It has been noted, in the mass media at least, that over recent years there has been a rise in consciousness of our Anzac history among younger people, which has manifested in them visiting Gallipoli, for example, and attending Anzac Day services and marches in increasing numbers.
The term Anzac has been broadened to include all our war heroes, not just those who fought at Anzac Cove, and now refers more to the spirit with which our men have fought in various theatres of war.
But remarkably, and most unfortunately in my view, we do not consider those who fought and died on our own shores in World War II as heroes, as we do so readily and deservedly those who defended other shores.
I refer specifically to the 645 men of HMAS Sydney. They are not acknowledged for their dedication, bravery, and ultimate sacrifice, yet their Anzac spirit, the same spirit with which men have fought elsewhere, has most direct import for this country.
Instead of ignoring them, as we largely have done to date, we ought to validate Sydney’s men for their role in world history, for their sacrifice (and the initial secrecy of it) was pivotal to the allied victory in World War II. Moreover, Sydney’s 645 men were defending Australia, the very land and spiritual home of the Anzacs.
Importantly, this gross oversight of the actions of the crew of HMAS Sydney, and the enormous consequences and meaning of them, was contrived, knowingly and deliberately fabricated, by a triumvirate of men who are well-known figures of that same history - Prime Minister of Australia John Curtin, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Winston Churchill, and President of the United States of America Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Notwithstanding the importance of secrecy regarding HMAS Sydney’s actions and loss at the time, it is significant that the governments of these countries continue to maintain that secrecy to this day for political and economic reasons. In this way, they are responsible for the instigation and maintenance of the false consciousness of the Australian people.
Failure of successive Australian governments to acknowledge the truth about what happened to them and how we sacrificed and dishonoured, and continue to dishonour, Sydney’s 645 men is a national shame. The shameful way this nation has dealt with the loss of the Sydney contrasts sharply with the Anzac spirit of these martyred men, heroes of (arguably) Australia’s most significant post-colonial historical event.
The Sydney left Fremantle on November 11, 1941 escorting the troopship Zealandia to the Sunda Strait. She was expected to return to Fremantle by November 20 at the latest. On the night of November 19-20 1941, the HMAS Sydney sunk off the Western Australian coast, allegedly after being fired on by the German raider HSK Kormoran, with the loss of all on board.
Described as “Australia's worst ever naval disaster”, it has been inadequately investigated by parliamentary commissions and inquiries whose terms of reference were such that the information the public needed from the government was not revealed.
Documents tabled in the Western Australian parliament (in 2002) by Green’s MLC (WA) Jim Scott and Mr John Doohan allege that the Sydney crew may have been murdered by the German survivors of the Kormoran, which was disguised as a merchant vessel, and that a Japanese submarine could also have been involved in her sinking.
Both the alleged murder of the Sydney crew by Kormoran survivors (and its disguise) and the alleged involvement of a Japanese submarine are of historical, international and national significance. If the Kormoran survivors murdered the Sydney crew, then they were in breach of the Geneva Convention, and if the Japanese navy was involved, then they too breached the convention for murder, because the Sydney was sunk prior to Japan’s entry into the war.