Steam and the defence of Darwin: the Pump House

Within the Pump House is the story of changing technologies and of Australia at war.

In 1923 the Royal Australian Navy moved from coal to fuel oil and the following year construction began on four oil storage tanks in Port Darwin as a part of building a new oil refuelling station. Darwin became an important site within the national program of naval defence.

A critical part of the refuelling station was the Darwin Pump House which was completed in 1928. This building housed two main oil pumps manufactured by Kelly & Lewis in Melbourne and two G&J Weir feed pumps built in Cathcart, Glasgow. These were powered first by steam, and then later by electricity. Oil was pumped out of tankers, stored in the nearby tanks and pumped out again when vessels required refueling. In 1932 five more tanks were built with a further two completed by December 1941.

On 19 February 1942, only days after Singapore surrendered to the invading Japanese army, the storage tanks were bombed in the first aerial bombing raid on Darwin Harbour. Successive bombing raids destroyed more tanks until by June 1943 only the No. 8 tank remained intact.

The Pump House itself suffered only minor damage and the technology survived well into the post-war period. The Pump House, together with the remains of the storage tank set into Stokes Hill, are key elements in an understanding of the history of the Port.

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