An immaculately kept war cemetery draws more than 70,000 people to this town each year.

Story Kerry Sharp   Photo

A four-legged movie star commands centrestage at the local pub, and knitted chooks in footy jumpers sell like hot cakes at the community markets. These titillating diversions are popular among travellers who mostly come to the tiny Top End town of Adelaide River (population 350) to pay their respects at Australia’s only cemetery dedicated to Australians killed in World War II. More than 70,000 annual visitors, many with forebears buried here, wander among the graves of 436 military personnel and 63 civilians who died in war activity in Australia’s north. Adelaide River itself was bombed in August 1942. 

The Office of Australian War Graves’ Northern Territory regional manager Shane Ploenges coordinates the upkeep of this immaculately manicured one-hectare sanctuary, and says first-time visitors are astounded to find such a high-class facility in such a small town. “People come from all over the world to see this place and say it’s one of the best war cemeteries they’ve seen anywhere,” Shane says. “We get great feedback from visitors, which makes us proud of what we’re doing and inspires us to keep the standards at the highest level. It’s a rewarding job, not just for the pay, but for what it means for the veterans and their families.” 

Locals share Shane’s pride in the cemetery. “I always say I’m lucky to run a good business in a good town, and the war cemetery is part of that town,” says Jason Smith, licensee of the historic Adelaide River Inn, which is home to the large, stuffed remains of Crocodile Dundee’s famous buffalo co-star Charlie. “We pay so many taxes in life and hate what they’re being spent on, but I’ll never whinge about my taxes going to something like this cemetery.”

This story excerpt is from Issue #126

Outback Magazine: Aug/Sep 2019