Mrs MARKUS (Greenway) (4.05 pm)—

Wives, daughters, sons, sisters, brothers, those who survived the events of 1942, loved ones and friends of the Montevideo Maru: in this place on Monday, 21 June 2010, the Australian parliament is formally recognising remembering and commemorating the loss of lives during the fall of Rabaul, the Battle of Kavieng, the Tol Massacre and the sinking of the Montevideo Maru by torpedo in the early hours of 1 July 1942. It is a time for us to honour the service of those who were lost, killed or are missing from the Montevideo Maru and from activities on and around the mandated islands of New Guinea—from New Britain, New Ireland, New Hanover and the surrounding islands. It is my privilege and honour to speak on behalf of the federal coalition in response to the ministerial statement of the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and the Minister for Defence Personnel on the Montevideo Maru.

Today is an important day, tinged with sadness for survivors and families of the lost. Equally, it is a day for Australia to remember and commemorate those who gave their lives and who paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Sixty-eight years is a long time to wait for such a moment. I would like to acknowledge the attendance today of the Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Society and Maru Foundation. Specifically, I would like to acknowledge the presence of veterans of the campaign in the mandated territories and survivors of Japanese prisoner of war camps. I also wish to welcome the wives, sons, daughters and other family members of
those who we honour today. Many have travelled long distances to be in Canberra today for this historic moment.

Many people have played a role in bringing this to pass. They are too numerous to name. However, to the Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Society and the Montevideo Maru Foundation, led by Keith Jackson AM and Cynthia Schmidt respectively: I place on record the appreciation of all those involved with bringing about this occasion today.

The events which led to the death of 1,053 men on the Montevideo Maru on 1 July 1942 are important moments in Australia’s military and national history.

The 1919 League of Nations mandate over the New Guinea territories permitted Australia to administer the former German territories but not to militarise them. Australia strictly abided by the terms of the mandate. The island of New Britain was never significantly fortified by the Australians. In 1939, with the threat of war in the Pacific looming, the Australian government established a token militia. The voluntary New Guinea Volunteer Rifles were the core of military defence in the territory. They consisted of fewer than 300 men.

Responding to the growing threat to Rabaul and Australia’s broader strategic interests in the 1930s and 1940s, in February 1941 the Australian government assembled the Lark Force and dispatched it to Rabaul. The Lark Force consisted of a group based on the 2/22nd Battalion, raised in Victoria as part of the 23rd Brigade, 8th Division, 2nd Australian Imperial Force. These 1,400 troops were never in a position to properly defend Rabaul or even repel an attack.

Days after the 7 December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, the Australian war cabinet authorised the compulsory evacuation of women and children from Papua and New Guinea to Australia. Males over 16 were to remain in Rabaul with their fathers. Six brave government nurses were offered evacuation but volunteered to stay. The Australian Army Nursing Service nurses stayed, as it was deemed their duty to stay with the men. In total, almost 1,800 women and children were evacuated by 29 December 1941. Christmas 1941 was, for many, the last time they would see husbands, brothers and sons alive.

By 19 January 1942, a few weeks before the fall of Singapore, the Australian war cabinet decided to evacuate non-civilian personnel. Sadly, this came too late. Four days later, the Japanese landed at Rabaul. Rabaul fell on 23 January 1942. Hundreds of Australian servicemen and locals were interned in local POW camps. Four hundred and fifty men were reported to have escaped through the New Britain jungle, although few of them survived. No provision had been made by Lark Force commanders for guerilla warfare or for escape through the jungle. No supply depots in the thick jungle of New Britain had been constructed.

During the course of World War II, my father-in-law, Masa Markus, a national of Papua New Guinea—and, if you do not mind, I would like to mention him today— served in what came to be known as the Pacific Islands Regiment. As a New Guinean, he was interned by the Japanese in a prisoner of war camp at Malaguna, only three miles from Rabaul. He escaped and, fortunately, was picked up by a US ship while swimming in the ocean.

On 4 February 1942, a massacre at plantations at Tol and Waitavalo saw 160 men shot or bayoneted. On 22 June 1942, an estimated 845 prisoners of war from Lark Force and 208 interned civilian men were marched from their camp in Rabaul to be sent via ship to another camp in Hainan, in China. Ordered into the Montevideo Maru, these men were marching to their deaths.

Japan’s occupation of Rabaul provided them with a key base to launch attacks against Australia and the United States. Bombing raids over Townsville and Cairns were made easier by Japan’s Rabaul base. At the end of the war, 100,000 Japanese soldiers and auxiliary staff were stationed at Rabaul.

The stories of those who were lost on the Montevideo Maru are truly moving. There is indeed an overwhelming sense of loss for those who remain who are searching for the truth, endeavouring to understand what happened on 1 July 1942. Just who was aboard the Montevideo Maru when she sank? Who escaped the Japanese advance, only to perish in the jungle of New Britain? There are still questions left unanswered.

I am aware of five survivors of that terrible time in early 1941 who are here today with us: Stan Cooper, Lionel Veale, Norm Furness, David Harper and Fred Kollmorgen. Your stories are ones of sheer bravery, courage under fire and mateship. They are values that we honour as those of the Anzacs. Your spirit and endurance place you also in their league. While every story is significant, in the time available it is not possible to cover every one of the recollections of those who were there. One story about Fred Kollmorgen particularly caught my attention. The story given to me goes like this:

Fred was the sole survivor of the Salvation Army Band. He escaped down the south coast of New Britain.

Fred is a survivor of the 2/22nd Band. This was a military band largely composed of bandsmen from the Brunswick Salvation Army but also included members from Springvale, Moreland and Hawthorn. They were led by Bandmaster Arthur Gullidge, who was the Bandmaster at Brunswick and to this day is recognised internationally for his brilliance as composer and musician.

Some of the bandsmen were on the Montevideo Maru and some were murdered in the Tol Massacre. Fred escaped by walking 700 miles, canoeing 60 miles, wading 25 miles and boating 80 miles along the south coast of New Britain.

That in itself is no easy feat. Together with my husband, who grew up in Rabaul, and our children, I have walked through the jungle of New Britain. It is tough going. It goes on:

It was an epic journey, punctuated by aggressive aerial surveillance by the Japanese, severe malaria, malnutrition, crocodiles, little clothing, the crossing of fierce streams and a treacherous jungle.

There are wives and children here today. The impact of these tragedies on families is important to acknowledge. Barbara Selby is the wife of survivor the late David Selby, who, I am told, was one of the first troops to be in action on Australian territory in the Second World War. David’s brother, Benn, is also here today, as are David and Barbara’s three children, Alison, Elizabeth and Bill. I am told that, after the ‘every man for himself’ order went out as Rabaul fell, David ensured that his guns were destroyed so that they would not fall into enemy hands. He and his mates then fled through the jungle of New Britain. Sadly, some did not make it through. After six weeks they were found and repatriated to Australia. After the war, David Selby QC had a distinguished legal career, including time in Papua New Guinea as an acting judge of the Supreme Court. He served as Deputy Chancellor of the University of Sydney for 15 years. David’s story is another one of great endurance.

Mary May and her daughter Dr Marian May are also here with us. Mary’s husband, Reverend John May OBE, was chaplain to Lark Force in Rabaul. John was a POW sent to Japan on the Naruto Maru before he was released in August 1945. Returning to Australia after working in Japan after the war, John May became the chaplain at the Royal Military College at Duntroon here in Canberra. Sadly, John died earlier this year.

Marian has recorded:

Before his stroke in January, John was making a big extra effort to walk every day so that, should such an event take place, he would be in a fit state to attend! He’d even bought a new pair of shoes in readiness!

Marian, on behalf of the House today, we extend our condolences and sorrow that John is not here.

Nancy Ward is here today from Ocean Grove in Victoria. Nancy’s father is presumed to have been lost on the Montevideo Maru. She, like many other sons and daughters of those lost, has waited a long time for some form of recognition of the circumstances which led to the loss of their parents.

A person who hoped to be here today is George Hill from Western Australia. Sadly, he is too unwell to come to Canberra. His father was lost on the Montevideo Maru. George was just nine when he lost his dad. His mother was left to raise six children in Mildura in northern Victoria. George’s brother, Frank, wrote a book about the Montevideo Maru which was donated to the RSL in Mildura. George says the book was never finished; Frank did not know how to write the final chapter.

In South Gippsland in the member for McMillan’s electorate is the small town of Leongatha. In 1941, 16 young men left Leongatha to fight in the Lark Force, and only three came home. Their story has been documented by local historian Lyn Skillern, who writes:

One of the saddest stories I have uncovered is that of the 16 local men from the Leongatha and District who went to Rabaul with Lark Force. Of the sixteen, six were on the Montevideo Maru, six were massacred at Gasmata, three returned home to South Gippsland and Bill Owen was killed in action later in the war after escaping from Rabaul. Lyn recalls the names of the soldiers presumed lost on the Montevideo Maru: Jack Howard, Fred Broadbent, Fred Ketels, Jimmy Kavanagh, Arthur Oliver and Tom Sangster. About Fred Ketels, Lyn writes:

Fred was born in Foster [in South Gippsland] in 1913, grew up in Leongatha and attended Leongatha State School. His mother waited for him for the rest of her life. His brother Cliff was killed in New Guinea with the 2/5th Battalion. She used to travel to Melbourne often with Mrs Howard and Mrs Broadbent to visit the Battalion Headquarters. They found support there with the mothers and wives of the 2/22nd Battalion men.

There are stories of other families:
The Bellington brothers, Bill and Tom, who were executed at Gasmata. They were from Nerrena East, near Leongatha. Bill was born in Nerrena in 1907 and Tom there in 1908. They lived on the family farm. The boys had spent much of their
time since leaving school unemployed. Joining the army probably seemed a good idea. Their father Harry wanted someone to tell him what happened to his boys and no one ever did. It was too much for him and he took his own life.

I have had the privilege and honour of visiting Bita Paka War Cemetery, observing the tropical jungle. Today it hides the secrets of that time, that dark hour in Australia’s and Papua New Guinea’s history. The remnants of Japanese occupation remain in Rabaul today. Jungle tunnels contain submarines fitted on rails, ready for deployment into the ocean. Maintenance facilities and concrete bunkers are still in place, now covered by overgrown jungle. Unexploded ordnance remains.

Later this year, the 70th anniversary of the formation of Lark Force will be commemorated in Benalla in regional Victoria. I understand the state member for Benalla, Bill Sykes MLA, has coordinated an event in response to community support for such a commemoration. It is a shame that more Lark Force veterans are not alive today to receive their due recognition for service rendered to Australia.

I want to close today with another quote, this time from Wing Commander Lerew. At the time of the Japanese landing, 24 Squadron had a small number of Wirraways on New Britain. As the Japanese arrived, Lerew signalled RAAF HQ in Melbourne with the Latin phrase ‘nos morituri te salutamus’—or the English translation: ‘We who are about to die salute you’. Today it is we who are living today in freedom who salute the men and women of that time in New Guinea in 1942. Lest we forget.

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Mr GRIFFIN (Bruce—Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Minister for Defence Personnel) (4.21 pm)—

In order to ensure that the unanimous support across the chamber for this statement is clearly understood, I move:

That so much of the standing and sessional orders be suspended as would prevent the member for Kennedy speaking in reply to the minister’s statement for a period not exceeding two minutes.

Question agreed to.