39 RADAR STATION RAAF
IN AUSTRALIA DURING WW2

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visits since 24 November 2002

 

39 Radar Station RAAF was initially located at Darwin, in the Northern Territory on 25 June 1942. On 17 August 1942 the radar station relocated to Mount Goodwin near Port Keats which is also in the Northern Territory. The Doover was on the north east corner of Mount Goodwin. There was a WW2 airfield at Port Keats. The native mission was located about 5 miles away.

Location of Port Keats airfield

 

Sketch of 39 Radar site by Bob Meredith

 

Sketch of 39 Radar Station, Port Keats by Ralph de la Lande

 

Commanding Officers of 39 Radar Station RAAF were as follows:-

29 Jun 42 P/O L.E. Radcyffe
14 May 43 P/O. E.J. Bass
     Jun 44 F/O. C.S. Worboys
12 Oct 44 F/Lt R.W. McCosker
11 Dec 44 F/O A. Harris

 

No. 39 Radar Station RAAF at Port Keats in October 1945.
L to R at rear:- Smiler, Mickey, Paddy, Gabriel, Neddy
L to R at front:- Harry ?, unknown native, Jack Savage, Dick Mann and Jack Scadden

 


Photo:- via Bob Meredith

39 Radar Station Port Keats - Natives from Mission showing off produce from
the mission garden. Brother John Pye was in charge of the garden.

 


Photo:- via Bob Meredith

39 Radar Station Port Keats - Mission truck going for fire wood with natives and Father Docherty
driving, but hard to see. The chap on the running board was a half cast named ? Murray.

 

C.R. (Bob) Meredith was a Guard Sergeant at 39 Radar Station from early January to April 1943. Bob said "Our strip was near by our only communication . By Dr Fenton's squadron."

 


Photo:- C.R. "Bob" Meredith

Bob Meredith on one of the guns at 39 Radar site

 


Photo:- C.R. "Bob" Meredith

Sgt. Gough centre in boat with Japanese belly tank

 


Photo:- C.R. "Bob" Meredith

Bro John (mission) standing at landing

 


 

HOW TO CATCH A CROCODILE (39 RS) PORT KEATS
by Bob Meredith

 At the mission a very large crocodile was seen leaving its tracks near the married quarters and it was traced to the nearby river. Father Docherty contacted us and we drove our Blitz Buggy down to river with a machine gun mounted on the hatch of cabin roof. The tender was parked on a steep bank and we waited but didn't see it all that day. So the following day the natives decided to bait it to see if they could get it to rise from the bottom of the river. We couldn't believe our eyes!!! They tied a rope around the waist of small boy about five or six years old and tossed him in the river slowly pulling in; this they repeated for some time and would you believe it up came the crocodile. The area was quickly cleared and we opened fire hitting it several times killing it.

It was a beauty - about 18 feet long.

The next night we were invited to a corroboree which included a couple of circumcisions and dances which seemed to go on forever. Eventually the dancing stopped and they racked the ashes back from the fire and there was the crocodile cooked. We were offered a portion to eat

(could not refuse would be bad manners), consumed a little. It wasnít bad really\\\\\.

Was told later by the good Father we (about six of us) were highly honoured as to his knowledge we were the first white men to ever witness this corroboree.

 


 

DANNY AND THE POKER GAME (39RS PORT KEATS).
by Bob Meredith

Danny was a mission lad about 14 years old who was my interpreter and general guide. He came to the camp every morning about dawn and in time became a " MEMBER" of our group in our hut.

He helped us no end in everything and we liked him very much. On rainy days, when we couldn't work, we played poker and introduced Danny to the game. He loved it and of course just in fun we used to cheat a bit. One day he put everything he owned on the game including his narga (loin cloth) ---- he lost the lot. So in the next game he bet his girl friend, once again he lost.

We enjoyed the fun and forgot all about it. Next morning before dawn, there was Danny delivering his girl friend to the winner//////. To him a bet was a bet --- a more honest person you would never find. We had great trouble trying to convince him to take her home. No way, in the end we arranged a special hand of poker there and then so he could win her and all his belongings back. Of course he did and everyone was happy.

 


 

MEMORIES OF THE MURINBATA PEOPLE AT PORT KEATS
by Bob Meredith

When I arrived at Port Keats in January 1943, we were lectured by Father Docherty at the Mission who told us that other than himself and the Brothers, we at the RAAF were the first white men many of the Aborigines had seen. We were only accepted because we did not have slant eyes and because we were here to fight the Japanese. For years, their luggers had been going up and down their coast and occasionally would attack the tribes to steal food, and sometimes their women and young girls. They really hated the Japs.

We were also told by the good Father never to touch or look at their women, because the Aborigines were very protective and aggressive. "You could find yourself with a spear in you" were his words. We were also told that only a few years back these natives ( and of course other tribes in the region) occasionally practised cannibalism, and would attack each other in deadly combat, especially the Fitzmaurice River tribe south-east of Port Keats and a few days away. "Even today" (1943) we were told, "these boys are really rough, but mainly leave each other alone, although it can happen a small raiding party can have a go!'

Having thus been introduced to these people, we always trod carefully, and felt our way, but we really had no need to worry because we were fully accepted by them as time went by. We had a cross section of natives - those who were Mission trained as youngsters, and the older warriors and tribesmen who went bush occasionally with their wives and families and still hunted in the traditional way. I always felt comfortable and at ease with these people and accepted their way of life in which everything was controlled by their beliefs or culture, and their code of living. Any transgressor was dealt with by the head man of the tribe, and usually sent bush to cool his heels.

We were assigned a boy, a young man from the Mission, who spoke limited English. In our case, a lad named Danny, and about 14 years, became our lad, interpreter, and general guide. Danny came to work at our camp every morning at the crack of dawn, and he became one of us - a group of about 7 people. He helped us, guided us and interpreted for us. On terribly rainy days we introduced Danny to poker. He loved it, and of course in fun sometimes we cheated, One time, having put everything in the centre including his loin cloth, or narga, he 'put in' his girl friend as well. Of course he lost. We laughed and forgot it. Next morning before dawn along came Danny to deliver his girl friend to us !!! To him a bet was a bet...and a more honest group of people you could never find!! We had a terrible time convincing Danny to take her home. No way! And so we had to play a special hand of poker there and then so he could win. Of course he did, and so everyone was happy:

Another story of Danny was when we taught him to clean his teeth. We gave him a tooth brush and toothpaste, although he had beautiful white teeth, and showed him how to brush and wash out with water. Every morning after that there was Danny sitting outside our hut with a four gallon kero tin of water, a brush and paste, cleaning his teeth. He wouldn't stop until all the water was gone. He loved it! But with no more toothpaste he soon stopped.

Another time, we were out in the bush with Danny and other natives walking along a track in single file. As I often did, I picked a piece of grass and put it in my mouth to suck. Without warning, I was jumped on from the back and forced to the ground. Hands snatched the grass from my march, and fingers were inserted to clean it out. Then I was told by Danny that it was very poisonous..."We use it to kill fish in pool."

We certainly did learn quickly!

Once we were all down on the strip learning how to throw spears. All went well until Jack Ross, the ex-Collingwood footballer, lined up for his lesson. Jack was left-handed, and up comes his instructor, an old warrior. They face each other and nothing happens - the old warrior scratches his head then walks away, leaving Jack for dead while we all go on trying to throw the things. A long tine later up comes the old warrior again and singles out Jack. This time there's another native with him, and alls well, for he is a left-hander too. Jack and this native get along very well! From home we sometimes received a parcel of goodies - cakes, biscuits, sweets etc., and at that time it was necessary to sew up the parcel in a linen wrapper and addressed in Indian black ink. We always gave these pieces of white linen to the natives who prized them as loincloths, so it was very amusing to see a boy walking around with your number, rank, name and address on his backside.

Once at the Mission a large salt-water crocodile was seen. It left its prints near the married quarters from where it was tracked to the river near by. Father Docherty told us, and we arrived in the RAAF tender complete with machine gun mounted through the gun turret on top of the cabin. We parked on the bank of the river facing the water and waited. We didn't see it all that day, so the next day the natives decided to bait it to see if they could get it to rise off the bottom.

We couldn't believe our eyes they did this by tying a rope around a small child about 5 or 6 years old, then tossing the child into the water and slowly pulling him in !! This they did for some time, and would you believe it...up came the crocodile. The area was cleared, and we opened up at point blank range, hitting it several times and killing it. It was a beauty, about 18 feet long!

The next day towards evening, several of us were invited to a corroboree, and it was quite an affair. They carried out a circumcision ceremony on two lads with all the ritual and a dance that seemed to go on forever. Then afterwards they uncovered from the ashes of the fire the crocodile which we had killed the day before. Of course, we were offered some which was bad manners to refuse, so we all ate a little. It wasn't bad really. Father Docherty told us later that we were very honoured, as to his knowledge no white man had ever seen this corroboree before.

The Port Keats Aborigines taught us a lot, and had terrific sight and hearing. Once out in the bush I received a tap on the shoulder. A native was pointing towards the sky, with his finger to his lips for silence. "Big bird," he says, and before I can hear it, he can see it! Then by questions we work out 1 wing or 2....1 motor or 2 etc and so we could sometimes identify it before we could see it. Similarly when hunting, there would be a tap to stop...then a hunting spear is aimed and thrown. Out of a tree some 10 yards away a bird falls. He has got his dinner, and I haven't seen it at all until it fell.

They helped us build our hut, all with material from the bush! They selected a tree then cut a piece of bark from it for the roof and sides. This they did about three or four feet from the base, but only about three quarters of the circumference of the tree so that a strip of bark was left. Then standing on the shoulders of another native, the process would be repeated. So all the sheets of bark were the same length, about 7 or 8 feet. This was slit down one side and peeled off the tree, flattened and allowed to dry in the sun. And by leaving that strip of bark about a foot wide on the tree, it was saved from ringbarking. All the trees selected were about the same diameter, and never close together. And all the sheets were about 5 feet by 8 feet.

Another useful clue I learned from the Aborigines when we were corduroying the road to the Mission in the 'wet.' We were cutting timber in the bush, again widespread for camouflage purposes. The logs had to be carried to the working site which was a long distance at times. We used to carry them, one at each end, but this time a warrior was standing watching, and shaking his head in disapproval, so we stood back and allowed him to show us.

First he dragged the log to a tree, then lifted one end to a fork in that tree, leaving it leaning at about 35 degrees. Then he bent down under it and with his shoulder started to lift, then moving backwards or forwards until he found the point of balance. Then it was up with the log and off he marched, no hands holding it either. We followed him to the work site where he just leaned down and forward so that the end of the log was placed exactly in position. Then he just stood up and the log fell over and down into the right position. And we were supposed to be the bright ones! His method really helped to speed up the work, and we learned fast! And I learned to have a high regard for these people who were always laughing and had a smile or a grin on their faces. Two old tribesmen I remember were named Paddy and Wagon Wheels. They were very friendly to us, but one day in my ignorance of their ways, I noticed Wagon had two woven grass string neck bands with bags attached. He really got upset, shouting and grabbing a spear and showing his disapproval and apparently thinking I was going to touch them. Luckily, Danny was with me and with his help all was sorted out. It appeared these little bags, some 5 or 6 of them, contained parts of the liver from deceased wives! So it was I learned never attempt to touch an old tribesman anywhere or at anytime!

Paddy as well as Wagon Wheels were elders of the tribe and refused to become involved with the Mission, although they tolerated it. Both apparently were convicted murderers, and both had been released from Fanny Bay Jail in Darwin after the first big raid. Through young Danny, they used to tell us stories from the past, the days when things were really rough and violent. They liked to show us their scars, all over their bodies, then tell us in detail about them. Danny loved these stories too, because as a teenage member of the tribe he himself had not heard them.

I enjoyed seeing another rather strange sight one day when Father Docherty asked a few of us to come to the Mission to see the daily sick parade at his dispensary. All the patients lined up at 9 a.m. in a long queue, up to 50 in all, then they passed one by one in to see Father Docherty. He asked them their trouble, then gave them each a tablet which had to be taken in his presence. The problems were wide and varied...tummy ache, sore toe, head-ache, pregnancy, he dealt with them all.

Afterwards we asked him how did it go? "Good-oh" he said, "All got the same treatment....one Aspro each...it works wonders, and they all feel much better."

Whenever possible, some of us would go to church at the Mission on Sunday morning, and take our place in the congregation with the natives. Denomination did not matter. Father Docherty was most appreciative.

One day a few of us were enjoying ourselves in a fresh water swimming pool we found 4 or 5 miles inland when a lone native appeared on the bank and started to wave us out. We didn't understand at first, but we always took notice and we obeyed. He made us realize there was a crocodile on the bottom.

Next day some tribesmen arrived with the news they had caught and killed it, using the same method as before by baiting it with a child. It was some 14 feet long. It always amazed me how these people knew. But then the were masters of their environment. They had long since learned how to live and survive in a hard and sometimes violent country. And they showed us as best they could in the time we were with them how to do the same.

 


 

EXTRACTS FROM BOB MEREDITH'S PERSONAL WAR DIARY 1943 (39 PORT KEATS)

I had been on active service for 10 months in 1942 but lost all my belongings including that 42 diary in an air raid. So started Ď43.

Having completed a three weeks security course at the 30 Mile south of Darwin; I was posted to 39 RS PORT KEATS.

Bob Meredith                       

MONDAY 11 JANUARY 1943.
Caught plane; Dr Fentonís Air Ambulance twin engine Dragon Rapide. Arrived at destination about 2 hours later (a bit bumpy) with mail and stores on what may be called a strip. Natives swarm about us to make us welcome, They appear to be very friendly. So this is 39RS but where//.

TUESDAY 12 JANUARY 1943.
Settling in, conditions tough, nothing much about, so we start to build a hut, no materials decide to use bark. Natives show and teach us to get bark from trees in the bush, hard work but I am still very fit after the course. Natives terrific and can outwork us. Native boy from mission attached himself to me about 14 years old, and is our interpreter. Tucker just ////// but weather nearly unbearable, bloody hot & very very very humid.

WEDNESDAY 13 JANUARY 1943.
Still building hut, work hard, our hands are a mess my fitness helps a lot. No sign of mail. Natives never stop laughing (perhaps at us). They wear nothing, only younger mission lads wear a narga (loin cloth) sometimes.

FRIDAY 15 JANUARY 1943.
Spent day in bush with natives getting bark for roof of hut. lt's a special length, natives select tree & remove bark by standing on the shoulders of another, two man length of bark is cut ---boy can they teach us ---- Strangely they are all same height. Mosquitoes & sandflies very bad night & day.

MONDAY 18 JANUARY 1943.
Finished hut & moved in, houses seven of us wait for wet to test roof. Full moon soon, expect air raids. Sandflies driving us mad, have to cut finger nails not to break skin for fear of infection.

FRIDAY 22 JANUARY 1943.
Japs over last night, 48th raid .Developed prickley heat all over my seat & tummy.

SATURDAY 23 JANUARY 1943.
Japs over again during night. 49th raid. Bit too close. Worked on guns to day.

TUESDAY 26 JANUARY 1943.
Got around to work on the machine guns, they need it this wet weather.

Wednesday 27 JANUARY 1943.
Weather still stinking hot and heavy rain. Two planes over, still no mail (very erratic) tucker poor. Salt Tablets make me sick, have them in my tea. We don't have sugar.

FRIDAY 29 JANUARY 1943.
Plane arrived today TERRIFIC /////. Mail & some supplies. I received 9 letters, even butter but no sugar.

SUNDAY 31 JANUARY 1943.
Dutch bombers (B-25s 18 Squadron Mitchells) returning from raid, low on fuel & off course. Given permission to land on our small strip, one made it, two crashed landed in jungle some distance away.

MONDAY 1 FEBRUARY 1943.
Dutch crew very surprised & delighted to see us RAAF boys here, we then hand pumped enough petrol from 44 gallon drums (hard work) to get them back. All of us had to clear end of strip of tall trees, took a long time but late in the day with a struggle took off successfully for base. Pilot did a wonderful job.

TUESDAY 2 FEBRUARY 1943.
Natives have found other planes crashed landed about 25 miles away, crews safe, formed a party to go out and rescue them. Rough country crocodile infected, take two days to get them out, plane dropped them rations.

WEDNESDAY 3 FEBRUARY 1943.
Heard all their other aircraft got back to base. They had dropped all their bombs a couple of miles from us in the sea . No news from rescue team yet.

THURSDAY 4 FEBRUARY 1943.
Our rescue party out of water rushed it to them by native runners (they are good.) two Wirraways down today dropped rations to downed crews.

FRIDAY 5 FEBRUARY 1943.
Rescued boys arrived back from downed aircraft, alls well but very tired, bitten all over by everything, no sleep because of crocodiles. Weather hot & very wet.

SATURDAY 6 FEBRUARY 1943.
All the rescued boys flown out today to hospital. Itís great, a job well done very successful, now its very quiet here. Still very hot & wet.

MONDAY 8 FEBRUARY 1943.
All our boys arrived today, 14 in all, brings us up to full strength, also brought 4 twin machine guns to boost our ack ack defence. Alls quiet.

TUESDAY 9 FEBRUARY 1943.
Cleaning guns & testing them, will mount them in their pits tomorrow. Jap plane (zero fighter) over us about midday very low, sure looking for us, in pit manning gun had him in sights as he made several passes over the mount, so low I could see pilots face, no orders to open fire, perhaps just as well, CO had hoped he hadn't seen us. Turned out he was right, never ever did find us.

WEDNESDAY 10 FEBRUARY 1943.
Got a couple of guns up the mount by the Doover. Heavy explosions out at sea, sounds like a naval battle or something quiet noisey ////.

THURSDAY 11 FEBRUARY 1943.
Still placing guns up top, very hard work, have to dig pits in solid rock, resort to blasting.

FRIDAY 12 FEBRUARY 1943.
Tested guns today up top, we warn Mission, but natives still go bush, they don't like the noise. This is a policy we will adhere to for future testing.

SATURDAY 13 FEBRUARY 1943.
Sandflies unbearable this morning, extremely hot, temp. about 120 degrees.

MONDAY 15 FEBRUARY 1943
Heavy rains have made road impassable, started corduroying bad spots so as water truck can go over it. Natives a great help to us, handle conditions better than us.

TUESDAY 16 FEBRUARY 1943.
Heavy rain all night & today, can't work, confined to hut no leaks at all, This bark roof is excellent.

THURSDAY 18 FEBRUARY 1943.
Weather still very bad, 1100 points rain last couple days, still working on road, have to try to keep open but very bad.

Friday 19 FEBRUARY 1943.
Heavy rain over night, blow out gun pits in solid rock a real mess, everyone went bush. One year today Darwin bombed. Road corduroying still going on.

FRIDAY 26 FEBRUARY 1943.
Road taking up all our time, all available men & natives flat out, strip also to be keeped open. Lockheed bomber landed with 2000 lb stores (tucker) we needed it as we are very low, have been for a while. Pay master arrived with it.

SATURDAY 27 FEBURARY 1943.
Pay parade to day, first pay 2 months . Only drew a little, donít need money here, use the barter system.

WEDNESDAY 3 MARCH 1943.
Raid today (50th) 15 Zeros tried to get in the Darwin area, Spitfires got among them. Busy day for us all. Expecting boat in soon with supplies, are very low.

FRIDAY 5 MARCH 1943.
Still heavy rain, had 11 inches this month (5 days) bogged down but road work still goes on.

TUESDAY 9 MARCH 1943.
Two planes arrive with replacement personnel, some boys posted south, I hope to be soon as my time has expired. Worked on guns up the hill.

FRIDAY 12 MARCH 1943.
Dentist arrived yesterday, check our teeth to day. Two boats arrived today, started unloading.

SATURDAY 13 MARCH 1943.
Still unloading boats, 40 tons of stores plus masses of 44 drums of fuel. Navy boys in big hurry to get some sea around them, drums tossed over board, natives & us retrieve them by pushing or walking them in, hard work. Boats left late in day. Saw crocodile a big one to /// but he was too busy getting out of our way.

MONDAY 15 MARCH 1943.
Heavy raid on Darwin area (51st), again Spitfires were waiting, believe 20 Jap planes downed.

Weather very hot & fine, mosquitoes bad.

FRIDAY 19 MARCH 1943.
Last couple of days helped make an antbed cricket wicket on strip, big match on Sunday. Worked on guns in morning. Big fight by natives, spears thrown everywhere, luckily no injuries. It was stopped quickly, don't know what caused it.

SUNDAY 21 MARCH 1943.
Played our cricket match, didn't do too good, made 7, got 2 wickets, stinking hot. Natives think we are nuts, they never stopped laughing /////.

Tuesday 23 MARCH 1943.
No water last 2 days, road too bad, got some through late in day. Worked on guns & started training new crews, new personal to replace us. I am expecting posting south soon. Rehearsal for concert. I am to be a ballet girl. /////.

WEDNESDAY 24 MARCH 1943.
Lecturing on guns all day, & still rehearsing concert. Went swimming in a fresh water pool we found approx. 5 miles inland (late in day) by tender, got bogged too. Had a nasty scare by a crocodile, a wary native warned us.

FRIDAY 26 MARCH 1943.
Still rehearsals & still lecturing on guns. Late swim but no crocodile this time, natives had caught it yesterday. (they are good). Natives brought in a swag of geese eggs.

SATURDAY 27 MARCH 1943.
Fresh eggs for breakfast ///// goodo too. Concert on in mess late in day, excellent show, all enjoyed including natives, they laughed till they doubled over. Ballet girls good. Posting south came through very late. /// Going home. A very good day.

SUNDAY 28 MARCH 1943.
Left 39RS by Dr Fenton & his Rapide in afternoon for Livingstone, quiet a few natives & our boys saw us off. Sorry & pleased to leave them. My first leg home.  //////.

 


 

WW2 site of 39 Radar Station RAAF on Mount Goodwin

 

Modern-day radar in the same area in 1990

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I'd like to thank Gordon Mouat and Bob Meredith for their assistance with this home page. Gordon was attached to No. 39 Radar Station and No. 307 Radar Station. Bob was attached to No. 39 Radar and No. 105 Radar Stations.

 

REFERENCE BOOKS

"Units of the Royal Australia Air Force - A Concise History - Volume 5, Radar Units"
Compiled by RAAF Historical Section

 

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