Central Australia During WWII

On 19th February, 1942, the Japanese armed forces performed their first assault on Australian soil, bombing a ship in port at Darwin.

While World War II had been effectively underway since 1939, this attack on Darwin forced the Territory government of the time to relocate to Alice Springs and make it the de facto capital and administrative centre. This role as a poignant outpost in the defence of Australia only made more so by the roles of the Darwin Overland Maintenance Force (DOMF), the Overland Telegraph Line, the road from Tennant Creek to Larimah supporting Darwin, Spencer Hill Military Camps and the Seven Mile Aerodrome serving as the airstrip and home base for planes supporting the fight up north. 

Central Australia was pivotal to Australia’s defense during World War II, and there are still numerous sites you can visit where the remnants of war and stories of those who fought it live on.

The Overland Telegraph Line

When Darwin was first bombed in 1942, the Overland Telegraph Line itself was purposely cut in an effort to stem potential intelligence leaks. However, the Overland Telegraph track elevated in importance as a supply route from Central Australia up to Darwin. The track was first admitted for upgrade in 1939 when the Australian Government laid out plans and funding for it to be converted from a track into a gravel road which wouldn’t succumb to the various weather forces. By 1941 the track was complete and the very first convoy of trucks carrying troops from Alice Springs left and traveled the road up to Larimah, delivering troops to fight in Darwin.


ANZAC Hill is one of the best spots to catch a sunset over Alice Springs. But during WWII it was the location of a tent city where in 1940 it became home to the Darwin Overland Maintenance Force (DOMF), at that stage composed of 600 soldiers and 14 officers. With the upgrading of the Overland Telegraph Track, this encampment became home base for hundreds of soldiers and trucks bound for the battle up north and it provided the pivotal location for training, medical aid and air support to launch from. 


Spencer Hill

Spencer Hill is one of the few remaining World War II sites which are fully intact. At Spencer Hill you’ll find a detention compound, power station, kitchen, vehicle maintenance site, magazine store site and a series of concrete platforms which comprised an essential base for supplying troops and supplies to Darwin via the overland telegraph track.

It was formed in 1942 directly following the bombing of Darwin as Alice Springs’ role in the war moved up a few steps. Visiting the site gives you plenty of historical gravity and the fact that it’s also within sacred Aboriginal land makes it all the more impactful.

Stuart Highway Upgrades

You may not know it but the pristine, smooth and efficient Stuart Highway prior to 1942 was a disintegrated trail of rock and dirt. It was first built in 1870 as part of the Overland Telegraph system to help in transporting basic supplies. However, its use during World War II as a transport vein for trucks and military columns from Alice Springs up to Darwin meant it was regularly under the pressure of heavy usage - think hundreds of soldiers, firearms and supplies!

Due to the degradation of the road, in 1942 work began to be done to reseal it and make it more resilient to the stresses of military transport. Before this it wasn’t even called the Stuart Highway; on completion it took its name from the explorer John McDougall Stuart, who - on his third attempt - was one of the first ever to cross Australia south to north by land.


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