In the Shadow of War – Australia 1942

In 1942 Australia lay in the shadow of war, a shadow on its very doorstep. The victorious Japanese forces had swept right up to Australian territory and the very lifeline of the Pacific supply route with the United States was directly threatened.
Melbourne was the Headquarters of the war effort, but the frontlines were right in Australian territory, towns and cities. In the air, on land, at sea and on the home front, Australia was hard-pressed.  Survival was the order of the day; victory was far from certain.

A highly successful inaugural biennial MHHV conference In the Shadow of War – Australia 1942 kicked off Military History and Heritage Week. The conference was themed on the 70th anniversary of the existential threat to Australia in 1942.  Its offering of the best historian subject experts in Australia was led by Professor David Horner’s key note presentation ‘1942: A Pivotal Year’.  Other highlights of the conference included the firsthand account of the loss of HMAS Canberra in August 1942 by veteran Mackenzie Gregory and a special guest speaker from the National Defence Institute of Japan.

Presentations were delivered on the social, political and strategic setting as well as details of the air, land and sea campaigns, several based on the latest research from Japanese archives. These were given by well-known both individual authors and historians including from the Australian War Memorial, Australian National University, Melbourne University, and Monash University to name a few.  Two book launches by historians from the AWM were also launched by Cambridge University Press during the conference.

Military History and Heritage Victoria President Colonel Marcus Fielding was pleased with the high level of support for and participation in the conference.  He noted that following the completion of Military History and Heritage Week, MHHV would resume its planning for new events in the year ahead and would announce details as soon as possible.

In the Shadow of War was held at the Grand Hyatt Melbourne hotel, located at the top end of prestigious Collins Street in Melbourne’s CBD, over 21-22 April 2012.

Conference programme

Session One – A Pivotal Year
Welcome – Major General Jim Barry, AM, MBE, RFD, ED (Rtd), Patron MHHV Inc.

Opening Address Lieutenant-General Mark Evans, AO, DSC (Rtd), Former Chief of Joint Operations, Australian Defence Force.

Conference Opening – Colonel Marcus Fielding, Conference Chair and President MHHV Inc.

Keynote Speaker ‘1942 – A Pivotal Year in Australian History’ – Professor David Horner, Professor of Australian Defence History, Australian National University.

Session Two – Australia and Japan, Home Defence and Politics Session Chair: Colonel John Moug (Rtd), Board member, Fort Queenscliff Museum.

Paper: ‘World wars and the anticipation of conflict: The impact on long-established Australian Japanese relations 1905-1943’ – Dr Pam Oliver, Adjunct Research Associate of the School of Historical Studies, Monash University.

Paper: ‘The Overlooked Mission: Australia and Home Defence’ – Dr Albert Palazzo, Senior Research Fellow, Directorate of Army Research and Analysis.

Paper: ‘Dangers and Problems Unprecedented and Unpredictable: The Curtin Government’s Response to the Threat’ – Dr Ross McMullin, Labor Party historian and biographer.

Book Launch –   ‘The Hard Slog’ by Karl James


Session Three Japanese Strategy, the Ran and Darwin
Session Chair: Commander John Wilkins, RFD (Rtd), Navy League of Australia (Victorian Division).

Paper: ‘Japanese Strategy and Intentions Towards Australia’ – Dr Steve Bullard, Historian, Australian War Memorial.

Paper: ‘A New Experience for the RAN: Defending Australian Waters in 1942’ – Dr Ian Pfennigwerth, RAN (Captain Rtd), Naval Historical Society of Australia Inc.

Paper: ‘The 19th February 1942 air raids on Darwin: Image and reality’ – Dr Alan Powell, Emeritus Professor of History, Charles Darwin University.

Session Four
Home Front, Veterans and Battles Close To Home Session Chair: Dr Jim Wood RFD, ED (Colonel Rtd), Vice-Patron, MHHV Inc.

Paper: ‘The Home Front and the American Presence in World War II’ – Professor Kate Darian-Smith, Professor of Australian Studies and History and Director of the Australian Centre, University of Melbourne.

A Veteran Remembers: ‘The loss of HMAS Canberra, Savo Island, 1942’ – Lieutenant Commander Mackenzie Gregory, RAN (Rtd).

Paper: ‘On Australia’s Doorstep: Timor, Wau, Kokoda and Milne Bay’ – Dr Karl James, Historian, Australian War Memorial.

Book Launch – ‘The Kokoda Campaign 1942′ by Peter Williams.

Session Five The Japanese View, Allied Performance in the Field and the Air War
Session Chair: Lieutenant Colonel Neil Smith, AM (Rtd), Military Historical Society of Australia, Victorian Branch Inc.

Paper: ‘The Japanese Army’s “Unplanned” South Pacific Campaign’ – Mr Hiroyuki Shindo, Senior Researcher, Centre for Military History, National Institute for Defense Studies, Japan.

Paper: ‘Taking the fight to the enemy: Combat performance of the Australian 7th and US 32nd Infantry Divisions in the Beachhead battles’ – Dr Peter J Dean, Fellow, Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, School of International, Political and Strategic Studies, Australian National University College of Asia and the Pacific.

Paper: Vanquished but defiant; victorious but divided – The RAAF in the Pacific 1942’ – Dr Mark Johnston, Head of History, Scotch College, Melbourne.

Conference Close – Colonel Marcus Fielding and Major General Jim Barry.

Click Here to see the Conference Photo Gallery

During the Conference weekend a Black tie or Mess Dress Gala Dinner was held at the Hyatt.  The dinner was attended by conference speakers, session chairs and conference attendees. Guest speaker at the dinner was US Acting Consul-General Nathan Flook who spoke to the Australian-American alliance developed from 1908 and WWI and forged in 1942 through the modern period.  In addition the Hawthorn Choir of Sing Australia provided entertainment with their rendition of a range of popular songs from the 1942 period.

The proceedings, edited by Dr Peter Dean, Director of Studies at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre of the Australian National University, contain a foreword from Kim Beasley, former Minister for Defence and Australia’s Ambassador to the United States.

The book also contains full papers from the presenters at the conference.  Detail can be found at

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