During World War II Darwin became the first mainland state in Australia to come under direct attack from the Japanese when it was the target of over 64 air raids causing huge devastation and many casualties. The attacks were totally unexpected at the time – in fact the sight of some 180 aircraft over the city caused many to believe the Americans had come to help. Instead, the bombing began and caught everyone unawares.
Much of this unique military history is preserved and scattered around the city. We drove to the East Point Military Reserve which is a beautifully tended area with picnic bays and shady rest points from which you can get a view of the city of Darwin across the bay.
This is where the Darwin Military Museum is located – some 8 kms from the city centre – and it is absolutely incredible with fantastic relics, photographs, displays, interactive stories and a very realistic film about the day Darwin was bombed.
Outside there are numerous displays set up in huts and hangars portraying the various roles the Army, Navy and Airforce played.
Guns, trucks, ammunition magazines and camouflaged vehicles also take pride of place in the grounds
One story which brought me to tears was of the selfless courage and bravery shown by a young gunner on board a ship the day the bombing occurred. He was strapped to his gun, had been hit and the ship was going down but he continued to fire allowing some of his mates to dive into the water and perhaps survive – he was fatally wounded whilst firing his gun – and he was 27 days short of his 19th birthday. The photo on the wall shows a painting of him firing whilst wounded. In later years the Navy honoured his bravery by naming a ship after him.
Following this visit we then joined Sea Darwin for a one hour tour of the harbour showing where the action occurred and where several wrecks are located including the USS Peary. The commentary included some stories which have since been related by survivors of the attacks.
Various tunnels and lookout posts were pointed out and we had a really good perspective from the sea.
Finally we visited the RFDS (Royal Flying Doctor Service) museum on the wharf which not only gave the history of the Service (which we also saw in Cloncurry, where it all began) but also were able to board a plane as well as see a map of Australia showing where all 73 aircraft are currently located. This is, of course, constantly moving as many flights are in operation day to day.
There is also an excellent interpretation of the bombing of Darwin which is shown by Hologram film as well as by Virtual Reality.
This was the most amazing experience. One moment you are flying in the plane with a pilot shooting down the Japanese, the next you are wallowing in the sea with boiling timber, metal and oil all around. Bombs are flying everywhere and as you spin around and look up and down, the whole scene becomes so real that it is quite terrifying at times!
Interactive mini ghosts tell their story – including that of the first Japanese Pilot captured in Australia – Hajime Toyoshima. There is a full size replica Japanese Zero aircraft hanging from the ceiling and a replica of Camilla, the Flying Boat that escaped from Darwin Harbour during the raid.
For those interested in World War II history in Australia, Darwin is most definitely a place to visit as you can certainly have a very powerful, immersive and interactive experience at several locations.