The movie AUSTRALIA informed younger generations of Australians and reminded older ones, of the air raids and subsequent loss of many lives in the Defence Forces and civilians in World War II. During my stay in Darwin I regularly drove past the airstrips built parallel to the Stuart Highway. See the ‘Strauss’ field below with its two-dimensional mock-ups of different planes that help us imagine the planes used in those days. Captain Allison W. Strauss (male) was killed in an air raid when his Kitty Hawk crashed in the Darwin harbour. I think it is far-sighted of the government to retain the airstrips as tangible evidence of those terrible times.
On 19th February 1942 in the morning at 09.58hrs the first raid hit and 243 people died that day. Twenty three aircraft were destroyed and eight ships were sunk. All in all Darwin was bombed 64 times between that date and November 1943.
For me to be reminded of the devastation, it was not the movie, but visibility of the airstrips that led me to take a drive to Adelaide River, some 90 ks ‘down the track’ to pay my respects at the Adelaide River War Cemetery.
Although the cemetery is well away from the main road, it is well signposted. On arriving at Adelaide River I followed the signs to a bitumen road, either side of which was carefully maintained with plants, shrubs, trees and well manicured lawns. I was impressed that several signs are posted to let you know what flora and fauna are to be found here and for those wishing to stay longer, picnic amenities are provided.
Originally the graves were marked with simple white crosses. Now that more graves have been relocated from civil cemeteries, isolated sites and temporary military burial grounds it has become a well laid out and designed site marked by uniform brass plaques. Many are individually inscribed with personal messages so I presume penned from members of their families. Some graves have basic information only and there are many unmarked graves as the identities are still unknown.
A special section has been landscaped at one end as a tribute to the people who were killed when they volunteered to stay behind in Darwin to run the Post Office, a vital communication resource.The Post Office received a direct hit and nine workers died. There are also graves for the thirty one aboriginal people in that section of the cemetery.
The Adelaide River War Cemetery is Australia’s most visited war cemetery with an average of 75,000 visitors yearly, amazing for such a remote place. I recommend a visit here if you ever go to the Northern Territory. Roz