When you visit Darwin, capital of the Northern Territory in Australia you can’t but notice the number of World War II historic sites. This is because Darwin was bombed 63 times from 19 February, 1942 onwards and much of the city was left in ruins as a result. There are relics of the war all over the city, and one of the most interesting is located down near the modern waterfront.
This is the Darwin Oil Tunnels, which are massive tunnels that were carved out of solid rock, with the aim of replacing the above ground storage tanks, which were susceptible to Japanese bombers.
The tunnels are located on Kitchener Drive, Darwin,although the entrance doesn’t look to be very inspiring, the story of how the tunnels were built is fascinating. Especially when you consider the atrocious conditions the troops had to work under when constructing the tunnels.
Of course, the entrance is plain because the tunnels were designed for industrial use so aesthetics were not even a consideration. After entering the tunnels you make your way down a very long passageway, until you come to a pumping station. In the wall of this room is a small window, through which you look right inside one of the tanks.
It is a massive great tube that was designed to hold well over one millions litres of fuel. This one storage facility is 178 metres in length, and really quite impressive. There is the entrance to another tunnel nearby, which seemed to be equally as long, but you can walk up the length of this tunnel. It is lined with a series of historic photos which show how Darwin looked before, during and after the war.
Unfortunately, although a fortune was spent building the tunnels, they couldn’t be used to store fuel as the walls leaked, which would have affected the usefulness of the fuel, so the tunnels were made redundant without ever being used for their intended purpose.
The Oil Tunnels were probably one of the great follies of the war, given the tremendous amount of money spent and human endeavor wasted for a project that was doomed to failure. When you walk through them today, the problems are obvious as water leaks through the walls at a great rate. Ultimately, these massive tunnels did nothing to help protect Darwin.
However, they are worth visiting, if only because they represent one of the most ambitious, yet ultimately bizarre, episodes in the defense of Australia.