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75 years ago tomorrow, a mass evacuation of Darwin’s women and children began. Authorities had recognised for months the threat of attack or invasion by the Japanese and their attack at Pearl Harbour five days earlier on 7 December 1941 had heightened that tension. Sure enough, on 11 December Darwin experienced its first air raid alert at 10.45pm, blaring out over the sound of the gangster film playing at the Star Theatre. Patrons ran out into the street, one contributing to the blackout effort by smashing the light still shining in a ladies underwear store. Many hid down on the beach, braving the mosquitoes until the all-clear was given just after midnight. No attack came that night, and the reason for the alarm was not made clear, but the next day an evacuation was approved by Prime Minister John Curtin and the War Cabinet. Over the next two months more than 1200 women and children were evacuated, by sea, by plane, and, like the McGinness family pictured here, by road. By mid-February 1942 there were fewer than 70 women left in Darwin.

Published: 11 December 2016


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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