The Pacific War

The Curtins in a bomb shelterJohn and Elsie Curtin (centre) and the prime minister's party had to leave the Sydney Express and shelter under South Brisbane Interstate Station during an air raid alarm, August 1942. JCPML00376/201

7 December 1941 – bombing of Pearl Harbor
The start of the Pacific theatre of war was a critical time for John Curtin and a challenging test for a man who had been prime minister for only two months. For the first time in Australia's history Curtin independently declared war on a foreign power.

As it became clear that Britain's response was inadequate to protect Singapore, long held as the "last bastion" for Australia's safety, Curtin published his famous article at the end of December 1941:

"Without any inhibitions of any kind I make it quite clear that Australia looks to America, free from any pangs as to our traditional links or kinship with the United Kingdom......[W]e shall devote all our energies towards the shaping of a plan with the United States as its keystone which will give to our country some confidence of being able to hold out until the tide of battle swings against our enemy."

Prime Minister Curtin at Perth Railway StationJohn Curtin (second from left) visits Perth for the first time since becoming prime minister. He is welcomed at the Perth Railway Station on 24 January 1942 by (from left to right) Dr Tom Meagher (Lord Mayor of Perth), Mrs Elsie Curtin, daughter Elsie, John Willcock (WA Premier) and Edward Needham, MLA. JCPML00382/58

15 February 1942 - fall of Singapore
When Singapore surrendered to the Japanese Curtin issued a press statement, saying to the Australian people: "The fall of Singapore opens the battle for Australia...It is now work or fight as we have never worked or fought before..."

Four days later Darwin was bombed, the first "physical contact of war within Australia". The following series of air raids on Broome, Wyndham and Darwin left Australians feeling virtually unprotected in the face of possible Japanese invasion.

3 March 1942 – bombing of Broome and Wyndham
According to Curtin, "As time passes the enemy comes ever nearer. Darwin, Wyndham and Broome are three important strategical points in the security of Australia as a whole…The nation is at war and everything in it, therefore, has to be devoted to the purpose of war."

Broome 1942 home