And much of the Top End’s tourist experiences today help tell a fascinating story of Darwin, with it’s history remarkably well preserved.
Darwin became an important base for the Allies in the lead-up to World War II. Darwin became the first mainland site in Australia to come under direct attack from the enemy, causing huge devastation and many civilian casualities. The major bombing of Darwin on 19 February 1942, was the first of 64 air raids during 1942 and 1943.
The Northern Territory played such a key strategic role in the defence of Australia. Gun emplacements, oil storage tunnels, bunkers, airstrips and lookout posts are scattered all over the place.
Tigermoths, Spitfires and Hawks
On the road in from Humpty Doo we spy our first history stop for the day. The Strauss Airstrip. Life size cut-out plane images keep the Squids active, while the Skipper and I read up on this important, yet dusty landing strip used by American, British and Australian pilots involved in combat over Darwin and Fenton.
Originally known as 27 Mile (it’s actually 28 miles from Darwin …but who’s counting?) the airfield was built in 1942 and decommissioned in 1945. But not before it performed a critical role as a roadside fighter strip.
In 2003 the Strauss Airstrip was declared a Heritage Place for NT in recognition of its vital role in aerial defences of Darwin and the Top End.
More history underground
Next on the list was the WWII Oil Storage Tunnels which were constructed in 1943 to protect Darwin’s oil supplies.
A rather awesome feat which we were able to fully appreciate while strolling through the tunnels contemplating life overhead. The tunnel trip was enhanced by a terrific series of photos and info panels paying tribute to the men and women who served in Darwin, and some of the losses sustained to life and property during the WWII conflict.
Having visited a number of international sites commemorating war years, I mistakenly concluded that Australia’s war time history on soil was minimal. (Perhaps I was too busy back in History class furtively reading a novel under my text book as well).
However wandering the tunnels and air strip has altered this image somewhat and I was able to recalibrate my understanding of how Australia was affected on home soil.
Darwin is to Australians as Pearl Harbour is to Americans.
We had a break from history and strolled in sticky heat though the George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens.
Established 130 years ago to introduce and evaluate plants for food and flavour to this small developing community, the Gardens have since become an oasis for Darwinites and visitors. Spanning 42 hectares the Gardens deserve their own medal for surviving the ravages of cyclones and direct effects of WWII.
It was warming up for the day in Darwin, but that didn’t deter the local latter set from relaxing in the Garden café and strolling with prams and pooches.
Woo Hoo on the Waterfront
The Darwin Waterfront Precinct is setting itself up to be the cultural and casual playground and meeting place for the city. It’s not quite there yet, though I see what they’re trying to do. Think Melbourne’s Docklands with tropical heat. And a rather large swimming pool.
Our visit coincided with the Water Safety Festival so was vibrant and welcoming.
My suggestions of visiting Fanny Bay Gaol, the Australian Aviation Heritage Centre and even The Cenotaph go out the window. The family barely allow me time to cruise past the Old Town Hall and Lyon’s Cottage.
Our Squids only have swimming goggle eyes for the Wave Lagoon.
The Lagoon boasts a variety of waves and use of boogey boards and inflatable included in the admission price. So we made time to Woo Hoo and enjoyed surfing 10 different wave patterns
Insert picture of beaming faces of The Squids here! .
It ain’t over till the sunsets
As the day comes to an end, there’s always one question on every tourists lips: “Which market will we do?”
It’s a Sunday so the answer is Mindil Markets.
It’s a chance for us to meet up with fellow travellers we’ve bumped into along the way since the last market in Airlie Beach. How tanned we all are since that stroll months and states ago!
The Mindil Beach Market is renowned for its tropical sunset over Mindil Beach. It’s a vibrant market with a pantry heaving selection of cuisine. Hello Thai food – it’s been a while! We join the hordes to pay homage to the sunset, our kids cavorting on the beach as the cameras crazily click around us.
Dusk hits with a thud and the evening entertainment begins in the form of the all singing, all whip cracking Mick of Mick’s Whips. His daggy rendition of Whip It by Devo while demonstrating his cracking is strangely compelling and comical.
This is all a daggy PR stunt to promote his handmade whips, croc skin items and DVD and CD. His unusual sale approach works.
Mick’s CD seems to sell like hot cakes after the show, just as much as his hand-made whips. We’ve secreted away a fair dinkum croc skin and croc tooth hat band for Mister Squids new bush-hat. Couldn’t come at the whip. It’d just end in tears in our camp. And they wouldn’t be crocodile tears.
Crocs, Cyclones and up close culture
We popped back a few days later for Take 2 of Darwin – the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory. It’s all about bugs and rocks in boxes, the ravages of Cyclone Tracey and a giant marauding croc called Sweetheart.
Cyclone Tracy had the Squids enthralled.
I was keen to see their reaction to the simple yet effective displays of Cyclone Tracy’s devastating effect upon an unsuspecting city as it prepared to celebrate Christmas. This will resonate with them when they hit this chapter in Australian Studies.
They both clung to me and covered their ears as we stood in the din and dark of the Cyclone Room, which featured an actual recording of the sound of Cyclone Tracy howling over homes and peeling back iron.
The fury of Cyclone Tracy in 1974 resulted in the building of a new city – not quite cosmopolitan, not quite classic, but charming in its laid back style all the same.
The devastation of storms, natural Science and aboriginal art also gave way to a terrific exhibition of ramshackle and romantic sailing vessels from pearl luggers to refugee boats. It took several hours to pry to Skipper loose from this room. The Squids, on the other hand, we all historied out!
Check back in later, I’m way out yonder and there’s not enough juice to upload photos! Or pop over to our Instagram page and see what we’re up to. http://instagram.com/thecoastwriter