This week it is now eighty-one years since John Curtin and the Australian Labor Party assumed government over the Australian Commonwealth. The ineffective war-preparation efforts (most famously Bob Menzies & Jo Lyons export of Pig Iron to the Japanese, this crucial resource likely forming the rifle barrels, sharpened swords, ships and planes of the Japanese invader) of the previous governments had set Australia in a firmly unfortunate position.
Beyond commemorating the superhuman efforts of the Labor government and associated industries to weaponize our national economy we pay homage to the political will and courage of John Curtin and his cabinet in deflecting the imperial interests of the United Kingdom in the dispute about the deployment of Australian soldiers.
At the earlier stages of the second world war, Australian forces were deployed to Africa and the Middle East, fighting fierce combat with the Germans and their allies, their valor and excellence in combat formulated the high regard of the German Tank commander Erwin Rommel in which he is recorded to have said, “If I had to take hell, I would use the Australians to take it“.
Following the Japanese incursion on the pacific, John Curtin and Doc Evatt (the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs) took the direct course to withdrawing all of our forces from the European/African/Eastern front to mobilise them in the direct defense of Australia. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (and his military advisors) vehemently opposed this move and attempted to have the Australian forces deployed to Burma to defend British financial interests in India.
Whilst the Australian forces were at sail on route to Australia, Churchill gave instructions to the British Admiralty, who were transporting the Australian division, to change the course of the troopships and sail for the Burmese capital, Rangoon. Curtin and his war cabinet caught wind of this and demanded they be returned to Australia, the British conceded and the forces were returned.
The 7th division which were almost kidnapped by British interests were essential in turning the tide against the Japanese advance, fighting in the first battles that halted the Japanese progress in the Pacific at Milne Bay and on the protracted and bloody Kokoda Trail campaign.
This action by Curtin and the federal parliament to assert our national interest is commonly held by Nativists to be the most clearly articulated declaration of Australian Independence from the Imperial power of the United Kingdom. It is for this reason, it has become tradition to call the 23 February 1942 Australia’s ‘Independence Day’ as it was on this day that Australia, likely for the first time had firmly asserted its own interest above that of Imperial interest.
All for Australia
M. K. Grant