidity has a way of sapping one's energy too.

Day 4 was a combination of visits to various museums and then three talks in the early evening from 4-7pm at the beautiful Northern Territory Library within the NT Parliament House which was an experience in itself.

First however to the museums and we boarded our buses ca 9.00am to head out to East Point Reserve and the Darwin Military Museum and the new Defence of Darwin Experience. We had a group photo with one of the WW2 military gun emplacements in the background. It was also good to see some wallabies seeking shade under the trees near the museum too.

I've been to the museum a few times and you could spend hours looking at both the indoor and outdoor displays but I was more interested in the new Defence of Darwin Experience which had only opened two days earlier for the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Darwin. This is a very impressive interactive display and if you fully explored everything it would take some hours (Max spent four hours there but that included time chatting to old diggers).

Those of us on the tour didn't have that luxury and I found that one of the most moving exhibits was a map of Darwin which then has virtual Japanese planes flying over and dropping virtual bombs in the two raids and you see just how much of Darwin and the harbour was bombed as these big red/yellow splotches cover the map. The realistic re-enactment in the theatre is both audio and visual and almost leaves you a little shell shocked at the end (there is a warning outside that advises about the bright lights, noise and so on). A must see addition to any visit to Darwin.

With the morning gone we returned to either the city centre or the hotel for lunch and then out to the Australian Aviation Heritage Centre for the afternoon. I have been there many times so I stayed behind to write the Day 3 blog and caught the bus again later to go to the Northern Territory Library for the talks. Perhaps what I found the most staggering when I went to the Aviation Heritage Centre was the magnificent B-52 bomber which is just so huge. The Centre has all kinds of aircraft as well as other displays and is a must see museum even if you aren't a plane addict!

As I suspected by the end of the day some people on the tour were too hot, tired etc to attend three hours of talks at the Library. Perhaps if the talks were at the hotel we might have got more of the tour people attending. However, the talks were also free to Darwin residents so there was still a good turn-up at the Library. As it is inside Parliament House everyone and their bags must be screened on entry - I never beep at the airport but I did there! As we were a bit late getting there, the talks started a bit late as well.

First up was Dr Tom Lewis OAM who talked about the Myths and Perceptions of the Raids on Darwin 19 Feb 1942 and  I had an idea of what he would be talking about as there was an interview with him about this topic in the NT News anniversary souvenir which I had read. As a professional historian, Tom gets frustrated/annoyed at the errors/misperceptions/myths about the bombing that are repeated and he pointed out numerous examples and what the 'truth' was using documented sources. In particular he looked at the comparisons with Pearl Harbour.

I was not totally comfortable with Tom making fun of, almost ridiculing the 'amateurs' or 'not for profits' he was using as examples and I don't think he really should have named and shamed at a public talk. I could see the point he was making but I still found myself hoping that none of those people were present. As someone with a history background I can understand his frustrations but with my archives and libraries background, I am also aware that these 'amateurs' and 'not for profits' are also sometimes the only ones interested in events/subjects and without their keenness to capture stories/save/donate records etc, we might not have anything for future generations. I see our job as to educate and encourage use of documented sources and citations whenever possible and in family history the rule is to have at least two pieces of evidence to confirm every fact. No doubt this difference in viewpoints could be debated much further, much like all the disputed points of Darwin's military heritage.

Brad Manera was next and at first I wondered where he was going with his talk on an overview of war and Australia's role in the Empire under threat. He started with the marines/soldiers that guarded the convicts and reminded us that most of them had military experience in the American revolutionary war, the Crimea and so on. He moved on to NSW sending a contingent to the Sudan (and I loved his reference to Charlton Heston at Khartoum) and from there to the Boer War and the colonial/Commonwealth contingents. Then to Gallipoli and the Western Front and one thing that particularly struck me was his explanation of the various war memorials across Australia for WW1. The reason that Australians did build such elaborate WW1 memorials was because we couldn't visit the graves of our husbands and sons as they were buried overseas in foreign countries and we needed somewhere to mourn. He had slides showing images of the various places which made it that much more poignant. It was a great overview and could have been longer.

By the time it was my turn to speak it was just after 6.30pm and a number of people left then but it was still a good crowd (not sure what the overall numbers were) and those staying were more interested in family history than military history. My talk was on Discovering Your Military Ancestors in Australia and I have promised to put a copy of my presentation on my website on the Resources page but haven't had time to do that yet (within the next week). Strangely enough my talk was a good follow on to Brad's as my family examples all fitted into the places/battles that he had talked about and put a real person with family into those horrific situations at Gallipoli and the Western Front. I even held up my Uncle's 'kidney' dish to show how war time souvenirs can also help to trace a relative's war experiences. I was pleased that three Darwin people came up and said how much they enjoyed the talk and two said they were also going to next Saturday's family history seminar, again at the Northern Territory Library.  I also received good feedback from people that night at the hotel and the next day as people caught up with me.

I think my presentation may have been better placed at the start of the tour so that those who didn't know me, could have chatted to me about their family history problems earlier than the last day. I have even taken some problems away with me and will get back to people by email although it's always better to have a personal chat and discuss results if you can.

It was after 7.30pm by the time I finally caught up with Max for dinner and there was a thunderstorm imminent so we drove up Smith Street looking for inspiration and dinner. We saw Hot Noodles and couldn't resist and had Sweet Chilli Quails for entree and Curry Laksas sitting outside while the rain came down in torrents. By the time we finished a terrific meal, so had the rain and we drove back to the motel. It's an 8.30am start tomorrow as we are heading down to the Adelaide River area for a full day of touring various military attractions. Stay tuned.

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