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Bombing of Darwin Memorial Service

Tags: Tony Piccolo MP / Shadow Ministry

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  • By Light Electoral Office
  • Mar 13, 2019
Bombing of Darwin Memorial Service

 

Speech by Zoe Bettison MP, Member for Ramsay: 

 

  • Thank you for attending today to honour and remember those Australians who lost their lives in the first act of war to be committed on Australian soil by a foreign enemy.
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  • I am honoured to be a patron of the Bombing of Darwin Commemoration Service and I thank the Salisbury RSL for their work in organising this event today.
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  • The 19 February is now officially declared a day of National Remembrance for the 13, 000 volunteer soldiers in Darwin in 1942.
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  • You may be shocked by some of the information that I am going to share with you today.
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  • How many people here would be aware that the events of the 19th of February 1942 were as shocking and calculated as the attack on Pearl Harbor, just weeks before?
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  • This shocking realisation highlights how important today’s event is for raising awareness of this historical event.
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  • 77 years ago today, the city of Darwin experienced more than 683 bombs dropped by 188 Japanese aircraft launched from aircraft carriers and land based bombers in a two hour period.
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  • The soldiers on the ground found themselves unequipped and unprepared for the chaos of war descending upon them.
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  • This unique act of war, the details of which, remained suppressed under the Official Secrets Act for more than 50 years until their release in 1995, is only now getting the attention it deserves in Australia’s history.
  •  
  • We now know that more civilians were killed, more bombs were dropped and more ships were sunk in Darwin – than were lost in the bombing of Pearl Harbour.
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  • We know that the attacks continued over a 21-month period and that Darwin alone was bombed a total of 64 times.
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  • 243 people were reported dead with hundreds wounded, however other sources show more than 1000 people perished or simply disappeared.
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  • How many actually died that day, is something we may never know.
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  • Whilst today is the 77th anniversary of the Bombing of Darwin, it was not only the Northern Territory that experienced the terror of aerial attack.
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  • Towns across the Northern Territory, Queensland and Western Australia came under attack throughout the remainder of 1942 and 1943.
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  • Drysdale, Katherine, Millingimbi, Port Paterson, Broome, Derby, Exmouth Gulf, Onslow, Port Hedland, Wyndham,
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  • Mossman, Townsville and Horn Island all came under enemy fire.
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  • In this modern age of social media and twenty-four hour news, it is truly amazing that a military attack of this magnitude on Australian soil by a foreign power during WW2 was able to be so effectively silenced.
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  • To be fair to the government of the day, national security guidelines at the time dictated that the scale and severity of the attacks were not publicised.
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  • And wartime censorship ensured that the soldiers, sailors and airmen were ordered not to talk about the events in Darwin during WW2 and these stories were rarely, if ever, told afterwards.
  •  
  • However the sheer unpreparedness for battle may also have provided some embarrassment for the Government and military at the time.
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  • Despite evacuating all but 2000 civilians in the two months before the air raids, Darwin was not ready for the attack.
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  • Allen Heckenberg, a 19-year-old ammunition loader on a three-inch anti-aircraft gun overlooking Darwin Harbour recalled:
  • "We didn't take much notice until they started dropping bombs - We raced to the gun but it took a while to get used to it because we hadn't even fired any practice rounds."
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  • The reality is that Darwin was completely exposed and the few anti-aircraft guns scattered around were unable to cope with such a high-scale aerial attack.
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  • One fascinating document held by the Northern Territory Library and available to read online is the Rough Diary of T.J. Burstow - an Air Raid Protection Warden based in Darwin at the time of the attack.
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  • The diary commences on 19th February 1942 with entries up to March 26th 1942 and describes firsthand the bombing of Darwin by the Japanese
  • He writes:

The bombs fell approximately as outlined hereunder:

Shipping and wharf - 33

Boom yard and post office – 22

Hospital – 8

Aerodromes – 87

  • As well he notes details about infrastructure damage and estimated casualties:
  • Darwin Jetty – destroyed
  • Casualties were very high- Killed 20; Missing 20; Wounded 30
  • Darwin Hospital – suffered both from bombing and machine gunning. In view of the battering it received the damage was slight.Casualties were very light and no persons were killed.
  • Several houses in the vicinity of the hospital were completely destroyed either by blast or fragmentation.
  •  
  • The national significance of the Burstow Diary was recognised on 14 May 2013, when it was officially accepted into the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Australian Memory of the World registry.
  •  
  • The registry recognises, preserves and disseminates information about significant documentary heritage items in Australian institutions.
  •  
  • The diary is recognised alongside such items as the Mabo case manuscripts and the Endeavour journal by James Cook.
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  • It is one piece of the puzzle that helps us understand what happened during the Bombing of Darwin.
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  • I would also like to take this opportunity to recognise the efforts of the strong women who supported our soldiers and worked to keep our country safe.
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  • With the entry of Japan into the war, the Australian Army Nursing Service brought the nurses serving in the Middle East home to prepare for the increasingly likely attack on Darwin.
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  • The scene was one of devastation and chaos as patients flooded into the wards, many with severe burns.
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  • One of the ships struck was the hospital ship HMAS Manunda which resulted in multiple deaths, including Sister Margaret De Mestre.
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  • She was the first Australian Imperial Force nurse killed in action on Australian soil and the first to lose her life in the Second World War.
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  • Despite taking a direct hit, the Manunda remained afloat and the nurses on board continued to treat causalities from nearby ships.
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  • Apart from Army nurses, less than 70 women remained in Darwin, including secretaries, nurses, telephonists, court stenographers, maids, the family of the Postmaster, and Hilda Abbott, the wife of the Government Administrator.
  •  
  • They included European, Chinese and Aboriginal women and at least seven lost their lives during the air raids of 19 February 1942, six of them at the Darwin Post Office – including the Postmaster’s wife and daughter – and an Aboriginal, Daisy Martin, at Government House.
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  • Many women stayed on in the Territory, at stations and in townships south of Mataranka. Others tried to stay, including Fanny Haynes, the owner of the Federation Hotel at Brocks Creek, who was forcibly removed.
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  • At Tennant Creek the ladies of the Country Women’s Association gained the respect of literally hundreds of thousands of young troops as they handed out tea and cakes to the convoys passing through.
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  • In December 2019, South Australia will be commemorating the 125th anniversary of women’s suffrage. Gaining the vote was a huge step towards gender equality in South Australia.
  •  
  • We can recognise the women who were not often recognised for their contributions and offer thanks to those women who gave their lives serving our country.
  • South Australia has a unique connection to the attacks on the Northern Territory.
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  • The aftermath of the Bombing of Darwin was a mass exodus – for the most part to South Australia.
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  • Approximately half of Darwin’s civilian population fled including more than 1000 women and 900 children – a situation that led to looting and disorder in the town.

As a result on the 11 March, the Prime Minister placed the whole area north of Alice Springs under military control.

  • Those of non-British decent including indigenous peoples were often treated poorly by officials and many spent the war in internment or prisoner of war camps.
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  • Civilians were not permitted to return to Darwin until February 1946 and few Australians today know that from 1942-1946 thousands of Australians were war-time evacuees or internees in their own country.
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  • Today it is our duty, to work together to promote national recognition of the efforts of our brave servicemen and women who defended our country against enemy attack during this significant period of Australia’s wartime history.
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  • As well as the many civilians who tragically lost their lives, or were separated from those they loved forever.
  • We need to share the stories, protect the history and educate our children.
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  • So many people believe that mainland Australia has never been a casualty of war, yet we know this is a myth.
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  • We should be doing all we can to recognise and learn from our history, so we never become a casualty of war in the future.
  •  
  • Thank you.

 

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