HORN ISLAND’S MILITARY HISTORY IS PRESERVED FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS

The military installations on Horn Island played a crucial role in Australia’s home defence in the early days of WWII.

Today, these installations and the memory of the men who served in them are being preserved by Vanessa Seekee and her husband, Liberty.

When Vanessa Seekee moved to Horn Island 22 years ago she knew little about the island’s history.



“When I first got here I’d walk around and find things … there was no information on them, there was no idea of who had been here or what they’d done,” recalled Ms. Seekee.

“I thought it was sad that people had been here and done something, but no-one knew anything about them.”

In the ensuing two decades, Vanessa and Liberty Seekee have worked tirelessly to restore and preserve the island’s military past.

Vanessa Seekee and her husband, Liberty have worked for the past two decades to preserve Horn Island's most important military sites. (Photo: ABC Far North: Fiona Sewell)

Vanessa Seekee and her husband, Liberty have worked for the past two decades to preserve Horn Island’s most important military sites. (Photo: ABC Far North: Fiona Sewell)

 

Horn Island at War

Realizing the strategic importance of the island, the Allies re-enforced Horn Island with the little resources available to them.

By 1942, more than 5,000 Australian and American military personnel were stationed on the island.

“But with no mode or method left for their evacuation, they were going to be left here — that’s why they got the name Suicide Squad,” said Ms. Seekee.

A group of brave volunteers even dug a tunnel and placed 4,000 pounds of explosives under the island’s airfield to blow it up in case the Japanese invaded the island.

Fortunately, the Japanese never came and the explosives were removed in 1944.

880 Residents of the island also volunteered for the military becoming part of the Torres Strait Light Infantry Battalion.



The Torres Strait Light Infantry. (Photo: Australian War Memorial)

The Torres Strait Light Infantry. (Photo: Australian War Memorial)

“They got paid half the wage of other soldiers, but they still volunteered in such numbers that it was the highest rate of enlistment per population in the country,” said Vanessa Seekee.

“[Horn Island] is the only place in Australia where Indigenous and non-Indigenous soldiers came together in the military for such a common goal.

“We’re trying to show people the sacrifice and effort that Torres Strait Islanders and non-Indigenous fellows from down south did together on Horn Island.”

Preserving the History for the Future

Returning veterans and their families have also been touched by the tireless work of the Seekee’s.

Vanessa Seekee recalls that the men who return immediately recognize the carefully preserved military installations.

“They know where everything should be without us telling them, and they’re really pleased to see the place conserved,” she said.

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A Curtis P-40 Kittyhawk flown by the Royal Australian Air Force. The US Army Air Force version was known as the “Warhawk”.

“Some families come to us not knowing where their relatives had died,” said Ms. Seekee.

“One family in particular we were able to take to the approximate location of where their relative’s Kittyhawk went down, and they were able to lay wreaths on the water finally.”

“There can be a lot of emotion on the island … but we’ve given a lot of families closure.”

For Vanessa Seekee and her husband, the work to preserve Horn Island’s precious history will continue for a long time.

“If you don’t conserve the sites they’ll fall apart and there’ll be nothing left.

“I think it’s important that these guys served their country; they wore the uniform, they did the job, they did their best and they should be remembered for that.”



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