WWII East Arm RAAF Flying Boat Base Jetty

NT Heritage Branch, Department of Tourism & Culture

Darwin, Australia


This archaeological survey of a former RAAF jetty site in Darwin yielded a fascinating range of cultural data which provided significant insight into the behaviours and activities of RAAF personnel during World War II, as well as a better understanding of the broader systems of wartime military supply and provisioning within the Northern Territory during this time.

An investigation of the area was prompted when the Northern Territory Land Development Corporation and the Australian Department of Defence proposed a new Multi-User Barge Ramp Facility (MUBRF) at East Arm Peninsula, Darwin Harbour. This new facility would ultimately provide logistical support for the Royal Australian Navy’s new Canberra Class Landing Helicopter Dock ships and various other amphibious landing craft.

In 2014, pre-disturbance magnetometer surveys identified fifty-two magnetic anomalies with the potential to represent dredge obstructions and/or unexploded ordnance (UXO). Dive inspections soon revealed that several of the anomalies consisted of World War II-era military equipment such as aircraft parts, armament and marine vessel components. Cosmos Archaeology was then commissioned to record, identify and assess the significance of all cultural items recovered.

Our specialist team determined that the majority of cultural objects recovered were associated with the World War II-era occupation of the East Arm RAAF Flying Boat (PBY Catalina) Base and Marine Section, and the Services Reconnaissance Department (SRD) covert ‘Lugger Maintenance Section’ (LMS). In particular, a large, high density cultural debris field was found to contain a wide range of wartime cultural objects including radial engine parts, large timber elements, glass bottles, ceramic tableware and faunal remains. Our archaeologists concluded that the deposit was culturally significant – particularly in terms of archaeological research value – and a subsequent archaeological survey and test excavation was undertaken. This included recovery and analysis of a new sample of cultural objects.

The survey was significant as the rich cultural debris field was a relatively rare surviving resource in the Northern Territory, and only limited artefact recording and analysis of such assemblages have been undertaken in the past. In particular, the RAAF jetty site artefacts provided unique information about living conditions and dietary practices within Northern Territory military bases during World War II. The project also provided valuable insight into site formation processes, post-depositional alterations and archaeological survival rates within the tropical waters of Darwin Harbour.