Diary of a Labour Man: 1917 - 1945

Full text Prime Minister



On 26th January, 1943, the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) broadcast over the Australian network of national and commercial stations and over a network of United States of America stations on the occasion of "Australia Day". The broadcast was also made available to the British Broadcasting Corporation. Mr. Curtin said -

"I speak to you on the occasion of `Australia Day'. My words are directed to the people of Australia, and also to the people of the United States of America.

"Australia is the oldest continent with the youngest civilization in the world. It is a land under the grim shadow of war. This Australia is the bulwark of civilization south of the Equator. It is the rampart of freedom against barbarism in a part of the world in which the whole of the world has a vital stake. Australia has been a constant contributor, always to the very maximum of its resources, to the cause of liberty in the far-flung fighting fronts of the world. With the single exception of the Atlantic Ocean, every major sea and ocean in the world is the graveyard of an Australian warship lost in the present war, and Australian ships have served and will continue to serve in the Atlantic. Australian airmen are to be found in every continent of the world. They have piloted aircraft against the enemy in every continent except the American continent, which still stands inviolate from enemy action. Yet the whole west coast of the Americas, from Alaska to Canada, from Washington State to California, from Mexico to Cape Horn, faces the onslaught of Japan if this Australia goes down. Australian soldiers have fought in Europe and Africa. Theirs was the bitter retreat from Greece and Crete; theirs was the glory of Tobruk; theirs was the spearhead of General Montgomery's most recent drive against Rommel. They were the men of whom Mr. Churchill said: `The ninth division has gained fresh distinction. It has played a glorious part'. Australian soldiers were the men who struck at the Japanese in Malaya and fought all the way back to Singapore under a man described by the London Times as `bitter, pugnacious Gordon Bennett'. They are the men who to us to-day are an entry in a casualty list - 'prisoner of war' - but who will be revenged thrice over as surely as the sun shines high in the blue Australian sky.

"Australian soldiers are the men who have given a new significance" to names such as the Owen Stanleys, Kokoda, Bunn, Gona and Sanananda. I say bluntly that those men wrested those places from the Japanese under fighting conditions unapproached anywhere in the world. If they had failed; if they had been pushed back on to Port Moresby and finally on to the Australian mainland, the stage then would have been set for attacks on the Solomons which would have made the American position in those islands precarious. But they did not fail, and to them and to the men of the Royal Australian Air Force, and to the gallantry of American soldiers and airmen fighting knee to knee with them, I reaffirm the highest tribute the Australian Government can pay them and which I tendered last week. When you cast an eye at the South-west Pacific area and when you give regard to Japan's naval might and to her spider's web of land-based air strength, remember the resistance we have matched against her has been a resistance without sea power being available to the allied forces on land and in the air.

"That, then, is Australia's fighting record. Coupled with it has been a mobilization on the industrial front which has reached a point where our man-power resources are near to exhaustion. Women's auxiliaries and the men of the merchant navy have distinguished themselves in silent devotion to duty. I would hesitate to delineate what has been done but for the fact that it is necessary to show that we are far from being helpless, inefficient moaners in the face of the enemy. We have paid the price for our seal to nationhood. We have paid it cheerfully, as free people in a free cause and we will go on paying it. But it is also the charter of our right to share in the common pool of allied resources.

"Australia is grateful, everlastingly grateful, to the United States of America, not only for the forces made available to General Douglas MacArthur in this theatre, but also for the forces brought against the enemy in the South Pacific area, as distinct from the South-west Pacific area. The Battle of the Solomons has earned a place in traditions of gallantry and high devotion to duty in line with that established by the men of Wake Island and of Corregidor. That assistance came to us shortly after I spoke to the people of America almost a year ago. It came when time was running out against the allied cause in this theatre. Japanese aircraft had telescoped distances. Japanese naval might snatched the seas from allied control. Japanese land forces swarmed everywhere.

"Now time is again the factor. Now time is fighting on the side of Japan. Time is fighting against the United States. The relegation of this theatre to a holding war means that Japan is buying cheaply the time she requires to exploit the resources she has acquired so as to build for an onslaught which the United Nations will find costly to out-fight. In point of strategy, the preservation of the continent of Australia is vital to the United Nations, for the earlier the attack against the heart of Japan the less costly and the more decisive the result will be. Delay on the allied side in the Pacific is a consolidating opportunity to a ruthless and unrelenting enemy. Too much is not good enough when it is too late! The whole history of the war is a record of inability to strike at a time when the enemy would have suffered most. It has allowed the enemy to exert a pressure out of proportion to the total results, but completely adequate at the time he exerts it.

"While final victory is, I am confident, assured, delay makes its cost infinitely more grievous. The South-west Pacific area is too crucial to be left to a force of caretakers. I put it to the American people: The men of Corregidor can be avenged only if naval and air strength in this theatre are adequate to the plans of the commander.

Any other conception of strategy involves the Pacific war becoming a defensive front until the United Nations have achieved victory everywhere except against Japan. Neither the President of the United States of America nor the Prime Minister of Great Britain has placed any time limit on the war against Hitler. Whatever that period may be - however long it may be - it will be a period during which Japan can build to a strength that may very well make her impregnable.

"As Prime Minister of Australia, I warn free men everywhere of the menace to civilization of a Japanese co-prosperity sphere consolidated in the Pacific because of too late-too little on the part of nations against whom Japan has struck and against whom she wages s war to the death.

"As I speak, the enemy, with all his strength, is assailing the outer fringe of islands adjacent to the Australian mainland. If these go, we are faced with a struggle on our own soil with the enemy in command of all the sea approaches. The rampart of freedom in The South Pacific would be in jeopardy. What then of America? What then of the long coastline of the Americas from Alaska to Cape Horn?

"The President and Mr. Churchill know the Australian viewpoint. It is no insular submission. It is put forward in the same spirit of co-operation in the case of freedom as has marked the contributions we have made to that common cause. Just as we agreed, from the very moment in 1939 when Hitler struck at world freedom, that we must contribute our share in a global war, so we say that the global war involves the South-west Pacific theatre as integral to the total conflict. It cannot be left to an obscure afterwards. Greater air strength, greater naval strength in supplementation of the valorous land forces now fighting, would have an immediate and significant impact on Japanese plans. They would enable a co-ordination of allied fighting power to be brought to bear at places and in point of time where their power could well be decisive.

"We Australians number but 7,000,000, spread over 3,000,000 square miles of territory of great spaces and great resources, and whose people have the banner of freedom ever before them. They number, as I have said, about the same number as are found in Tokio, in New York, or London. Their quality, however, is unmatched in the world. In peace and war they are devoted to the great cause of freedom, which includes personal rights and the constant pursuit of the means to advance themselves and mankind at large. Whatever the strain, they will endure the present conflict to the end, uplifted by the knowledge that they hold this sparsely populated continent as trustees for civilization.

"To-day is our national day. The purity of our purpose, the idealism of our struggle - these are factors of strengthening and drawing power which give to our cause not only the momentum to victory, but, we feel confident, an irresistible attraction for free people everywhere.

"My greetings to you and may God bless you."