Broome Air Raid 80 years on

Posted By:Lok

Published On:03/04/2022

Broome Air Raid 80 years on
Standing as a silent legacy to those who lost their lives, and the impact on our community, nine aluminium figures stand less than 2KMs from and looking out to, the site of the wreck of the Catalina FV-N.  9 Zeros - 9 Stories is an artwork commissioned by the Shire of Broome commemorating the 80th anniversary of the Broome air raid. The artwork is in the newly revitalized Town Beach precinct of Broome, colloquially known as Old Jetty. Town Beach used to be the site of Broome's main jetty, the original Port of Broome until the mid-1970s when a new jetty was constructed at Entrance Point. Since that time the Town Beach precinct has been known to locals as Old Jetty. Earlier this year the Shire of Broome completed its newest addition to the Town Beach precinct a new family-friendly fishing jetty on the site of the original jetty of Broome.  Located at the top of the walkway down onto this new fishing jetty stands 9 Zeros - 9 Stories.

During WW2 when the theatre of war turned to the Pacific, an evacuation route was established from Java to Australia, Broome was the first stop on this route to Perth and the East coast. Catalina and Dornier flying boats were evacuating civilians from the Dutch East Indies.  By the beginning of 1942, the town was overflowing with military personnel and refugees. People slept wherever they could while waiting for a flight to continue their journey south. Aboriginal people in Broome were evacuated to Beagle Bay. White Australians and Asians were evacuated to Perth on the state ship Koolinda. Over 7000 people passed through Broome. Up to 57 aircraft were being processed per day through Broome in the 14 days before the Japanese occupation of Java. American Mess Officer Lt John Rouse said, "This place is like LaGuardia airfield. It's covered with aeroplanes." On the third of March, nine Japanese Zeros descended on Broome and within 20 minutes the 15 flying boats in the bay and all the aircraft on the airfield had been destroyed.

Of the nine Zeros, eight returned to Kupang, their staging point. One Zero, piloted by Osamu Kudo, met its fate while strafing the Broome airfield where a courageous Dutchman standing on the airfield holding a Colt .303 MG waited in ambush. That courageous Dutchman was Gus Winkle and this author was lucky enough to meet him in person here in Broome many years ago. The road into Broome's light aircraft base carries his name, Gus Winkle Drive.

Each of the nine figures carries salient stories from the time that have been arranged into nine themes or chapters and these create the nine stories. The nine stories are The Chaos of War, The Movement of People, The Attack, The Rescue, The Survivors, The Impact, Kudo, The Wrecks, and Reflection and Reconciliation. The stories have been sourced from historical accounts and personal family histories generously shared by members of the Broome community. In particular significant stories were shared by Anne Poelina, Pearl Hamaguchi, Kim Male, Charla Clement, and Doug Fong. The figures stand among the silhouettes of 9 Zeros arranged into 3 Shotai flying formations. They are depicted coming from the southwest, the flight path they took on March 3, 1942, as they hugged the coast of Broome and rounded Entrance Point to fly northeast toward Dampier Creek.

Histories are difficult to express as they are often contested. This artwork doesn't tell the whole story of that day, rather it's a collection of historical and personal vignettes that are arranged to enlighten you and leave you with a hunger to find out more about that day. The dedication plaque reads;

9 Zeros, 9 Stories is a collaboration between two artists, Perth-based Paula Hart and Broome local Chris Maher that aims to reveal and enhance the history & curiosity of the many perspectives of the Broome Air Raid story. In the past, War memorials have tended to hero the leaders or remember the dead. However, this approach often misses the multifaceted human stories behind these episodes. Chris spoke with a broad cross-section of the community to learn and appreciate the tangle of human stories behind the event. Incredible stories of bravery, camaraderie, and bereavement, with a true sense of the Broome experience. To create authenticity and liveliness in the silhouettes, Paula looked to the photos and stories of Dutch, Japanese, Indigenous Australians, military, white Australian, and American people impacted by the events of that day. 

9 Zeros – 9 Stories is the most recent installation to join the Public Art trail in Broome. It stands alongside other significant artworks that collectively tell the many-layered stories that give insight into the most unique town in Australia, Broome. 

An official dedication event for the artwork was planned for 3 March 2022, the eightieth anniversary of the air raid. However, the approach of tropical cyclone Anika caused all anniversary events to be cancelled.

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