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Her beauty and her terror the wide brown land for me!

February 19, 2009
Her beauty and her terror the wide brown land for me!

In the face of fires, floods, cyclones and enemy attack Australia always gets up again.

On Feb 19 Darwin remembers a terrible trial by enemy fire.

GoSee carries close the memory of time spent at the Adelaide River War Cemetery in the Northern Territory near Darwin. That memory of national pain also holds hope. The cemetery is a calm, beautiful tribute to our own.

Among the cold metal and stone tributes to those lost a gorgeous peacock hopped onto a bench and flared his wonderful multi-colored fan of tail-feathers for our benefit.

It was like the fresh greens which follow Australia's fires and floods.

Suddenly the world was a better place.

As teenage Dorothea Mackellar said in her Anthem to our nation, My Country- Her beauty and her terror. The wide brown land for me!

The Japanese air raids on Darwin, Australia, on 19 February 1942 were the largest attacks ever mounted by a foreign power against Australia.

According to official figures, 243 civilians and military personnel were killed on 19 February, most of them on the ships which were sunk in the harbour. Over 400 people were wounded and 200 of these were seriously injured.

Local sources estimate that between 900 and 1100 people were killed. Government censorship limited coverage of the event to protect public morale in the southern states of Australia.

After the massive 19 February 1942 Japanese raid of about 188 Japanese warplanes, the Northern Territory and parts of Western Australia's north were bombed 62 more times between 4 March 1942 and 12 November 1943.

The raids were the first of about 100 air raids against Australia during 194243. More bombs were dropped on Darwin than fell in the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7 1941. Like Pearl Harbor Darwin was unprepared, and although it came under attack from the air another 58 times in 1942 and 1943, the raids on 19 February were massive and devastating by comparison.

Adelaide River memorial to the fallen
Adelaide River memorial to the fallen

In 1942 Darwin had a population of about 2,000 as the civilian population of about 5,000 had been reduced by evacuation. Darwin was a strategically-placed naval port and airbase, and there were about 15,000 Allied soldiers in the area.

The Adelaide River War Cemetery and the adjacent Adelaide River Wartime Civilian Cemetery are situated about 1km from the Stuart Highway and 100 metres from the Adelaide River in the town of Adelaide River, 116 kilometres south of Darwin.

The Adelaide River War Cemetery is the fourth largest war cemetery in Australia.

As one of the many war cemeteries managed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission it reflects the scale, intensity and human sacrifice that is recognised and associated with the Second World War.

As part of a worldwide group of War Cemeteries it contributes to the continuity with which military personnel are mourned. It contributes to the sense of enormity of the loss of life resulting from WWII.

Father lost
Father lost

The adjacent Adelaide River Civilian Wartime Cemetery is of particular interest as the resting-place for some of the few civilians killed as a result of enemy attacks on Australia.

Both cemeteries are significant to the Territory as reminders of the important role that the Top End played in the defence of Australia during World War II.

Editors Note: Dorothea Mackellar was a teenage 18 when she penned My Country.

The simple poem, GoSee believes, is the unofficial spoken national anthem of Australia.

My Country was first published in 1908. A century ago. It is Australia's most famous poem. Beautiful, Sydney socialite Dorothea captures the core of Australia. Which fits with her initial title for the poem, Core of My Heart.

Dorothea was 17 when her first work the poem An Old Song was published by the prestigious American magazine Harper's.

Her poems also appeared in the Bulletin. Her first collection of verse The Closed Door included the re-titled My Country and was published on May 11, 1911.

She was 18 and in England when she started on Core of My Heart. Some drafts later she completed it in Sydney. Some argue it is little more than doggerel. GoSee believes the poem is from Dorothea's heart.

Dorothea said - I wrote it with sincerity.

Dorothea died in 1967 aged 82. She gave Australia her heart and in doing that gave heart to Australians.

Source: Dorothea Mackellar's My Country a centenary celebration 1908 to 2008, photographed by Peter Luck.

NT flies Colours
NT flies Colours

Missing in action, Darwin, 1942
Missing in action, Darwin, 1942

Only child
Only child

So young
So young

Timor and NT losses
Timor and NT losses

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