House debates

Monday, 31 October 2011

Private Members' Business

Bombing of Darwin

8:12 pm

Photo of Natasha GriggsNatasha Griggs (Solomon, Country Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

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.

Photo of John MurphyJohn Murphy (Reid, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the motion seconded?

Photo of Teresa GambaroTeresa Gambaro (Brisbane, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Citizenship and Settlement) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion.

8:27 pm

Photo of Sid SidebottomSid Sidebottom (Braddon, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Solomon for raising this very interesting topic and for the recognition that she wishes to give through her motion to the events in Darwin on 19 February 1942. When war began in 1939, Darwin was a small Northern Territory town. By 1941, things had changed and Darwin was a potential target. By 7 December 1941, with the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the invasion of Malaya, the falling of Guam and, of course, the bombing of Singapore, it became an even more strategic target. By late February, Port Darwin was an important staging point for ship convoys and aircraft on their way to the fighting in the north-west. It was particularly crowded on 19 February 1942. As the member for Solomon pointed out, it was the first enemy attack on Australian soil in the history of the Commonwealth of Australia. In December 1941, with events escalating in the region, women and children were evacuated from Darwin, leaving a civilian population of approximately 2,500. I note that little thought seems to have been given to evacuation of the rather large Aboriginal population at that time.

The bombing of Darwin commenced on 19 February 1942 at approximately 10 am. A missionary on Bathurst Island, Dr John McGrath—and possibly coastwatchers on, for instance, Melville Island—attempted to report a large number of aircraft heading towards Darwin, but his warning was discounted by the RAAF as a result of the mistaken belief that the aircraft were returning US P40 Kittyhawks. As a result of this mistake, the residents of Darwin received almost no warning of the first attack. Between 19 February 1942 and 12 November 1943 there were some 64 air raids on Darwin. There were two waves of aircraft on 19 February 1942. The first wave consisted of some 188 Japanese aircraft that were launched from four aircraft carriers in the Timor Sea. It is interesting to note that those four carriers were subsequently sunk in the Battle of Midway in June 1942. This was the same carrier force which had been responsible for the attack on Pearl Harbor, which was led by Mitsuo Fuchida, of Tora! Tora! Tora! fame, who I understand lived until 1976. The bombing commenced just before 10 am and finished at approximately 10.30.

Darwin at the time was the base of the 7th Military District of Australia. The Larrakeyah Barracks contained men of the 23rd Australian Infantry Brigade. There were also two Australian infantry anti-aircraft batteries and the important Royal Australian Navy base in Darwin, including a floating dock. The RAAF was represented at a base built in 1940 that was eight kilometres south of Darwin. I understand that, at that time, a radar station at Dripstone Caves outside Darwin was not yet operational. However, this newly invented aid was eventually of great help in forestalling subsequent attacks on Darwin itself.

There were 10 US Kittyhawks from the US 33rd Pursuit Squadron that attempted to intercept the Japanese bombers. Unfortunately, all but one of them were shot down before they were able to engage the Japanese bombers. Four US pilots were killed and only one Japanese Zero was downed by the defence force that was left—an anti-aircraft battery. The second wave consisted of 54 bombers, which bombed the RAAF base just before noon. This raid lasted approximately 20 minutes. The Japanese lost between five and eight aircraft in this raid.

It is estimated that the Japanese lost between five and 10 aircraft in the raids and, of course, Australian losses were much higher. There were some 97 air attacks on Northern Australia during World War II. The first prisoner of war to be captured on Australian soil was, Sergeant Hajime Toyoshima, a Japanese Zero pilot who was detained by a Tiwi Aboriginal.

The claim that there were more bombs dropped on Darwin than on Pearl Harbor is made by Peter Grose in his book An Awkward Truth. The claim is plausible but, unfortunately, I have been unable to find an official source or sources to verify it. Eight ships were sunk in Darwin Harbour and 15 were damaged. Two merchant ships were sunk near Bathurst Island, just north of Darwin, and at least 243 people were killed. The Northern Territory News records that 'one of the first bombs severed the wharf from its shore approaches and killed 22 waterside workers'. Nine post office workers were killed after a direct hit on the trench they were sheltering in. Approximately 17 people were killed on merchant ships at Bathurst Island. Twelve people were killed aboard the hospital ship Manunda. The largest loss of life occurred aboard the USS Peary, with 91 of her 144 crew lost as a result of the bombing. Another 15 died on a the William B Preston and 320 people received hospital treatment for wounds. The wharf was badly damaged and the police station, police barracks, post office and administrator's office were all destroyed.

News of the raid on Darwin was given to the public by Prime Minister John Curtin, who at the time was in hospital suffering from exhaustion. Prime Minister Curtin's statement was brief and contained no details of the strength of the attack or the number of casualties. On 20 February, Arthur Drakeford, the Minister for Air, issued a statement that 15 people had been killed and 24 hurt. The statement also said several ships had been hit and no vital installations had been destroyed. The next day the casualty figures were revised upwards to 19 killed—nothing like the number that were killed or, indeed, the damage that occurred. Given that communications from Darwin had been totally cut for some hours after the raids, it is possible that these statements were made without access to the facts. But it is also true that in wartime the authorities will sometimes suppress information which would cause panic or have a negative impact on morale—understandably.

Peter Grose said that he found no specific censorship of the Darwin raids during his research for his book An Awkward Truth. The official figure of 243 dead was the figure arrived at by Justice Lowe in his then secret commission to the Curtin government. His report, called Bombing of Darwin, was commissioned by the government in early March 1942 and the initial report was delivered by 27 March.

Most subsequent commentators have agreed that Justice Lowe's figure of 243 dead was probably too low. Grose put the figure at 297 and reported the view of other commentators that the number might be higher again. The exact figures, as we understand, are difficult to arrive at because, at the time of the raid, the tide was running out to sea and, as a result, some bodies were never recovered. Peter Grose discounts the much higher numbers such as 1,000 on the grounds that large numbers of missing persons were not identified and, if the number of dead was so much higher than the official version, who were they?

Whatever the figure, the actual suffering and damage was real and significant. By mid-afternoon on 19 February 1942, large numbers of residents, fearing a Japanese invasion, were fleeing Darwin. The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History records that 'allegations of mass panic were exaggerated, but probably at least half of the civilians living in Darwin at the time of the bombing fled'. Darwin's population had already been halved by the evacuation of most of its women and children in the months since Japan entered the war. 'Breakdowns in discipline resulted in many Air Force men joining the exodus and in soldiers, including military police, looting the town'. The exodus from Darwin was popularly known as the 'Adelaide River stakes', located some 120 kilometres to the south. It is further recorded that government concerns about the impact of the bombings upon Australian morale resulted in them underreporting the casualties and the effects of the attacks. The assertions which I have just mentioned are controversial for some and are contested.

On a personal level, I would like to raise an incident that occurred on 19 February 1942 in relation to Royal Australian Navy Leading Cook Francis Bassett 'Dick' Emms. John Bradford in his book In the Highest Traditionsdetails RAN heroism in the raid on Darwin by Japanese aircraft in February 1942. He cites a letter written by the Lieutenant Commander Alex Fowler, CO of the boom defence squadron in Darwin in 1942. Darwin Harbour was protected during World War II by the world's longest antisubmarine boom, operated by a total of seven boom defence vessels. One of these, HMAS Kara Kara, was anchored as a gate ship. Alex Fowler wrote about Dick Emms:

His has been a shining example of the courage that must be shown by all if we are to beat this determined enemy.

These words are contained in a moving letter written to the widow of the sailor who had been mortally wounded in the stomach and back while defending his ship HMAS Kara Kara against waves of Japanese fighter planes during the murderous raid on Darwin in February 1942. Later Lieutenant Commander Fowler wrote a citation in support of this brave sailor, Leading Cook Francis Bassett Emms, who received a posthumous award for his valour and selfless sacrifice. Fowler wrote:

For courage and devotion to duty in action. While seriously wounded, he continued to fire his machine gun on HMAS Kara Kara during a continuous machine gun attack by enemy aircraft, thereby probably saving the ship and many of the ship's company. He eventually succumbed to his injuries.

In September 1942, Emms's gallantry was recognised by the award of a posthumous mention in dispatches. His story of bravery is little known, unlike that of his fellow Tasmanian, Ordinary Seaman Teddy Sheean, whom I have spoken about many times in this House. Author and naval historian John Bradford tried to correct this neglect and wrote an article for a local newspaper titled 'Northern Tasmania's unsung naval hero'. Strangely and sadly it was not published then.

Dick Emms was proudly Tasmanian. He was born in Launceston in November 1909, and he joined the RAN in March 1928. He served on the cruiser HMAS Canberra. Later, in 1935, he was one of crew of the HMAS Sydney when she sailed from England to Australia and was diverted to the Mediterranean and the Suez Canal because of the Abyssinian crisis. Emms's eyesight unaccountably deteriorated while he was in the Suez Canal, so much so that he faced permanent shore posting once his ship docked in Sydney in August 1936. But Emms was a sailor through and through and loved the sea. He retrained as a cook to ensure he could continue to go to sea. Emms's love of the sea, the Navy and his country eventually claimed his life. He died defending his ship, his mates and his country. His extraordinary valour earned him a posthumous mention in dispatches.

Interestingly enough, the story of Dick Emms is very similar to that of Teddy Sheean and very much the same as that of Jack Mantle of the Royal Navy who died in 1940 doing something very similar—that is, defending his ship and his mates. He was rightly rightfully awarded a Victoria Cross. Teddy Sheean was not awarded a Victoria Cross but was mentioned in dispatches. Dick Emms was not awarded a Victoria Cross and was mentioned in dispatches. As has been mentioned before: despite celebrating the centenary of the Royal Australian Navy, not one single person in the Royal Australian Navy has ever been awarded the Victoria Cross. Dick Emms now joins 13 others, along with Teddy Sheean, to have that recognised and, hopefully through the review, formally recognised. (Time expired)

8:42 pm

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It was the day war came to Australia—frighteningly so—without warning, without mercy. Thursday, 19 February 1942 was a day of infamy, an event which in many ways stripped Australia of its innocence. Previously war had been half a world away, or at least only in our backyard. Now it was at the front door and forcing its way in uninvited. No-one likes unannounced, unwelcome visitors and this was especially horrific for the people of Darwin so soon after the devastation of Japan's bombing of Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. Indeed, this was Australia's own Pearl Harbor.

Darwin was then, as it is now, a significant port and an integral asset in Australia's defences, especially so prior to and during World War II against an increasingly aggressive Japanese empire. Much attention was paid to ensuring Darwin was battle ready, if the day ever came when it would be tested. Its port and airfield facilities were developed, coastal defence batteries built and garrison steadily enlarged. The outbreak of war in the Pacific resulted in the rapid enlargement of Darwin's military presence and it was used as a base from which to deploy forces for the defence of the Dutch East Indies.

In January and February 1942 these forces were swamped by Japanese landings, usually preceded by heavy air bombardments. On 19 February Darwin itself was the target. At about 9.15 am that day the invading Japanese force was spotted by an Australian coastwatcher on Melville Island and soon after by Catholic priest Father John McGrath, who was conducting missionary work on Bathurst Island. Father McGrath relayed a message:

An unusually large air formation bearing down on us from the northwest.

Both warnings were received at least twice by radio at Darwin, no later than 9.37 am, yet the Australian duty officer unfortunately and wrongly assumed these reports were referring to returning United States fighters and their B17 escort. No action was taken and, as at Pearl Harbor only two months earlier, Darwin's last-minute opportunity to make hasty preparations for the impending raid disappeared. At precisely 9.58 am the first attack took place. Japanese fighters and bombers made two sustained attacks on the port and shipping in the harbour during the day, with the official death toll listed as 252 Allied service personnel and civilians. On 3 March, Broome in Western Australia was strafed. In the months to follow, air attacks were made on many towns in northern Australia, including Wyndham, Port Hedland and Derby in Western Australia; Darwin and Katherine in the Northern Territory; Townsville and Mossman in Queensland; and Horn Island in the Torres Strait.

There were widespread fears these raids were a precursor to an all-out invasion. Considerable damage was caused and the raids also tied up anti-aircraft defences and Air Force units which would have otherwise been sent to more forward areas.

The Japanese air raids on Darwin on 19 February involved, all up, more than 240 enemy aircraft. It was, therefore, a considerable show of might which had taken careful and deliberate planning by the Japanese. Subsequent raids in April, June, July and November 1942, and March 1943 were undertaken with forces of 30 to 40 fighters and bombers. Smaller operations were also carried out by groups of fewer than a dozen Japanese aircraft. Most raids took place in daylight but there were some night attacks. The 64th, and last, air raid on Darwin occurred on 12 November 1943.

In total there were 97 air attacks on northern Australia and enemy air reconnaissance over the region continued through much of 1944. The immediate response in the hours following the air raids on 19 February was for Darwin's population to evacuate. Many headed for Adelaide River and the train south. About half Darwin's civilian population ultimately fled.

Today, we can only imagine the fear in the hearts of all those in Darwin and the panic, especially after what had happened just 10 weeks earlier at Pearl Harbor. The two attacks on Darwin were planned and led by the commander responsible for the attack on Pearl Harbor and involved 54 land-based bombers and about 188 attack aircraft launched from four Japanese aircraft carriers in the Timor Sea. In the initial attack, heavy bombers pattern bombed the harbour and town. Dive bombers escorted by Zero fighters then attacked shipping in the harbour, the military and civil aerodromes and the hospital at Berrimah. The attack lasted 40 frightening minutes.

The second burst, an hour later, involved high altitude bombing of the Royal Australian Air Force base at Parap for 20 to 25 minutes. As well as the tragic loss of life, 20 military aircraft were destroyed, eight ships at anchor in the harbour were sunk, and most civil and military facilities in Darwin were destroyed.

The Japanese were preparing to invade Timor and hoped a disruptive air attack would hinder Darwin's potential as a base from which the Allies could launch a counter-offensive while at the same time hurting Australian morale. These were indeed dark days for the Allies. Singapore had fallen just four days before Darwin was bombed.

Australia's government was petrified what the dual effect the fall of Singapore and the attack on Darwin would have on the national psyche and announced that only 17 people had been killed as a result of the Darwin bombing.

The air attacks on Darwin continued until November 1943, by which time the Japanese had peppered Darwin 64 times. The Japanese air raids on Darwin on 19 February were the largest attacks ever mounted by a foreign country against Australia. They were also a significant action in the Pacific campaign of World War II and represented a severe psychological blow to the Australian population, several weeks after hostilities with Japan had begun.

This event is often called the Pearl Harbor of Australia. Although Darwin was a less significant military target, it is said that a greater number of bombs were dropped there than were used in the attack on Pearl Harbor. As was the case at Pearl Harbor, the Australian town was unprepared, and although it came under attack from the air many more times in 1942 and 1943, the raids on 19 February were massive and deadly by comparison. At the time of the attack, Darwin had a population of about 2,000, the normal civilian population of about 5,000 having been reduced by evacuation. There were about 15,000 allied soldiers in the area.

Most of the attacking planes came from the four aircraft carriers of the Imperial Japanese Navy's Carrier Division 1 and Carrier Division 2. Land-based heavy bombers also participated. The Japanese launched two waves of planes, comprising 242 bombers and fighters. The 14th Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery was stationed in Darwin at the time with its guns positioned at a number of strategic locations, including overlooking the harbour.

The only modern fighters at Darwin were 12 USAAF P-40E Warhawks of the Far East Air Force's 33rd Pursuit Squadron (Provisional), which had arrived four days earlier, having been diverted to cover a convoy which left Darwin before its arrival. There were also a few lightly armed or obsolete training aircraft—five unserviceable Wirraways—and six Hudson patrol aircraft belonging to the RAAF.

The first wave of 188 Japanese planes, led by naval Commander Mitsuo Fuchida, took off at 8.45 am. A USN Catalina aircraft near Bathurst Island was targeted by nine of the Zero fighters, and the plane caught fire although it bravely defended itself. Its pilot, Lieutenant Thomas Moorer, managed to crash land upon the sea and the crew were picked up by a passing freighter, the Florence D. Lieutenant Moorer later became Chief of Naval Operations and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

A total of 81 Nakajima B5N 'Kate' torpedo bombers then went for shipping—at least 45 vessels—in the harbour, while 71 Aichi D3A 'Val' dive-bombers, escorted by 36 Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter planes attacked RAAF bases, civil airfields and a hospital. Just before midday there was a high altitude attack by land-based bombers concentrated on the Darwin RAAF Airfield: 27 Mitsubishi G3M 'Nell' bombers flew from Ambon and 27 Mitsubishi G4M 'Betty' from Kendari, Sulawesi.

The number of people killed during the 19 February raids has long been a matter of contention. A plaque unveiled in Darwin in 2001 memorialises the total as 292. The plaque indicates that 10 sailors had been killed aboard the USS William B. Preston, whereas another source indicated it could have been as many as 15. Whatever the case, the toll was high—too high. So many brave allied military personnel and civilians were killed on that awful day.

As a member of parliament whose hometown Wagga Wagga is a tri-service city where the Air Force, Army and Navy have a long and strong presence, I commend the member for Solomon for her foresight in calling for national recognition on 19 February each year as Bombing of Darwin Day. She is a passionate advocate for her electorate and I am pleased and proud to sit alongside someone who has stridently pursued a motion which will give national recognition to such an important event.

I note, too, the member for Solomon's advocacy to have the bombing of Darwin included in the proposed national curriculum. Again, I endorse this push. Far better to have Australian schoolchildren learn about how close northern Australia came to being overwhelmed by an aggressive enemy and how desperately we fought to protect ourselves than this claptrap the education minister is ramming down our children's throats to remove 'Before Christ' and 'Anno Domini' from the classroom. Our children do not need Christian cleansing with the removal of BC and AD and nor do they need to be scared by—

Photo of Bruce ScottBruce Scott (Maranoa, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Member for Riverina, use of that word is offensive. I do not want to repeat it; you know what it was. If you could just remove the word—

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I withdraw. I support any move to properly place Australian history in the classroom and the bombing of Darwin was an event which should be taught and needs to be learned. Darwin is a wonderful place. It has just been named one of the best cities in the world to visit in 2012 by the travel guide Lonely Planet. As a place of national historical importance, Darwin is also significant not least because of the fact it was the point at which the greatest threat to our nation's security—(Time expired)

8:52 pm

Photo of Michael DanbyMichael Danby (Melbourne Ports, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

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, 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.

9:02 pm

Photo of Ken WyattKen Wyatt (Hasluck, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to acknowledge the previous speakers and certainly the member for Melbourne Ports for the comments they made in support of this motion. I rise to support the member for Solomon's motion, which calls for 19 February of each year to be gazetted as the 'Bombing of Darwin Day' and be named a day of national significance by the Governor-General.

I have often read with interest the history of Darwin, the war that occurred and the events that followed afterwards. When you trawl through the documents of the National Archives, some of them reveal the essence of thinking and the relationships that prevailed after that event. I read one with interest. It was an Advisory War Council minute issued in Melbourne on 20 January 1942. It was titled, 'Press reports on the bombing of Darwin.' It stated:

The instructions by the Chief Publicity Censor, Department of Information, forbidding publication of sensational reports of enemy operations, unless officially confirmed, were noted.

The addendum stated:

At the meeting of the Advisory War Council on 5 January Mr Hughes referred to reports of the bombing which had recently been published in the press and on press postern in Sydney and Brisbane.

Unauthorised reports of this nature caused needless anxiety, especially to wives and families who had been evacuated from Darwin, and he asked that the Censorship authorities be requested to issue instructions that reports of this nature are not to be published by the press or referred to on press posters, unless they are sanctioned by a responsible authority of the Commonwealth Government.

'When my attention was directed to the dramatised enemy report in the "Sunday Telegraph", Sydney, and the "Truth" Brisbane, of the supposed bombing of Darwin, I immediately (on January 5) issued an interim instruction to Press and Broadcasting Station forbidding publication of sensational reports from enemy sources unless officially confirmed. This has since been simplified, and the current instruction rules (amended).'

That resulted in the suppression of the information in respect of the bombing of Darwin. It is a unique aspect of our history. It is probably the first time not only on our soil but also when military servicemen, servicewomen and civilians living within the township of Darwin were affected by a direct assault from an enemy on Australian soil. But the stories that are remembered and encapsulated reflect the fear, the unexpectedness and the brutality of war.

When I looked at Tora! Tora! Tora!and watched the film Australia, I got an inkling of the impact it must have had on that day—the human shock of a city that was peaceful being absolutely disrupted by a bombing process that had a number of bombs far greater than those of Pearl Harbour. The misery and the sense of pain that would have been felt would be significant.

Next year marks the 70th anniversary of that bombing. I hope that we take this chapter out of our history and that we commemorate it in a way that acknowledges our servicemen and servicewomen and also the civilian population that was caught up in that conflict and that the remembering and the commemoration of those events will acknowledge the important element of our history that is a fabric of the society in which we live.

I support the member for Solomon's call for 19 February of each year to be gazetted as 'Bombing of Darwin Day' and to be named a day of national significance. It gives recognition and commemorates all of those who were affected. It acknowledges it was a phase in our history that, whilst not palatable, was nevertheless a very powerful intervention from an external force. I would hate to see us lose that aspect of our history and for future generations not to know the sequence of those events, the number of lives that were officially recorded as being lost and the damage that was incurred.

The commemoration will hopefully encourage others to scour the National Archives and to have a look at the stories that are human interest stories and a logistical factual tale and story of what happened in Darwin—so it is shared for future generations. Those affected will always be remembered.

9:07 pm

Photo of Alan GriffinAlan Griffin (Bruce, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As former Ministers for Veterans' Affairs, Mr Deputy Speaker Scott, this is an issue we are both aware of as it crossed both of our desks during our time served in that office. In the five minutes that I have, I want to make a couple of comments on some of the issues around the question of how you might commemorate the bombing of Darwin. Frankly, how do we commemorate it? I also want to pick up on a couple of points made by previous speakers.

I congratulate all the speakers for their contributions so far in outlining much of the historical situation around the bombing of Darwin and Northern Australia, the great courage and sacrifice observed by those who were defending these isolated outposts at that time—and they were isolated. In many respects it is a part of our history that not a lot is known about as it was not publicised at the time. It is certainly something that all Australians should be aware of. I note in recent times with the film Australia we had at least that part of our history focused on to a degree and that was a useful thing.

I also want to raise a couple of points. While I congratulate and commend the member for Solomon on most of her motion, but she did make a couple of comments that need to be picked up. One was in relation to the member for Lingiari, the Minister for Veterans' Affairs. She said he had been the minister for three years. That is not the case. He has been the minister for just over 12 months. How soon they forget! Prior to Minister Snowdon, I was the minister responsible in this area for some three years. I had the great privilege of representing the parliament and the government at the bombing of Darwin commemorative events in Darwin, and it was a very special event indeed.

I also make the point—I do not wish to be political, but I cannot help myself sometimes—that for three of the four terms of the Howard government there was a coalition representative for the greater Darwin area. The member for the Northern Territory between 1996 and 1998 and the member for Solomon between 2001 and 2007 was our former colleague, Dave Tollner, now a member of the Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory. I make that point to point out what we do in these circumstances in respect of commemoration. It is not a simple thing, as you would know, Deputy Speaker.

In the past we commemorated two principal events of national commemoration that were given legislative recognition, and this was a position that governments of both political persuasions held over many years. One was Armistice Day and the other was Anzac Day. There was some debate during the time of the Howard government about what might be done to commemorate other events. As the former shadow minister and then Minister for Veterans' Affairs, I note the Labor Party while in opposition agreed to promote two additional particular events, which we believed covered significant aspects of our military history, but which were not directly covered by Armistice Day and Anzac Day. They were Battle for Australia Day—the first Wednesday in September—and Merchant Navy Day. I was very happy to support Merchant Navy Day as the fourth service. It was a service that was not seen or acknowledged in the context of those other days, although it was a very important part of the overall war effort. Battle for Australia Day came out of the ex-service community to acknowledge not only the bombing of Darwin but also the events that threatened our very nation after the fall of Singapore. It encompassed a range of events and engagements—naval, air and army—that involved Australian and Allied forces in defence of our region and our country.

I have always been of the view, and it is consistent with the views of the ex-service community, that that was the best way to proceed. The bombing of Darwin was a very tragic series of events that I believe is covered best by the Battle for Australia, which covers more than one million Australians who served our country during that time of war.

Debate adjourned.