Incorporated into the No.75 Squadron Avionics Section ‘Adventurous Training’ exercise for 2021, was the placement of a Mirage IIIO vertical stab in its final resting place. Serial numbered A3-17, it had resided outside 75 Sqn Headquarters at RAAF Base Tindal N.T, incidentally not far from another Mirage tail, A3-36.
No.75 Squadron became the first Australian fighter unit to operate the Mirage, being declared operational in August 1965, and notably the last, ceasing Mirage operations before relocating from Darwin to Tindal in October 1988. A3-17 was license-built in Australia being delivered to RAAF Base Williamtown in July 1965 where the aircraft was operated by both 75 sqn and 77 Sqn during its time in RAAF service, including RAAF Base Butterworth in Malaysia with 75 Sqn. It retired from service with 4554 hours on the clock and was one of 50 RAAF Mirages exported to the Pakistan Air Force, initially stored at Woomera before being transported to Whyalla where they were loaded and shipped overseas.
Recently the fin had been refurbished by the crew at 75 Sqn SURFIN and during the week, was loaded onto a truck and wrapped in bubble sheet to protect it during the 320km trip to Tomato Island (Munbililla). The Avionics Section convoy, with boats in tow, departed for Munbililla/Tomato Island campground which is in the Limmen National Park on the gulf coast of the Northern Territory and familiar to NT fisho’s and Service Veterans alike. Needless to say the NT remote roads can be unforgiving and they suffered a few flat tyres and a minor suspension issue but arrived safe and sound.
Apart from being a well appointed campground, Tomato Island contains several memorials including the 2009 ANZAC Flagpoles, an ANZAC Digger .303 with Slouch Hat, the 2015 ANZAC 100th Anniversary Mk 82 500lb Snake Eye – also presented by 75 Sqn, and a propellor (unfortunately no plaque attached).
I drove the 650km from Darwin arriving just after midday to find some of the Avionics lads cooling off in a creek crossing just before the campground. The temperature was 41 degC and it seemed like the best spot for miles (without crocs) to cool off, so I had time for a quick chat over a cold one before hitting camp.
I paid the camping fee and signed in, the QR code was gleefully pointed out by caretaker Greg – even out here they have them, and parked up. A quick chuck out of the tarp and I wandered into the avionics camp to catch up with some I knew. Soon the waterhole mob were back so I wandered over to see concreter, Glen ‘Zulu’ checking on the foundation curing process, beer in one hand, damp sponge in the other…. what more would you expect in the wet season ‘build up’.
With fishing boats and campsites set up the day before, the fin, along with nearly 2 tonne of premix bags had been manually unloaded from the truck in what some would call a team bonding exercise.
Site preparation and position done, boxing up sorted, the concrete was batch mixed and poured and finished by those present. Glen kept an eye on the curing process over the next day touching up some imperfections and sponging the foundation.
The afternoon was spent relaxing with some launching the boats and heading off to catch a few barra, some just reading a book, or flying a drone, and others sitting around wiling the time away with a game or three of ‘Uckers’. The BBQ was fired up for dinner and rations dug out of the eskies in preparation for a cook up. (thats another story for another time)
Late evening saw the decibel level rise as the board game became more ‘competitive’ but was somewhat drowned out as lightning and thunder increased from the approaching storms rolled in. Cooling rain fell through the night taking the edge off the hot conditions with about 8mm seen in the park rain gauge the next day.
First up next morning the section got dressed in uniform and posed for photos with the A3-17 tail to mark this occasion. As a team building exercise to plan, execute and complete, thanks must go to all involved in the the A3-17 stab project. Although none of the current section members worked on Mirages, it is great to see 75 Sqn still making time to commemorate past platforms that the squadron has operated. No doubt veterans, some who may have even flown or worked on Mirages, will appreciate the effort if they call into Tomato Island campground…. another subject to have a yarn about while sitting around the campfire.
After four days 75 sqn Avionics packed up for their return to RAAF Base Tindal leaving behind one of the last structures to be placed by 75 Sqn while operating the Hornet. This memorial will be a reminder of the strong connection the Royal Australian Air Force, and the broader ADF, has with many communities across the Top End.
If you are ever travelling up the western Gulf of Carpentaria on the Nathan River Rd, take the time to drop into Tomato Island campground and have a break or even pop out for an ANZAC Service one year and see a bit of Australian military history in a beautiful remote part of Australia.
Cheers…Sid Mitchell (Ex-Mirage Gunnie)
Additional image credit to 75Sqn Avionics members present, Neill Groves and Phil Badger.