West Montalivet Island, RAAF Radar 344
RAAF Radar Station 344 1943-45.
In 2016 we were lucky enough to get the chance to explore West Montalivet Island, one of the most remote offshore islands in the state's far north.
Not unique amongst the thousands of other islands that dot the Kimberley coast, West Montalivet is as untouched and wild as it has been for thousands of years except for a few human traces. In World War II the island was home to the men of the 344 Radar Station. A rarely known and long forgotten piece of history on a lonely, desolate and scarcely noticed part of the Kimberley coast.
Besides an ex-serviceman, Laurie Leckie who re-visited the island in 1988 to only find the drum site, we were possibly the only other people to visit the island to search for the radar site in the last 70 years since the RAAF left.
With a publication by Morrie Fenton to guide us, we managed to land on the site thought to be the generator beach and were surprised to find a cave full of 44 gal drums still as they were over 70 years ago after the clean up crews had left the island. After a drone search, we were able to locate the site of the collapsed radar dover that we managed to reach on foot on a second visit. Unfortunately, we did not have the chance to search for the foundations of the main camp and saw almost no sign of the camp or airstrip from the drone footage.
From 1943-45 the men of 344 Radar Station had to endure months of loneliness and isolation, cut off from the rest of Australia by their remote location, living in the heat and humidity through the wet and dry seasons without a reliable drinking source. The men sleept in tents with only a handful of rifles and grenades to defend themselves on this desolate island and had to deal with a visit from a Japanese submarine and the occasional bombing from Japanese aircraft returning to Java from missions over the north west coast.
"The stories of isolation-deprivation,-rough and tough living, these were savoured almost by others... and almost certainly embellished by those who could speak first hand of the place. Tinned rations everyday- and drinking water carted in that tasted of aviation fuel- no pictures-no transport-infrequent mail- and nowhere to go- no comforts to speak of except an occasional comforts parcel. A "closed" island off an uninhabitted coast."
From Morrie Fentons introduction "The History and Stories from Radar 344 West Montalivet".