RAAF Station Darwin
More than 75 military units operated from the Darwin RAAF Station during the war and over 1000 people were employed by the base. The 13 Squadron RAAF was the first unit to occupy the base, closely followed by 12 Squadron RAAF, however neither of these squadrons were stationed at Darwin during the bombing of Darwin on 19 February 1942. The town’s only aerial defence during the bombing was provided by a squadron of Kittyhawks from the 33rd Pursuit Squadron of the USAAF. Led by Major Floyd Pell, the Kittyhawks had just arrived back in Darwin after turning back from a flight to Koepang because of bad weather. Four pilots, including Major Pell, were killed as they fought bravely against the overwhelming number of Japanese Zeroes. Seven RAAF Station personnel also died on the ground. Buildings and facilities on the airfield were severely damaged but the base continued to operate throughout the war.
After the War
The construction and sealing of the Stuart Highway continued to benefit the Northern Territory after the war. Goods that had previously been transported to Darwin via shipping services could now be moved by road. The pastoral industry, which had grown due to the military’s demands for beef, was further supported after the war by Commonwealth funded ‘beef roads’. A new road transport industry was created with long road trains used to transport livestock and goods through the Northern Territory and interstate. Today, road trains are still heavily used for transporting goods along the Stuart Highway to and from Darwin.
The war brought many Australian and overseas personnel to the Northern Territory for the first time. Servicemen and women on leave explored the landscape, visiting popular stopping places along the Stuart Highway such as the Devil’s Marbles, Churchill Rock, Mataranka and Berry Springs. Their experiences of the bush, exploring the terrain, observing wildlife, hunting, fishing and learning about Aboriginal culture sparked a new interest in the Territory.
Sealing the Stuart Highway made travel much easier and the potential for developing a tourism industry was recognised. By September 1945, the Victorian Government’s Tourist Bureau had already begun organising tours to Central Australia, closely followed by Pioneer who arranged three overland tours to Darwin in 1946. These early tours were the basis of the Territory’s now-thriving tourist industry.