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Matthias Ampiyartilawayi Ulungura

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On 19 February 1942 Darwin was attacked by 188 aircraft of the Imperial Japanese Navy. Flying from four aircraft carriers some 300 kilometres to the north-west of the town, they tracked over the Tiwi islands on their way to the assault. Nine Zero fighters strafed the Bathurst Island runway where a transport aircraft was parked and hit the radio hut where Father McGrath was broadcasting a warning in the process. Darwin and its harbour were bombed repeatedly, killing 235 people.

On the way back to the carriers following the raid, one of the Zero fighters was experiencing engine trouble after being hit by the anti-aircraft fire sent up by the defenders. Its pilot, Hajime Toyoshima, crash landed on Melville Island.

Surviving the impact, he was later captured by local hunter Matthias Ulungura, who used his tomahawk to simulate a rifle muzzle. He removed Toyoshima’s pistol from its holster and handed him over to military personnel on Bathurst Island.

Toyoshima later died as one of the leaders in the famous break out from the Cowra prisoner of war camp in NSW.

This is one example of the war effort engaged in by Tiwi Islanders. Other Japanese were also captured by the local people, many Islanders served in the Navy and as Coastwatchers and the islands were home to an airstrip and a radar station.

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Matthias Ulungara as a young man. (Public domain)
Matthias Ulungura, 1942. (NTAS, Brother John Pye, NTRS 1812, Item 40.)