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Thursday, 1 March 2012
Page: 2513


Ms GILLARD (LalorPrime Minister) (14:00): Two weeks ago the Leader of the Opposition and I joined the Governor-General in the Northern Territory to mark the 70th Anniversary of the Bombing of Darwin. The member for Solomon, amongst others, was there. The member for Lingiari was also there with me. This was the first time this anniversary had been observed as a national day of commemoration. In my remarks on that day I noted that the events of that day began a series of raids across Northern Australia, which lasted almost two years. One of the saddest and most destructive of those raids was in Broome on 3 March 1942, a day when that very quiet coastal outpost joined the front lines of a global war. I know the member for Robertson has been a forceful advocate for ensuring that this story is told. I also thank the Special Minister of State, who will be representing me at the ceremonies in Broome this coming Sunday.

The circumstances in Broome that summer were tragic and unusual. A large number of Dutch citizens had fled from the Netherlands East Indies, now of course Indonesia, to the safety of Australia as the Japanese advanced. Many of them came in flying boats, which stopped to refuel at Broome. When the nine Japanese Zero fighter planes launched a lightening raid on 3 March, a number of those flying boats were in Roebuck Bay for refuelling, where they were sitting ducks for an attack, as was the nearby airfield where six large planes were destroyed.

This attack was horrific. Japanese strafing runs destroyed over 20 aircraft, many of them packed with Dutch women and children as well as with military personnel. An Australian observer described the civilians trapped on one of the flying boats in the following words: 'The faces at the window were contorted with panic, terror-stricken fingers clawing at the glass. Two of the women and one of the children were badly burned. Their clothes flaked and black, their skin cracking and lifting. What a slaughter.' The total number of casualties may never be known but it is estimated that up to 88 people lost their lives that day, including as many as 48 on those flying boats and, among them, 20 believed to be children.

They were our allies and our friends who came to seek shelter but found only death as the war they tried to outrun caught them unawares. For those who survived, many owed their lives to courageous individuals like Charles D'Antoine, a local Indigenous man, who swam through burning fuel and wreckage to rescue two Dutch women and was awarded a Silver Medal for Humane Assistance by the Queen of the Netherlands. It was a day of terror but it was a day of valour too.

The attacks on Northern Australia taught us painfully just how much effort would be required by the whole nation to turn the tide. It is to the lasting credit of our nation that we did that and found the strength and unity of purpose to do so, led by our greatest wartime Prime Minister, John Curtin. It was the battle for Australia when the world-wide war came to our shores and summoned the very best from our nation and our people. From the dark days of Darwin and Broome in 1942 to the days of victory 3½ years later, Australia passed its greatest test, served and sustained by a great generation. They will not be forgotten and they will be remembered this weekend in Broome.