Research Stream


Kate Darian-Smith (2017)
The University of Melbourne

Commemoration, Emotion and the Bombing of Darwin, 1942–2017

By exploring the emotional repertoire associated with the reportage and commemoration of the bombing of Darwin on 19 February 1942, and how this has shifted over time, this study situates the politics of memory in Australia within national identity and Australia’s strategic relations with the United States.


This project explores the emotional repertoire associated with the commemoration of a key event in the Pacific War: the bombing of Darwin. On 19 February 1942, this small, multi-racial port and military base suffered the first Japanese attack on Australian soil when two successive air raids killed at least 243 people, and destroyed many public buildings and Allied aircraft and ships. In the chaos that followed, there was looting and disorder, and half the civilian population fled south. A government enquiry into the conduct of those in charge followed, and in the post-war decades the incident was referred to as ‘Australia’s day of shame’ and generally forgotten. By the 1990s, however, there was increased interest in the memorialisation of the bombing ‒ when US President Barack Obama visited Darwin in 2011, he referred to the incident as ‘Australia’s Pearl Harbor’. Since then, two new museum exhibitions now commemorate the bombing, and Darwin has situated itself as a leading site for World War II tourism in Australia.

This project aims to examine the emotive and performative ways in which Australia’s northern frontline history has been reported and commemorated, with a focus on the interplay between emotions and national and individual memories in museums and other memory sites. This is situated within the wider contexts of settler-Indigenous relations in the Northern Territory and Darwin’s pivotal role as the base for American forces as part of Australia’s regional security alliance with the United States.

Image: Darwin Bombing Collection, Northern Territory Library (PH0808/0404)