The Japanese first attacked Darwin, Australia on the morning of February 19, 1942. Over the sea came the screaming of plane engines, buzzing in and out of the sky like a hoard of hornets dropping destroyer bombs on anything they could target. The sounds of explosions startled all that could hear while dark black clouds burning fuel oil filled the sky.
Darwin was a large key in a defensive position against Japan. The city of Darwin was a stronghold of many military ships in WWII, after the blindsided hit of Pearl Harbor, in Hawaii, USA, the Japanese also shared some of their destruction with other countries. When Darwin was hit, their fuel supplies were devastated, prompting them to think of a new way to conceal their resources from future attacks on the port city.
Hidden deep under the city of Darwin, tucked in on the shoreline, are several large WWII Oil tunnel hatches. These are the result of plans to conceal the oil supplies from future attacks on the city during WWII. Unfortunately for Darwin, they never finished the oil tunnels before the war ended and the millions of dollars that were spent on the project became a waste. The good news of that is that they were never again attacked and because the tunnels have gone unused, we have the opportunity to visit them.
When entering the old WWII tunnels through the hatch you can’t help but get chills. These tunnels are from the era of war and were hand-dug into the very hill we are looking at. At that time it was wartime, an unknown time. No country could know who was their friend or foe and if they were going to be attacked. It was almost as if you could feel the emotion of that era pumping out of the walls as we entered into the low lit tunnel.
Walking down the long, damp entry tunnel you will see large round pipes that were intended to pump the oil from the main tunnels to the outside. Once you reach the end of the entry tunnel you will enter a large pump room were back in the time were large pumps and generators. Nowadays, it’s a large open room where you can look into one of the closed-off tunnels and enter into another for exploration.
All of the oil tunnels at this site are steel-lined, concrete tunnels. Our small admission fee gives us access to tunnels 5 and 6, and it isn’t long before you will see how the steel-lined construction has not held up. In 1945, upon completion of the tunnels, they found that the steel-lined construction was rusting and leaking water into the tanks. Not good if you’re storing fuel.
As we walked through the tunnel there were large displays of rusted areas. Each with its own waterfall where the moisture from the humid climate is forcing its way into the tunnels. As we made our way to the far end we stopped at each light, where photos from the era were hanging, and read the stories about what time of war was like for the city of Darwin.
We thought about the work that went into these tunnels. No machinery, they wanted to be discreet. So they used 400 men, working day and night, to complete the project that was never used by the government for its sole purpose. These tunnels were hand-dug with shovels, hearts, and souls. It’s almost as if you can feel them as you linger behind the other people.
It was a truly memorable experience for us both. We both enjoy history and were glad we took the time to locate and tour this amazing piece of Australian history.
Information for visiting the tunnels:
Before you enter the tunnels you will be briefed on the history of the tunnels by the man that sells you your admission ticket. He is very knowledgeable and can answer any questions you may have as well. You can do this tour within 15-30 minutes, based on how long you take checking out the two tunnels.
From the downtown CBD, the walk takes roughly 10 minutes and is pretty easy to find. Once you reach the wharf area, there are signs that will lead you to it. Our cost of admission was $6AUD per person and all proceeds go to the WWII History funds in Darwin.
History needs to get passed on not forgotten, don’t miss the oil tunnels on your next visit to Darwin. Do you know of any other hidden WWII tours? Tell us about them in the comments below.