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Monday, 31 October 2011
Page: 12123


Mr DANBY (Melbourne Ports) (20:52): On that sunny morning on 19 February, the first of two air raids began on Darwin when, as the previous speaker said, 188 aircraft were sighted at Bathurst and Melville Island near Darwin. A missionary, as the member for Braddon said, attempted to report the large number of aircraft heading towards Darwin, but his warning was discounted, as we remember from that great film Tora! Tora!Tora!, because command headquarters thought he had mistakenly identified returning US aircraft. In fact, they were Japanese bombers. They began bombing the minesweeper HMAS Gunbar in Darwin Harbour. What followed were the largest attacks against Australia by a foreign power.

As the member for Solomon noted, the attacks on Darwin on 19 February 1942 have often been called the 'Pearl Harbour of Australia' It is quite appropriate, as the member for Braddon suggested, given it was led by the commander responsible for the attack on Pearl Harbour and four of the six Japanese carriers that bombed there. Interestingly, the first POW captured on Australian soil was a Zero pilot shot down over Darwin and captured by a Tiwi Islander.

Since the 1930s Darwin had been considered a vital asset to Australia's defence, containing port and airfield facilities, coastal defence batteries and anti-aircraft guns and garrisons of troops. It was a key port for allied ships—there were some 15,000 allied soldiers in Darwin at the time of the attack—and contained a substantial anti-submarine boom net across the harbour. It remains a key strategic asset of Australia and reinforces the foresight of the former minister for defence and now ambassador to Washington, Kim Beazley, that he reorientated the national defence of Australia to the north. So we have very extensive assets of all kinds facing north, as they should, and should have since those days.

The first air raid lasted 40 minutes, as has been said. It targeted everything, including aerodromes, hospitals and ships—243 people were killed, 400 were wounded, 20 aircraft were destroyed, eight ships in the harbour were sunk and the majority of military facilities in Darwin were destroyed. The attacks on Darwin were the first enemy attack on Australian soil, but they were not the last. Our experience of war up until then had been far from our shores. People in Australia forget that, following the air raids on Darwin, subsequent bombings on Townsville, Katherine, Wyndham, Derby, Broome and Port Hedland brought the war closer and closer to home. People also do not remember that many of our brave Australian merchant seamen were sunk in the 300 coastal ships sunk by Japanese and German submarines all around the coast of Australia.

I would like to read a section from a booklet prepared for the Australian War Memorial called Soldering On: the Australian Army at Home and Overseas:

So Suddenly did the Japanese air fleet appear that Darwin was completely surprised. The alarm on the main battery position near the heart of Darwin brought gunners rushing to their guns—some half clothed, others naked from their showers and quarters … The town was ringed and marked by flashes as the anti-aircraft guns opened fire on the droning bombers. The whistle of the falling bombs reached a shrill crescendo culminating in a terrific blast, as they fell among buildings along the foreshore of Darwin. Wreckage was thrown skywards, walls tumbled in and dust and smoke rose from the devastated area. For the first time bombs had fallen on Australian soil. For the first time Australians had been killed in their own homes by an act of war. War had at last really come to Australia.

In the following day and months, Australian troops toiled beside our American allies to push back Japanese bomber attacks on Darwin. As Soldering On continues:

… the militia anti-aircraft gunners stood to their guns, and crews which had never done a shoot with full charge ammunition before got away as many as 100 rounds in the crowded 50 minutes of the first raid. The bravery and devotion to duty of those gunners has become legend. All around the harbour men fought back at the enemy with their light automatic machine-guns.

In the defence of Darwin we can see the true spirit of the ANZAC and the subsequent ANZUS alliance with our allies the United States, which was signed in 1951.

There was a silly ideological controversy a few years ago that suggested that the Battle of the Coral Sea and the American involvement in trying to prevent Japanese interdiction of supplies to Australia was unimportant, that this was an ideological construct in order to reinforce the American alliance. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you speak, as I did, to Sir Zelman Cowen, who was a young naval lieutenant working in Darwin in naval intelligence, he will tell you exactly how people felt about the oncoming approach of the Japanese. The decision of Prime Minister Curtin, Prime Minister Churchill and President Roosevelt to bring American troops to Australia while that 9th Division stayed in the Middle East was one of those key events during the Second World War that protected the security of Australia.

The date of 19 February was a significant moment in our country's history. As many speakers have said, never before had Australia been attacked on home soil. The fact that information of that day's events was not known for many years is a blight on our history. The attacks on Darwin should not be forgotten, and it is a very good idea that that day become an annual memorial.

To the brave men and women who served in our nation's uniform, to our allied brothers who fought against the attack, to those who lost their lives, sacrificing themselves for our war effort, and to those who helped the wounded and defended the Top End, we remember and thank you. Your sacrifices were not for nothing. Australia would not be the vibrant democracy it is today if it was not for the service men and women who fought and those who continue to fight in Australia's uniform. We pay tribute to all those who have served and who continue to serve in our armed forces—as we do to the three blokes who were murdered by some Taliban coward in Afghanistan in the last few days. We thank them for their sacrifice, knowing that we live in a free, democratic society because of them.

My mate Bob Larkin, the President of Caulfield RSL said in his Anzac Day speech:

Our forefathers saw what was happening in the rest of the world and came back determined that it would never happen here, perhaps unconsciously they put into place attitudes that give us a different slant on life.

…   …   …

It is all part of the Anzac spirit, looking after and supporting your mates regardless of where they came from, rejoicing in the fact that they, like you consider themselves Australian.

…   …   …

For want of a better word, we called it the Anzac spirit, and when you feel it more than once in your life, as I am sure you will, take 30 seconds to remember the fallen and those who built the legend, the legacy they have left us, and the pride that you too are one with them, because you are an Australian.

That conflict in Darwin and the first attack on our soil should form part of that consciousness that we all have, going forward. I am sure the gentlemen and women charged with the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of Gallipoli will see that those events are properly commemorated and I look forward to them being run as competently by Air Marshal Houston and friends of mine like the former Minister for Veterans Affairs Mr Sciacca over the next few years.

I know from my own neck of the woods we have a very strong link to the events of Darwin—the block of flats on Queens Road, Monterey, where all allied naval intelligence was based. The tram drivers used to know it; it was not a big secret. But all the intercepts that led to the victory of the Battle of Midway—where those four carriers that attacked Darwin were sunk—were developed, and very proudly for me, at the Monterey block of flats. Similarly, in Port Melbourne, in October 1914, the first ships left for Anzac. I hope that when that important committee charged with the commemoration of the events of Gallipoli begins its tasks, it will remember to have a suitable event to commemorate the place you see pictured in all RSLs around the country, from which all the Australian diggers left in the First World War: Port Melbourne and the stone cairn from where the battalions marched onto their ships. I commend the member for Solomon for this motion seeking to place the battle of Darwin, the bombing of Darwin, in its correct place in Australian history. I hope that, like the events of Gallipoli, it will be properly remembered by generations to come.