17 February 2022

This Saturday, 19 February marks 80 years since the air raid sirens sounded across the Top End.


80 years since the first bombs first fell on Darwin city and the harbour.


80 years since Australian blood was first spilt on our soil during the Second World War.


The Bombing of Darwin was the first time Australia came under attack at home.


There were so many heroes who defended our northern city, such as the Naked Gunner Wilbert Darkie Hudson, who was in the shower when the alarm sounded.


He grabbed his tin hat, boots, and a towel, and ran for his machine gun – but he lost his towel while shooting at Japanese dive bombers. It didn’t stop him.


There was also nurse Margaret de Mestre, who was on the hospital ship Manunda when the bombs began to fall.


The ship was hit, and Sister de Mestre kept helping to save the lives of the injured before dying of shrapnel wounds.


Sister de Mestre was good friend of the grandmother of one of my constituents, Priscilla Lavery.


They grew up together in Kalang, in Victoria, in a small, close-knit dairy farming community.


In an eerie twist, Priscilla’s great-grandmother was a fortune teller in Kalang.


She was famous for it round those parts, and I can only imagine how horrified she was the day she foretold in her crystal ball that Margaret would die in the bombing of a ship in Darwin, before Margaret was posted to the Northern Territory.


She tried to convince Margaret not to go.


Margaret had already been deployed to the Middle East, however, and she was determined to head to Darwin.


Priscilla has always felt a strong sense of fate – she eventually inherited a blue crystal brooch, necklace and earrings set, which she later learned had belonged to Margaret.


Years later, she moved to Darwin, only to discover in another echo from history that it was the burial place of this courageous young nurse during the bombing.


So you see, Deputy Speaker, the legacy of that day still lives on today for Territorians who carry the memories and connections to those who died.


It’s a powerful reminder to us all that freedom is hard won, and the costs can be high.


It bears remembering that back in 1942, the year of Darwin’s bombing, then Labor Prime Minister John Curtin defied British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and brought our troops back from the Middle East to defend Australia. 


The day following the Japanese attack, Curtin said, “Darwin has been bombed but not conquered”.


Truer words were never spoken.


And in the eight decades since, generations of Darwinites have kept building this amazing place that we call home.


And when I look around that beautiful tropical city, I know those losses weren’t in vain.


When the sirens begin to wail on Saturday morning at the Darwin Cenotaph for the re-enactment, we will remember all those who defended Darwin.  


Many will also gather at the Stokes Hill Wharf memorial to remember the waterside workers, seafarers and others who were killed when the wharf and ships were hit.


The Vietnam veterans have a saying: honour the dead and fight like hell for the living.


Our veterans were willing to lay down their lives for this nation, and the least we can offer in return is support with our arms held wide open.


That sentiment has been the main driver behind pushing for the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide, which is currently underway and holding hearings around the country.


It’s such important work, long overdue and much needed, and we all hope it will result in clear-eyed recommendations to help drive systemic change.


For years, our local veteran community in the Top End has waited for the promised Veterans’ Wellbeing Centre, which was a bipartisan commitment made at the last federal election.


Mates4Mates won that contract and have been operating an interim centre in Palmerston.


They’re looking for a larger premises for the Palmerston Veteran and Family Wellbeing Centre, but as a result of strong advocacy have redoubled their commitment with a Darwin Veteran and Family Wellbeing Centre opening later this year.


This is a terrific outcome and will mean we can provide more localised support for our veterans and their families.


Our other ex-service organisations such as the RSLs, Legacy, Soldier On, Council of Australian Veterans, Veterans Australia NT, Reeling Veterans and others including assistance animal groups, continue to do outstanding work.  


I commend them all.