National Geographic : 1943 Mar
Sydney Faces the War Front Down Under BY HOWELL WALKER S YDNEY flashed fighting spirit as war exploded the Pacific harbor. Never be fore had an enemy rocked this cradle of the continent. Sneaking along the darkened water front of Australia's largest city, Japanese suicide squads of the deep approached objectives like stealthy sharks. Alert harbor patrols bore down and blasted them. Four midget sub marines from Nippon submerged for the last time (opposite page). A torpedo fired from one of the invading craft sank a naval depot ship. Houses on the battle front shook; windows were shattered. Searchlights and tracer bullets split the sin ister backdrop of night. With crashing sud denness detonations from depth charges and guns roared war to Sydney. To me, and to thousands of others who first heard explosions booming up from the harbor and saw frantic flashes of high-powered lights, it all meant simply "practicing again." Few of us had really felt that a hostile attack so far south was imminent. Sydney Harbour a Focus of Pacific Strategy Sydney Harbour has a strategic position on the Pacific coast, with all natural facilities for handling shipping on an enormous scale, plus naval dockyards. Also, it is the focal point of a wide-reaching railway network. Already a leading world haven for sea and aircraft in peacetime, Sydney seethed with increasing wartime traffic to and from the United Nations. Its central location in an area of vast, heavy industries stimulated its own manufactures. Commercially and finan cially, Sydney was to the cities what sheep were to the country. Yet, until recently, its growing population of more than a million and a quarter, includ ing refugees from China and the Philippines, Malaya, the Netherlands Indies, and north Australia, thought of Sydney as the "Pleasure City of the South Seas." Twice by steamship and half a dozen times by train have I arrived in the capital of New South Wales. It always excited me the way New York did. It was big; it was busy; it was expensive. I last returned four months after Pearl Harbor. Driving from station to hotel, I found myself saying, "Same old Syd ney; you wouldn't know there's a war on." Some characteristics of Sydney the play ground could never change. But with Jap anese war birds hovering in the near north, swooping on Darwin, and fluttering over Townsville in the next State, the fun-loving metropolis began a transformation.* The middle-aged assistant manager of the hotel paused before leaving the room. "If there is anything I can do for you in the next two days before I must report to a military camp . . ." and he closed the door quietly behind him. Under the glass top of my bureau glared brown-out notices, how-to-act-in-air-raid ad vice, and a statement that night shoe-cleaning service was discontinued because of shortage of staff. Many of the hotel employees had gone to camp. Giant Australia Grew Up in 150 Years Little more than 150 years ago Australia was virtually unknown territory. In 1788 Capt. Arthur Phillip, R.N., with eleven sailing ships landed at Sydney Cove-one of many bays and baylets in Port Jackson-to found the first permanent settlement in the "Great South Land." He wrote to Lord Sydney, the British Home Secretary, for whom he named the cove, "I have had the satisfaction of finding the finest harbour in the world." Actually, Capt. James Cook arrived in Aus tralia 18 years ahead of Phillip, but he did not linger. He sailed into Botany Bay, ten miles south of Sydney Cove, in April, 1770, and took possession of the eastern part of the continent. Sighting the bay which is now Sydney Harbour, but not pausing to explore it, he called it "Port Jackson" in honor of the then Secretary to the Admiralty. Today this name means little save to cartographers and nau tical-chart readers. Since Governor Phillip's early settlement, his diminutive group of huts has grown into a modern metropolis, second in size only to London among the "white" Imperial cities; and, even before the war, fifth port of the British Empire. Circular Quay, fringing Sydney Cove where Phillip landed, is the heart of the port, the home base of about ten different ferry services which ply the harbor's 22 square miles or skirt nearly all of its 188 miles of shore line. Harbour Bridge, the world's heaviest and widest of the arch type, was opened to traffic in 1932 (Plate IV). It accommodates four lines * See "Capital Cities of Australia," by W. Robert Moore, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, December, 1935.