In an extraordinary admission, the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Alan Griffin, has told the Sydney Morning Herald he is “not aware of any claims regarding lost documents or a cover-up” regarding the Montevideo Maru.

The Minister has thereby revealed his ignorance of one of the great mysteries surrounding the fate of the men of Rabaul and reinforced the feelings of victims’ relatives that the Commonwealth Government doesn’t know and doesn’t care.

And that’s the disappearance of the nominal (Katakana) roll – written in Japanese characters – and other key documents relating to what happened to the men of Rabaul interned by the Japanese in early 1942.

Mr Griffin made his remarks in an interview by the Herald’s John Huxley for an article published today to mark the 67th anniversary of the sinking of the Montevideo Maru. The article is online here.

It tells the story of Philip “Hooky” Street who grew up in Rabaul where his father, James, was solicitor-general.

“The last time I saw him was Christmas 1940. I was only 11 years old,” Hooky says. Hooky left Rabaul to attend boarding school in Sydney. His mother followed soon after as the Japanese forces approached New Guinea. His father, along with the other men of Rabaul and the islands, stayed on.

James Street and hundreds of other civilians and troops, captured by the Japanese in the fall of Rabaul in January 1942, then disappeared – whether in the nation’s worst maritime disaster, the sinking of the Montevideo Maru, or in the many random atrocities that occurred in the Gazelle Peninsula. It is likely that James Street was bayoneted to death in the Tol plantation massacre.

“More than 60 years on,” Huxley writes, “Street, like thousands of others who lost loved ones in the tragedy, is still waiting for explanations, still fighting for ‘comfort and closure’, still seeking national recognition of the sacrifices made by the Australians abandoned in PNG.”

“Many people believe there’s been a government cover-up from the start, to prevent panic at home,” Street is quoted as saying, “I tend to think it was more a stuff-up … a terrible blot on the nation’s military history. I don’t want a witch-hunt, but I want answers.”

The Montevideo Maru Memorial Committee is preparing a submission for presentation to the Federal Government later this year.

It will seek to educate Parliamentarians on this issue, to gain national recognition of the tragedy of the men of the Rabaul and the sinking of the Montevideo Maru, and to spur the Government into trying to locate those missing documents, the ones Mr Griffin, despite his portfolio, is not aware of.

Source: ‘Seeking comfort and closure 67 years on’ by John Huxley, Sydney Morning Herald, 18 June 2009