24 September 2009
For the last few months I’ve been working with other members of the Montevideo Maru Memorial Committee to develop a paper seeking federal government recognition of the sacrifices associated with the Japanese invasion of Rabaul in 1942 and the sinking of the Montevideo Maru.
In broad terms, the submission tells the story of this tragic piece of Australian history and asks the government to agree to three recommendations:
(1) To construct a memorial in Canberra to commemorate the sacrifice of those who died defending Rabaul and the islands.
(2) To initiate action to have the site of the sinking of the Montevideo Maru declared an official war grave.
(3) To appoint an official group to develop strategies to ensure that the fall of Rabaul and the sinking of the Montevideo Maru remain an enduring part of the nation’s history.
In late 1941, the Australian Chiefs of Staff and the Australian Government, knowing the dangers and believing the sacrifice was justified in the defence of Australia, chose to position and retain Lark Force and civil administrators in Rabaul, and did not encourage other civilians to leave until too late.
It can be fairly said – and historian Prof Hank Nelson supports such an assertion – that this decision, made by a new government confronting the most difficult circumstances, burdens the Australian nation with a significant moral obligation to those men and women and their relatives.
These people were compelled to make a sacrifice emanating from a need to defend Australia. It was a sacrifice that made a great contribution to the safety and security of the nation, and such a sacrifice was a very great contribution to the nation indeed.
I hope to be in Canberra in November alongside Australia’s ambassador designate to the US, Kim Beazley, to advocate the proposal to the federal government.