Monday, 7 August 1995

AUC 1995 - Darwin Bicentennial Walk

With some of the dust blown or shaken off, we took our leave of Litchfield NP and headed toward Darwin and the first unscheduled part of the itinerary.

Accommodation was our first hassle, so to aid us we took the advice of a tourist guide booklet and ended up at the Lakes Resort Caravan Park, located at Berry Springs. This had the advantage of being near at least one of the attractions - we had discovered from our reading - which would be good to see. The palace was soon erected in a grassy spot near the free barbecue area and having done so, we continued into Darwin along the Stuart Highway.

Eventually, we ran out of road and ended up at the Esplanade, facing Darwin Harbour near a place called Doctor's Gully. From here, it was on foot for a discovery tour of the centre of NT's capital. The Esplanade is actually a street which runs roughly parallel with the shore line and passes in front of the
Supreme Court building. Like many of Darwin's buildings, the Supreme Court is only twenty years old, following the rebirth of the city after Cyclone Tracy. The Bicentennial Walk is a pathway closely following the shore line through a well set out park which has plenty of both shade and picnic tables.

There are several vantage points for the observer to see the harbour along this walk and memorials mark the involvement of the city in the Second World War. One very moving tribute was a 4 inch deck gun from the USS Peary, which sank in a blaze of glory during the morning of the first air raid oh Darwin: 19th February, 1942. Ninety one crew died as she sank, all guns blazing, still in defence of the city which she had sailed into only the night before. The recovered deck gun is positioned so it points to her final resting place.

Darwin Harbour
Another plaque, nearby, records the heroic feat of Lt Bule of the USAF, who was one of only two land-based fighter aircraft which were operational in Darwin on that infamous February morning. The other was destroyed before it was able to take off, but Bule took to the air in his Kittyhawk and continued to attack the 242 Japanese aircraft which were involved in this first raid on Australian soil. Yet another tells the story of Lt Thomas H Moorer, a Lt Commander in the US Navy, a naval aviator who engaged the enemy after taking off from his ship. Despite being shot down and then stranded in the sea wasp and crocodile infested waters, he survived. He achieved the ultimate position of power for a member of the US defence forces, by eventually becoming the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff - the committee, consisting of the head of the Navy, Army, Air Force and Marines, which reports only to the President of the USA.

In one particular position along the walk, multiple plaques have been erected to mark the involvement of the many units of armed forces who were stationed and fought in defence of Darwin. Newly laid wreaths resting against two of these plaques showed the relevance of these memorials.

Leaving this pathway at its end point, we descended to the shore below the Supreme Court building and walked past The Tunnels - shore side entrances to the five tunnels which were constructed under Darwin to keep fuel supplies safe. With Darwin being the strategic port for the armed defence of Australia and later counter attack against the Japanese advance in 1942 and 1943, fuel had to be kept safe from the enemy bombers which carried out 62 air raids during those years. Their chief targets were fuel dumps and airfields, therefore necessitating the "burying" of the fuel as it was delivered by bulk from the sea or the land.

This walk took us to an elevated platform overlooking the three wharfs of modern Darwin and tells the tale of the development of Darwin as a port and the affect of the war fifty years ago. It was here, for the first time, I fully realised the importance of Darwin to the war effort and the reason why the Japanese would have been so keen to attack it. I had previously believed the bombings were carried out as some desire to invade Australia, but this information seemed to reflect a different story.

The authorities had been well prepared, in many respects, for the eventual raid which happened in mid February. Military infrastructure had been building since the late thirties and women and children had been evacuated since the beginning of January of 1942. In fact, the final load of evacuees left Darwin by plane, a little more than 24 hours before the February 19th air raid. Forty two ships were at anchor, or moving in the harbour on that morning, with the vast majority of them
being US or Australian Navy vessels and many of these being fighting ships. Air raids were expected, the only thing which appears to be certain was they were not expected so soon. Singapore had fallen only the day before and once again, the speed with which the Japanese moved and attacked caught the Allied forces by surprise.

It made for fascinating reading and created an interest 1 promised myself I would pursue.

Across the road from this viewing platform was the former Government House - two sandstone buildings which sit atop Fort Hill, also overlooking the wharves. These have since been abandoned and are now used for strictly administrative purposes. They are beautiful structures and have done well to stand the tests which have been put to all of Darwin's buildings in the last fifty years.

Across the road we inspected the Anglican Cathedral which had been completely rebuilt following
the destruction by Tracy in 1974. All that remains of the brick building which was constructed in the early years of this century, is the porch and this has been bolstered and retained as a reminder of the destruction which tore the church to the ground in the first hour of Christmas Day, 1974. The new design is very open plan and incorporates the use of large windows and anchored beams running back into the ground, giving the appearance the building has sprung up from the ruins. It was an architectural design which was ultimately award winning. A photo display at the rear of the church records the history of the church buildings - new and old - which have been located on this site.

Ruins of Town Hall, Darwin
From here we wondered back into the heart of the city and through the Smith St Mall. Despite some delays whilst the ladies sized up the pearls and opals they would like to obtain for themselves as jewellery, we eventually found our way to the cinema, where the children and myself were all teased in turn, by the fare on offer and that to come. Among the coming attractions was Ron Howard's version of the events of one of the greatest human dramas played out in the second half of this century: Apollo 13. Staring Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, Ed Harris, Gary Sinise and Kevin Bacon, it looked to be a cracker. I put it on my list of movies I wanted to see.

Our appetites whetted, in more ways than one, we worked our way, weary legged, back to the parking spot at the northern end of the Esplanade and fell heavily into our seats for the return trip to Berry Springs.

The evening was bliss, as the cool air which floated into the tent after lights out was a fitting reward for the hard toils of the day. All in all, we each dropped into sleep, content our move had been a worthwhile change of direction and there was, indeed, much to see in this northern most of Australia's capital cities.

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