Broome’s Hidden Flying Boats

For a few years now, I’ve sat at Town Beach Café in Broome, looking out over Roebuck Bay, not realizing that part of Australia’s history lay below the turquoise waters.

Australians remember the day the Japanese bombed Darwin. The first of these attacks took place on the 19th February, 1942  and they continued until November 1943. Other Australian towns were also the target of Japanese air attacks including Broome.

On March 3rd 1942, nine Japanese aircraft attacked fifteen flying boats that were refuelling in Roebuck Bay. These planes, belonging to Qantas, the Royal Australian Airforce, the Royal Netherlands Navy and the US Navy, were transferring mainly women and children refugees from Java to southern states of Australia.


Plaque commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Attack on Broome

Plaque commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the attack on Broome


The wrecks of these flying boats are located one kilometre from the Town Beach shore and can only be reached at low tide. As we left the shore at 6.30 in the morning, we could not see the planes but followed the trail of people out to sea.

Roebuck Bay mud flats at low tide


The mangroves were high in the water, their trunks and the nearby rocks exposed.

Mangrove trees in Roebuck Bay, Broome


An early morning mist was coming in creating an eery feeling. Looking back at the shore you could easily see it approaching.

Mist coming in at Roebuck Bay, Broome


As mud slushed between our toes and the water got deeper, it was a race against time as the tide slowly crept in. If only we had left a half an hour earlier!

Then we saw them….silhouetted against the horizon.

 Flying boat remains exposed at low tide in Roebuck Bay, Broome


The water had started to rise covering the lower part of the planes but most of the mud covered remains could still be seen.

 Flying boats exposed at low tide in Roebuck Bay, Broome


 Flying boats exposed at low tide in Roebuck Bay, Broome


 Flying boats exposed at low tide in Roebuck Bay, Broome


We headed back towards the shore towards another plane. The tide seemed to becoming in quicker now or was it my imagination!

 Flying boats exposed at low tide in Roebuck Bay, Broome


Closer to shore I could take my time exploring the ocean floor and the small creatures that could now be seen.
Two turtles had been caught by the receding waters and were now waiting for the tide to take them back to sea.

Turtle in Roebuck Bay, Broome


Small green worms could be seen scurrying along the sand, sand slugs slid by, molluscs lay open on the sand and many different coloured seaweeds decorated the sea floor.I particularly loved the small ones that looked like a miniature cactus forest.

Low tide exposes small sea creatures in Roebuck Bay, Broome


Coffee and breakfast awaited us at the Town Beach Cafe where we watched the mist reappear and the tide bring the water come closer to shore, swallowing the mangroves.

Mist over Roebuck Bay, Broome


Mist over Roebuck Bay, Broome


Tide comes in at Roebuck Bay, Broome



Tide comes in engulfing the mangroves at Roebuck Bay, Broome


Twice a day these tides can rise and fall by up to nine metres creating an ever-changing view of Roebuck Bay.



This post is part of Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox. Pop over and see the other other contributions.













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51 Responses to Broome’s Hidden Flying Boats

  1. jan August 30, 2012 at 7:24 am #

    Geez Jenny, I thought you were going to have to swim for it for a while there. I love taking a trip through your camera. I am going to be doing more of this, like in my recent Streets of Marrakech. I really enjoyed walking out to see the wrecks of the planes (seems strange to say planes as I normally think of ocean wrecks as being boats) with you, I just wish I could have enjoyed brekkie at the Town Beach Cafe as well! Oh well I shall have to content myself with a coffee at home. Cheers!

    • [email protected] August 30, 2012 at 11:47 pm #

      I thought I was going swimming too Jan! In fact we were thoroughly soaked with the water reaching hip level as we were walking back! Don’t worry, initially I also called them boats too and had to go through the post and make a few corrections!! YOur coffee would have been much drier! Ours was well earned but after a while the wet clothes drove us home earlier than we had anticipated. Next time we’ll leave a lot earlier!

  2. Leigh August 30, 2012 at 10:51 am #

    What a fabulous outing and weren’t you lucky to make it in time to see the planes and a sea turtle. I think a well earned latte after this adventure would make it a very pleasant morning.

    • [email protected] August 30, 2012 at 3:55 pm #

      If only we’d left half an hour earlier it would have been a much drier trip but at least we saw the planes. I don’t think we realised how long it would take us to get out there! It was great to be sitting back at the cafe and watching the tide come in!

  3. Krista August 30, 2012 at 12:52 pm #

    Wow – fascinating and beautiful, Jenny. Love learning this history. 🙂

    • [email protected] August 30, 2012 at 3:59 pm #

      Thanks Krista.I hadn’t realised the wrecks were there until now. I was fascinated by the history too.

  4. Mary @ The World Is A Book August 30, 2012 at 4:32 pm #

    Beautiful pictures, Jenny! I like how these great remnants of history stay hidden partially retaining that mysterious feel. Looks like a wonderful and worthwhile morning to also see beautiful sea turtles. I love how you captured them.

    • [email protected] August 30, 2012 at 11:14 pm #

      Thank you Mary. It was a surreal morning especially with the mist coming in and so much history buried at sea only to be revealed on the fall of the tide. The turtles were a bonus. They are truly majestic creatures.

  5. Sophie August 30, 2012 at 5:53 pm #

    What a fascinating and sad discovery.

    I’ve heard a bit about Broome, btw. Sounds like such a laidback and appealing town.

    • [email protected] August 30, 2012 at 11:18 pm #

      Broome is very laid back Sophie. Most people head to the beach during the day and then come back at night to watch the sunset! Lazy days ….perfect to escape the southern winter!

  6. Red Nomad OZ August 30, 2012 at 9:09 pm #

    Haha! I didn’t get to see the planes when I was in Broome – and now I don’t have to because you’ve shown them to me! I don’t think so many Aussies understand the full impact of the attack – it was actually bigger than Pearl Harbour. Which is staggering when you think about it.

    Thanx for the virtual voyage!!

    • [email protected] August 30, 2012 at 11:24 pm #

      Pleasure Red though I think you should pop back….it’s just up the road!!!I agree…I don’t think a lot of Aussies even realise that extent of the bombing that took place not only in Broome but in the other northern towns as well. It was quite a sobering walk!

  7. Jackie Smith August 30, 2012 at 10:50 pm #

    Goose pimples. That’s what you gave me in this post. I felt as if I were there with you. Thank you for a most informative and beautifully illustrated tale.

    • [email protected] August 30, 2012 at 11:26 pm #

      Thanks Jackie. It was quite a hike, especially with the tide coming in quicker than we had anticipated, but certainly worth it. It’s quite an important part of our history.

  8. jade August 30, 2012 at 11:11 pm #

    That is super cool! Even without seeing the wreckage, the abundance of marine life would have me giddy. We haven’t been to Broome, but I want to- add it to the list! haha

    • [email protected] August 30, 2012 at 11:37 pm #

      Broome is a great place to spend some time Jade. When the tide is out, it’s fascinating what you find walking through on the mud flats. Whilst you are here, will you have to take a trip into the Kimberleys. Either by sea or road, the sites in this part of the country are incredible. Hope you make it here one day!

  9. Spanish Translator @latinAbroad August 30, 2012 at 11:36 pm #

    what a spectacular tide change and coast! Absolutely breathtaking. I’m learning much about Australia’s western coast lately and discovering how many hidden, gorgeous attractions are there. I guess I will have to live/travel throughout Australia for some time in order to see all the highlights, East and West!

    -Maria Alexandra

    • [email protected] September 4, 2012 at 11:59 pm #

      WA has some amazing places to visit Maria! The Kimberleys is one of my favourite areas with its incredibly beautiful landscapes that need to be seen from both the water and the land. It’s a big country so you might have to visit a few times!

  10. marina August 31, 2012 at 8:08 am #

    wow, those turtles are beautiful! hope they are safe!

    • [email protected] August 31, 2012 at 10:01 am #

      Yes, Marina, they are safe! Once the tide comes in they can then swim out to sea and join their mates!

  11. Lisa August 31, 2012 at 8:10 am #

    What a fascinating day! I love that I can read a travel blog and learn more about history at the same time – I had no idea that Australia had been bombed during the war. What a sobering experience to be able to walk out and see the wrecks that are submerged at high tide. And the sea life photos are amazing – I love the sea turtle!

    • [email protected] August 31, 2012 at 10:08 am #

      Thanks Lisa. It was a fascinating day- I learnt a lot too! Quite a few towns in the north west were bombed especially Darwin where, on the day that I mentioned, a greater number of bombs were dropped than in Pearl Harbour! The sea life here was extraordinary and the turtles a bonus.

  12. Sabrina August 31, 2012 at 10:47 am #

    Beautiful! I miss the sea even more now 🙂 The turtle shot is unbelievable.

    • [email protected] August 31, 2012 at 1:20 pm #

      It’s hard when your’re used to the sea and then don’t live close by for a while! The turtle was so cute. He was just lying there waiting for the water to come in again so he could go and join his friends. Thanks for stopping by

  13. [email protected] We There Yet Mom? August 31, 2012 at 11:05 am #

    WOW- that had to have been fascinating to have seen in person – I would have loved that history lesson. I hope you will consider linking up this post to Friday Daydreamin’ too!

    • [email protected] September 4, 2012 at 9:02 pm #

      Hi Becca. Thanks for stopping by. It was a fabulous day and I learnt a lot more about our history that I should have known! I’ll pop over and see you at you site.

  14. Aleah | August 31, 2012 at 12:18 pm #

    What a wonderful place! I love wrecks but I usually have to dive for them. Here you only walk there! It’s scary though. What if the tide changes quickly? And love your turtle shot too. Are there many of them there?

    • [email protected] August 31, 2012 at 1:24 pm #

      WE have a lot of diving wrecks off the coast of Perth but were lucky these were exposed on the low tide. I was a bit worried for a few moments as the tide was coming in quite quickly. Next time we’ll leave a lot earlier! There were only two turtles left behind when the waters receded – I’m sure there were more that weren’t caught in the tides.

  15. Debra Kolkka August 31, 2012 at 8:52 pm #

    Great photos! We loved Broome.

    • [email protected] September 1, 2012 at 1:12 pm #

      Thanks Debra. It’s a great spot to go to escape some of Winter!

  16. Zoe French September 1, 2012 at 2:14 am #

    What amazing imagery! I can’t believe you can walk right out to the wreckage like that! How cool. And to do it in a race against tidal time…adds a little adventure, no?

    • [email protected] September 1, 2012 at 1:14 pm #

      Thanks Zoe. It was a bit of adventure especially when we realised that the tide was coming in quicker than we had anticipated! Thanks for you visit and comment

  17. InsideJourneys September 1, 2012 at 4:30 am #

    Your photos are quite beautiful. I love how over time, some wrecks take on such interesting characters.
    Fascinating piece of history. I’d forgotten about.

    • [email protected] September 1, 2012 at 1:17 pm #

      Thanks Marcia. It certainly is a forgotten piece of history. The wrecks were like sculptures and then they disappeared!I’m glad we took the walk out there.

  18. [email protected] September 1, 2012 at 5:35 am #

    What a fascinating, sad, beautiful and kind of creepy place! Loved your pictures and story telling about an unfamiliar place and bit of history. Really lovely.

    • [email protected] September 4, 2012 at 11:54 pm #

      Thanks Cindy. I was a bit worried about the tide coming back in so quickly but it was an interesting day and great to learn a bit more of our history

  19. Cathy Sweeney September 2, 2012 at 11:49 am #

    I had never heard about the attack on Broome and the flying boats. I got goose bumps as I read the plaque and your commentary, then saw the pics. Very interesting!

    • [email protected] September 2, 2012 at 10:46 pm #

      I also learnt a bit more about Australian history this day Cathy. it was a fascinating walk out to the flying boats and a race against the tide getting back!

  20. Johanna September 2, 2012 at 4:15 pm #

    A wonderful post that sent shivers down my spine. I love the way you’ve merged history with the present and I really felt as if I was there with you. Love the photos, and that turtle – how great to be up close!

    • [email protected] September 2, 2012 at 10:48 pm #

      Thanks Jo. At least you didn’t get wet!! The turtles were just lying there waiting for the water to come back in! They were beautiful creatures.

  21. Angela September 2, 2012 at 8:01 pm #

    Beautiful shots and stunning landscape for a sad part of Australian history.

    • [email protected] September 2, 2012 at 10:51 pm #

      Thanks Angela. A lot of people don’t even realise they are here. Roebuck Bay is beautiful and the tide fluctuations only add to this. Thanks for stopping by.

  22. Nomadic Samuel September 3, 2012 at 2:42 pm #

    These are all gorgeous photos but my favourites are the two shots of the turtles! It’s amazing how tight you got those shots.

    • [email protected] September 3, 2012 at 8:04 pm #

      Thank you. The turtles were just sitting in a few inches of water waiting for the tide to come back in so I was able to be very close to them…a real treat!!

  23. Karen (Back Road Journal) September 4, 2012 at 4:13 am #

    I truly enjoyed your post and lovely photos.

    • [email protected] September 4, 2012 at 8:50 pm #

      Thanks Karen. I loved the day and learnt a bit a history as well.

  24. Michele @ Malaysian Meanders September 5, 2012 at 10:57 pm #

    I really enjoyed how you presented the story and your pictures. The wrecks are both beautiful and poignant.

    • [email protected] September 6, 2012 at 8:53 am #

      Thanks Michele. With the mist coming in on a few occasions, it created an eery feeling over the wrecks and mud flats but it was still beautiful.

  25. Aaron February 1, 2014 at 7:47 am #

    Love the photos mate. Broome is an incredible place, and I had a lot of fun walking out to the planes and back with the tide lapping at my feet!

    • Jenny Freedman February 1, 2014 at 3:28 pm #

      Thanks Aaron. Glad you beat the tide back! It’s a great walk out there and quite a challenge to get back before the tide comes in!

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