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Published: August 16th 2011
Whilst in Darwin Dave and I visited the Aviation Heritage Centre where they have a fully refurbished B52 bomber on permanent loan from the American Air Force, this was the forefront of the development of the jet airliner. This bomber towers over a replica Spitfire, a Mirage Fighter and an ex-RAAF Sabre There was also a great display on the bombing of Darwin by the Japanese in February 1942, only two months after bombing Pearl Harbour. Details of the attack were kept as an official secret for 50 years, therefore most people were and probably still are unaware of the devastation and how close the Japanese were to invading our corner of the world. The raids were the first of almost 100 air raids against Australia during 1942–43.
This event is often called the "Pearl Harbour of Australia". Although it was a less significant military target, a greater number of bombs were dropped on Darwin than were used in the attack on Pearl Harbour. As was the case at Pearl Harbour, the Australian town was unprepared, and although it came under attack from the air another 58 times in 1942 and 1943, the raids on 19 February were massive and devastating
When you consider that Darwin also had a severe cyclone in 1937 causing major damage, and then Cyclone Tracy in 1974, they have therefore rebuilt the city 3 times - maybe there is hope for Christchurch!
The Military Museum was also well worth visiting with another great display
The Army also built tunnels under the town. When the Japs bombed Darwin all the fuel tanks were above ground, so they built them underground. One after the wet season leaked water into it and was never used. The other one was used for aviation gas.
They are dug into the side of the hill, poured concrete and steel lined. The pumps were underground and it was pumped via a pipe out to the wharf.
We mentioned in the previous blog entry about censorship – Strict censorship was imposed on any information about the air raids, or anything that happened in the area.. No cameras, no diaries, no mention of any enemy action in letters home. This censorship was carried even further, to the extent that official documents were stamped “Not to be released until 1995”. Officially, the government thought it would be better if the Australians knew nothing
Magnetic Termite Mounds
Aligned roughly north-south to make the most of the morning warm sun and creating an even temp at midday.
about it. (A bit like the British doing nuclear testing at Maralinga in South Australia. That was also kept very quiet.) As a result of this, Aussies know very little about those who served in the Darwin area, the shortage of food and ammo, or about the danger and discomforts endured for months and years to keep the Japs out of Australia.
Just going back to Borroloola for a moment, when you buy alcohol you have to be breath-tested before they will sell it to you. This was particularly strict because the seller was on notice from the Alcohol Licencing Authority because he had been previously caught selling to intoxicated people.
We met up with Russell, Vicki, Trevor and Judy, from where we had stayed at Maryborough in April, and had a great night with them at the Darwin Sailing Club.
Ubirr Rock in Kakadu National Park had rock art which we looked at, then walked up the Rock to watch the sunset. The heavy smoke on the western horizon from bushfires blocked the suns actual setting, but produced interesting photography results.
At the wetlands area of Mamukala there were a pair of Green Pygmy Geese (actually ducks), and
Off shore at Smiths Pt, GGB National Park, NT
a Forest Kingfisher.
Garig Gunag Barlu National Park at Cobourg Peninsula – this is one of the highlights of our trip so far. We had to buy a week’s permit, and wondered if we would be bored after three days. However, it was beautiful, and plenty to do. This area is 570km by road north-east of Darwin. The park includes the entire Peninsula, the surrounding waters of the Arafura Sea and Van Diemen Gulf, and some neighbouring islands. A permit is required as you must drive through aboriginal land, and only 20 vehicles are allowed access at any one time. The beaches are beautiful white coral sand bordered by casuarinas, and reefs. Unfortunately a lot of the large trees had been wiped out by a cyclone in 2006. Hence they have built shadecloth areas at each camp site. At Smiths Point, we think the most northern mainland point of NT, we went crocodile watching. Sure enough a 4.5 to 5m croc surfaced in the sea about 60 metres off the beach. It is very tempting to swim as the temp was in the low 30s, however if the crocs don’t get you, the sharks, box jellyfish, poisonous octopus, stonefish
Croc watching from the most northern part of mainland Northern Territory
or seasnakes will!
Aboriginies are believed to have lived in this area for 40000 years. Macassan traders (from Indonesia) visited regularly up to a century before European settlement, collecting trepang (sea cucumbers) mainly, for the Chinese market.
There is a coastal loop road of about 40km. Murray fished off the beach and caught 3 eating size macherel. On our way back to camp we spotted another crocodile, about 3m, swimming parallel to the beach about 2m from the sand. He spotted us watching and headed out to sea. We also saw a baby crocodile in a small billabong that we had to drive past to get in and out of the camping area. It was about half a metre long. We also spotted Radjah Shelducks and their young, there were plenty of raucous sulphur-crested cockatoos, red-tailed black cockatoos and a barking owl which was stunned briefly by our headlights. Snakes, wild pigs, wallabies, Banteng cattle and Timor ponies also inhabit the area and were spotted. Apparently there are dugongs and turtles as well.
This park is home to the world’s largest wild herd of Banteng cattle. These Indonesian cattle are an endangered species in their natural habitat.
The Park has at least four Rangers. One of them, an aboriginal woman named Cynthia, took us visitors for a walk and showed us the bush tucker and bush medicine in the area – including large yams that are dug up and can be metres long, cutting into the white ant mounds to get out the material inside that can be burnt on the fire to keep mozzies away. The Chief Ranger, Ian, had a long chat to us about what it is like to work here. He loves it, and said that because it is remote and permits are required, it keeps the idiot element out.
Oh, and the Clarks cooked their first camp oven roast chicken dinner YUM.
They had visitors from the Government (probably DERM – equivalent to DOC in NZ), who wished to survey the depleting marine life, mainly dugongs and turtles which the aborigines were catching for food, and to see what could be done to solve this. He suggested a simple solution – supply them with a freezer and diesel for their generators, as they continue to only catch what is needed, as they traditionally did, but because of the heat,
the meat goes rotten before they can eat it all. They Government visitors were not interested in this simple solution, but needed to produce a 150 page report (at what cost)! Doesn’t this sound familiar!
Upon leaving the peninsular, we travelled back to Cahills Crossing, stayed the night there and watched the high tide turn. This is when the fish that are upstream of the crossing, come back down as the tide starts to go out and congregate at the upstream side. This means easy pickings for the crocs. Apparently there is often a feeding frenzy for a few moments, but things were pretty quiet while we watched. While watching from the safety of the boardwalk, we were amazed at the number of “croc bait” - people standing close to and actually in the water at the crossing, fishing and waiting. There were 3 crocs cruising either side of the crossing, mainly underwater.
The Bowali Visitors Centre near Jabiru was awesome with lots of wildlife displays etc, and great wildlife movies to watch. We stocked up at Jabiru, had a drink at the Sports Centre (very strict rules). Oh!! Out of beer, and no where to buy
Sunset at Blacks Pt
GGB National Park, NT
it for 200 km. We managed.
The highlights at Kakadu were the walk into Jim Jim Falls after a 4WD track. It was a great walk over large boulders and a swim in a deep, shaded and therefore cold, pool. We lay on our backs and looked up at the walls of the gorge and the waterfall. The walls appeared to curve in at the top. Then on to view the amazing Agoriginal rock art at Nourlangie, although a lot of tourists but very informative rangers.
Katherine for three nights, then left there to head west and used the last of M & D’s corned beef (yes, we have used one of the fridges as a freezer all thi time).
Camping ground at Keep River National Park was full, so we found a metal dump hidden behind some bush and had a lovely peaceful night with campfire and camp oven roast, and it was free! Nice when you have a win every now and again.
On 4 August we crossed the border into Western Australia. Forgot to dump our rubbish from the previous night so had to sort potato peelings etc at the quarantine check point,
and hand over the honey.
Shot out to Lake Argle, spelling, the larget body of fresh water in Australia. This is a manmade lake, with the Ord River having been dammed to provide irrigation water to the Kunnunara area. We also visited the Durack Homestead which was moved off the station that was flooded from the damming of the Ord River. (Mary Durack wrote popular books about the life of her predecessors, the first being “Kings in Glass Castles”)
The town of Kunnunara is modern as it was built for the dam workers originally. And even stricter alcohol rules here – no sales of full strength beer, spirits or wine until 5pm (there are queues at the door) Each individual can only buy two bottles of wine and a bottle of spirits, or 2 bottles of wine and a box of beer – but no breath testing or ID checks. You may consider we have a thing about the booze – but it is interesting to see what the Government is attempting to do to control the indigenous people’s problem with alcohol.
Next blog – Gibb River Road, visiting friends, west coast and a desert track.
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