The Task Ahead

[First published in The Herald (Melbourne), 27 December 1941]

By John Curtin

That reddish veil which o'er the face
Of night-hag East is drawn ...
Flames new disaster for the race?
Or can it be the dawn?

So wrote Bernard O'Dowd. I see 1942 as a year in which we shall know the

I would, however, that we provide the answer. We can and we will. Therefore I
see 1942 as a year of immense change in Australian life.

The Australian government's policy has been grounded on two facts. One is that
the war with Japan is not a phase of the struggle with the Axis powers, but is a
new war. The second is that Australia must go on a war footing.

Those two facts involve two lines of action - one in the direction of external
policy as to our dealings with Britain, the United States, Russia, the
Netherlands East Indies and China in the higher direction of the war in the

The second is the reshaping, in fact the revolutionising, of the Australian way
of life until a war footing is attained quickly, efficiently and without
question. ...

Now with equal realism, we take the view that, while the determination of
military policy is the Soviet's business, we should be able to look forward with
reason to aid from Russia against Japan. We look for a solid and impregnable
barrier of the Democracies against the three Axis Powers, and we refuse to
accept the dictum that the Pacific struggle must be treated as a subordinate
segment of the general conflict. By that it is not meant that any one of the
other theatres of war is of less importance than the Pacific, but that Australia
asks for a concerted plan evoking the greatest strength at the Democracies'
disposal, determined upon hurling Japan back.

The Australian Government, therefore, regards the Pacific struggle as primarily
one in which the United States and Australia must have the fullest say in the
direction of the democracies' fighting plan.

Without any inhibitions of any kind, I make it quite clear that Australia looks
to America, free of any pangs as to our traditional links or kinship with the
United Kingdom.

We know the problems that the United Kingdom faces. We know the constant threat
of invasion. We know the dangers of dispersal of strength, but we know too,
that Australia can go and Britain can still hold on. ...

Summed up, Australian external policy will be shaped toward obtaining Russian
aid, and working out, with the United States, as the major factor, a plan of
Pacific strategy, along with British, Chinese and Dutch forces.

Australian internal policy has undergone striking changes in the past few weeks.
These, and those that will inevitably come before 1942 is far advanced, have
been prompted by several reasons. In the first place, the Commonwealth
Government found it exceedingly difficult to bring Australian people to a
realisation of what, after two years of war, our position had become. Even the
entry of Japan, bringing a direct threat in our own waters, was met with a
subconscious view that the Americans would deal with the short-sighted,
underfed and fanatical Japanese.

The announcement that no further appeals would be made to the Australian people,
and the decisions that followed, were motivated by psychological factors. They
had an arresting effect. They awakened the somewhat lackadaisical Australian
mind the attitude that was imperative if we were to save ourselves, to enter an
all-in effort in the only possible manner.

That experiment in psychology was eminently successful, and we commence 1942
with a better realisation, by a greater number of Australians, of what the war
means than in the whole preceding two years.

The decisions were prompted by other reasons, all related to the necessity of
getting onto a war footing, and the results so far achieved have been most
heartening, especially in respect of production and conservation of stocks.

I make it clear that the experiment undertaken was never intended as one to
awaken Australian patriotism or sense of duty. Those qualities have been ever-
present; but the response to leadership and direction had never been requested
of the people, and desirable talents and untapped resources had lain dormant.

Our task for 1942 is stern ... The position Australia faces internally far
exceeds in potential and sweeping dangers anything that confronted us in 1914-

The year 1942 will impose supreme tests. These range from resistance to
invasion to deprivation of more and more amenities ...

Australians must realise that to place the nation on a war footing every citizen
must place himself, his private and business affairs, his entire mode of living,
on a war footing. The civilian way of life cannot be any less rigorous, can
contribute no less than that which the fighting men have to follow.

I demand that Australians everywhere realise that Australia is now inside the
firing lines.

Australian governmental policy will be directed strictly on those lines. We
have to regard our country and its 7,000,000 people as though we were a nation
and a people with the enemy hammering at our frontier.

Australians must be perpetually on guard; on guard against the possibility, at
any hour without warning, of raid or invasion; on guard against spending money,
or doing anything that cannot be justified; on guard against hampering by
disputation or idle, irresponsible chatter, the decisions of the Government
taken for the welfare of all.

All Australia is the stake in this war. All Australia must stand together to
hold that stake. We face a powerful, ably led and unbelievably courageous foe.

We must watch the enemy accordingly. We shall watch him accordingly.