The Bombing of Darwin: an Awkward Truth

Last night we were in the audience for the world premiere screening of the documentary, The Bombing of Darwin, an Awkward Truth. The Darwin Entertainment Centre was filled close to capacity with old servicemen and their families, Darwinites old and new, and visitors.  We were rewarded with a very engaging and educational documentary based on a book of the same name by Peter Grose. Recurring comments are that people had known next to nothing about the bombing. You too can see it if you have cable TV as it shows on the History Channel on Sunday night in Australia and can also be bought from the Australian War Memorial after this week. I don’t have the film-reviewer skills to phrase these comments effectively but let’s see if I can give you the flavour.


  • Great archival film footage from the National Film and Sound Archives and the Australia War Memorial though little is from the day of the bombing.
  • An effective merger of the archive footage with staged reproductions – filmed in sepia or black and white ensured they blended well together.
  • The interviews with the now-aged servicemen interspersed through the doco were extremely effective: dry, and often amusing, and revealing of the poor level of preparation for a war on Australia’s soil. Their memories of the fear were clear to see.
  • The men’s youth was shown subtly with images of them in uniform occasionally shadowed behind them as they spoke – they were so young and it was interesting to see how similar they were to their youthful photos irrespective of ageing.
  • The recounting of facts like burying bodies or finding men with their skin boiled off by the burning oil, simply told.
  • It revealed the ensuing chaos, lack of leadership, and the real fear and expectation that the Japanese would now stage an invasion on Australian soil. After all “impregnable” Singapore had fallen only days before.
  • The sheer good fortune of those who survived despite the odds, including the post office worker who didn’t hide in the PO’s secure trench –which took a direct hit.
  • The “warts and all” approach of honesty in regard to looting and the ambiguity of military directions.
  • Includes references to the Indigenous people and their experiences.
  • The film will be shown to history teachers at the National History teachers upcoming conference and included in the teaching curriculum.

Cons/Questions (some of these arose from the Q&A session at the end)

  • The map which showed the spread of Japanese control to include Papua New Guinea though this never fell to the Japanese and was heavily contested in fighting with Kokoda and the Battle of Milne Bay key defensive successes. (We lived in PNG so knew the back-story to this).
  • Discussion over how much looting took place and whether it was for profit or much-needed supplies.
  • Discussion over whether some units were left in Darwin.
  • Dispute over the “Adelaide River stakes”: the mass departure of civilians from Darwin after the bombing: a wise strategy if you think you’re about to be invaded.

There were a large number of servicemen in the audience who had survived the bombing and it was impressive to see their general level of fitness and mental clarity as they were all very elderly.

The documentary is certainly well worth watching if you get a chance. There’s a short trailer for it here.

8 thoughts on “The Bombing of Darwin: an Awkward Truth

  1. Your excellent description certainly makes me want to see this documentary. Your point about “the real fear and expectation that the Japanese would now stage an invasion on Australian soil” reminds me of stories that my Dad told. He lived in outback Queensland, and the locals there had detailed plans for slowing the advance of the Japanese if they came via the inland route. Those plans involved (among other things) using bore drains to flood black soil roads to make them impassable.


  2. Wow, we were very lucky not to be overrun. I think that blogs like yours today, which is an excellent synopsis of events. TV broadcasts are really letting the public know of the danger we were in. John Curtin, the PM at the time, kept a lot of this information quiet, so not to alarm the population, so close to the recent Pearl Harbour massacre. When he did speak, he said “this is our gravest hour”. Australia came of age then, and they knew they couldn’t rely on Britain, as Singapore had also fallen. Robert Menzies, the Opposition Leader was firmly against our alliance with the US, but it proved our salvation.
    My Uncle had joined the army in 1940 with a mate, both were posted to Darwin and when the bombs came 70 years ago, they scrambled to a spot for safety, but alas, when the first raid stopped, he turned to his friend to say “that was a lucky break” and the mate had copped it. as did about 249 others. Foxtel is repeating the doco again at 3.30 am tomorrow morning on the History Channel, in case someone thinks they have missed it or out tonight.
    There is an excellent Museum which includes films of the Cyclone in Darwin which caused much devastation to the city again. Darwin, today is Australia’s most multi- cultural city — its part indigenous, part Asian and part Aussie. East meets West so to speak. You are very lucky to live in such a wonderful city. Bring on Statehood for NT.
    Cheers Carolyn.


    1. Menzies was of course a die-hard royalist so the Americans were always going to be his second-runners. What a sad story about your uncle and his mate. No doubt one of many but the personalisation brings it home. Darwin is definitely quite different in many respects from Australia’s other cities. Thanks for commenting Carolyn.


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