Paula Campbell takes an emotional road trip to NT to trace her father's footsteps
It’s a warm evening at the start of the Northern Territory dry season. There’s an orchestra of squeaking geckos and shrieking curlews performing for Paula Campbell and her partner Terry Robinson. They’re about to retire to their camp chairs parked outside their motorhome nestled under the tropical treetop canopy at their holiday park.
Paula pours herself a glass of wine, while Terry slots a cold VB into a well-worn stubby holder and they reflect on their journey of the past nine months and 35,000km aboard their chariot, a gleaming white Fiat Ducato with an Avan Ovation home on the back.
Paula calls it the 'Hilton' with a cheeky smile. They initially had plans for a caravan, but Terry surprised her when he pulled into the driveway in the $135,000 Fiat. Now she wouldn’t have it any other way. Terry often has to beg Paula to drive himself! She loves the motorhome lifestyle and reckons the best thing about it is climbing in the cabin and having a wonderful sense of freedom without a worry in the world. “I have tears in my eyes because I just love this country”, says Paula. “Just to get out there and feel this country. We’ve waited a long time to do this…”
The pair left their home in Corrimal, north of Wollongong several months ago, moving all their furniture into storage and handing over the house keys to new tenants to travel around Australia with one thing in mind.
Paula wanted to visit Darwin, where her father survived the Darwin Bombing.
Twenty one year old Leslie Leo Campbell, was working in the Royal Australian Navy, on-board the boom defence vessel, HMAS Platypus, protecting the harbour from submarines, when the Japanese Imperial Army bombed Darwin and surrounds on February 19, 1942.
He survived the bombing, but sadly died 37 years later at the age of 58, and Paula says she knew very little about his experience, "he was so young, and it was so horrific that he never talked about it."
Paula wells up with tears as she recalls how she subsequently found out her father watched one of his best mate's ship blow up before his eyes, "and another who he was working with died in his arms .. "
236 people died during the bombing, which left 300 to 400 injured, and it was the start of more than 100 bombing raids in Australai through to 1943.
During Paula’s visit to Darwin, she discovered an anchor and chain links from the submarine cable on the shores on East Point and placed a loving hand on the warm steel, connecting with her father who probably touched the same steel 75 years ago.
One of her highlights she says was visiting the Royal Flying Doctors Service.
The story of the bombing of Darwin is thoughtfully told at the RFDS, five minutes from the city centre on Stokes Hill Wharf. The vivid and dynamic display includes life-size holograms, full-size Japanese Zero fighter planes, interactive shows, storyboards and amazing virtual reality experiences.
"Darwin is a very special place for me and to go to the Royal Flying Doctors Service and see the 3D simulation was very special. You feel you’re actually there living it. I get goose bumps just talking about it and all I could think of was that my dad was there living all that horror, but it was portrayed in a great way."
Paula is deeply thankful the story is being told again and again. To her, the memorial is an eternal tribute to her father’s effort, “I’m really happy they’re educating the rest of Australia on our history, and hope everyone travelling to the NT goes to experience it."
The experience stands as a living memorial for the lost souls, and a sobering reminder of the horrors of war, and for Paula, it's a vital link to a history few of us know. She says it's something you could go back to time and time again.
“I had a lump in my throat the whole time in Darwin, it was very emotional, but even so, we both loved every minute of it, and I felt I am here for you Dad, and I’ve done this for him ... “
The bombing of Darwin on the 19th of February 1942 was the largest attack en masse ever mounted on Australian soil and cost about 236 lives with 400 people wounded, 200 of them seriously. Eleven vessels were sunk, 25 ships damaged and 30 aircraft destroyed. Most of the casualties were military personal on warships anchored closely together and ill prepared for a force comprising 242 aircraft including bombers, dive bombers and Zero fighters, supported by four aircraft carriers. The first bombing raid was led by Commander Mitsuo Fuchida, who also led the Pearl Harbour bombing.
Most essential services were badly damaged and fear of a mass invasion spread all over Darwin. In reality, Australia was too large to attack, particularly with its growing alliance with America who ultimately came to Australia’s aid. The real damage in the bombing of Darwin – and objective of the raiders – was the loss of shipping services to support Java and Philippines that were subsequently invaded by Japanese forces. They maintained their rapid advance all the way through the South Pacific until mid 1942 when they were eventually subdued at the Battle of the Coral Sea and the Battle of Midway.
Located at Stokes Hill Wharf, a short roll down the hill from the CBD, the RFDS features two iconic Australian stories in one destination. The first is the Bombing of Darwin, featured in the “Darwin Diaries” hereabouts. The second is the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Paula and Terry got up close and personal through a hologram of its founder, the Reverend John Flynn, who began the RFDS aero-medical operations in the Northern Territory in 1939. He talks to the audience about the history and the activities of the RFDS, discussing pilots, engineers, doctors and nurses, and the experiences of the patients carried and cared for each day. Touchscreen portals, storyboards and a decommissioned RFDS Pilatus PC-12 aircraft illustrate the story further.