Australia has recently commemorated the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Darwin. However, there is another northern outpost that was also very heavily targeted yet barely rates a mention in Australian history books. I am talking about the bombing of Horn Island in the Torres Strait, which was the second hardest hit base in Australia after Darwin.
On 14 March 1942, Japanese fighter planes targeted Horn Island as part of their campaign to cripple military positions in northern Australia. Local historian Vanessa Seekee says the island's aerodrome was a strategic, but vulnerable, operational base for Australian and Allied forces when the first raid took place.
Coast-watchers in southern New Guinea managed to alert the troops on Horn Island of the impending raid when they spotted a large formation flying en route to the Torres Strait.
The government had earlier evacuated residents from the island in anticipation of an attack but civilian contractors witnessed a mid-air duel between eight Japanese Betty Bombers and 12 Zeros and about nine US Kittyhawks. While the allied forces were outnumbered, they still managed to ward off the raid.
Horn Island was attacked eight more times by the Japanese over the next 16 months and about 500 bombs were dropped, targeting the airfield. Tragically one hundred and fifty-six people died in active service on or around the island along with 86 civilians and crew onboard the ship the Mumutu when it was sunk by a Japanese submarine on 7 August 1942.
While historians and media releases focus on the attacks on Darwin, Broome, Port Hedland and Townsville, the Torres Strait is often overlooked.
On this 75th anniversary of the first bombing of Horn Island, it is time Australia gave an appropriate level of recognition to this event.
Today in the Australian parliament I honour the sacrifices that were made by the people of the Torres Strait and pay tribute to the vital role they played in repelling Japanese forces. Without their resistance, the history books today would tell a very different story.
I would also like to acknowledge that on 1 March 2018 we will commemorate the 75th anniversary of the establishment of the Torres Strait Light Infantry Battalion, the only Indigenous Australian battalion ever formed by the Australian Army.
Eight hundred and seventy Torres Strait Islander men-about one-fifth of the population of the Torres Strait at the time-joined the ranks, serving alongside 5,000 non-Indigenous troops. The battalion represented a significant contribution to the Australian war effort, and today there are only two surviving members: Mr Mebai Warusam, who lives on Saibai Island, and Mr Awatie Mau at Bamaga.
I look forward to honouring the contribution of battalion members in 2018.