Military tourism comes to Darwin
By Tim E. Stewart
DARWIN — This backpacker capital of the north is opening its doors to foreign military exercises. For 10 months of the year, locals will be host to air and naval exercises by visiting Singapore and United States units.
This military tourism brings such benefits as formation flying at low altitude over residential areas and schools, the possibility of a catastrophic accident in a heavily populated suburban area and ear-splitting noise as up to 50 or 60 aircraft work the airspace above Darwin day and night.
The exercises, previously held only two or three months of the year, operate out of the RAAF-controlled Darwin International Airport, which borders the most heavily populated suburbs of the city.
Residents complain of incredible noise from low-flying aircraft, disruption and inconvenience to shift workers, young families, the elderly and infirm, and the extra stress placed on residents trying to cope with their disrupted personal and family circumstances.
Following a series of highly disruptive US exercises last year, a group of concerned residents formed the Aircraft Noise Abatement Group (ANAG). Readings taken during exercise "Pitch Black" recorded noise levels in the suburbs of Ludmilla and Nightcliff ranging from 85 to 124 decibels (pneumatic drills typically measure 100 db).
At a recent meeting called by ANAG, spokesperson Kathy Ridgely opened by saying the group felt let down by the lack of action on the issue by local Senator Bob Collins.
She raised the unwelcome increase in military exercises over suburban Darwin, saying there has been no consultation with local residents. There is no compensation for loss of life or devaluation of property, and no strategic plan for emergency services in the event of a suburban military disaster.
Collins, who attended the meeting, revealed that any possible economic benefits to the Territory from hosting the exercises were insignificant and peripheral to the venture (contrary to the argument peddled by the establishment media). Instead, he stated, "The bottom line is I fully support the federal government's decision to defend Northern Australia".
The government is in the process of a three-stage militarisation of the Top End, claiming that by the turn of the century, defence will be Darwin's biggest industry.
The almost year-round military exercises have little if anything to do with developing Australian "defence" forces. All of the aircraft in the military exercises are foreign. The RAAF uses purpose-built Tindal air base for its own exercises.
Darwin has the only airport in Australia with no curfew for military exercises (other RAAF bases have curfews from 7pm).
"I feel as though I'm just being rented out for 10 months of the year", said ANAG member Kerry Howell. "Unless people join together and say no, we'll be stuck with it."
ANAG has vowed to step up its work with letter-writing campaigns and a follow-up meeting at the Cool Spot Cafe, Fannie Bay, March 30 at 7.30pm.