Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Darwin Military Museum: Lest We Forget

As we approach Anzac Day, I thought it would be a good time to post about a poignant experience I had when I visited Darwin last year.

As a guest of Tigerair and NT Australia, I was part of a handful of bloggers and travel writers taken on a whistlestop tour of the Top End to celebrate Tigerair's inaugural flight from Brisbane to Darwin.

Now to be honest, a visit to a war museum wouldn't have been on the top of my holiday list. In fact, if I hadn't been part of a tour group, I probably wouldn't have even known there was a war museum in Darwin. (Don't judge me. I was expecting crocodiles and waterfalls. Not that there is anything wrong with that.) 

But there is. It's the Darwin Military Museum. And in fact, it was a very moving highlight of my trip.

Now, I know Anzac Day is traditionally known as the day when we remember those brave souls who served during the Gallipoli campaign - particularly those who lost their lives. However, it has come to represent those Australians who have served and/or been killed during World War 2 and other military activity, and the museum highlights this very well. 

One of the reasons I think that the Darwin Military Museum is so compelling is that, like so many good ideas, it was never actually a government initiative.

Instead, local Lieutenant Colonel Jack Haydon decided to do something about preserving the city's wartime history and with the help of members of the NT branch of the Royal Australian Artillery Association, began collecting memorabilia from within Australia and the world.

Partly housed in the original command past used by the army to control massive 9.2 inch guns nearby, the museum sprawls across tropical grounds, with inside and outside displays of memorabilia from Australian military activity, including Vietnam and the Boer wars.

The mix of military hardware and virtual reality means there is something for all ages, even youngsters. Or those, like me, who may initially have thought the subject of war was a bit serious for a tourism itinerary. I quickly changed my mind. 

Of course, the focus is on World War 2 and the bombing of Darwin, which was never taught in schools when I was a child. (I know this is not just due to my poor memory. I've asked other people of my age group and they say they same. We were told the closest Australia ever came to war was the Japanese approaching the harbour).

Australia's equivalent of Pearl Harbour occured in Darwin on February 1942, but was just the first of many raids on the city and the Top End. And in fact, war came very close to other parts of Australia as well. The museum brings all this to life so clearly.

Video, oral recordings, photographs, maps and actual equipment are used to show how many casualties there were during WW2 - civilians included - during the Darwin attacks. (Numbers are still being debated). I don't mind admitting it brought tears to my eyes to think of innocent lives being lost, of women and children being evacuated while males, some in their teens. were left to fight and deal with the carnage. 

We're told that Japanese submarines were in Darwin Harbour long before the rest of Australia were aware of it, and there were many similarities between the bombing of Pearl Harbour and Darwin. Although, Darwin was attacked strategically, and less civilian lives were of course, lost. But the population was less to start with, and the geography was different as well. And lives are lives. Listening to the accounts of civilians caught in the carnage is something I will never forget.

The museum really is a treasure trove of facts and information of the day war came to Australia - and the other close encounters we had. How different our lives would be if it were not for the brave sacrifices of all involved.

Anyway, there's more on all of that if you visit the museum, or even their website

The highlight of my visit was the Defence of Darwin Experience, which recreates the bombing of Darwin and how ineffectual our response was. To see how much suffering and destruction was caused, and how close Australia came to a full-on invasion, was just eye-opening.

Since my visit, the museum has even more artefacts and memorabilia, including a WW1 display, where visitors can dress up a digger and have their photo taken behind a WW1 machine gun.

In the centenary year of Gallipoli, the Darwin Military Museum is something every Australian should see. 

And at the same time, it reminds us of the importance of honouring those brave Aussies who are still involved in military activity. The sacrifices they make are inconceivable. 

Lest We Forget 

Maid In Australia was a guest of Tigerair and NT Tourism on a familiarisation tour of Darwin and surrounds, which included a visit to the Darwin Military Museum. 


Johanna said...

I never learnt anything in school about the bombing of Darwin either. Scary stuff.

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Museums like this are so important so that the later generations understand what war is all about. Great post Bronnie.

Sally@Toddlers on Tour said...

You're absolutely right they did not teach the bombing of Darwin at school and I only learnt about it when I worked as a flight attendant and over nighted in Darwin. In the mornings i would go for a walk along the foreshore and I read all the signs detailing the tunnels etc during the bombing.
The museum sounds really interesting.

Jackie McGuinness said...

We recently returned from Australia and I wasn't aware of Gallipoli and ANZAC.
I do like war museums, they teach me so much more than I ever learned in school.
I posted a photo from the Melbourne War Museum earlier this week.


Danielle (Bubs on the Move) said...

We used to live in Darwin and visited this museum. I'm always amazed at how little the bombing of Darwin registers in the minds of the Aussie public (or the bombing of Broome for that matter). Darwin is an amazing city and I'm glad they did decide to take you there, not just to the stereotyped croc attractions (although they are interesting too).

Unknown said...

I'm not one to visit war museums when I travel, a bit too serious and depressing for me. Though, this does look interesting, I especially like how they have the character cards to follow.
Thanks for joining in #wednesdaywanderlust this week

Vicki @ Knocked Up and Abroad said...

I really enjoyed my visit to the museum in Darwin. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the experience actually and found it really interactive and interesting. I would recommend it to most people headed up that way. Darwin was such a pivital position, more effected than I realised during the war.

Life Love and Hiccups said...

What an incredible place. I really need to take my kids to more places like this, we all do so that the memory of these brave people has a better chance of survival with our younger generation xx

Sara | Belly Rumbles said...

I downloaded the Defence of Darwin app before heading to NT on holidays a few years ago. It was really quite interesting. We didn't get to do everything but what we did do, I am glad we did. Definitely brushed us up on our war history.

Grace said...

Having done my undergrad thesis on the Japanese occupation in South East Asia, I would love to visit that museum.
It's amazing how they attacked Darwin while the rest of Australia was unaware.

Nancie said...

I'm Canadian, so we definitely never learned anything about the bombing of Darwin. Did you know that Halifax (my home city) had German u-boats sitting just outside our harbour during WW2 and maybe WW1 (not sure about WW1). All of the Canadian troops deployed from Halifax. Why the Germans never bombed us is a mystery. Thanks for linking up this week. #TPThursday

Unknown said...

Yes, it really is an amazing place and an incredible story. Things could have been so different for Australia ... I was quite emotional reading and listening to some of the first-person accounts of the bombing and the aftermath. I hope it is being taught in schools now. And I didn't know that about Halifax either Nancie. Wow - so much history that is unknown. I'm glad that places like the museum exist and tell the stories that need to be told and preserved.