Brisbane, Circa 1953
Brisbane, Circa 1953

Constant fear of living next to the Brisbane Line in WWII

THE term "The Brisbane Line" will mean very little to most people in Australia today. However, at one time it was a very controversial term and one which directly had repercussions for the Northern Rivers.

Those who are still here and remember the bad old days of the Second World War may also remember the rounding-up of all males to form groups which would defend our area against Japanese invasion, or to drive cattle over the Tablelands or help in the evacuation of women, children, and the elderly.

Tank traps were built in many areas. It is not clear whether these would have impeded the cattle drive, or the evacuation.

Apparently there were 10,000 or more troops stationed near Tenterfield to protect the area once the evacuation had taken place.

It should be remembered that it really was a very frightening time, though children were often not aware of this unless they had a father or other family member in the armed forces.

Aeroplanes could be heard every night as there was a large base at Evans Head and there were several crashes reported. Wardens patrolled the streets each night in towns, especially those near the coast, and residents were warned to keep lights to a minimum.

The trains were full of soldiers so most people preferred to travel to Sydney by the daily shipping lines, either from Ballina or Byron Bay, though several ships had been attacked by enemy U-boats and a few had been sunk.

Most people in our area who were not in the Armed Services were involved in agriculture.

It was a booming time for the farmer as England needed to be fed as well as servicemen. It must have been a confusing time for people making important decisions and trying to plan for all eventualities.

No wonder the Brisbane Line became an idea, then a plan, then a disaster, and eventually no-one wanted to believe that it really existed.

It seems likely that the original idea came from our own General Iven Giffard Mackay who, in early 1942, was involved in proposals to prepare Australia for its defence against the Japanese.

At that time the Army was under-manned. He was trying to prepare plans using the five divisions under his control. However, the manpower he had could barely provide three divisions.

He, therefore, proposed to concentrate his forces in locations between Brisbane and Melbourne. Areas such as Northern Queensland would be barely manned.

This was in line with government thinking which was that the Port Kembla and Newcastle areas were vital and as long as they were held Australia could continue to fight. Mackay later stated that he at no time called his plan "The Brisbane Line".

The "plan" became a political football, however, and a Royal Commission was held.

It found there was no such plan but people still seemed to think there may have been.

In 1943 General Douglas MacArthur added fuel to the fire by referring to the plan in a press conference and calling it "The Brisbane Line". When asked, he stated that he believed that all documents concerning it had been destroyed.

We will probably never know the exact sequence of events but it is likely that a small part of a plan got blown up by someone else and as it bounced around it grew into something much bigger.

Luckily we never had to put it into practice and our people and animals did not have to trek miles over the mountains to Tenterfield.

As well, Brisbane was allowed to grow from not much more than a country town into the wonderful city it is today.