DARWIN AIRPORT WAS the very first bit of Australia that I stepped onto as a nine-year-old migrant on the afternoon of September 23, 1966. My family was part of a plane load of ten-pound migrants bound for a new life in sunny South Australia. We waited in the luxuriant damp heat for our chartered Bristol Britannia to be refuelled for the final leg of a 36-hour journey from London to Melbourne. Even then vexillogically inclined, I took out my cheap camera and photographed the Australian Department of Civil Aviation flag fluttering over the brick terminal. Nearly 40 years on, I suppose the terminal’s long gone, along with the Department of Civil Aviation. As a child in Liverpool I had often played on “bommies” – bomb sites remaining 20 years after Merseyside’s blitz of 1941. Unknowingly, we had arrived in a bommie of a different kind.
In 1966, at the height of the migration boom from Britain, Darwin was the first port of call for would-be Australians arriving by air. But in 1942, it had been the first target of Japanese bombers. Twenty-four years before, Darwin’s airport had been one of the targets of the first and most costly Japanese air attacks made on the Australian mainland. The attacks on Darwin of February 19, 1942, continue to resound in Australia’s understanding of its history and, specifically, the way Australians think of the crisis of 1942. Indeed, the raids (there were two, close together but far enough apart to make talking of “the raid” strictly inaccurate) are central to understanding how Australians think about the Japanese threat of 1942 and the apprehension that pervades Australian thinking about its north.
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