Published online by Cambridge University Press: 30 August 2017
‘DANGER’, real and imagined, has been an undercurrent in Australian life and culture since settlement. In 1788 convicts arrived in a strange and unfamiliar land. Life-threatening creatures – snakes, spiders and crocodiles – abound, and children wandering off were ‘lost in the bush’. Indigenous peoples were removed from the land, ‘dispersed’, murdered and starved, and forced onto missions and government reserves. The descendants of the ‘first fleet’ and consequent arrivals in boats developed a special anxiety about Australia's coastlines. In one of the volumes of the official history of the First World War, the chapter on Australia's tropical forces visualizes this danger with a map on ‘possible disease invasion’: thick arrows from the North and North-East target neighbouring Pacific islands – Dutch New Guinea, ex-German New Guinea and Papua, the British Solomon Island Protectorate and the Condominium of the New Hebrides – that form an arc behind which Australia shelters. If this barrier fell, the map seems to say, Australia would be defenceless. This ‘oriental’, at times Russian, at times Chinese, Indo-Chinese and Japanese threat was countered in Australia with diverse measures of securing the nation: coastal forts and quarantine stations were built and policies on migration legislated, forming the so-called ‘White Australia policy’ that restricted migration on racial terms. In this chapter I examine how themes of danger from outside and from within were an influence on the home front during the Second World War, and what was done through policies and government actions to remove danger by internment. The chapter examines the changing needs of the home front, the internal debate about service to the Empire and, finally, the reasons why internal danger ceased.
On 3 September, at 9.15 p.m. Australian time, Robert Menzies, prime minister of Australia, announced to the British subjects of Australia his ‘melancholy duty to inform you officially that … Great Britain has declared war upon her [Germany] and that, as a result, Australia is also at war’.