Leaving the town of Exmouth, we traveled along the shores of Exmouth Gulf where we stopped at two places marking major activity during World War II. The first was the site of Operation Potshot. By June 1942 there were 20 US submarines operating from Western Australia. They needed a place where they could go for services and repairs. The Exmouth Gulf seemed to be an ideal location and a substantial base was begun. Unfortunately, the persistent north-westerly winds produce a heavy swell in the Gulf making it almost impossible to service the subs. To make matters worse, it was within range of Japanese bombers. Within a year, Operation Potshot was reduced to a simple refueling station.
The Krait Monument is a tribute to Operation Jaywick. On September 2, 1943, fourteen Australian and English men set off from Exmouth Gulf on the MV Krait, a former Japanese fishing boat. Their destination was Singapore Harbour where they attached mines to and sank seven Japanese ships totaling 35,000 tons. All fourteen returned safely to Australia. That raid was so successful that Operation Rimau was attempted in September 1944. Although three Japanese ships were sunk in Singapore Harbour, all 22 Allied men were lost before it was over.
Western Australia is a wide-open wild country where any domestic animal, if it gets loose and survives, will become feral. The most familiar example is the rabbits that once multiplied like, uh …, rabbits and threatened agriculture. Another animal that is becoming a serious problem is domestic cats. As you probably know, cats are superb hunters and they are endangering many wild bird populations. Though not so serious a problem as far as we know, we have been seeing feral goats beside the road as we travel. Since this is “baby season,” there are some really cute little ones prancing along beside their mothers.
Throughout the millennia, the land and seabed have risen and dropped repeatedly. The result is a limestone shoreline subject to eroding into unusual and beautiful formations. One of those is the Quobba Blowholes. Here the water has undercut some layers of limestone. The remaining layers, in turn, have had small holes eroded vertically through them. When the ocean waves crash into the undercut, water is forced up through the holes and twenty to thirty feet into the air.
The town of Carnarvon is situated at the mouth of the Gascoyne River. Founded in 1883, it was a port and supply center for the surrounding region. To improve shipping at this deep-sea port, in 1897 they constructed a two-mile long tramway from the town and the One Mile Jetty. A small locomotive, called the “Coffee Pot” because of the shape of its smokestack, carried freight and passengers from town to waiting ships. As freight increased in size and quantity, engines were upsized to steam locomotives. When they paved the main road going south in 1966, it became more practical to truck the freight south than to load it on ships for the journey. The tramway to town is now a pleasant hike through the salt marshes, and a small train, still called the Coffee Pot, carries visitors out to the end of the jetty and back over the crookedest set of tracks we have ever seen. There is also a small train museum at the foot of the jetty in the former train station where the Kimberley, the last steam locomotive to operate on the jetty, is displayed.
In 1964, the Carnarvon Tracking Station was built to support the Gemini, Apollo, and Skylab programs. It was the last station to communicate with the space capsules leaving earth orbit and the last to make contact before splashdown in the Pacific. It was the largest manned space flight tracking station outside the US.
At a separate site, the Overseas Telecommunications Commission Satellite Earth Station was established in 1966 and played a role in Australia’s television history. It was used to transmit the first pictures live via satellite to London from Australia. In 1969 it was expanded to improve communications between the NASA Tracking Station and the USA.
Today the Carnarvon Space & Technology Museum celebrates the important contributions these two facilities provided in the manned space program and the Australian communications industry.