When the Japanese bombed Darwin Harbour in 1942, no one thought they’d come back to clean up. But marine salvage specialist Ryugo Fujita did just that, sailing from Japan to spend two dangerous years clearing the harbour of wrecks sunk by Japanese planes. At first, Darwin wasn’t sure how to deal with the 120 Japanese workers suddenly living on the harbour, but gradually most locals came to accept them and the gesture of reconciliation they were making. The MV British Motorist (pictured) was the first wreck to be raised by the Fujita Salvage Company. The tanker had been carrying a cargo of light oil and was refuelling when the bombing began. The raising of the MV British Motorist in 1959 was particularly challenging due to the tidal variations and the size of the 130-metre-long wreck. Once raised, makeshift bunkhouses were built on the deck. These became the living quarters for Fujita’s staff, whose movements were restricted on Australia soil initially. A long-drop toilet was installed, which can be seen in this photograph. Many dignitaries and Darwin locals were invited for lunch on the British Motorist over the two years of the operation.


Published: 15 January 2017

Picture: Library & Archives NT. British Motorist, Helyar, Geoff & Lois, 1960, PictureNT, Lois & Geoff Helyar Collection, PH0092/0013

Forgotten Territory was a weekly photo column of historic images in the Northern Territory News which I curated from 2016 until 2019 supported by the collections of the Northern Territory Library and other cultural institutions around Australia, as well as local history Facebook groups. 

Click on the images to read the story behind the image.

Warning: May contain images of people who have died.

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These works were made on Arrernte, Larrakia, Gaddigal and Lenape land that was never ceded