Saturday, 18 February 2012

Genealogy notes 18 Feb 2012 - Day 2 of Darwin battlefield tour

After a very nice buffet breakfast I joined everyone on the War Comes to Australia battlefields tour on a bus trip around Darwin to see the various military sites. As I explained in my Day 1 tour blog, I've been to most of these places numerous times but never as part of an organised tour. The first thing that struck me was that the commentary from the bus driver does really set the scene and that local knowledge is not something that you can read for yourself in the various tourist brochures on specific sites.

First we had a bit of a drive through the city as we made our way to Stokes Hill and on to Fort Hill Wharf. Then to our first stop which was the WW2 Oil Storage Tunnels and I remembered how surprised I was when I first went into them because they are so much bigger than you actually expect to see. My fellow travellers were equally surprised and everyone wandered the length of one of the tunnels looking at the various photo displays along the wall.

Then we went out to the Charles Darwin National Park which I had never been to so I was surprised to see the almost underground old RAAF ammunition bunkers and we had a quick stop at one with a comprehensive display inside. There wasn't really time to have a good look so we will go back out on Wednesday after the tour as I'm not sure why Max hasn't taken me there before, perhaps he has just forgotten about them or doesn't expect them to still be there. The lookout at the Park gives a magnificent view of Darwin and it's worth the drive out alone just for that.

Then it was back into the city and although I've walked past Christchurch Cathedral many times, I've never bothered to walk down and look inside. It's partially survived the bombing and Cyclone Tracy and is today a mix of the old front of the church and a more modern building behind. Back on the bus and we went out to the other side of the city and passed the 1934 QANTAS Hangar another place we've never visited. Unfortunately a stop there wasn't on the agenda so we will go there on Wednesday as it is run by the Motor Vehicle Enthusiasts Club so no doubt lots to interest Max.

Our next stop was the Museum & Art Gallery of the Northern Territory another familiar place for me and a great place to take the grand-kids. Still it was good to have a quick look around and I noticed that Frontline Australia was running a Darwin Film Festival there from 15-22 February including the National Sound and Film Archive film Out of the Ashes. Different films were running on the hour and you could easily spend the day in air conditioned comfort for free.

Then back on the bus and back to the hotel to get ready for the two afternoon lectures. First up was Dr Tom Lewis OAM, Director of the Darwin Military Museum and he is the author of a number of military books including A War at Home. I found him an entertaining speaker who talked fast and never used notes (yes an ex schoolteacher). Tom's talk was NT Under Attack: 1942 air and submarine attacks and introduction to war heritage sites, including Darwin Military Museum and I did wonder how he would fit it all in and finish on time but he did.

With the use of two large, easily read maps, Tom was able to discuss the Japanese and American strategies and where Darwin/Australia fitted in this bigger picture. While I was aware of the bombing raids on Darwin, I had not realised that submarines were also active in the area prior to the raids so I found this part of Tom's talk really interesting. Towards the end of his session, Tom then talked about the bombing raids and at this point I would have liked to see a slideshow of images behind Tom as he discussed the various ships, buildings and so on. I think this would have given a much more visual insight into the death and destruction that he was talking about. Given the scope of his talk I could have listened to more, but we are visiting the Darwin Military Museum on Monday (I've been several times and always found it fascinating) plus we are also going to the just opened Defence of Darwin Experience so that will reinforce the points Tom was making.

The next session was Brad Manera and his topic was on the Japanese Submarines in Sydney Harbour 1942 and again I had some familiarity with the topic. Although Brad has a script he doesn't refer to it very often and he is an easy speaker to listen to. Perhaps what struck me most about his talk, was the slide showing the map of Sydney Harbour and the paths taken by the three Japanese midget submarines that night of 1 June 1942. I hadn't realised that one of the subs had actually sailed down and around Fort Denison which is pretty close to where the Sydney Opera House is now. The other surprising fact is that Fort Denison bears two scars from the Americans trying to shoot one of the submarines when it surfaced. I would have liked to have seen a photograph at this point so that next time I'm sailing around Sydney Harbour I know exactly where to look as I've not seen it before, or not realised what I was actually looking at.

The other thing I really liked about Brad's talk was his detailed information on the crews of the three submarines. He had photos, biographical information and so on that showed they were people just like anyone else but caught up in a war. I'm not sure if it was the proximity to St Valentine's Day or not, but I found myself wondering about whether they had wives and families or girlfriends they had left behind like everyone else. And of course their mothers.

One submarine the crew blew up, the other ran aground and the captain killed his crewman and then himself and the third escaped but its fate was not known until it was finally found five years ago. In the chase that night   in 1942 there were casualties apart from the 4 Japanese crew, 19 Australians and 2 British sailors were also killed on board the HMAS Kuttabul which took a torpedo and sank within minutes. The Kuttabul is the focus of a commemoration project 1942-2012 and descendants and relatives are being sought.

After a few questions we were all heading out to the buses for the trip down to Darwin wharf and our sunset cruise around the harbour. I've done a few of these (even the pearl lugger used in the movie Australia) but never with a commentary specifically about the bombing raid and where all the various ships were in the harbour. The welcome champagne was nice and the nibblies delicious but then I've never met an oyster kilpatrick that I didn't like!

After sunset we headed into port and the long walk down the wharf back to the buses and the short drive back to the hotel. Tomorrow is the official memorial celebrations and we will all be making our own way there (just a short walk along the Esplanade). There's a free afternoon for people to do their own thing, I'll probably be catching up on my blog writing!

I should also mention that Unlock the Past and Gould Books are tempting people with their book stall at each lecture session and one lady mentioned to me on the harbour cruise that she had spent a small fortune. For once it wasn't me! Till next time.


  1. Thankyou for this wonderful insight into Day 2 Shauna .. Makes me wish I was there. I am eagerly waiting for Day 3.

  2. Thanks Shauna, I'm envious. I'm sure I would have learned a lot.