I have written two columns about the miraculous win of Australian servicemen and women against overwhelming Japanese forces in 1942-43.
It was only last year, after reading four books about the New Guinea campaign, that the enormity of the victory sank in.
I doubt if many younger Australians know what I have learned.
It is strange that it has only been books published this century, and Paul Keating kissing the ground at Kokoda, that have highlighted the saga – a saga that ranks with the great victories of history.
I wrote to the Governor General, Prime Minister, Ministers, RSL, War Memorial, Kokoda Trail Tour Operators and others seeking an annual public awareness day – Australia’s Deliverance Day.
My suggestion was that this was become an annual tribute to a small, ill-equipped and trained group of Australian soldiers and airmen who halted the advance of a superbly trained and equipped Japanese army.
I had replies from each office assuring me that the 75th anniversary of the Milne Bay, Kokoda/Buna, Gona and Sananander bloodbaths of Australian and Japanese blood will have public recognition.
I was invited to join others at the Australian War Memorial laying wreaths on August 25, in my case, to the memory of my uncle who played a key role in stopping the Japanese at Gilli Gilli airstrip, Milne Bay, but never spoke of it. Then a real surprise surfaced on my computer – a letter from Veterans Affairs Minister Dan Tehan.
The letter said on June 19, 2008, then Governor General, Sir Michael Jeffery, signed a proclamation to mark the first Wednesday in September as “The Battle for Australia Day”, to recognise the first defeat of the Japanese juggernaut on land – at Milne Bay.
My suggestion was nine years late, the day is already in place – but I haven’t found anyone else who knows it exists!
On the internet I found a Kevin Rudd speech, delivered on September 3, 2008, launching the first Battle for Australia Day.
“It is time all Australians knew about 1942. Every year we remember the events at Anzac Cove that are etched so deep in our national memory.
“It is often said, at Gallipoli our nation was born, but at the Battle for Australia, our nation stood up and confirmed that we, as a nation, would endure.” The speech should be part of the school curriculum.
General Rowell, Brigadier Potts, Ralph Honner, “Bluey” Truscott and others should be national heroes. I found our NSW Governor has laid wreaths and spoken at the cenotaph on the first Wednesday in September.
The UK celebrates Battle of Britain Day on September 15 – the day UK fighter pilots defeated Luftwaffe bombers. I find it extraordinary the celebration of the Gallipoli debacle over 100 years ago has basically obliterated the memory of the New Guinea miracle 75 years ago.
Was the real story too horrific to tell? It is time Canberra’s public relations machine gave the day the prominence it deserves.