Darwin Harbour Catalina Heritage

November 30, 2015

A24-1 Declared Heritage Place.



from Silvano Jung, Marine Archaelogist

After 17 years since I first nominated five Catalina flying boat wreck sites in Darwin Harbour for heritage listing on the Northern Territory Heritage Register, I have finally got a response from our current Heritage Minister, the Hon. David Tollner and it isn’t all good news.

The good news: the minister has agreed to list the wreck of A24-1 as a Heritage Place. The reason: ‘That the ‘Catalina 1’ Wreck Site is a significant place, and ought to be preserved’. Sense has prevailed.

The bad news: Catalina A24-69 and Catalina A24-206 have not been listed for the reason: ‘That this area of East Arm has been set aside for marine industry development, and permanently declaring the ‘Catalina 2’ [A24-69] and ‘Catalina 3′ [A24-206] wreck sites as heritage places would limit future development’. ‘Develop the north’ they say, but at what price for our WWII aviation heritage?

Let’s hope that the sites aren’t destroyed without an archaeological rescue plan. I’d suggest that the proposed Darwin Marine Industry Park (DMIP) should pay for a flying boat museum, with a purpose built conservation laboratory, to preserve the two Catalinas, displaying them, as they were found in situ. on the sea floor. There are potentially thousands of artefacts associated with the sites too. The expense would be enormous and the undertaking, both recovery and treatment, technically challenging given the difficulty of working in murky, crocodile and stinger infested waters. Preserving airframes and engines after 70 years of salt-water immersion has never been an easy job.

The government’s decision, in my humble opinion, should be to leave the wrecks in situ. and modify their plan for the DMIP to avoid them. The Ichthys LNG Project at Balyden Point who modified their jetty plan to avoid USN Patrol Wing Ten Catalinas followed this very sound management decision. Why can’t it happen elsewhere?

We should be preserving our WWII heritage in Darwin, not destroying it. Catalina wreck sites else where, such as Kaneohe Bay, have teams of archaeologists studying their sunken PBY for over 20 years. The wreck of our A24-206 is a memorial to those members of the RAAF who lost their lives when the aircraft sank. A24-69 is a testament to the bravery of those who tried to save those on board. Two great stories associated with tangible sites. We’ll loose these, and other stories that archaeology is yet to reveal, with their destruction.

Let’s hope time will prove me wrong and let the designers of our proposed northern prosperity respect and honour ALL of our WWII heritage sites – its too precious to loose for what might turn out to be naught.