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Was there a Battle for Australia?
September 16, 2008 3:16 PM   Subscribe

Australia now commemorates Battle for Australia Day on the first Wednesday in September. But what is 'the Battle for Australia'? Did such a thing exist?

Dr Peter Stanley, among others, doesn't think so. And what is it meant to be a remembrance of? The bombing of Darwin? The threat of Japanese invasion? The general fear of a nation? Those who gave their life in service? (but then what about those Australians who served in Europe and other theatres?) Is it just another example of nationlistic 'us to'-ism or an overlooked period of Australian history that is finally getting the attention it deserves?
(and thanks to Kattullus for kicking this off with his Gallipoli Post)
posted by Megami (51 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
No mention of Townsville? But those dirty Japs blew up one of our palm trees! We didn't take out any of their planes because we couldn't throw our empties hard enough.
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:23 PM on September 16, 2008


I think that the name 'Battle for Australia' is a bit misleading in that it sounds like it was a single battle, when in fact it was not. I think it might be less confusing, but also less exciting as a title, if it had been called 'The Series of Battles To Protect Australia from Japanese Invasion.'

Because as I always understood it, that's what it was. There was the attack on Darwin of course, an attack on Broome, a battle in the Coral Sea and the entire New Guinea campaign. So it wasn't just a single battle... it was a whole series of events that have been lumped together and called The Battle for Australia.
posted by Effigy2000 at 3:34 PM on September 16, 2008


The day a young Albert Einstein prevailed over the ruthless Preston Preston by defusing an Atomic Beer Bomb with the power of Rock'n'Roll music, thus winning the heart of Marie Curie. Never Forget!
posted by stavrogin at 3:45 PM on September 16, 2008 [4 favorites]


You can't fool me, turgid d., Townsville is the place where the Powerpuff Girls live. Next you're going to tell me you live at the beach just off Bikini Bottom.
posted by wendell at 3:46 PM on September 16, 2008


They what?
*reads press release*
Oh. Not a public holiday. No wonder I hadn't heard of it.

I'd always thought of ANZAC Day as commemorating those who fought in all of our military victories, our losses (Gallipoli being the prime example), and catspawing at the behest of foreign powers all at once. I don't see why we need a specific one for WWII.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 3:49 PM on September 16, 2008


There was a battle for Australia Day?
posted by Sys Rq at 4:00 PM on September 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Celebrates?

nah, I don't think so. A blip on a couple of news items, that was about it. I don't think this is entering anyone's consciousness at all.
posted by wilful at 4:07 PM on September 16, 2008


There was a Battle for Australia but it wasn't on this day and the Aborigines lost.
posted by tellurian at 4:08 PM on September 16, 2008 [9 favorites]


Add another Australian to the list who first heard of this glorious day of patriotism on the Australian powerhouse that is Metafilter.

Now, when do we start pushing to turn it into a public holiday?
posted by Serial Killer Slumber Party at 4:18 PM on September 16, 2008


I'd hoped that with the fall of the Howard government, there'd be an end to this meaningless, sound bite-centered nationalism

Guess not.
posted by outlier at 4:28 PM on September 16, 2008


No fucking way am I commemmorating this, unless we get a public holiday.

I assume the celebrations would involve draping ourselves in the flag, grabbing a slab of beer, and heading on down to Cronulla beach to beat up any Lebs we can find.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:28 PM on September 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


How do we celebrate? Do we travel up to New Guinea and Timor and thank their people for their immeasurable help in the fight? Nah didn't think so - we did it by ourselves!
Aussie Aussie Aussie oy oy oy.
posted by nudar at 4:30 PM on September 16, 2008


And September would be the perfect month for another day off.
posted by liquorice at 4:32 PM on September 16, 2008


Are there any other battles about July/August we can turn into Public Holidays? It's a long dry stretch between the Queen's Birthday and Melbourne Cup day.
posted by AD_ at 4:33 PM on September 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


If you look at a map, and know anything about how close to Australia the Japanese were able to advance, and how fast, and the sorry state of Australia's defenses in the early stages of the war, and if you knew of just how terrible the conditions were on New Britain (or if you even knew where it was) I don't see how you could question whether or not there was a battle for Australia.

However, the great thing about living in a defeated nation like Japan is the almost total absence of all this militaristic mumbo-jumbo like Remembrance Day here in Canada. I find it totally distasteful that Canadians are taught that soldiers gave their life for a cause in *World War I*.

The great thing about Japan is that people still remember the war and how terrible it was. My father-in-law remembers how his younger sister died in a bombing raid, and despite what how Japanese politicians may act, 99.9% of Japanese feel this way.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:36 PM on September 16, 2008


I'm australian, live in perth and had never head of this "day" till now.
posted by dabcad at 4:44 PM on September 16, 2008


Yeah, it looks quite nice outside. Could we perhaps institute some sort of Battle for Australia picnic or barbie?

Oh, and chuck us a beer, eh?

(also: Ubu: not wasting my day off in Sydney...)
posted by pompomtom at 4:46 PM on September 16, 2008


I assume the celebrations would involve draping ourselves in the flag, grabbing a slab of beer, and heading on down to Cronulla beach to beat up any Lebs we can find.

Well, that's certainly how I like to party.
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:46 PM on September 16, 2008


Hold the phone. 'First Wednesday in September' they say. That's just daft. Make it a Monday or a Friday, or don't bother.
posted by pompomtom at 4:48 PM on September 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Actually, Wednesday's quite a good choice - you get to choose whether to take two sickies before the holiday or after.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:54 PM on September 16, 2008


The battle for Australia, I can clearly picture it. The player who has Asia tries to conquer Oceania while the threatened player is politicking for someone to invade by the Urals or the Middle East. In desperate cases they're threatening to invade N. America if the North American player doesn't help them with the Asians. But then perhaps an offensive will be soon indirectly mounted to their other continent by the Asian warlords.

Are you good enough to win Risk?
posted by ersatz at 4:57 PM on September 16, 2008


> The day a young Albert Einstein prevailed over the ruthless Preston Preston

It's the day we mourn those who sacrificed themselves to keep a loved one from watching that Godawful movie.
posted by ardgedee at 4:58 PM on September 16, 2008


I personally think this day should be commemorated by pretending that anywhere north of the Brisbane Line had been conceded in the war. Take that, Queensland!
posted by cholly at 4:58 PM on September 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


The Aussies should have a day for their form of rappeling. You lot are either batshit insane or very courageous, and either reason is enough for me to support you guys having another day off.

Face down, down a sheer cliff? Jesus H Christ on a pogo stick. You're all loonie.
posted by illiad at 4:59 PM on September 16, 2008



I'm australian, live in perth and had never head of this "day" till now.

Sorry, it's an east coat thing.
posted by mattoxic at 5:04 PM on September 16, 2008


It's a long dry stretch between the Queen's Birthday and Melbourne Cup day.

Pfft. Melbourne Cup Day isn't even a national holiday. If only somebody had the intelligence to rename the horse race as The Bradman Cup, Howard probably would've given us all an entire week off.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:04 PM on September 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


when I think 'battle for australia' I think of rabbits.

okay, and mad max.
posted by krautland at 5:41 PM on September 16, 2008


An excellent post and an excellent article by Stanley; I urge anyone interested in the topic to read it if you read none of the other links. An excerpt:
This process arguably began with the fiftieth anniversary of 1942, when Prime Minister Paul Keating gave his celebrated speech at Kokoda the day after Anzac Day in 1992. This was the occasion on which he revered “the blood that was spilled on this very knoll … in defence of the liberty of Australia”. Perhaps the entire Battle for Australia movement can be traced from that moment. This is at one level highly laudable: how could we not wish to remember the Second World War and recognise its significance in Australia’s national story? Certainly: except that this new emphasis stresses not the Second World War as a whole, not Australia’s contribution to Allied victory against Nazism and fascism in the Mediterranean and Europe, but only Australia’s defence of itself.

It would seem that the Battle for Australia movement is an example of historical nationalism, an interpretation, as Inga Clendinnen would say, being shaped to fit the needs of the future, not the evidence of the past. It is the product of the emergence of a school of history – and especially military history - that justifies the name “nationalist”. It promotes relatively unimportant events close to Australia over important events far away, purely on a rather simplistic calculus of proximity. It has become the new orthodoxy in Australian military history. The polar opposite is a view that sees Australia’s contribution in the context of a global war and an international coalition against inter-continental enemies, in an alliance in which Australia played its part as much as any and for longer than most. We might call this the “internationalist” school of Second World War history. It has many proponents overseas though very few in this country.

In essence, I submit, the nationalist tendency is a matter of the heart, the internationalist approach a matter of the head.
it wasn't just a single battle... it was a whole series of events that have been lumped together and called The Battle for Australia.

I don't see how you could question whether or not there was a battle for Australia.


Read the article. There was no "battle for Australia." The Japanese were overextended in China and elsewhere and by 1942 had made the decision not to try to invade Australia. By June 1942 this was realized by the Allies. The Australians were understandably worried about the possibility, but in hindsight the worry was groundless. There was no "battle for Australia."
posted by languagehat at 5:50 PM on September 16, 2008


There was no "battle for Australia."

That's exactly what I keep trying to explain to Americans whenever they come over all "We saved your arses in WWII".

Australia's a big big big place, much of it effectively uninhabitable. Even in the relatively populous eastern seaboard, you can still usually drive for hours without passing through anything bigger than a village. It's a perfect place for mounting a guerrilla resistance, against a thinly-spread enemy, even from the remote outback (assuming some survival skills, but the aborigines managed to get by there for tens of thousands of years).

And what would the Japanese have been after here, anyway? Mineral resources? Which would have to travel for thousands of kilometres along roads & rail lines that could be sabotaged as easily as you could kick a quokka? They must've known that it would have been a pointless exercise to invade.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:04 PM on September 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


I clicked through to lament the lack of a public holiday on this day to find that 20 other Australians had got there first.

It nice to see we all have our priorities straight.
posted by kjs4 at 6:30 PM on September 16, 2008


That's exactly what I keep trying to explain to Americans whenever they come over all "We saved your arses in WWII".

Do Americans really say that kind of thing? My granddad was in Australia in the war, but he told me it was more about hanging out and waiting to go invade Japan. Of course, his biggest action he saw was that typhoon in Okinawa. BUT MY POINT IS I can't believe Americans care enough to say something that dumb.
posted by norm at 7:24 PM on September 16, 2008


Mate, if you thought the Battle for Australia was a piss poor showing, just wait and see what the Battle for New Zealand is going to be like. As soon as we figure out how much oil we have off the coast we're going to be neatly slotted into the Axis of Evil, and then it'll be all on.
posted by The Monkey at 7:38 PM on September 16, 2008


BUT MY POINT IS I can't believe Americans care enough to say something that dumb.

The ones that know what WWII even was will also know that we'd all been in it up to our fucking armpits fighting the hun in Europe for 3 years when the Japs finally dragged your lot in en masse.

So yeah, they'd have to be pretty dumb, and pretty mean - given we'd been fighting and dying on the other side of the world, miles from home, for so long.
posted by The Monkey at 7:44 PM on September 16, 2008


New Zealand: 100% easy. 100% there for the taking.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:44 PM on September 16, 2008


Ubu, you beat me to it!
posted by Megami at 7:48 PM on September 16, 2008


Unsurprisingly, that's been around over here already. Conclusion is that it's awesome. And we love you guys. But haven't forgotten the underarm thing. Oh, and you can still keep Russell Crowe.
posted by The Monkey at 7:51 PM on September 16, 2008


You're just trying to sabotage the Mighty Rabbitohs! Admit it!
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:33 PM on September 16, 2008


...as easily as you could kick a quokka?

Oh you bastard.

The quokka.
posted by turgid dahlia at 10:06 PM on September 16, 2008


hey, quokka soccer is a proud aussie invention; perhaps the only sport entirely developed from scratch on our shores. the diggers fought & died for freedoms like that.
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:44 PM on September 16, 2008


New Zealand learned her lesson that day, a lesson she will never forget.
posted by LarryC at 10:53 PM on September 16, 2008


I was once king of the backyard at #9 Clinton Ave. Evansdale, S.A.
posted by MNDZ at 11:46 PM on September 16, 2008


Do Americans really say that kind of thing?

Yes. On a recent visit to MA it was said to me twice. Turned out the first guy was based on an air base a few miles from my home we went for coffee and talked for a couple of hours about his experiences. Really pleased to have met him. The second guy's parents immigrated from Germany when he was a teenager, he followed a year or two later and is now in his mid thirties. I still haven't worked out whether he was joking or not.
posted by vbfg at 2:13 AM on September 17, 2008


Yeah, I read the FPP and I was sure this was going to be about white colonisation, and I was thinking, wow, wasn't it just a few years ago that Howard couldn't bring himself to support an apology? Neat!

I would like to feel all superior that this stupidity hasn't spread to NZ yet, but I fear it's simply our good fortune that our military contributions in WWII are too distant from our country for a "Battle for New Zealand" to be even remotely credible.

It seems that to the extent we feared a Japanese invasion, the plan was to ask the Americans to help out.

Mind you, this might account for the strong pacifist strain in NZ politics: our experience is sending young men off to die for the national pride a long away, without any imminent threat to home. I wander the coastline and see fortifications and tank traps and gun emplacemets (the oldest of which were built against ships of the Russian Empire), but not one of them saw any action, and all of them are old and derelict.

Every battle site here is colonists vs natives, or from natives amongst themselves.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:50 AM on September 17, 2008


like Eden Park, for example?
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:31 AM on September 17, 2008


That's exactly what I keep trying to explain to Americans whenever they come over all "We saved your arses in WWII".

Wow. I would like to apologize on behalf of my thickheaded jingoistic ignorant compatriots.
posted by languagehat at 6:25 AM on September 17, 2008


no matter. there are FreedomParamuses in every country.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:31 AM on September 17, 2008


The second guy's parents immigrated from Germany when he was a teenager, he followed a year or two later and is now in his mid thirties. I still haven't worked out whether he was joking or not.
posted by vbfg at 10:13 AM on September 17 [+] [!]
I don't get it. Did he mean Germany saved Australia? Or America saved Australia from the germans?
With my expertise in german humour I vote for joking.
posted by kolophon at 10:59 AM on September 17, 2008


I'm British, not Australian, and he meant Americans (of which he counted himself though his direct ancestors were German at the time) saved us from the Germans.

Funnily enough I was wearing an Australian rugby league shirt at the time. I always do that abroad though. If I make a disgrace of myself I prefer for the Ockers to get the blame.
posted by vbfg at 2:23 AM on September 18, 2008


nice try, mate, but poms disgrace themselves in ways that are unmistakeably british. you're fooling nobody.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:40 AM on September 18, 2008


on afterthought, isn't "If I make a disgrace of myself I prefer for the Ockers to get the blame" actually directly lifted from the official motto of the English cricket team?
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:44 AM on September 18, 2008


I believe "Either they don't know what whinge means or those Ockers totally lack self awareness" is the official motto.
posted by vbfg at 9:41 AM on September 18, 2008


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