Croker Island Exodus
Directed by Stephen McGregor (2011)
Prior to watching this documentary, I had no idea Japanese bombers attacked northern Australia 97 times during World War II.* This film reenacts the evacuation of 95 Aboriginal children from Croker Island during the bombing. Members of the “Stolen Generation,” the mixed race children were forcibly removed from their mothers to be raised in Christian missionary schools. Claiming the practice would facilitate assimilation, the Australian government continued to kidnap mixed race children until 1970.
The filmmakers also interview three of the surviving children as they reminisce about their separation from their families and their 42 day journey from Croker Island to Sydney.
Darwin was evacuated (except for essential services) in 1941, shortly before the first Japanese bombing raid. The three missionary sisters running the Croker Island school had the option to evacuate but chose to remain with their students.
Once Darwin was evacuated, the school ceased to receive food shipments from the Australian mainland. This left the sisters and children no choice but to evacuate. They traveled to Barclay Point in Queensland by naval frigate. From there two trucks drove them 50 kilometers through the tropical rainforest to Oenpelli. Because the trucks kept having breakdowns, most of the children ended up walking.
From Oenpelli, they walked barefoot 344 kilometers to the army base in Pine Creek. With limited provisions, they relied on bush water holes and wild water grass (wild sugar cane) for water and supplemented their bread and butter will lizards and wild berries.
At Pine Creek they were put on a train to Sydney. The army built two portable shelters for them on a mission homestead one-half hour south of Sydney.
In 1946, 63 of them chose to return to Coker Island. They remained there until age 16, when they went to Darwin to look for work. In 2011, when this film was made, only 12 evacuees were still living. The film ends with an extremely moving reunion they held with the last surviving missionary sister.
*Between February 1942 and November 1943, during the Pacific War of World War II, the Australian mainland, domestic airspace, offshore islands and coastal shipping were attacked at least 97 times by aircraft from the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Force and Imperial Japanese Army Air Force. These attacks came in various forms; from large-scale raids by medium bombers, to torpedo attacks on ships, and to strafing runs by fighters.
In the first and deadliest set of attacks, 242 aircraft hit Darwin on the morning of 19 February 1942. Killing at least 235 people and causing immense damage, the attacks made hundreds of people homeless and resulted in the abandonment of Darwin as a major naval base.
The film can be viewed free at the Maori TV website: