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Eighty-six-year-old Wendy James will never forget seeing the newspaper headline “Darwin bombed”, even though she was just six at the time.
Weeks earlier, she had waved goodbye to her father Stan Secrett on Stokes Hill Wharf, one of 2,000 women and children who were evacuated from the then-remote Top End military outpost after the outbreak of World War II.
“We were left in a terrible state. We didn’t know if dad had been killed. No-one knew the death rate,” Mrs James said on the eve of the 79th anniversary of the Bombing of Darwin.
Australian war-time authorities kept many details of the attack secret at the time, deeming that disclosing casualties and damage would aid the enemy.
Three weeks after the first air raid on 19 February 1942, Mrs James’s family received a heavily censored letter where they were staying in Western Australia, revealing that her father was alive.
But Mrs James said it wasn’t until she was reunited with him three years later that she learned about his ordeal.
‘At first, he waved at them’
Mr Secrett, a construction supervisor, was working on Darwin’s Stokes Hill Wharf when the first planes struck at 9:58am.
“At first, he waved at them, thinking they were Americans,” Mrs James said.
“He started running with all the men he was working on the wharf with. They ran near oil tankers and tried to hide in one of the slit trenches, but they were all full.
Hundreds of servicemen and civilians were killed and countless others injured during 64 bombing raids on the Top End, the largest single attack ever mounted by a foreign power on Australia.
Mrs James told the ABC about some of the hardships endured by the Darwin women and children who were separated from their loved ones, most of them for the duration of the war.
The evacuation order for the women and children came around the time that Japanese planes attacked Pearl Harbour in December 1941.
It was those same planes, flying off Japanese aircraft carriers that attacked Darwin weeks later.
Mrs James remembers that her mother Poppy didn’t want to leave Darwin, then a military garrison town of dirt roads and areas of scrub.
She said air raid sirens were sounding when a military policeman threatened to carry her mother over his shoulder to the wharf if she refused to cooperate.
“We didn’t realise we wouldn’t see my father for three years,” Mrs James said.
The family boarded the Koolinda, a ship that had brought the family to Darwin a few years earlier.
Women on board took shifts to watch for Japanese submarines, planes or mines during the trip to Perth.
It was only later that Mrs James realised that the search lights she used to watch as she sat on the back step of the family’s railway house in Darwin with her brother, were actually searching for submarines.
‘He didn’t know how to talk to his children’
Mrs James said life in Western Australia was hard.
The government did not provide any food or accommodation, “so we moved from house to house.”
She stayed for a time at a boarding school in WA, after her mother went to live in Alice Springs, then a bustling war town like Darwin.
She said she spent most of the time in “silent introversion” looking up to the moon.
Mrs James re-joined her mother in Alice Springs about a year before peace was declared in 1945.
She remembers seeing people standing on top of trucks, blowing horns and cheering to celebrate the news.
By then her mother had given birth to twin boys after she had managed to be reunited at times with her father at Dunmarra Station, about 300 kilometres from Katherine.
After the war, the family returned to Darwin where they lived in one of the town’s pre-war Burnett houses, in what is now Mitchell Street, in inner Darwin.
The side of the shed in the garden had been blown away by a bomb.
Mrs James said while driving back to Darwin her father “didn’t speak to us… he didn’t know how to talk with his children.”
“We were eating plenty of arrowroot biscuits on the journey.”
Keen to return to Darwin
Mrs James said in Darwin, truckloads of people were preparing to leave, to return to their southern home towns.
But she said most Darwin people who had been evacuated were keen to return.
“They might’ve been living in tin sheds or terrible conditions, but they were like mum and wanted to come home no matter what is was like,” she said.
Mrs James remembers riding a bike past destroyed, damaged or looted houses.
“Being the age we were we just accepted it. A lot had been bombed but our school wasn’t and we were riding around there.”
Mrs James said she remembers seeing a woman crying because her house had been trashed.
“I guess it’s something about war,” she said.
Her father was killed in a road accident on the Stuart Highway when she was a teenager.
She has lived in Darwin for more than 80 years, seeing not only the damage caused by the Bombing of Darwin but also Cyclone Tracy in 1974, when she huddled in her home with her family.
Mrs James has received awards for her contribution to the Darwin community as well as an Order of Australia for her promotion of women’s issues.
These days she enjoys feeding birds in her tropical garden in the Darwin suburb of Fannie Bay.
“The birds I meet every morning at 7 o’clock… I have a conversation with them,” said Mrs James, as she gazed across her favourite bromeliads, philodendrons and calatheas.
The Bombing of Darwin Day Commemorative Service will be held at the Cenotaph on Darwin’s Esplanade, today, starting at 9:30am.
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The tiny Totem theatre, squeezed into a tin shed dating back to WWII, is breathing a sigh of relief: Last year’s Covid restrictions have been relaxed and The Maids, opening tomorrow for a four night season, will again have room for its usual crowd.
Local cast and crew will stage Jean Genet’s psychological thriller set in 1949 Paris, about two maids who play out an escape from their lives of servitude through their imagination when they are left alone by their madame.
Assistant director and committee member Erin Human says last year only about 60% of the theatre capacity could be sold, but “people still came out and supported us which was fantastic, and so we still managed to sort of get through”.
Erin says she is constantly impressed by the depth of local talent who have taken part in productions over the years: “The transient nature of the community is always bringing in new talent.
“Everybody sort of has their day job, and then you discover that at the same time you have incredible singers, dancers, actors, and they come together in the evenings to do these performances, in this very tiny little space.
“It’s incredibly intimate, and if people come out, it’s just this wonderful sort of night out where you get to just sit in this beautiful space, and just see the hard work that’s gone into putting a play on for everybody.”
The theatre is a heritage listed building next to the ANZAC oval, built by the Australian Army in 1945, and operating as a theatre since it was remodelled in 1964. A play and a musical are produced annually by the group, with other special events throughout the year.
Performances of The Maids are on May 14, 15, 21 and 22.
PHOTO AT TOP: Kirryn Wilkinson and in the red dress, Betty Sweetlove.
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The US Army has released video showing soldiers using newly developed night-vision goggles during a live-fire training exercise at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington. The footage, which the army says was shot on April 19, depicts one person’s view through the Enhanced Night Vision Goggle-Binocular (ENVG-B), the features of which are detailed on the US Army website. In its caption of the video, the army said the goggles would provide soldiers with greater “ability to target, engage, and neutralize threats, enhancing mission success and operator safety.” The manufacturer of the goggles, L3Harris Technologies, used the same wording on its website. In June 2018, L3Harris, then known as L3 Technologies, announced that it had been awarded “a three-year, $391 million contract from the US Army Contracting Command” to develop and provide soldiers with the goggles. L3Harris Technologies announced in October, 2019, that it had “begun initial deliveries” of ENVG-B goggles to the US Army. On March 26, 2021, the company said it had delivered “more than 4,500 combat-ready ENVG-B systems to soldiers worldwide.” Credit: US Army via Storyful
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The Northern Territory’s Attorney-General has used a late night speech to parliament to strongly criticise federal Greens senator, Lidia Thorpe.
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Yesterday’s Federal Budget promises little change for the lives of Central Australians aside from a continuation of upgrade work on the Stuart Highway, although there is little confidence in the project.
The Budget includes $400m for road infrastructure in the Territory, with $173.6m going towards key gas industry road upgrades between Tennant Creek and Darwin, supporting the government’s “gas led recovery”.
A further $150m has been put to upgrades for priority sections of the Stuart, Victoria and Barkly Highways. The Federal Department of Infrastructure has scheduled construction for both projects to start in 2023. $77.1m has been allocated to local road and community infrastructure projects and road safety projects across the Territory.
The investments are in line with those dished out to other states and Territories, by population and economy, but there is doubt from both NT Senators as to whether the projects will actually be completed.
“The Prime Minister and this government have form in promising huge amounts of money and never delivering,” says Labor’s Malarndirri McCarthy
“We only need to look at the Tanami Road and the Outback Highway and ask, well where is that at?
“There were substantial funds back in the 2018-19 Budget for the central Arnhem highway, we haven’t seen that.
“So when the Federal government says there’s so many millions going into roads in the Northern Territory, we know it’s not going to happen for at least three or four years, if ever.”
Senator McCarthy says that there is much that needs funding for Central Australia in the short term, such as housing in rural areas, and more investment in roads in remote communities.
CLP Northern Territory Senator Sam McMahon has preemptively put blame for a slower delivery of the Budget’s infrastructure projects on the shoulders of the NT Government.
She says that the Gunner government need to enact “proactive planning” measures for infrastructure development, or risk a drop in the rate of funding that the NT receives.
“The Territory Labor Government has been hopeless at spending previous Federal government funding and I have no confidence it will be any better this time,” Senator McMahon said in a media release.
Senator McCarthy dismisses the announcement as an election Budget, saying it has little relevance to Australians generally due to the long forecasting of much of the funding.
“This delivers little for Central Australia, and it certainly delivers a lot of confusion around what it’s going to do in regards to the Community Development Program,” she says.
“And there are many people around Central Australia who are on CDP, and there are many organisations in Central Australia who run CDP, then there is no detail as to what is going on there.
“I will be interrogating this Budget in the Senate Estimates in just over a week’s time, and I will be asking very many questions as to what is going to happen for Central Australians.”
Labor leader Anthony Albanese will be presenting the Federal Opposition’s alternative Budget tomorrow night, which Senator McCarthy says presents a better outlook for Territorians.
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Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that a US envoy would travel to the Middle East to seek to calm tensions as he implored Israel to avoid civilian deaths.
Hady Amr, the deputy assistant secretary of state in charge of Israeli and Palestinian affairs, was leaving Wednesday and will meet both Israeli and Palestinian leaders, US officials said.
The top diplomat, in a call with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, again pushed for both sides to step back from the fighting.
News of that conversation emerged shortly after the Pentagon said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had called his Israeli counterpart, Benny Gantz, and backed Israel’s “legitimate right to defend itself and its people” while also urging steps to restore calm.”
Blinken described scenes of dead Palestinian civilians, including children, as “harrowing” but defended Israel’s assault on Gaza in response to rocket fire by Hamas militants.
But the diplomat said there was a “very clear and absolute distinction between a terrorist organization, Hamas, that is indiscriminately raining down rockets — in fact, targeting civilians — and Israel’s response defending itself.”
Taking more nuance after the militantly pro-Israel administration of Donald Trump, Blinken renewed US support for the eventual creation of an independent Palestinian state.
“We believe Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live with safety and security and will continue to engage with Israelis, Palestinians and other regional partners to urge de-escalation and to bring calm.”
Originally published as Blinken sends envoy to Mideast, urges Israel to spare civilians
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Word ‘incompetent’ banned in NT Parliament sittings
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Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner has said dishonesty from former members of his Labor team stopped him from “acting early and publicly” to address a growing political scandal plaguing his Government.
Mr Gunner has been under sustained pressure over his handling of the Labor scandal
The scandal has led to the sacking of an MLA from Caucus and the resignation of a staffer
Mr Gunner confirmed he had been made aware of the scandal rumours early in the week of February 8
In a statement released on Sunday, Mr Gunner castigated Blain MLA Mark Turner, who has been expelled from caucus, and a Labor staffer who resigned in the wake of the scandal, for misleading the Government in the wake of growing rumours about them.
“I want to be clear with Territorians: I am extremely angry and disappointed in the behaviour of former members of my team in relation to this matter,” he said.
“What has become clear to me, is that former members of my team showed extremely poor judgement and did not meet my standards, or the standards of my caucus.”
But Mr Gunner has been accused by the Opposition Leader of failing a test of leadership by not properly investigating the matter — a failing Ms Finocchiaro said amounted to “a cover-up”.
“If you don’t investigate and you don’t deny, and you’ve known about it all week, and you don’t come clean with Territorians — that is a cover-up. I don’t know any other way to describe it,” Ms Finocchiaro said.
Independent Robyn Lambley has also called for Mr Gunner to resign over his handling of the matter, which first emerged publicly in a report in the Sunday Territorian on February 14.
On that day, Ms Finocchiaro issued a statement saying she had been made aware of “serious allegations” involving members of the NT Labor Party and called on Mr Gunner to address them.
Ms Finocchiaro later described the allegations as being related to a “cocaine sex scandal”.
In response, Mr Gunner repeatedly accused the Opposition Leader of spreading “internet gossip” saying there was no substance to the allegations.
However, on Wednesday evening Mr Turner addressed parliament and admitted to an inappropriate friendship with a “private citizen” that was “too intimate”.
He insisted he had not engaged in any illegal activity and had the Chief Minister’s support in making the statement.
But the Chief Minister on Thursday changed his position and told parliament Mr Turner had been banished from the party caucus and removed from his role as deputy speaker.
Mr Gunner also confirmed that one of his staffers — who he said categorically rejected any allegations of criminal activity — had resigned to “seek support for personal issues during a distressing time”.
On Sunday, Mr Gunner had also shifted his comments on the staffer saying he has since found out the ex-staffer had also acted dishonestly.
“He wasn’t entirely forthcoming with us about the extent of his relationship with the private citizen, and that was troubling … he wasn’t up front with us as we tried to work our way through this issue,” Mr Gunner said.
Mr Gunner added that the staff member would have been sacked if he hadn’t resigned.
He said he was not aware of a police investigation involving Mr Turner or the former staffer.
He also repeated that there was no evidence to suggest that either Mr Turner or the staff member had engaged in illegal activity.
Mr Gunner has also denied that anyone on his staff worked with Mr Turner to “cover up” the extra-marital affair.
Text messages from Mr Turner to the woman at the centre of the scandal, which have been leaked to the media, suggested Mr Turner was taking advice from someone about comments she should make about the affair.
“At no point did any member of my team advise the Member for Blain on how to cover-up information. I strongly reject any suggestions to the contrary,” Mr Gunner said on Sunday.
Lack of action due to lack of evidence: Gunner
On Sunday, Mr Gunner said he first heard of rumours implicating party members early in the week of February 8. He said he did not act on the matter earlier because, up until last Wednesday, he was being misled by the two members in question.
“Without doubt, if people had been more forthcoming with us, we would have acted earlier and publicly, but we did what we could with the information we had,” he said.
“We did everything we could within our powers to test those rumours and they were strongly denied.
“I want to be clear: we have the same workplace HR processes as any other workplace. We went as far as we could with the ability that we had to work out what was going on here and it was strongly denied.”
When asked if he would have done anything differently to handle the matter after downplaying the allegations as rumours and internet gossip last week, Mr Gunner defended his actions.
“I think we’ve got to be extremely careful about elevating gossip to public debate,” he said.
“I don’t believe it’s controversial still to describe allegations without evidence as gossip. And I still don’t think it’s controversial to describe whether someone is or isn’t having an affair as gossip.”
Mr Gunner said he did not believe any further action needed to be taken to ensure appropriate standards within the Labor Party were upheld.
“We acted against our standards,” he said. “I don’t think our standards were at fault. I think individuals who didn’t meet those standards are at fault,” he said.
“But I’ll be having a meeting on Monday to double-down on that so there is absolute clarity about the standard here.”
Blain MLA’s party status at risk
On Sunday, Mr Gunner indicated the Mr Turner could be stripped of his party status, saying his decision to exclude the Member for Blain from caucus could be considered a recommendation to the party around that issue.
“I have let the president of the party know that that exclusion from our Labor parliamentary team could be considered by her as a recommendation,” he said.
“I am extremely disappointed by how this week evolved and how the story changed during the week. It would be fair to say that that anger is shared by my team.”
On the question of whether Mr Turner should remain in NT Parliament, Mr Gunner said that was a decision for Mr Turner.
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Councillor for 10 years Eli Melky will be standing for Mayor it the local government election in August on a platform of “a strong track record in financial management” as well being able to deal with “the unacceptable level of crime that consumes our community”.
A persistent advocate for a curfew Cr Melky says: “The Mayor must have a vision to get us back to a time of safe community living, a time where we can go shopping, dine out, go to the movies without fear, a time without intruders in our homes while we sleep, our cars taken without permission and business and shop fronts damaged or vandalised senselessly.”
Cr Melky saved the council more than $100,000 by restructuring the repayment of the civic centre loan and he supported a zero rate rise last year as Covid-19 struck.
He says the town “must find its way through the toughest times, possibly in our history … back to that time where it was much safer to live in one of the most iconic towns in Australia.
“It will be my sole mission to ensure the voices and concerns of our community are heard loud and clear in all the halls of power, be it Territory or Federal.”
Cr Melky says he will consider standing for councillor as well but his focus will be on becoming the Mayor.
PHOTO: Cr Melky is making a point at a rally in 2012.
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