February 19, 1942: the day war came to Australian soil; the day a nation was forever altered.
On that day, 72 years ago, 188 Japanese planes bombed Darwin in two air raids, drawing the top end of Australia into World War II for more than two years in a fight that has remained a “secret war” largely overshadowed by battles all around the world, said Administrator of the Northern Territory, Sally Thomas.
She was speaking to some 2500 people in Darwin on Wednesday to commemorate the attack, in which 243 of the town’s remaining 2000 people were killed and up to 400 more injured.
Twenty military aircraft were destroyed, eight ships at anchor in the harbour were sunk, and most civil and military facilities in Darwin were destroyed.
“It’s slowly dawning on the rest of Australia that the top end of this country was at war for over two years in the 1940s … in the sense that we in the far north were being bombed and raided from the air on a weekly, sometimes daily basis,” she said.
“These were raids such as Londoners and Berliners were enduring.”
There was little warning of the attack, and the sailors returning anti-aircraft fire that day were very inexperienced.
“Denied even practice shoots, the fierce crash of sound accompanying the shell being launched was the first time most of the crew had heard the sound of their own guns.”
The Bombing of Darwin was only declared a national day of observance two years ago, which Lord Mayor Katrina Fong Lim said was a milestone that acknowledged the significance of the attack to the whole country.
The people of Darwin have had to rebuild their city twice in 30 years, first after the war and then again in 1974 when it was ravaged by Cyclone Tracy.
“These parts of our history have helped shape our community to become strong and capable, connected, spirited, and determined,” Ms Fong Lim said.
The Japanese Ambassador, Yoshitaka Akimoto, expressed his condolences for those who died in the attacks, and said the Northern Territory and Japan are now very close trading partners.
“I feel that today we have a very strong relationship, a result of not only collaboration and friendship, but of overcoming difficulties and tragedies in the past,” he told AAP.