Sunday, 19 February 2012

The Last Supper and The First Siren

So my time in town has ended prematurely. All for the better or all for the worst only time will tell. But there was no way I was leaving without having a Last Supper. So text message by text message I invited all of our little social group for my last town dinner down at the club for what may be quite sometime. Town has given me the opportunity to meet so many great new people and create new friendships. I reminded everyone that the gates to Providence will always be open for them and I hope one day that their tyres roll across our grid as they come visit and say g'day.
On the Saturday I headed North, instead of South-West, to Darwin to catch up with my best friend for her second to last weekend in the NT. We have known each other so long that we can't even remember meeting and neither of us were fully toilet trained at that point either. In Territory terms: We go way back! We dined out in the city at a resturant in Mitchell Street, picking up where we left off last time. With the food piled in front of us the conversation kept flowing. There seemed to be a steady stream of people stop to chat to the couple at the table next to us and one person in particular caught my eye. No, he was not tall, dark and handsome. He had big, sticky-outty ears and a short back and sides haircut but he chatted to this couple for a while and I had to do a double take.
"Lucy!" I tried my best to whisper which is a bit hard in a busy resturant. "Look to your left at the table next to us!"
And there he was, the face of the Liberal party, leader of the oppostition, Mr Tony Abbott. We were no more than 2m away from him!
As the night wore on and we could eat no more so we got a doggy bag and headed back to Lucy's apartment.
Earlier in the afternoon when I first arrived and I pulled my swag off the back of the ute a small cricket jumped on me and some potting mix sprinkled out onto the ground. I thought nothing of it as my swag had been parked next to two dead pot plants for months. When we returned from dinner there were two crickets hopping over the loungeroom floor till I ushered them out onto the balcony.
"Roll your swag out anywhere," Lucy offered so I unclipped the first strap and set free a dozen more crickets into her apartment. I seemed to have been harbouring gryllidae in my swag and goodness knows how long for. And that potting mix? I'm now more inclined to think it was cricket faeces...
In the end I didn't roll my swag out, it got banished to the balcony instead whilst trying to stamp on as many crickets as possible in an effort to get a good nights sleep and avoid the horrid chirping that crickets can omit. But that night I slept like a log in a double bed. I rolled over and discovered I had all this space I'm not used to having. Not sharing the bed with junk or Damian and his flayling limbs supressed my usual 'Princess and the Pea' sleep.
This Sunday though marks a dark day in the Northern Territory's history. On the 19th of Feburary 1942 Japanese Air Forces flew 242 bomber aircraft over the Darwin area and conducted two air raids which killed 250-320 people, wounded 300-400 people, destroyed 23 aircraft, sunk 10 ships and damaged a further 25. Japanese losses? Just 7 aircraft. The first warning came through over the radio at 9:15am from Melville Island and the message was disregarded as the return of 10 American Army Air Corps planes who had to turn back to Darwin after experiencing bad weather. The first air raid siren was not sounded till 9:58am when the Japanese bombers were first sighted over Darwin. The raid lasted 40 minutes, sunk 18 sea vessels in the harbour, killed 21 wharfies and did damage to the RAAF base, civil airfield, Army barracks and oil store.
The sirens were resounded at 11:58am for the second wave of enemy planes and in two formations they attacked the RAAF base again. Defective fuses prevented Australian gunners from defending the Darwin sky. 9 Australian and American aircrafts were destroyed, 2 badly damaged and 6 RAAF personnel killed. A smaller raid killed 11 people that were on board the Don Isidro North of Melville Island and 4 on the Florence D off Bathurst Island. The survivors of this raid made their way to Bathurst and Melville Islands or were rescued by HMAS Warrnambool. Half of Darwins population fled as a result of the raids including many servicemen who misinterpreted a command and looting occurred in the presence of chaos.
The exact number of deaths is still being disputed today, the highest estimate being 1500 people. The numbers of the wounded being less debated and as a consequence the 1000 or so people said to be dead as suggested by some is held in contrast with a low injury level. Australia's North coast was bombed a further 62 times by the Japanese until the 12th of November 1943.
I had slept in and missed nearly all of the commemoration events throughout Darwin so I decided to follow through with my idea that I had on my way up and that was to stop in at the Adelaide River War Cemetery on my way back down to Katherine. I stopped for maybe half an hour to wander through the headstones. To remember those fallen when the frontline was on our shores. Remember Great Grandpa George who enlisted in the RAAF building airstrips alongside the Stuart Highway in the Top End but was brought home by Great Nanna Wesley's constant nagging at the enlistment office in Adelaide (he served one year). Remember Grandpa Alexander who served in the Army as a Private in the 27th Battalion from March 1941 to April 1942. Remember Grandpa Haby who served from October 1942 to December 1945 as a Leading Aircraftman working on the PBY Catalina Flying Boats at Melville Bay in Arnhem Land, NT. Remember. Not only today but everyday in silence we remember.

 File:Darwin 42.jpg

Oil storage tanks exploding from the first Japanese air raid. HMAS Deloraine unharmed in the foreground.

Photo from the Australian War Memorial Collection Database Image Number 128108.

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