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Speeches
Former Minister for Veterans' Affairs
Media Release
Friday 31 May 2002
 

The Hon Danna Vale MP
Minister for Veterans’ Affairs
Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence

at the

Fort Scratchley Dedication Dinner
at City Hall, Newcastle

It gives me great pleasure to be here tonight. I would like to thank Senator John Tierney for his kind invitation to attend and speak at this important event.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the defence of Australia, when Australians faced the prospect of invasion during World War II.

Tonight's dinner is the first of a series of events celebrating historic Fort Scratchley and its unique role in that dark time.

In 1942, for the first time, Australians found themselves fighting not merely for their principles but for their own country, for our own Australian way of life.

Singapore had fallen, Darwin and many other towns and islands across Northern Australia had been bombed.

With the increasing threat of foreign invasion, a series of fortifications were built and existing fortifications were strengthened along the New South Wales coast.

Fort Scratchley had been around since 1882, well before World War II, in response to colonial fears of Russian naval attacks on Newcastle.

It was extensively modernised in 1892 and then again in 1910.

In 1942, 60 years ago tonight, Japanese midget submarines entered Sydney Harbour, sinking HMAS Kuttabul with the loss of 21 Australian and British sailors.

Just eight days later, Japanese submarines again attacked our shores - shelling the suburbs of Sydney and the City of Newcastle.

At approximately 2 am on the 8th June, the Japanese submarine I-21 (pron: eye-twenty one) commanded by Captain Kanji Matsumura, approached Newcastle. Matsumura's orders were to attack the Newcastle shipyards.

He took his craft within nine kilometres of Newcastle and fired 34 shells over a 13 minute period.

Captain Watson was in command of Fort Scratchley on this night and he gave the Fort's guns their range and bearing and ordered fire.

The story goes that the telephonist then reported, "Fire Command says engage when ready, Sir!"

Captain Watson is then reported to have said, "Tell them I bloody well have!"

In all, Fort Scratchley returned fire with four rounds, although none of them caused any damage to the enemy submarine.

There were no casualties on land, with most of the Japanese shells falling around the customs house, the power station and nearby houses, causing minimal damage.

Many of the shells that hit the urban areas did not explode, possibly because the submarine was using armour-piercing shells designed for use against steel-sided ships, not bricks and mortar.

It is horrifying to think what the extent of damage might have been had these shells actually exploded.

The engagement gave Fort Scratchley the distinction of being the only Australian fort to have engaged an enemy surface target in wartime.

During their heyday coastal fortifications, such as Fort Scratchley and Fort Denison in Sydney Harbour, played a major role in the defence of Australia.

Sadly, following World War II most of these historical treasures were dismantled or left to decline.

Fort Scratchley, like Fort Denison, is one of the few that remain to remind us of this important chapter in our military history.

Tomorrow, in the presence of the Prime Minister, Fort Scratchley will be dedicated in honour of all of those wonderful Aussies, past and present, who, putting on the uniform of the Commonwealth, served in the defence of our nation.

This important dedication is a significant tribute to those servicemen and women to whom we all owe our thanks and gratitude for our bright future, our Australian way of life, and for our nation.

The dedication will signify another milestone in the fort's colourful history. It also will mark the start of a $4.66 million project funded by the Commonwealth to restore the site to its former glory.

The project aims to recreate the authentic nature of Fort Scratchley, by relocating the existing Maritime Museum offsite and establishing the fort as a museum in its own right.

I am pleased to hear that when the restoration is complete in Newcastle's bicentennial year, 2004, Fort Scratchley will be handed over to the Newcastle City Council.

And I congratulate the Newcastle City Council and the Fort Scratchley Historical Society for their vision of preserving Fort Scratchley for generations to come.

Thank you and all the best for tomorrow's dedication.