House debates

Thursday, 9 March 2023

Constituency Statements

Bombing of Darwin

10:32 am

Photo of Luke GoslingLuke Gosling (Solomon, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

When war came to Darwin skies 81 years ago a city's fate rested in the hands of a few patriots. They were outgunned, the enemy was overhead and reinforcements were far away. With nothing but their arms to save the innocent from terror raining down, their anti-aircraft guns and rifles fired back at hundreds of screeching Japanese aircraft that were strafing and bombing them, the port and civilians. As well as killing an estimated 236 people and reducing buildings in Darwin to rubble, this first of 90 air raids on our homeland during the Pacific war left an indelible mark on our nation's psyche. The attack was designed to make us feel strategically isolated and cut off from our allies, but it backfired.

While on an extended visit to the Northern Territory to tour our defence facilities, Assistant Minister for Defence Matt Thistlethwaite reflected on the bombing at the Adelaide River war cemetery on 20 February. The assistant minister, the member for Kingsford Smith, remarked that this may have been the first time that our flag was fired upon on home soil. He said:

The flag was torn and stained and slashed by shrapnel, but the symbol it represented remained unscathed.

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Torn and stained and slashed by shrapnel, we endured that first attack, and would endure the others that followed.

By bringing the war to Australia's north and constraining our strategic options, the bombing taught us the hard-earned lessons that we needed to be able to secure our sovereignty independently, that we needed more allies and that we needed to be able to keep our adversaries at bay. It kindled a realisation in our people that our salvation would not be secured by Britain, whose forces had fallen in Singapore weeks earlier, but by our own defence policy.

The Darwin raid also reshaped modern Australia by forging our enduring alliance with America after a US destroyer, the USS Peary, was sunk in the attack. As a sovereign state, Australia's highest priority must always be to deter and defeat armed attack on our territory. The bombing of Darwin reminds us of the high cost of failure and why we must work tirelessly to grow our Defence Force and work with our allies to learn from the lessons of our darkest hour.