On February 19, 1942, Darwin was bombed by Japanese Imperial Forces, the first time that Australia came under attack and only the beginning of attacks on Darwin and other towns throughout 1942 and 1943. Towns across northern Australia from Queensland to Western Australia came under attack. At the time of the first attack Darwin was badly underprepared and chaos ensued. The evacuation of most white women and children was already well under way by the time of the attack although, shamefully, the indigenous women and children - perhaps with the assumption that they could survive by living off the land - were not included. The shambles following the attack saw most of the remaining females flee the town. Afraid of the effect on morale the authorities responded by clamping a news blackout on what had happened in Darwin and sent additional forces to defend the town. Among them were my two uncles. Darwin was now a designated theatre of war where our troops were under fire, a vital part of Australia's defence.
It's shocking to me how, until quite recently, unless you had family who had been living in Darwin or one of the other towns attacked at the time or who had been stationed in Darwin while it was under attack most Australians had no idea that Australia had been under direct attack. One of my uncles went to the Veterans Affairs Department to make an enquiry about his entitlements. He filled out his details stating that he had served in Darwin in a theatre of war and handed them in.
'Oh,' said the female clerk - who would be expected to know better. 'That's not right. A theatre of war means you have to have been under fire and that didn't happen in Darwin.'
'Well,' said my uncle. 'I wish I'd known that when I was being shot at. I'd have felt a lot better.'
That exchange is not likely to happen now. I've just watched our Prime Minister in Darwin at a commemoration of the attack. It might be overdue - and too late for my uncles - but at least their contribution to the defence of Australia during World War 2 is being acknowledged.