82nd Anniversary of The Bombing of Darwin

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The Hon Matt Thistlethwaite MP

Assistant Minister for Defence

Assistant Minister for Veterans’ Affairs

Assistant Minister for the Republic

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Ben Leeson on 0404 648 275

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19 February 2024

I want to begin by acknowledging the Larrakia People, the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we meet today and pay my respect to their Elders past and present.

I also acknowledge all those who have served, or continue to serve our nation in uniform, and the families who support them.

82 years ago today, at just before 9:58AM, the air was warm and humid as it often is here in the Territory.

Darwin hummed with the gentle murmur of everyday life.

With a population of around 14,000, it was a bustling town, for years far removed from the turmoil of the wider world.

Yet, in that serene moment, the unthinkable unfolded.

No sirens wailed; no warnings were sounded. The tranquillity was shattered by the chilling roar of approaching engines, the growl of Japanese Zeros and bombers tearing through the morning sky.

This was no movie scene, no distant echo of war. This was Darwin, the frontline of Australia's defence, thrust into the heart of the conflict.

The attack, swift and relentless, saw more than 240 Japanese aircraft unleash their fury on the unsuspecting town and harbour.

As we stand here today, under a peaceful sky, it's hard to reconcile the beauty surrounding us with the horror that unfolded here in Darwin.

We remember the sacrifice, the fear, and the courage that marked that fateful day, the spirit of Darwin, and of Australia, never truly faltered.

We remember Wilburt Thomas Hudson, a member of the 2nd Australian Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery.

Originally from Sydney’s west, Gunner Hudson was in the shower when the first bombs started to fall.

He raced to his station wearing only his helmet, boots and a towel.

Unable to hit the enemy aircraft from his position, Hudson and his mate, Gunner Leslie Garner ran out into the open.

Hudson propped his Lewis Gun on a drum to gain some extra height, but when this still wasn’t enough Garner offered up his shoulder to raise the weapon more.

As a low-flying Japanese Zero came in for a strafing run, Hudson opened fire and brought it down.

In the flurry of action, Hudson lost the towel from around his waist, but he became the first person to shoot down a Japanese plane that day.

In doing so, he became the first Australian to be awarded the Military Medal for bravery against the enemy on Australian soil.

The bombings exacted a heavy toll on Darwin and its people.

More than 250 lives were lost, including members of all three services, allied personnel, merchant mariners and other civilians.

Eight of the 47 ships in the harbour were sunk.

Among them was the United States destroyer USS Peary, resulting in the loss of 88 crew.

This morning, I had the honour of attending the commemorative service at the USS Peary Memorial.

Much of Darwin’s infrastructure was destroyed or badly damaged in the raids including the post office, the Administrator’s office, the police barracks, the RAAF Base and the hospital.

The raids on the 19th of February 1942 were the first of 64 inflicted on Darwin over 1942 and 1943.

They were also the first in a series across northern Australia, including Broome, Wyndham, Port Hedland and Derby in Western Australia, Katherine in the Northern Territory, Townsville and Mossman in Queensland, and Horn Island in the Torres Strait.

Today—on this national day of commemoration—we remember when the Second World War came to Australian shores and our nation was under attack.

A time when the threat of invasion seemed very real.

We honour those who defended our country in its time of need. People like Gunners Hudson and Garner who courageously and selflessly took on the enemy.

Standing here today, it's impossible not to feel the weight of history from 82 years ago pressing down on Darwin.

We gather on this anniversary not just to honour those who lost their lives or were wounded, but also to honour this community which had death and destruction visited upon them from the skies that morning.

Every name etched on a memorial, every life extinguished too soon, represents a family forever shattered, a dream of life here in Darwin that was forever lost.

We remember the brave defenders on the frontline of our nation’s defences, our service personnel who stood as a shield against fury.

They faced the firestorm head-on, displaying great courage.

We remember the innocent civilians, caught in the crossfire, their stories woven into the very fabric of this city.

Their loss is a constant ache, a reminder of the fragility of peace.

We honour the resilience of Darwin and its people.

Those who refused to bow, who rebuilt from the ashes, their determination etched in the scars of this city.

We thank all who defended Darwin, all who defended Australia, during that tumultuous time.

Their legacy lives on, not just in monuments and anniversaries, but in the very spirit of this city, and in the hearts of all who stand here today.

Lest we forget.


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