A huge crowd turned out this morning for the commemoration ceremonies at the Darwin Cenotaph while the families of the wharfies and merchant seamen held a separate ceremony down at the wharf (their usual tradition). The USS Peary commemorations were held earlier in the morning but although we hoped to get there in time, we didn’t make it. The powers-that-be were expecting 5000 people to attend the main event but the crowd was apparently closer to 7000.
As I waited to get a photo of the Governor General (GG) walking down the carpet to the official dais, I was chatting to an American soldier who was somewhat bemused that the Prime Minister had just wandered down without any great security detail (so low key that we didn’t even see her). We may mutter and insult our pollies but we don’t usually shoot at them, though the Territory’s high-security-trained police were in evidence, and her bodyguards reminded us of the Danish TV series The Protectors. The US soldier also wanted to know why the GG took precedence over the Prime Minister so I had to explain that she represented the Queen who is our Head of State.
For me the highlight of the day was the re-enactment with machine guns blazing and heavy anti-aircraft guns firing loudly while throughout an air raid siren sounded and heavy red smoke billowed. Quite honestly the hairs on my arms stood on end…it was sobering and only the tiniest indication of the mayhem the Darwin servicemen and civilians lived through for those torrid 45 minutes on the day. I really admired the courage of the old veterans who were willing to endure that kind of reminder purely to honour their mates who didn’t survive. It took them 50 years to be awarded campaign medals from the War and they seem universally pleased that 19 February has been marked as a national day of commemoration.
The Governor General gave a balanced speech which addressed the need to be vigilant in the defence of our country while reconciling with former enemies to ensure peace. There was the merest allusion to the recently signed deal with Japanese company Inpex for a gas pipeline etc. The politicians mostly could not contain their need to score points for their parties, in terms of gaining credit for finally recognising the national significance of the Bombing of Darwin. The speech by Mrs Ada Mumford was both interesting and emotional especially as she recounted her father sending the wireless message to RAAF Parap telling them of the incoming planes.
The Ode of Remembrance was read by Shelly Bryant from Darwin High School. Interestingly the Darwin and Palmerston branches of the Returned and Services League (RSL) had agreed some years ago that this should be read by a student. A way of passing the historical baton on to the younger generation.
From all the various quotes from old veterans I especially liked the one reported in The NT News. Prime Minister Curtin in 1942 told the nation that the enemy would not give any satisfaction at all to the enemy. Former Chief Petty Officer Tom Minto’s view was that “.. the enemy must have been very hard to please.” It’s this mix of cynicism and laconic humour that endears these men to me.
I’ll be posting photos on my Tropical Territory blog and also on my Flickr site for anyone who wants to see them. You can find both of these in the side-bar on the right of my blog.