The story of Fannie Bay Aerodrome is told at the Aviators Park, Fannie Bay Shopping Centre. The nearby Ross Smith Avenue was originally the runway of the aerodrome. The exact place where the Vickers Vimy touched down is marked in Ross Smith Park in Giles Street. The aerodrome became the civil airport for Darwin and had a short role during World War Two as a fighter strip. It closed down in 1946 and was built over by the suburbs of Fannie Bay and Parap. The present RAAF Base now serves both military and civil needs.
1 Vestey’s Meatworks and Water Tank
Work began on the construction of a meatworks at Bullocky Point, Fannie Bay in 1915 and the first shipment of meat occurred in December 1917. The meatworks was owned by the British company Vestey’s who also acquired very large tracts of grazing land in the Victoria River Downs (VRD) region and in the Kimberleys to supply cattle to the works. There were many problems and the works closed in 1920 after only three years of operation. Most of the buildings were demolished in the 1940’s and Darwin High School was built on the site. Part of the original work was a large open-topped ground-level concrete water tank (capacity 22ML) which has not only survived but in the late 1980’s was re-developed into a gymnasium and outdoor performance space for the Darwin High School. The tank was rectangular with massive concrete walls up to 450mm thick and 7 metres high, externally buttressed to resist the pressure of the water within. It was roofed, air conditioned and fitted out internally for multi-purpose use. Everyone calls it “The Tank”.
2 Darwin Museum, Cyclone Tracy Exhibit
In Darwin today there is little evidence of the devastation brought by Cyclone Tracy on Christmas Day 1974. She was one of the most powerful cyclones ever and hit Darwin with bulls-eye accuracy in the middle of the night. Much of the city was destroyed and 66 people were killed. The best way to see the story of Tracy and imagine what happened is to see the graphic exhibit at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory at Bullocky Point, open 9am to 5pm weekdays and 10am to 5pm on weekends. Cyclones Althea in Townsville (1971) and Tracy in Darwin caused a complete rethink of cyclonic wind loading in Australia and the standards were re-written. Building systems were upgraded and roof nails gave way to screws. These standards have since been tested many times. Hardened towns along the Pilbara Coast, like Port Hedland, have often experienced powerful cyclones with minimal damage since the lessons of Althea and Tracy were applied to the engineering of buildings.
3 1934 Qantas Hangar, Parap
Construction commenced in July 1934 on a hangar for Qantas Empire Airways Ltd measuring 100 feet by 100 feet with 20 feet head clearance and doors capable of opening to accommodate the de Havilland DH86 Empire Mail Planes of that era. At that time the Darwin airport was located at Parap and the hangar was not far from the main runway which is now Ross Smith Avenue. The all-steel hangar included 30 feet wide lean-to structures on either side for storage and workshops. The building was pre-fabricated by the famous Brisbane company, Sidney Williams. On completion the hangar was leased to Guinea Airways until the bombing of Darwin. It was struck by a bomb on 19 February 1942 and badly damaged. The building was subsequently temporarily repaired and leased to the Allied Works Council until 1946. After the War the hangar was used by Department of Civil Aviation and purchased by that department in 1954. The building was sold to the Northern Territory Government in 1997 and is under the control of Museums and Art Galleries of the Northern Territory. The Qantas Hangar is now home to the “Sandfly” Locomotive (1886) – see No. 4 Darwin City Engineering Heritage Walk/Drive Tour. It also houses Vintage Car Club vehicles.
4 Anti-submarine Boom Net, East Point
During the Second World War Darwin Harbour was protected by the longest anti-submarine net in the world. The net stretched between East Point and West Point. The first stage, completed in 1942, was 4.6km long and it was extended later to a length of 5.59 km. The channel where the gate was located was almost 3 km from East Point. The top of the net was held up by buoys and at intervals along the net larger buoys were anchored to the seabed. The gate section was operated by two firmly-anchored gate ships, HMAS Kara Kara and HMAS Gunbar. There are few relics of the boom remaining but it is possible to get some impression of the magnitude of the net by standing at East Point. Park in the first car park on the left after entering the security gates near the end of East Point, past “Pee Wee’s at the Point” restaurant. Walk to the right along the cliff-top path and you will come to the fragment of steel cable which is all that remains of the net.
7 Armidale Street Power Station
In the late 1930’s electricity supply in Darwin was in crisis. The old Power Station No.1 in Lindsay Street in the city was heavily overloaded and unable to cope with rapidly growing refrigeration loads and the build-up of the military with its insatiable appetite for electricity. The Minister for the Interior approved the construction of a new power station and two new 250kW diesel generating sets were supplied. The station was built by the Snell Construction Company and commissioned on 7 June 1940 and was known as Power Station No.2 or Armidale Street Power Station. The old Power Station No.1 was shut down and some generating sets transferred to the new station which then had a total generating capacity of 660kW. In 1942, with Darwin being bombed systematically, the plant was augmented by two new 500kW generating sets. By this time the electricity supply was under direct military control. Amazingly Armidale Street Power Station survived the War without significant bomb damage and continued to be expanded until the Stokes Hill Steam Power Station came into operation in 1962.
8 Ammunition Storage Areas Bayview and Charles Darwin Park During World War Two both the Navy and Air Force built ammunition storage areas around the escarpments above Frances Bay. The Navy site is now within the Bayview residential development. Four above-ground explosives storage buildings have been restored. The site was used to store mines, depth charges and torpedos until 1956 and for light ammunition until 1962. Access is via a public footpath up a steep concrete driveway opposite 6 Stoddart Drive, Bayview. There are interpretive signs at the site. The Air Force storage area, generally called ‘the bomb dumps’ is now located within Charles Darwin National Park off Tiger Brennan Drive. The gates are open from 7.00am to 7.00pm and entry is free. Most of the storage buildings on this site are Armco Magazines, made of semi-circular prefabricated steel sections and covered with earth to make them look like hills from above. The sites were chosen to be close to the harbour and the Air Base respectively yet to be away from populated areas and provide some protection from enemy bombing.
9 North Australia Railway – Narrows Rail Remnants
The first stage of the North Australia Railway was built to Pine Creek in 1887-89. The construction contractor was the Victorian firm Charles and Edwin Millar. The railway was extended to the Katherine River in 1917, and to Birdum in 1929. It closed in 1976. Most of the rails and sleepers have been removed however significant stations remain at Adelaide River, Pine Creek and Katherine. Some of the formation has been built over by the recent construction of the Standard Gauge Railway but in other places formation, bridges, culverts and other relics remain. Several large bridges have survived over the Elizabeth (9a), Adelaide, Fergusson and Katherine rivers. At the Fergusson River the magnificent 1917 bridge has been re-used by the Standard Gauge Railway. 700m of track and one bridge have been preserved on the southern side of the Stuart Highway at The Narrows between Snell Street and a point near the RAAF Base Gates where the track used to cross the Stuart Highway on a level crossing. Be careful of the traffic when crossing the highway to look at the track.
10 Stuart Highway North
The 1500 km highway connecting Alice Springs and Darwin began as a dirt track servicing the construction of the Overland Telegraph in the 1870’s. Part of the dry-weather track served to link the railheads at Alice Springs and Birdum until the Second World War. In 1940 civil road authorities from several states, assisted by the Army combined to construct an “all-weather” highway in a very short time which was vital for the defence of Australia. By the end of the War the Stuart Highway was sealed all the way from Alice Springs to Darwin. Major upgrades between 1970 and 1992 created a National Highway, a monument to the achievements of engineers, surveyors and workers in a remote region. Work continues to build higher bridges over troublesome rivers as highway standards for all-weather service continue to rise. The Engineers Australia marker at the Darwin RAAF Gates lies on the alignment of the original road. Much of the present-day highway, the last (until recently) in the country to have no speed limit, still follows the original alignment.
5 East Point Battery and Military Museum
Between the Wars naval guns were placed at East Point in the vain hope that they would protect the town and its great harbour. The guns were never fired in anger as the attacks on Darwin came from the air not from the sea and the big guns were useless against aircraft. In 1934 two naval guns, scrapped from HMAS Melbourne and HMAS Brisbane were installed at East Point in massive concrete emplacements. The guns were manned during World War Two. The East Point Military Museum is built in the Command Post which formed part of the battery installation and was used by the Army during WWII to plan the strategy for the defence of the Top End. The museum includes one of the gun emplacements with a mock up of a gun. The museum largely tells the story of Darwin’s WWII experiences and particularly the bombing of the city. The museum is near the end of East Point and is open from 9.30am to 5.00pm daily. There are entrance fees.
6 Aviators Park and Fannie Bay Aerodrome
On 12 November 1919 Australians Captain Ross Smith, and his brother Lieutenant Keith Smith and Sergeants James Bennett and Wally Shiers departed England in their Vickers Vimy aircraft. They were one of a number of aircraft in the race to be first to fly from England to Australia. The Australian Prime Minister, Billy Hughes put forward a prize of £10,000 to the plane that could arrive in under 30 days. Ross Smith and his crew made aviation history by arriving in Darwin in 27 days, on 10 December 1919.
11 RAAF Base Darwin and Darwin Airport
RAAF Base Darwin came into operation in 1940 but was devastated by enemy bombing in February 1942. After the War the long east/west runway was built – eventually extended to 11,000 feet. This runway work, undertaken by RAAF 5 Airfield Construction Squadron, was a great engineering feat. The site saw many dramatic events. In the 1950’s Qantas used Darwin as an overnight base for its Constellation aircraft flying the Kangaroo Route to London; in 1954 the Petrov Affair culminated in high drama on the tarmac at Darwin; after Cyclone Tracy in 1974 aviation played a crucial role in the evacuation and rebuilding of Darwin; during the Cold War, US Air Force B-52 strategic bombers undertook training flights from 1960 and in 1995 a replica Vickers Vimy arrived, re-enacting the 1919 Ross Smith flight from England three quarters of a century before. The original main runway no longer exists after many stages of air base and airport development. The most obvious heritage items on the site are
the old buildings east of the entrance to the RAAF Base, visible from the Stuart Highway.
12 Australian Aviation Heritage Centre
The museum of the Aviation Historical Society of the Northern Territory opened in 1990. It now houses one of the largest collections of aircraft, aircraft systems and aviation memorabilia in Australia. An ex-US Air Force Boeing B-52 strategic bomber dominates the main display hangar. Aircraft of this type operated from Darwin during the Cold War. The military collection includes a Tiger Moth, Spitfire (replica), Sabre, Mirage and parts of World War Two aircraft types, of both sides, which operated in the Top End. Civil aircraft tell the story of general aviation which shaped the Territory. Displays depict some of the many Top End aviation sagas such as the Ross & Keith Smith Vickers Vimy flight in 1919, the MacRobertson Air Race in 1934, the bombing of Darwin, the Petrov Incident and the Dick Smith Round the World helicopter flight. The Water Tower from RAAF WWII Apron has been relocated to the Aviation Musuem. The Aviation Heritage Centre is located on the Stuart Highway in Winnellie opposite the Show Grounds and is open from 9am to 5pm daily with guided tours at 10am and 2pm. There is an admission fee.
13 Lee Point Coastal Defences
This site is a restored, “Singapore-type” pillbox, which was one of six beach strong-points constructed for the military by civilian contractors between 1939 and 1941. The Lee Point peninsula was considered to be the most likely point for an enemy landing and the initial strategy was to confine the enemy to the beachhead as long as possible with a light covering force and then defend a secondary “stop line” formed by trench lines across the base of the Lee Point peninsula. After the fall of Singapore and the bombing of Darwin in February 1942, the effectiveness of such fixed defence lines came into serious question. The threat of invasion of Darwin ended after the Battle of Midway in June 1942 after which the pillboxes became observation posts. The two semicircular turrets housed heavy machine guns which during WWII would have had a clear view along the beach. Subsequent movement of the shoreline has left this pillbox more than 100m inland from the beach. From the first carpark at Lee Point, follow the track that leads off from the south-west corner of the mown area. The pillbox is an easy 0.7km walk down this track. The Blood Hound missiles now mounted at the RAAF Base entrance were originally installed at Lee Point during Indonesia’s confrontation with Malaysia.
14 Howard Springs Water Supply
Howard Springs was first considered as a possible solution to Darwin’s thenunreliable water supply in 1910. In 1939, after a community petition and much delay, water was piped from the spring for use in Darwin. This arrangement served as a stop-gap measure until 1942 when Manton Dam was completed. During the Second World War, rest and recreation camps for up to 120 men were set up at Howard Springs for Allied servicemen. The weir was built in 1944 by the 1st Field Company, Royal Australian Engineers to improve the swimming hole. In 1957 Howard Springs became the Northern Territory’s first Reserve under the Northern Territory Reserves Board, now the Parks and Wildlife Commission. Howard Springs Nature Park protects 283 ha of diverse habitats including monsoon forest, extensive swamps and riverine areas. The park is approximately 35 km south of Darwin. Turn east off the Stuart Highway onto Howard Springs Road and drive straight ahead for about 6 km.
15 Manton Dam and its Pipelines
Manton Dam was constructed by the Commonwealth Government to provide water for military groups defending Darwin. Construction started in December 1938, by mid 1941 the dam was holding water and by 1942 it was completed. The first above ground steel pipeline and elevated water tanks in the town were completed in March 1940. The dam is a concrete arch structure just upstream from the bridge where the Stuart Highway crosses the Manton River 64 km south of Darwin. It is an easy walk from the car park to the dam. Most of the dam wall crest forms the spillway – a spectacular sight when the spillway is operating. Two diesel-powered pumps were installed initially and one of these survives. In 1945 a 33kVpower line was built from Darwin and electric pumps were installed. The dam remained the water supply source for Darwin until 1972 when Darwin River Dam was completed. Manton Dam is now a recreation lake but Power and Water Corporation still own it and it could be used as an emergency water supply as it was in the days after Cyclone Tracy.
16 World War Two Airstrips along the Stuart Highway
After the bombing of Darwin commenced on 19 February 1942 there was a massive build-up of air defences around Darwin. This included the construction of a number of fighter strips along the Stuart Highway south of Darwin. Many other airstrips, some intended to accommodate heavy bombers, were constructed with a total of 26 along the Stuart Highway. There are three fighter strips, built parallel to and adjacent to the Stuart Highway close to Darwin. These are (16c) Sattler (21 Mile, 34km south of Darwin); (16b) Strauss (28 Mile, 45km south of Darwin) and (16a) Livingstone (33 Mile, 53km south of Darwin). These were equipped with fighter squadrons, Kitty Hawks and later Spitfires tasked to drive enemy bombers and their escort fighters away. After dozens of air raids the tide turned and the last air raid on Australian soil occurred on 12 November 1943. These strips consisted of a bitumen-paved runway 1.6 km long with taxiways and earth revetments for the safe storage of aircraft. Most of the accommodation was tents and maintenance on the aircraft was done in the open. As you drive back from Manton Dam you can drive onto each strip in turn. There are interpretive signs at each site.