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Tuesday, 13 March 2012
Page: 2754

Ms O'DWYER (Higgins) (19:07): I also rise to commemorate the bombing of Broome during World War II. I know this motion is very dear to the member for Durack, Mr Barry Haase, as the member who represents this electorate. During the war, the men and women of Australia had comforted themselves with the fact that our geography as an island nation was one of the keys to our security. An attack on mainland Australia by foreign powers at this time was unthinkable. Yet all this changed on 19 February 1942 when 242 Japanese aircraft launched an attack on Darwin. I know my friend the member for Solomon, Natasha Griggs, has spoken before in this place about that bombing.

Darwin was a strategic and significant Allies base in efforts to combat Japanese aggression in Ambon, Timor and Java. With two airfields and a harbour, it was home to the Royal Australian Army, Air Force and Navy with five destroyers, an aircraft carrier and more than 25 aircraft. In this attack at least 292 people were killed and more than 300 people injured, although there is some dispute as to whether the numbers of dead and wounded are significantly higher than this. This was the start of more than 60 attacks on the north-west of Australia by the Japanese. Today we commemorate in particular the bombing of Broome, which was bombed four times between March 1942 and August 1943, first on 3 March 1942 and subsequently on 20 March 1942, 27 August 1942 and, finally ,on 16 August 1943.

At the time it was bombed, Broome was being used to shelter Dutch civilians fleeing from Java as the Japanese descended from the north. The close proximity, active airport and sheltered harbour made it a logical choice for civilians and personnel and, at its peak, it played host to more than 7,000 or up to 8,000 such evacuees. As such, when the first bombing occurred on 3 March 1942, it posed a serious humanitarian as well as military predicament. Although Broome housed all of the infrastructure requirements essential to accept the humanitarian intake, it lacked the military requirements to defend itself sufficiently from attack. Because of this, it did not take much for the Japanese to inflict heavy casualties with an air assault of 12 aircraft. At the time, there were 16 US, Australian and Dutch flying boats stationed in Broome Harbour. Due to the composition of the harbour, only three of those could moor at any one time. The rest were forced to wait outside of the harbour. This does not mean, though, that we did not have any defence. One of the very celebrated stories of the bombing of Broome is of a Dutch pilot, Gus Winckel, who brought down a Japanese aircraft with a hand-held machine gun. Another aircraft was also dispatched; it ditched at sea off the coast of Rotty Island. During the attack, a number of Allied aircraft were destroyed, including many passenger aircraft. It is estimated that approximately 70 people died in the bombing, including 32 on board the one US Liberator bomber as it attempted to take off and including many women and children.

One can only imagine the horrors that must have been witnessed on that day—fear and terror on an unimaginable scale. Following the attack, RAAF Pilot Officer Frank Russell, who had been on one of the flying boats during the raids, wrote of the attack:

...a scene of ghastly devastation. Our flying boats all over the place were sending up huge clouds of black smoke. Burning petrol in sinister patches floated all over the sea … All around us there fell a ceaseless stream of tracer bullets. Several of the Dutch Dorniers had been full of women and kids, waiting to take off to safety.

We can only hope and pray that these events are never replicated on our shores again. Of the remaining three attacks launched by the Japanese on Broome, only the second resulted in further casualties, with one person being killed. The rest of the attacks damaged infrastructure, such as the airfield.

Today we honour those who were tragically killed—men, women and children who were brutally taken as they went about their daily lives. We honour those defence personnel who sought to defend us against aggression, who gave their lives so that we may live in a free and democratic country. We honour those who saved lives on that day and who rebuilt the city in the days and weeks following. We also honour the fighting spirit that today still beats strongly in the Australian men and women who serve in our defence forces. We remember—lest we forget.