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Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Terowie Redux

A variation on a theme that I visited last year. I'm keen to go back to Terowie, and will be doing so very soon, just to see how much difference a year makes to a place like that.

In the meantime, with a little bit of editing, a bit of fixing and farting about, I present to you a scaled down version of what I wrote back then, and hopefully something that makes a bit more sense. If you're in America then you should find this post most interesting, as it relates to a very important part of US military history. And bear in mind it was sixty three years ago this month that the original Big Mac drifted through these parts.

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Terowie is a little town about 60 clicks out of Burra in South Australia and it holds a special place in world history, in particular World War II. It was on the platform at Terowie that General Douglas MacArthur gave his legendary speech after escaping the Philippines - "I came out of Bataan and I shall return". The speech was delivered at his first press conference after the fall of the Philippines, and most historians credit MacArthur with giving the speech as he left the South Pacific, but where they get confused is where MacArthur, who was fond of recycling speeches and good quotes, used it again when preparing an official speech for use to the American public: "The President of the United States ordered me to break through the Japanese lines and proceed from Corregidor to Australia for the purpose, as I understand it, of organizing the American offensive against Japan, a primary objective of which is the relief of the Philippines. I came through and I shall return." After that, he did return. But the first quote was done at a little, now forgotten, town in South Australia.

Terowie is now little more than two streets and an abandoned train station that's fallen into disrepair. At it's peak it was a bustling town that was referred to as the 'Hub of the North', as it was the meeting place of the two separate railway gauges that divided Australia - South Australia had the broad gauge, the eastern states had the more common narrow gauge. When traveling across the country you had to transfer trains at Terowie, hence MacArthur had to switch trains in order to continue on to Adelaide. From there he went to Melbourne, then Sydney and then, ultimately, back into the fray. At the time of World War II the town had over 2,000 dedicated residents. The train station ran an amazing 3 kilometers and was a hive of activity with sheds, workshops and more. It also had an American/Australia army camp/proving ground that held numerous soldiers, hence another reason why MacArthur stopped off and gave his famous speech on the 20th of March, 1942. This site gives a great over-view of MacArthur in Australia after the fall of Corregidor. Essential reading actually.

So what happened to the town? In the late 1960s the broad gauge line was extended from Terowie through to Peterborough, thus eliminating the need for trains to stop to change gauges. That spelt the death knoll for Terowie. From a town that once was bustling, busy and saw the height of activity it's now all but deserted. Terowie in 2005 consists of a main street and a few side streets. Most of the houses and shops are empty and decrepit. The remaining buildings aren't all that much better, and when I was there you could have shot a gun down the main street and not hit a soul. The town is dying, and dying rapidly. The train lines aren't used anymore, so there's nothing there for anyone, barring the station, and that's almost gone as well.
I did take the digi-cam, and managed to get some snaps off, it'll be interesting to compare those shots with period photos and also the photos that'll be coming in later this month.

The Station


As you can clearly see there's not a lot in the background here. Now compare that to a shot from the 1960s:



The Buildings


This is all that's left of the three kilometers of workshops, stores, shunting lines, railway turntable and other buildings. Two, very, very run down buildings that look for all the world like they'd fall down in a good wind. And perhaps they will. Again, compare the above shot with this one, taken during the 1960s:



The MacArthur Plaque


This is the stone and plaque that bears silent memory to the spot where MacArthur gave the speech and uttered his phrase. Below is a close up shot:



The Army Grounds



This is all that remains of the army grounds. One building, the stone and iron barred cell block. You'd not want to spend the night here, let alone the days. The building is concrete and unforgiving. The cells themselves weren't that big, but the worst part of it was is that they were uncovered. The roof of the cells consist(ed) of iron bars that ran the length of the ceiling, and a small window of iron bars added to the oppressive nature of the prison. Both during the days, and nights, the cells could be left uncovered, but at times an iron sheet would have been slid across the top to offer some form of protection. It's impossible to think what people would have felt at the height of summer and also in the depths of winter. When I went in it was damn cold and getting colder by the second, so I could only imagine how it'd have felt to be in there at night, freezing, looking at the stars above and listening to the footsteps on the cement floor as the guards kept patrol. I expect that people didn't do too much wrong as they'd have wanted to keep well out of it. Mind you during winter it gets so cold it often snows in Terowie so that'd not lift your spirits. But the cells are all that remains of the army base, the rest is gone.

So what happens now? Well the people who live in Terowie are well aware of the historical importance of the town, and in particular it's station. However as people die, and/or drift away, the city is rapidly becoming a ghost town. Most people aren't aware of what the town meant and unless something is done, and done very soon, the town will eventually be yet another deserted town, a ghost town with a footnote in world history.

As an aside, we spent the night at Burra. As is my wont, we went down to the local graveyard and went in search of interesting headstones. This is what we came up with:



Now THAT'S an inscription. Those rotten, filthy Germans eh? Mind you this one has to be one of the most unique headstones I've ever seen - and I've seen a lot:

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