Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Adelaide River

Chatting with an elderly couple at Wangi Falls, I heard about a war cemetery in Adelaide River a small community between Darwin and Katherine. A place we would only ever look at stopping for some fuel or a toilet break. They recommended visiting as it was quite a spot. After leaving Wangi Falls we headed to Adelaide River and made our way to the cemetery by the river. It was a spot allocated to bury fallen soldiers who died in Darwin and surrounds in air raids and in combat.

Before we travelled in the north of Australia I had no idea that, in the second world war, the Japanese had bombed not only Darwin but; Broome, Katherine and even as far east as Townsville and several small communities in between. Stations lost livestock, men were killed. We heard the story in Outback Western Australia that an Indigenous man who doesn’t know how old he is but his first memories are of war aircraft flying over Halls Creek in the second world war.

Basically the whole top part of our country was in extreme risk of being invaded and hundreds of men lost their lives defending. And here I am in my 30s and had no idea of this piece of history so close to home and so crucial in our lives today.

Infact it is a long time ago but not really that long ago. If you know what I mean. An elderly man that I used to clean house for when I was in University, told me the stories about how as a 20 year old he was sent out to central Australia for his Military training before being put in a troop carrier and sent to an international airport to be deployed overseas. (That airport is in Daly Waters, a town we also visited). I remember cleaning his sink and he sat at his little table peeling potatoes and told me that he was given one blanket in the cold night of the desert and he vowed if and when he grew old he would never let himself feel cold again. That’s why when I changed his sheets he had three thick blankets to tuck in. And a blanket on the end of his bed and several folded up underneath it. I wish now I had of asked him more questions. And sat and listened. But I didn’t and he died from old age just before I had Matilda.

So I found myself standing in the war cemetery at Adelaide River. A beautifully manicured grass area that was at the same time peaceful, sad and lonely. I stared at the headstones as one blended into another and read the stories. One man in his 20’s, left behind a wife and a baby daughter called Lucy. Died July 1942. Another man was 32 and died in the August 1942, he was not a pilot, nor a combat fighter. He was a cook and was killed when Darwin was bombed.

Rows and rows of names and dates. It was overwhelming.

Matilda read some of the headstones and asked some questions. Charlotte surprised me by sitting silently, alone, on the wall, and staring into the distance. Maybe her little soul felt it more than mine.

Abigail of course is too little to understand and started running and laughing and playing by the rows of graves. I was going to silence her but thought the spirits of these men wandering their resting place would probably welcome the sound of children playing.

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