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Montevideo campaign takes new turn

“Grandfather went down with the Montevideo,” Peter Garrett sang in those days before he occupied the Rudd Government’s comfortably padded front bench. And the lyrics told the truth. Peter Garrett’s grandfather, Tom, a planter, was one of the 1,053 Australian men, including some who were barely teenagers, who went down with the Japanese cargo ship on 1 July 1942 after it was torpedoed by a US submarine. All the men, soldiers and civilians, had been taken captive in Rabaul.

One of the Japanese who survived, no prisoners did, Yohiaki Yamachi, said later: “I have not been able to forget the death cries”. But he also said the Australians went down locked in the ship’s hold singing ‘Auld Lang Syne’, a memory etched in his mind that represented for him an outstanding example of bravery and comradeship.

Now, a small group has been formed, the Montevideo Maru Memorial Committee, to seek official Australian Government recognition of this, our nation’s greatest ever maritime tragedy. Two members of the committee, Liz Thurston and Andrea Williams, lost relatives on the ship and last night appeared on a nicely put together news feature on SBS, which you can view here.

Two other prominent Australian politicians also lost relatives in the sinking, and like Garrett’s grandfather they were also civilians. Kim Beazley lost his uncle, Rev Sydney Beazley, and one time Prime Minister Earle Page lost his brother, a public servant, Harold Page, a much decorated Army officer in World War I.

Next year on 1 July a group of private citizens will erect a plaque on the shores of Subic Bay in the Philippines to commemorate the sinking. But the need for official Australian Government recognition continues, as this quote from Jenny Evans’ Lost Lives website shows:

“For sixty years both contrived and unwitting silence has descended over parts of the Rabaul experience. Those who escaped told their stories. Some of those who were captured survived. Relatives were told various versions of the truth. Historians became more and more careless and neglectful of the sequence of New Guinea events.

"Politicians who had been part of the betrayal built post war careers. Post war migrants came from Europe, uninterested in New Guinea stories. Schools did not embrace the idea of teaching Australian military history adequately. Japan became our strong trading partner. July 1 passes every year with no mention of the Montevideo Maru and the events of 1942. And so the silence continues.”

Now it's up to the current generation of politicians to make amends.

There are two excellent websites about the Montevideo Mary disaster. You can find Jenny Evans’ and her daughter Joanne’s website here.

And visit Rod Miller’s information packed The Montevideo Maru website here.


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