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Monday, 31 October 2011
Page: 12113

Mrs GRIGGS (Solomon) (20:12): by leave—I move notice No. 3, as amended, relating to the bombing of Darwin, in the terms circulated to honourable members:

That this House:

(1) acknowledges 19 February 1942 as the day Darwin was bombed and marks the first time Australia was militarily attacked by enemy forces;

(2) reflects upon the significant loss of life of Australian Defence personnel and civilians during the attacks and casualties of the bombings;

(3) recognises that the attack remained a secret for many years and that even today, many Australians are unaware of the bombing of Darwin and the significant damage and loss of life which resulted;

(4) also recognises the campaign of coordinated bombings against northern Australia involving 97 Japanese attacks from Darwin, to Broome and Wyndham in the west, to Katherine in the south, to Townsville in the east over the period February 1942 to November 1943; and

(5) calls for 19 February of each year to be Gazetted as ‘Bombing of Darwin Day’ and be named a Day of National Significance by the Governor-General.

I rise to speak to my motion, but can I say firstly that I am disappointed that Minister Snowdon, the Minister for Veterans' Affairs, is now playing politics with this motion. Having been in this place on and off since 1987 and also having been the minister for the last three years, he has had ample opportunity to do something about recognising the bombing of Darwin. I have only been here for a little over 12 months and, having listened to my constituents, I have brought this motion to the floor. And despite this motion being tabled for the last five weeks, in my view enough time for the minister to contact me and talk through possible changes, it is disappointing that at the 11th hour Minister Snowdon through his staff proposed amendments which I felt watered down the original intention of my motion.

The tabling of this motion was to fill a commitment to my community and a number of constituents who have asked that this place recognise the bombing of Darwin as a national day of significance and highlight the significant moments surrounding this event. My colleague Senator Scullion has also put on the Notice Paperin the other place a similar motion regarding this event so that both places can acknowledge the significance of the bombing of Darwin. Since coming to this place I have spoken a number of times on the bombing of Darwin. I have tried to raise awareness of the events commencing with the bombing of Darwin in 1942 and sought for the history of these events to be included in the national curriculum. On 20 June this year, when speaking on the Veterans' Entitlements Amendment Bill 2011 in this very House, I asked the government to appropriately acknowledge the bombing of Darwin as an event of national significance and, in addition, to ensure funding be provided for the commemorations of this very important event. The significance of this event and the drive to provide recognition in terms of a day of remembrance are not just a manifestation of a nice push for my office but a representation of the sentiment of constituents within my electorate and the broader Northern Territory.

Darwin is a town which owes much of its rich history to the presence of the military. A tri-military town, Darwin provides a home to personnel representing the Navy, Army and Air Force arms of our military. Pride is a word that comes to mind when discussing the military and military history with people within the Northern Territory in general. Territorians are passionate about who they are and about the history that underpins the Territory's development. This pride includes the ongoing presence of the military and how it is interwoven within the fabric that is the Northern Territory.

The 19th of February is a significant date which has for many years been on the books for inclusion in the Territory's calendar of important events. As an example, each year the Darwin City Council coordinates an annual commemorative service at the Darwin Cenotaph with proceedings commencing at the exact time the very first raid occurred on 19 February 1942. At 9.58 am on 19 February 1942, the true impact of a war which most Australians considered was happening across the other side of the world hit Australia. Darwin, the most northern capital city and a place few Australians at the time viewed as strategic, became a battleground—not just a battleground but the first site for an attack on our homeland and sovereignty. On that day, history was set. Our nation witnessed a loss of life which to this day remains one of the largest of any single national event, eclipsed only by the deaths of 645 service personnel on HMAS Sydney in 1941 and the deaths of 1,050 Australians killed in the sinking of the Montevideo Maru, a ship carrying POWs off Rabaul in July 1942.

On that 19th day of February, our nation grew up and changed forever. As a member of the British Empire, our troops, along with troops from other Commonwealth countries, were a world away fighting for survival in other places. It was not our pilots or our combined Commonwealth forces in the skies over Darwin fighting to protect our homeland on this day; it was Americans. The air defences on 19 February 1942 over Darwin remained in the hands of a small number of American Kittyhawk fighters. These brave pilots, half of a flight which had returned to Darwin from an earlier cancelled mission, had remained in the air on guard while half landed to refuel. Within Darwin Harbour an array of ships, merchant and naval, sat at anchor, were moored to wharfs or were under steam moving within the harbour environs. The numbers included the United States naval ships the USS William B. Preston and the USS Peary and the United States army transport ships Meigs and Mauna Loa.

At around 8.45 on the morning of 19 February, the first wave of some 188 aircraft deployed from enemy aircraft carriers 350 km north-west of Darwin. These were the same enemy carriers and ships which constituted the Japanese imperial strike force which attached Pearl Harbour on 7 December 1941, two months earlier. Unlike the surprise attack on Pearl Harbour, the defences of Darwin—as cited in A War at Home: A Comprehensive Guide to the First Japanese Attacks on Darwin, written by Dr Tom Lewis OAM, Director of the Darwin Military Museum and renowned military historian—were well prepared. Eighteen anti-aircraft gun emplacements, many machineguns and the combined weapons of 45 ships were trained on the Darwin skies. As stated by Dr Lewis in a recent media release, around 7,000 defenders in Darwin had much to be proud about. In fact, they had already defeated the first attempt to close off the port the previous month. Four 80-man enemy submarines were repulsed and one of them sunk by the corvette HMAS Deloraine. The I-124 remains outside the harbour today.

At 9.58 am on that February day, the first 188 strike force aircraft commenced a bombing raid over the city of Darwin, followed by the addition of a second flight of some 54 aircraft. At the end of the attack, nine ships, seven within the harbour and two in waters north of the harbour, where on the way to the ocean floor. Almost the entire squadron of 10 Kittyhawk fighters had been destroyed, along with three USN Catalina flying boats, as recorded within allied loss sheets for the period, and numerous other defence and civilian aircraft. Damage across the wider Darwin area was significant, with the administrator's residence, the local police station, the post office and numerous government offices destroyed.

In terms of human loss, soon after the event figures of up to 1,000 people dead were reported. However, the figure of 251 cited by Paul Rosenzweig, in his article 'Darwin 50 years on: a reassessment of the first raid casualties', published in 1995, is the most convincing. Of the 251 lives lost, 89 of these were American servicemen, lost in the bombing and subsequent sinking of the USS Peary. Interestingly, reports through the printed press and via radio to a broader Australian public at the time were considerably reduced in comparison. It was reported on the front page of the Melbourne Herald the day following the attack: '15 killed, 24 hurt in Darwin'. The Sydney Morning Herald reported 'No vital damage to RAAF establishment', with the total number of casualties reported as 'eight killed'. The government of the day chose not to reveal the true situation in Darwin, particularly the strategy behind the Japanese bombing raid and the importance of defending and retaining control of Australia's northern coastline. Following the attack of 19 February, troop numbers in Darwin and across the northern coastline were bolstered. Life in Darwin, thanks to the resilience of the Darwin population and the Aussie spirit, went on as normal. Over the course of 1942 and 1943, Darwin was attacked and bombed a further 64 times. Fortunately, the loss of life remained small. Darwin was not the only site for attacks across the broader region of Australia's northern coast, with bombings occurring in both Wyndham and Broome.

Sadly, the events of World War II, in terms of the bombing of Darwin and the northern coast, have not been remembered with the significance they should. These attacks were not random and the acts of some individual; they were acts of war perpetrated against our Australian homeland; they were strategic attacks by forces wishing to gain an advantage and were willing to kill Australians to effect that purpose. Pearl Harbour only needs to be mentioned for every American and a considerable proportion of the Western world to immediately conjure up images or recognise the magnitude of that one attack in December 1941. Yet, from an Australian perspective, the bombing of Darwin should be no less significant in our minds and our history. The bombing of Darwin is our own Australian Pearl Harbour; it was undertaken by the same Japanese imperial strike force and for the same strategic advantage over enemy forces of the day.

In the past two years—including during my pre-election activities within the Solomon electorate—when meeting with the community, returned service personnel and current serving military personnel, a significant number of people have sought to progress some form of national action designed to afford an opportunity to pay respects of remembrance not just of the events surrounding the bombing of Darwin but also the broader bombing campaign across Australia's northern coastline.

The date of 19 February recognises that very first attack on Australian soil—a day when 10 ships were sunk, numerous defence and civil aircraft were destroyed and there was the loss of 251 lives, including a recorded 89 on the USS Peary. This date signifies the very start of a prolonged bombing campaign, undertaken by an enemy who sought to attack our homeland and sovereignty. In my view, it is the date best suited for a day of remembrance.

I acknowledge Dr Tom Lewis, firstly for his advocacy on this issue but also for his valued texts on the history of Darwin and its significance in terms of Australian history during the Second World War. Much of my speech today is a result of the historical record generated by Dr Lewis. Australian history is not just for the historian. Dr Lewis and a long list of people value the importance of our history and support the premise: history should be recognised, celebrated and, most importantly, remembered by all Australians.

The significance of 19 February is not just for the remembrance of the events of World War II and the events across northern Australia; this date signifies much more. As I stated earlier, this date reflects pride—pride for our military and pride for our history. This date also promotes reflection—reflection for events long passed; reflection on what we could have been if events of those times in World War II had turned out differently. More deeply, this date addresses a need to remember, not specifically events but the loss of valued lives in the service of our country. In a population where a large proportion of our residents are serving military personnel, engaged in support services associated with the military or returned service personnel, remembrance of fallen friends, mates and service men and women from yesterday and today is of vital importance.

The date of 19 February is not just a date in terms of Australian history; it is far more personal to many and far more deeply felt. Not always have we satisfactorily remembered all the theatres of war or conflict in which our service personnel have been engaged. In truth, we as a nation at times have for many and varied reasons failed to adequately recognise some events and have not demonstrated the respect and pride deserved by those who fought. As a result, opportunities to redress the importance of recognition and remembrance are often more deeply felt.

I offer this motion, that the date of 19 February each year be recognised as the bombing of Darwin day: a day when the battle for and defence of our northern Australia coastline and homeland commenced in World War II. I commend the motion to the House.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Murphy ): Is the motion seconded?

Ms Gambaro: I second the motion.