Croker Island Exodus


1941, all white women and children are evacuated from Darwin. Japanese invasion is imminent. On Croker Island in the Arafura Sea, Methodist missionaries are responsible for 95 Aboriginal "half-caste" children. How could they abandon these kids the government has placed in their care?

As Darwin gets bombed the missionaries are forced to move the children off the island themselves. And so they begin their perilous journey.

After borrowing some fuel they are able to sail to Barclay Point and then walk to their first destination is Oenpelli Mission. This is a trek over miles of open savannah and the harsh beautiful stone country of Arnhem Land.

After many days, they meet up with the trucks. But arriving in Pine Creek they find an American army base, no beds just the Butcher’s Paddock. They are forced to stay here until they can board a cattle train en route to their final destination, a Farm in Otford on the outskirts of Sydney.

In 44 days these brave women and their young charges journey across the continent, a truly heroic and untold journey.

But this is also an epic story of human endurance, strength and resilience. After the war, nurse Margaret returned to Croker Island with 69 children and stayed on the mission until 1965 when she returned to Sydney to look after her parents.

The ‘children’ Alice, Netta and Jessie, are in their 80s but their friendships forged on Croker remain strong and feisty. These Aboriginal women still call Margaret, nearly 100 years, ‘sister’. It is their shared stories of love, humour and compassion that are central to this film.

Map showing Croker Island to the north-east of Darwin.



Alice Briston
Netta Cahill
Jessie Lyons
Margaret Somerville - nurse
Eden Thomsen
Release dates
June 2012 - World Premiere at Sydney Film Festival
G - general

When birthdays were required for the children the nuns put numbers for months and days into a hat and let each child draw their birthday.

In 1946, 4 years after their epic journey, the children returned to Croker Island by boat.

When they reached 16 years of age, the girls left the island for domestic service and the boys to work as station hands.

Margaret Somerville wrote the book "They crossed a continent" about her experiences.

Among the children was Bettie Fisher, a girl who sang on radio and TV. She chose her "family" over a possible career in music.

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Cite this page

Korff, J 2018, Croker Island Exodus, <>, retrieved 25 May 2024

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