Northern Territory marks 80th anniversary of bombing of Darwin during WWII

Sirens sounded today at 9:58 am, marking the precise moment bombs began dropping on Darwin 80 years ago.

The alarms were followed by a re-enactment of the chaos and bloodshed that occurred on the ground that day, opening the ceremony for the 80th anniversary of the bombing of Darwin in 1942.

Bilawara Lee, a senior elder of Larrakia nation, performed a welcome to country ceremony, before poet Rupert McCall read a poem and a catafalque party took formation.

Thousands of people gathered in Darwin to mark the occasion, including Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese and Governor General David Hurley.

defense personnel standing at a cenotaph in darwin
Defense staff and community members met at the Darwin cenotaph.(ABC News: Che Chorley)

In his commemorative address, Mr Morrison paid tribute to those who lost their lives in the Top End on February 19, and throughout Japan’s 20-month air raid that came after.

“The 19th of February 1942 marked an awakening.”

four men walk carrying wreaths
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Defense Minister Peter Dutton were among a group of federal politicians at the ceremony.(ABC News: Che Chorley)

NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner, NT Administrator Vicki O’Halloran and City of Darwin Lord Mayor Kon Vatskalis also attended the event.

Mr Gunner said the event was an enduring reminder to Australians of the terrors of war and the importance of fighting for peace.

“The truth is I do not know what I will tell my children when the time comes that they ask why people go to war,” he said.

“The best I can do is to bring them here to this cenotaph, on this day, to hear how men and women – even though they were completely overwhelmed and outgunned – gathered together to defend our shores, and to see who has gathered here to remember in the days since. “

Mr Gunner also acknowledged “how far we have come” in the 80 years since, with leaders from the US and Japan joining locals at the event.

soldiers stand next to a marquee filled with guests
Defense staff and community members met at the Darwin cenotaph.(ABC News: Che Chorley)

Rounding off the day’s speeches, Mr Vatskalis called for more national recognition of the event, which was downplayed by the government at the time.

“It was a terrible war, but also it was an unknown war for the rest of Australia,” he said.

“Nobody knew what happened in Darwin because the government did not want people to panic.

“It only became known after the war, some details. And even today, people know more about Pearl Harbor than [the bombing of] Darwin.

an old man wearing military uniform fist pumps the air
Mr Winspear was 21 years old when he served in the Royal Australian Air Force during the bombing of Darwin. (ABC News: Che Chorley)

World War II veteran and Darwin bombing survivor Brian Winspear attended the ceremony as a special guest, wearing the same military uniform he wore in 1942.

The 101-year-old, who is one of the city’s last remaining survivors of WWII, joined politicians and community leaders in laying wreaths at the cenotaph.

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