Bill's Speeches

COMMEMORATING THE BOMBING OF DARWIN & FUJITA SALVAGE - CANBERRA - THURSDAY, 16 FEBRUARY 2017

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Good morning everybody.

I’d like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, I pay my respects to elders both past and present.

We’re here to commemorate two very different moments in Australian history.

The first is a story drummed into the collective consciousness of every student in Australia, the Bombing of Darwin, the day when war came to Australia.

And the second story which ought to be better known.

But before I get to that, I just want to acknowledge the work of Luke Gosling, he's been keeping us very focused on this, along with all sides of politics I should say.

He served for 13 years in the Australian military and I'm pleased he's here to make a further contribution to his nation as a Member of Parliament.

And of course this is all personal as well, two of my great uncles were Catalina pilots in the Second World War, they served the RAAF, they were sergeant pilots.

But also we had my grandmother’s cousin, Jack O'Shea who died in Papua New Guinea serving this country.

So this year is important. It's important for a whole lot of families.

But the second story which we are talking about today - Fujita Salvage and Salvation, I think, is about Territorians who were ready to forgive – and Japanese people who wanted to make things right.

Seventy-five years ago, planes that many Territory locals initially assumed belonged to the US Airforce dived, strafed and dropped more bombs on Darwin than in the attack on Pearl Harbour.

Hundreds of Allied service people and civilians were killed and wounded.

I wonder if we’ll ever really know quite how many.

In the crowded port, eight ships were sunk.

And more than 100 raids would follow.

As was common in wartime, the government downplayed the scale of the attack.

But those who were there knew better, they’d seen the damage and the devastation, the thick black smoke pouring from the flaming oil tanks.

Chief Petty Officer Tom Minto remembers hearing Prime Minister Curtin on the radio after the bombing say:

The attack would not give any satisfaction to the enemy.

And he thought to himself: the enemy must be very hard to please.

17 years later – with the threat of invasion banished, with the war won – it came time to salvage the ships sunk that fateful day.

And the winning tender went to a Japanese firm, employing 120 workers on Australia’s biggest-ever salvage operation. 

In Melbourne and Sydney there were protests and outcry.

But in Darwin – the place that had borne the brunt – suspicion gave way to grudging respect and then friendship.

Locals who watched the goings-on from picnic rugs on the beach, came to admire the skill, bravery and cool efficiency of the divers – and the price they took in their work.

And in Mr Fujita, they saw a man with a love of peace, a person determined to offer his own reparations.

It's perhaps easy now, two and a half generations on, to gloss over the wounds of war.

But then, this was only 15 years.

Men and women much younger than even most of the Parliamentarians had fought in that war.

And it's one of the concepts which the history books can't quite explain.

How were they able to move on, how were they able in fact to find common ground.

How did they rise above the hate and enmity of a period of time very recent in their own lives? 

So I suppose that's a form of victory too isn't it.

Today we remember those who lost their lives on the soil of a nation that had not imagined war would come to its shores.

We honour their memory.

And we salute the people who showed the courage to reach out a hand to an old enemy, to seek a new friendship for a new time. 

We walk on the path they made for us.

Those who died so Australia might live – and those who lived to make Australia great.

We will remember them.

Lest We Forget.

ENDS


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