Diary of a Labour Man: 1917 - 1945

Full text Prime Minister




On 26th December, 1941, the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) made a national broadcast. Mr. Curtin said -

"Men and women of Australia.

"Less than three weeks ago, Japan struck at the democracies of the Pacific. We all know too well the sordid circumstances that attended that act of unprovoked aggression. Japan followed the Hitler technique and the Axis way of war now rages in the Pacific Ocean. Japan gained a tremendously important initial advantage because of the surprise element in her attack. Britain has lost two capital ships and the Allied forces in Malaya are fighting, so far, against the air superiority of the enemy. United States losses in aircraft and also navally have been considerable. Very clearly ourselves and our Allies have paid a heavy price in conducting negotiations with Japan. While the discussions were proceeding Japan was effecting and completing operations for war at targets specially chosen. And having violated every canon of international law the cold truth is that by doing so Japan is now on the offensive at all points. Our ability to meet the onslaught, in its many phases, has been reduced by the lapse of time inevitable in working out a plan covering the United States, British, Australian, Dutch and Chinese forces and then putting that plait into effect.

"In the past eighteen days, we have taken stock and the conclusion is one put to you, not with glowing optimism - that would be absurd -but with sober confidence. We face a very efficient, highly organized enemy armed with mountains of supplies and equipment wrung from people, who, for months past, have done without holidays and sport and outings on the beaches. Let it be clear to you that Japan has prepared for war in the Pacific. We Britishers and Americans have been striving to avoid war in the Pacific. That is the essential difference. As a result we face an enemy led by men whose whole lives have been centred upon the making of war as an art in which the finest detail is important, never overlooked and always attended to efficiently. We face, too, an enemy whose fighting men have been nurtured in a tradition that to die for the nation is the highest trait of character and is also, in fact, a national duty fulfilled with much the same outlook as we Australians display in taking our morning shower. Therefore, we face a fanatically brave foe, armed with the very ultimate in machines and equipment.

"I say all this to inform you. I know it carries no sense of dismay. We Australians have unsurpassed qualities of character and devotion. Our resources of spirit and manhood have been tested and proved matchless both in the pursuits of peace and in the titanic intensity of war. We have everything in heroic and stoical endurance. As fighters we are supreme; as workers we can beat the world. In this struggle we have started from behind scratch. Now we have the job of sticking it out while our plans and the plans of our Allies are integrated to the point of catching up and then taking the lead. As I have said, the enemy is on the offensive now. We are set the job of slowing him up, holding him back, and then completely reversing the present position. I say to you: this we can do; this we shall do.

"What have the Allies? You know of the second historic meeting between President Roosevelt and Mr. Churchill and of the part Australia played in that meeting. Britain, America and Australia have moved. I cannot tell you of precise movements of forces, but I express myself as greatly encouraged by the growing reinforcements that will be ranged on our side. The Australian Government was never satisfied with the air position in the Pacific and the representations made in the last few days are re-statements of those made over a lengthy period. The answer to those representations has been valid - production is the answer! All Allied countries face that problem - the battle of production! But we are rapidly taking up the slack. The Axis prepared for this war by putting guns as a priority over butter. We, the democracies, put butter before guns. Well! We are at work on the guns, on the planes, on the munitions! And I expect, and I know, that not one of us will allow anything to prevent that work being intense, continuous, and even feverishly energetic. Its urgency is overriding.

"The meeting at Washington shows that the democracies are full, alive to the need for cohesive action in directing the Pacific operations. Australia has taken a prominent part in the setting up of the Far Eastern War Council. The main value of that council will be that it will make on-the-spot decisions. These decisions will demand action and support by all the Allied governments. That support and that action will be given - given by Australia, the United States of America, China, Russia, the Netherlands, Great Britain and her dominions and colonies. We are mobilizing the Allies against the Axis!

"At the same time I would be misleading you were I to tell you that the end of our reverses has come. There will be more. That is a strong statement and I am not going to qualify it with such phrases as 'Do not be alarmed. There is no need for panic.' The common sense of Australians makes such remarks superfluous. I am telling you bluntly that war has come to Australia and Australians must conduct themselves accordingly. We are face to face with war. At Singapore and Honolulu - places regarded as very distant from Japan - people went to their theatres and their places where large numbers congregate only three Saturday nights ago. By dawn, the roll of the dead was long. No part of Australia is invulnerable. Therefore, no part of Australia will be permitted to immunize itself from the duties and responsibilities which the war with Japan involve. We are all endangered; we must all be at the place of duty and service. Neither fighting nor working must be slowed or stopped.

"I said to you, a fortnight ago to-night, that the time for appeals had gone and that the Australian Government would make such decisions as were vital to the security of all Australia. We have made many of those decisions. More decisions will be made. The decisions may upset arrangements. Of course they do that and will do it. I tell you we are a nation at war. Japan is attacking every civilian in Australia. All of us, therefore, are combatants. And none of us can escape the obligations of order and duty which the very situation itself imposes. That is straight talk. But I say to you I have a clear duty to talk straight. The Australian Government's aim is to put this country on a complete war footing because in war the advantage at first nearly always lies with the attacking forces, as the attacker chooses the point or points of attack and the date and the time.

"If Australia be attacked by Japan, it is certain that our populous centres will be bombed or shelled and that we shall have casualties and material losses, but we must steel ourselves to look at such happenings in their proper perspective and consider whether these losses are going to have any real effect in bringing victory to the enemy. It must be realized that we have not the forces to guard all our people from being bombed or shelled, but we have the courage and the determination and the capacity to beat off the invader in the end. In war with Japan there are no State, command or district boundaries. Military formations may be moved to such areas and given such boundaries as will best utilize their mobility and hasten the defeat of the invader. The people, especially those near the coast, can give valuable help by passing information received about enemy movements to the nearest military commander. Care must be taken that only authentic information is passed on. Any one, who, by incorrect reports, sends our forces on a wild goose chase will be helping only the enemy and joining - perhaps unwittingly - the Fifth Column.

"In regard to what is being done, I pay tribute to the Premiers of the States who attended the conference last week-end. They showed a speedy realization of all that was implied by what the Commonwealth described to them as a ‘war footing.' Their decisions were in accordance with that attitude of realism and, as a result, what might have been serious problems will not be problems because of the close co-operation agreed upon, between the Commonwealth and the States, on all vital phases of the war effort. There are seven governments in Australia. But the spirit of the Premiers' Conference was national unity; in deed and in word, in plan and in execution. The seven governments know that Australia is the stake in the war. On behalf of the Commonwealth and the States, let it be understood that no citizen, whatever be his place, power or position, shall, in any way, hamper the work of securing this country. There can be no ‘ifs' or ‘buts'. Qualifications as to the measure of service means a qualified war effort and that spells defeat.

"Our resources are great, our efforts have been great. We can, one and all, as a nation by greater efforts hold this country. I speak to you within six days of the dawn of another year. Let the milestone of 1948 be emblazoned with the symbols of a free people - unstinted service; undaunted courage; unswerving determination. We have a proud history, we have a noble heritage, and we can, with strength of mind, look dawnwards from this night of travail to a great future. On ourselves depends a vast part of what has to be done. While each of us has a grim responsibility and a stern and inexorable personal duty, no one stands alone. These are, as Wordsworth put it -

'Powers that will work for thee; air, earth and skies; There's not a breathing of the common wind That will forget thee; thou hast great allies; Thy friends are exultations, agonies And love, and man's unconquerable mind.'

"Our fighting forces and the forces of our Allies stand together. Our people and the people of our Allies stand together. Right is matching evil. Truth contends with falsehood. I say to you finally, 'Advance Australia!'." (For earlier references, please see No. 11.)

JCPML.  Records of the Commonwealth of Australia.  Digest of Decisions and Announcements and Important Speeches by the Prime Minister. No. 13, 24 December 1941 - 3 January 1942, p7-10.   JCPML00110/18