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old man emu

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The name of Charlie Chuckles came up in another thread recently, and so I was trawling the 'Net for further references when I came upon this site https://ausreprints.net/


 AusReprints documents Australian comics, focusing on the neglected reprints from the 1940s to the 1980s. 


The range is extremely wide, so you are likely to find information to jog your memories of childhood.


It also gives access to some forgotten steps taken by the Federal Government to protect its citizens' morals and pockets. https://ausreprints.net/article/59/p1



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Interesting find, OME. The restriction on the importation of publications probably deemed "frivolous" and even "immoral" in 1940, would have been largely driven by the need to prioritise on shipping space for much-needed War equipment, besides the need to protect Australians morals and pockets.


Shipping in 1940 was slow and cumbersome, with major limitations on volume and weight. Printed products are heavy and would have taken up considerable room that was needed for War machinery.


It wasn't long before tight restrictions on shipping items from America were extensive and all-encompassing, with only critical "priority-need" items allowed to be ordered from America by mid-1941.


This was also the era when a big ship was 7000 tons, most freighters of that era were only 2500-3000 tons, so shipping space was at a premium.



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According to the article, the restriction was a means to limit foreign exchange funds leaving Australia during a time of war. In April 1940, I doubt if Australia was very close to being on a full war footing, and at the same time, the USA was still isolationist. But that's only one little part of the history of comics. I thought that people would like a link to a lost literary format.


I went to the local newsagent this morning and could only find one copy of a 'Phantom" comic there. It was $3.75. It seems that this is another cultural area where the USA promotes its "shoot first" culture. Plenty of gratuitous violence and fear, but no pleasantry. While Disney comics propounded the "work hard, be good" Puritan ethic, at least they weren't full of explosions and hurt.



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Another historical resource is diaries of people who lived thru those times.


My mum was a plane spotter and I have her diaries from the war years (but not the aircraft-identification material.)


The most compelling message from the diary is the anxiety as the war news gets worse. There is relief, when the pride of Britain's navy is sent to save Singapore, then shock when these Battleships are sunk.


The rising panic about invasion led to preparation for evacuation; my mum's family were expecting to become refugees. She spoke of their planning what to carry south, who was to lead which horse, the house cow, what was to be burned as they left.


There are little bits of euphoria, such as when she counted 52 Kittyhawks flying north, tempered by the knowledge that as many fighter aircraft were lost in a single day during the Battle of Britain.


It's interesting to compare these diary entries, based on news reports of the day, with later histories. 


Censorship was tight and it took a generation or more for most people to realise how much their government had lied to them.



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Those personal diaries and memoirs are essential for a proper appreciation of what happened during people's lives. It is our duty to transcribe and digitise these records and make them available to the Australian War Memorial and local historical societies. What part of Australia was she living in?


From what you have written, I gleaned these facts:


  1. Civilians were engaged to monitor air (and probably sea) activity in their local areas - an early Neighbourhood Watch scheme?
  2. The plans to evacuate the civilian population to areas that could be defended by our forces.
  3. The plans promoted by the Government to prevent useful material falling into enemy hands
  4. The results of the Lend Lease agreement - 52 P40 Kittyhawks flying to the defence of the North.
  5. The effect on civilian morale of the early losses and later successes.




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OME - A good book of WW2 history to get hold of, is "Curtins Cowboys - Australia's Secret Bush Commandoes" (1st ed. 1989), by Richard and Helen Walker. Richard Walker was an ABC film director, he produced a lot of ABC documentaries.


The book details the exploits of Australias Coastwatchers - specifically the 500-man strong, North Australia Observer Unit - or the "Nackeroos" as they called themselves.


Exceptionally talented and resourceful men, these blokes endured conditions that would test any man (or woman). They received little recognition for their outstanding work in penetrating areas where no white man had ever been.


They watched Japanese movements around the coastline of Australia, and reported on them, whilst enduring flies and mosquitoes and mud that would drive anyone insane.


"The history of this unit reads like a 'Boys Own' adventure - a story which reveals as much about panic and paranoia in Australia in 1942, as it does about the pioneering spirit and remarkable endurance of a curious mixture of young hand-picked volunteers. This special observer unit was created to observe and report all the information that they could gather about the Japanese invasion force. They patrolled the north, from the Kimberleys to the Gulf of Carpentaria, living off the land in some of the most remote and hostile country in the continent. This account has been pieced together from interviews with over 100 veterans and supplemented by secret diaries and pictorial records".


The book is long out of print, but good secondhand copies are available from Abebooks.com and other booksellers.



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I have read that book. The Unit's medical officer became the Police Medical Officer for the NSW Police. He dressed me down once because I had put on too much weight during my probationary year (thanks to a lot of night shift and Macdonalds). When I started I was so thin I could have been used as a pull-through for a .22. I shudder when I see the size of junior police nowadays. When physical standards were softened in the late 1980's we used to say that recruits could be "black or white and any height". Now it would be "black or white and any height or weight"



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...The plans to evacuate the civilian population to areas that could be defended by our forces...


OME I agree with your summary, but the evacuation plan was a probably a local or family initiative.


Given their efforts to cover up the events of 19-2-42 in Darwin, I doubt the authorities would have publicly risked panic by discussing evacuation.



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I have presented information elsewhere here, from NSW Government sources which contains the prepared plans for the removal of as much of the civilian population as possible to areas that the military considered it could hold. The plans also outline procedures for depriving the enemy (Japan) of materials that they could use to support their operations. 


I'm not talking of "The Brisbane Line", which, although discussed by the Government early in the war was actually thrown out by it before there was even a threat from Japan. The claim that there was such a plan to yield the north of the country was a political ploy by a Labor politician which was aimed at the political defeat of the Menzies government.



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I feel that those tank traps are substantial evidence of the seriousness with which the Brisbane Line was taken. I have seen them.  Also, my family was amongst the many who relocated South, from northern Queensland at that time. If nurses had to move out from Townsville and Cairns, I think it was a reaction to more than a rumour.



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There was never any official civilian evacuation plans in case of Japanese invasion during WW2 - but the Army was given free reign in March 1942, via legislative changes, to carry out a "scorched earth" policy in case of invasion.


There would have been many individual Military unit efforts at building anti-invasion defences - because a lot of the time, the troops left in Australia needed something to keep them occupied, anyway.


The NSW Forestry Commissioner was a major alarmist, and hammered a very detailed scorched earth plan, with constant verbal haranguing to back it up.


He also proposed organising a Citizen Defence force, utilising every available citizen to repel the invader, using whatever means was available to hand.


But his plans were only plans, they were never adopted officially, even though he had quite a bit of power to put into action, many features of his plan.


A woman journalist wrote a book examining this Commissioners life and plans. He was a bit of a character and obviously quite dominant and abrasive, and sure of himself.


But a lot of what he spoke about the Japs in WW2 was correct. The biggest factor in the whole scenario was whether Japan ever entertained the idea of invading Australia.


Japanese records reveal they only considered it as a proposed idea, and it was promptly written off as unnecessary, and of no benefit to Japans primary aims, that of settling areas closer to Japan.





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I don't know ifthe book you are referring to is the same one I read. The one I read was basically a reprint of the Forestry Commissioner's detailed plans, also by a female jouno. The Commissioner drew up the plans in response to the Federal Government's request that States do some planning.


Now I'll have to go to the Library to fine that book to back up what I've said, but here's a newspaper article: https://www.theaustralian.com.au/nation/inquirer/the-citizens-guide-to-war-when-japan-threatened-australia/news-story/0e542f479492d104564d00d963e4c2fb


It wasn't a scorched earth policy as such. It was a policy to remove civilians from areas being invaded, and to render inoperable anything that could be turned to the enemy's benefit. The plans were a "worst case" scenario, which, as you say, did not have to be acted upon. At least the Government had considered plans to protect civilians, after experience told them that civilians are still pawns in Total war.


Based on our recent bushfire experience, we can see that the Japanese could have been defeated by tossing a few Red Heads around.


Drought conditions prevailed over eastern Australia from 1937 to 1945. They first emerged at serious levels in 1937, with New South Wales, Victoria, much of Queensland and parts of Western Australia affected. Isolated parts of New South Wales, notably in the central west, suffered record low rainfall. In 1938 there was further deterioration in New South Wales and Victoria and it also spread to eastern South Australia and the south-west grain growing region of Western Australia where wheat yields plummeted to their lowest level since 1914.


In Victoria, a very dry six month period provided the right conditions for the disastrous Black Friday bushfires in January 1939. Heavy rain fell in late February 1939 over Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales, and for the remainder of the year, abundant rain fell over eastern and central Australia. However dry weather occurred again and 1940 was one of the driest years of the century over most of the southern parts of the country. Dams were empty in New South Wales and Brisbane had water restrictions. January 1941 saw rain again, but by the second half of that year was again very dry. The following 12 months were good for general rain, but again dry conditions returned in 1943 and were worse again in 1944 when a failure of the wheat crop occurred in several places. The drought continued into 1945 and large rivers such as the Hunter were virtually dry. By April 1945 most Victorian water storage facilities were empty, the Murray river ceased flowing at Echuca and Adelaide faced water shortages.



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...The NSW Forestry Commissioner was a major alarmist, and hammered a very detailed scorched earth plan, with constant verbal haranguing to back it up....


I'd like to read more about that (my dad's father worked for him and probably knew him well)- but not enough to subscribe to a Murdoch paper, which seems to be the only way I'll open that link.



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The woman journalist who dug up the old NSW Forestry Commission files, and who found the "scorched earth" plans of Edward Harold Fulcher Swain, the NSW Forestry Commissioner of the time, is Sue Rosen.


She has written a book, entitled, "Scorched Earth, Australia’s Secret Plan for Total War", it will be released by the publishers, Allen and Unwin on May 24 this year, and will retail at $32.99.



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I just got back from the library with a copy of that book. First published 2017, so the 2020 version is a 2nd printing. It's good to know that the book has raised interest amongst historians, and history buffs. 


You didn't post the whole sub-title - Australia'a secret plan for total war under Japanese invasion in WWll".


The policy came out of the National Security Act 1939. Here's a link to a newspaper report:  https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/11245267. The policy that the plan was designed to implement was originally called the Scorched Earth Code, it became known as the less panicky "Denial of Resources to the Enemy policy".


The original NSW Forestry Commission file reference is 3/5944.


From the book: "Wherever the Japanese invaded Asia, they plundered local resources ... and used locals and captured troops as slave labour. The Curtin government was determined that this would never happen in Australia."


In early 1942 the Federal government asked the States to draw up schemes to deny resources to the enemy and to remove civilians and troops to defensible areas. Curtin told the States that the plans were "part of  the general defence scheme" and not sincnsistent with plans to defend the country to the full extent of its capacity. This is the structure for New South Wales:






That Swain was able to submit a comprehensive report to the State Premier by January 1942 - a mere six weeks after the first military moves by Japan into South-east Asia, shows Swain was on top of his game and a very capable administrator.


The book we are quoting from is merely a reprint of archive file 3/5944. However, its content is an absorbing, if boring, read.  If only we had a government willing to develop a bushfire mitigation policy and people strong-willed enough to create plans as detailed as Swains, then we would not be trying to rebuild the country from Port Phillip to the Gold Coast.



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