Japanese Consul-General pays historic visit to NT Archives

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LANT recently hosted a visit by the Consul-General of Japan to view a significant collection held at the NT Archives.

Library & Archives NT recently hosted a visit by the Consul-General of Japan, Mr Masahiko Kiya, to view a significant collection held at the NT Archives.

During the Bombing of Darwin in 1942, a large number of vessels were hit in Darwin Harbour, and by the 1950s, seven large shipwrecks still remained.  These were shipping hazards and a barrier to further port development.

Northern Territory Government’s Director Heritage Branch Michael Wells said following World War II, it was difficult to find an Australian company capable of carrying out the task of salvaging the vessels.

“Japan was desperate for steel so that it could rebuild after the War, and the Japanese-based Fujita Salvage Company won the right to salvage the ships and take the steel back to Japan,” Mr Wells said.

In 1959, the company’s president Mr Ryugo Fujita arrived in Darwin with 120 workers, and spent two years salvaging the sunken wrecks.

The salvage operation coincided with the building of the Darwin Memorial Uniting Church on Smith Street. In a spirit of generosity, Fujita commissioned 77 bronze crosses for the church from bronze fittings his workers salvaged from the wrecks. These crosses can be seen today fixed to the end of the church pews. Mr Fujita spoke at the official opening of the church on 23 July 1960.

In 2010, the Fujita family donated a collection of material to Library and Archives NT, including photographs taken of the salvage operation.

Mr Wells said it was wonderful to see the interest taken by the Japanese Consul-General.

“Mr Kiya was very grateful to see items in this important collection first-hand, and expressed his gratitude that Library & Archives NT was looking after the collection so carefully,” he said.

“Mr Kiya said the Fujita Salvage Operation is an important story of reconciliation between two countries that were once at war, and are now working in cooperation and partnership.”

The sunken vessels included the USS Peary, USAT Meigs, USAT Mauna Loa, MV British Motorist, MV Zealandia, MV Neptuna and HMAS Kelat.

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