F is for Fannie Bay Flying



For most tourists to Darwin, the near-city suburb of Fannie Bay is visited primarily for its sea views and sunsets, and perhaps a visit to the local cafe where you can combine both.

However behind the suburban streets lies a wealth of aviation history –perhaps rather more than might be found in many places, or perhaps I’m being parochial. No doubt its claims to fame arise largely from its geographic location at the top of the country and hence the first landfall for many.

So what’s my evidence for saying Fannie Bay is so important to flying obsessives? I think even those indifferent to aviation will recognise many of these names with links to Darwin.

359 Great Race

On 10 December 1919, pilots Ross Smith his brother Keith, and their mechanics, Sergeants Wally Shiers and Jim Bennett, won the £10,000 prize money for The Great Race, being the first to fly from England to Australia, taking 28 days. This amount, now worth about $500,000, must have been an amazing bonus for the men on top of their record achievement and coming at the end of World War I. They landed on the Parap Police Paddock beside the Fannie Bay Gaol, a site now marked only as a vacant block with a plaque and a sign, tucked among suburban houses.

DSC_0501502 Fannie Bay landingA more impressive memorial, erected by the Commonwealth, stands near the waterfront at Fannie Bay and the nearby Aviators’ Park memorialises Darwin’s aviation history. In a quirk of family history my husband’s great uncle, Colonel WEH Cass, was the chairman of the reception committee in Melbourne to welcome the aviators. Ross Smith was a hero as well as an expert pilot, being awarded the Military Cross twice and the Distinguished Flying Cross three times. He and his brother were both knighted after their international flying success.

339 Great Race Memorial

Ross Smith and Jim Bennett were killed in an aviation accident in England in 1922.

337 Ross SmithThis flight was just one of many to make the link between aviation history and Darwin.

Great RaceOn 22 February 1927, another famous Aussie, and Queenslander, Charles Kingsford-Smith, along with Charles Ulm, landed here during a round Australia flight.

In 1928, Bert Hinkler, from Bundaberg in Queensland, broke the Smiths’ record for a flight from England to Australia. However the record was beaten only a few years later by Kingsford-Smith and Ulm who shaved a further 10 days off the time.

In January 1930, Francis Chichester also attempted to beat Hinkler’s record and landed in Darwin – I found this interesting given his later sailing exploits. Chichester was British-born but had lived in New Zealand from the age of 18.

A few months later the women started to make their mark, with English aviator Amy Johnson landing in Darwin on 24 May 1930.

Amy johnson NLA

Modest Australian aviator, Lores Bonney, set forth on her solo flight from Australia to England on 13 April 1933. She was a force in Australian women’s aviation for decades to come, making a number of solo flights which created records. You can read more about her here, but how disappointing that she does not have an entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography…. I feel quite indignant! She is also the subject of a book called Pioneer Aviator by Terry Gwynn-Jones.

Lores Bonney in front of her aircraft. NT Library image http://hdl.handle.net/10070/1348 Copyright expired.

Lores Bonney in front of her aircraft. NT Library image http://hdl.handle.net/10070/1348 Copyright expired.

Amelia Earhart in Darwin 1937. NT Library photo PH0122/0053. Free of copyright.

Amelia Earhart in Darwin 1937. NT Library photo PH0122/0053. Free of copyright.

On 28 June 1937, Amelia Earhart also stopped in Darwin on her attempt to fly around the world. A few days later she and her plane would disappear in the Pacific after leaving Lae in Papua New Guinea.

On 19 February 1942, Darwin would make both aviation and military history for being the first place in Australia to be bombed by the Japanese. During the bombing raid, the Air Force base at Parap (adjacent to Fannie Bay) was also bombed, damaging and destroying many of the Wirraways and other aircraft stationed there before they could get airborne.

Bombed Wirraway at Parap 1942. National Library Image, non-commercial use. http://trove.nla.gov.au/version/180015810

Bombed Wirraway at Parap 1942. National Library Image, non-commercial use. http://trove.nla.gov.au/version/180015810

Throughout the war, the runway ran through the centre of Parap towards Fannie Bay, on a street now known as Ross Smith Avenue. Taxiways ran along Philip St but all that remains of this history are plaques in the footpaths.
It’s probably fair to include the massive airlift of residents after the devastation of Cyclone Tracy (Christmas Day 1974) in Darwin’s historic aviation events. Some residents became refugees in their own country for the second time in their lives, once after the war-time bombing and once after Tracy. Many lost precious family memorabilia including childhood photos and inherited items. The Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory has excellent displays on the impact of Tracy, which hit Fannie Bay hard, but not to the extent of the northern suburbs which were nearly destroyed.

P1190247Darwin’s pivotal role in the country’s airborne defence is emphasised with biennial training for air forces in the region. Known as Operation Pitch Black, , this generates constant sound over the skies of Darwin. Although the airport is no longer at Fannie Bay/Parap, their proximity to one end of the runway (the other end is called Amy Johnson Drive) means that there’s plenty of opportunity to watch the Top Guns at work.

 Why visit: to celebrate the remarkable achievements of early aviation across vast distances. Throw in a sunset, a drink and a sea view and you’ve got it made!

FYI: There are a couple of maps on my A to Z planning post which will help you to pinpoint where today’s post is situated.


Fair dinkum: a compliment basically indicating the person’s honesty, integrity and sincerity. Also used to indicate patriotic nationality.

Flaming*: another Aussie swear word but not heard so often these days.

Flicks*: a word much in use in my childhood for the movies but now overtaken by “cinema”.

Flat as a tack: feeling a bit deflated personally or alternatively the tyre’s flat as a tack.

Flat out like a lizard drinking: busy as anything, too much to do.

Floozie: “No better than she ought to be”, a woman of low morals, a definite insult.

Fag: used for a cigarette (I’m going to have a fag) but also pejoratively for homosexual men.

Freshie: a freshwater crocodile –less threatening than the saltwater version but still wise to steer clear. Some billabongs in the Top End are cleared for salties (saltwater) crocs though there are known to be freshies in them. Definitely a word to have in your Top End vocabulary.

Fella: person or man eg blackfella, whitefella or “he’s a wild fella that one”.

Cast ashore

Cast ashore at Fannie Bay with the city in the distance.

I’ve no idea why this boat is up on the beach at Fannie Bay but it appears there’s work being done on it. We spotted it when Master 3 and I went to the playground the other day.

Dragonfly Craft Festival

Last weekend was the annual Dragonfly Craft Festival in the grounds of the Craft Council near the Museum. It’s always a popular event and this year was no exception. Lots to see, listen to, or buy as the mood takes you.

Ah the tropics! The view over the Ski Club to Fannie Bay. And just think, in the southern states it’s winter. No wonder Darwin’s popular at this time of year.

This was a wonderful stall selling puppets but I couldn’t resist this rear view of a few of them.

I liked how the colours of the scarves and the cloth echoed each other. These scarves are all the go in Oz at present (though not really in Darwin).

These South American musicians keep turning up all around Darwin at present.

Sunset Darwin style

Watching the sun  setting is a Darwin hobby (habit?) for locals and tourists alike…it’s as if we don’t think it can manage this task without supervision. This evening there were lots of people picnicing, having pre-dinner drinks, or just chilling out along the waterfront. I captured this photo as I was returning from another outing. Pretty isn’t it?

Sunset over Fannie Bay. I love the sculptural profile of the pandanus.

SIGEP 2012 Bread Cup and the Outback Bakery

Life’s been a bit crazy lately and I’ve had this photo to share for over a month. I was pretty amazed when I visited our local bakery, The Outback Bakery, and found they had won a prize in the SIGEP 2012  Bread Cup contested in Italy. How cool is that!

Tim Modra produces a different artisanal bread each day and while I’ve tried one or two, allergies limit how carried away I can get, no matter how good they taste. I think it’s amazing and fantastic that a bakery in little old Darwin can compete on the world stage. Tim and his team won third place in this international competition. Well done Tim and team!

Tim was also keen to emphasise the wonderful support the team had from their sponsors without whose assistance they simply couldn’t have competed. A big virtual pat on the back for them too!

Pride of place on the counter at the Outback Bakery -and with good cause!



Beach Restoration on Saturday

Once again I’ve dropped the ball on uploading photos. On Saturday en route to the playground with the grandchildren we saw that the Council diggers were doing restoration work on the beaches. All the storms from 10 days ago have played havoc with the sand, access walkways and retaining walls and needed some tweaking and restoration.

Banyan Tree reaches for the ground.

The other day we saw the Banyan trees from a distance. This photo is one of the trees on the Fannie Bay foreshore. I love the character of their root systems as they plunge towards the earth to gain more nourishment…and quite a lot more balance for their spreading canopy.

The Bourbon House

This property sold in 2010 for a large sum of money. It overlooks the harbour and Fannie Bay from East Point Rd. It’s known locally as the Jim Beam house though I’ve always known it as the Bourbon house…so called  because the original owner was an importer of that beverage (rather popular in the NT). In 2011 the house was given an extensive makeover so it now looks both more modern and more colonial simultaneously. In a little twist of fate, the new owner is said to have worked as a labourer on its construction several decades ago.

To storm or not to storm

As you know from my posts it’s been wild weather here lately and as it’s pouring down again today with lots of thunder and lightning I thought I’d post some photos of Fannie Bay. East Point, bright and blue like it usually is, sea mostly still as a millpond, taken on a Saturday afternoon a few weeks ago.

East Point in sunshine 7 January 2012

Another from Fannie Bay of the storms building up over the city.

Storm clouds over the city 7 January 2012.

Last week’s grey ocean, rough and milky with a surf running (very unusual to have surf on Fannie Bay). Yes, I know the horizon is badly crooked….I couldn’t even stand up straight in the wind it was so strong let alone control the camera properly.

Surf's up at Fannie Bay 25 January 2012

Autumn comes to Darwin

As you walk along the waterfront at Fannie Bay you might think that autumn has indeed come to Darwin mid-summer (ignoring the fact we never have an autumn). Trees are half-green, half-brown, leaves drift from the trees like early snowflakes and scatter to the ground.  Why this strange autumnal phenomenon? Well in our years here we’ve never seen it happen like this before: a combination of strong wind, high tides and heavy salt spray has coated the leaves killing them with their burden of salt and windburn. Local gardens near the waterfront have been decimated by the winds and salt. How long will it all take to recover I wonder?

A parade of autumn-coloured trees.

This poor bottle tree (front left below) has been stripped on the windward side. Hopefully it’s reserves of water, held in the trunk, will make it more resilient to the effects of the salt…or might it make things worse? Will the tree absorb the salt into its water reserves? Time alone will tell.

The poor battered bottle tree front left-ish.

Meanwhile a typical Wet Season storm is building up in the sky and slowly the salt may be flushed from the plants. Thunder has been rolling around the sky for hours.  Take a seat and be astonished by nature’s forces.