"THE BRISBANE LINE"
WAS IT FACT OR WAS IT A MYTH?

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Photo: Barry Ralph, author of "They Passed this Way"

Brisbane, the capital of the State of Queensland

The so called "Brisbane Line" became a public issue when Eddie Ward, the member for East Sydney, accused the previous Menzies government of having a plan to abandon northern Australia to the Japanese should they invade from the north. This was a view held widely by many civilians in north Queensland during World War II.

The concept of the Brisbane Line were reportedly devised by Lieutenant General Sir Iven Giffard Mackay, General Officer Commanding in Charge, Home Forces of Australia from 1941 to 1942. In a letter to the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Fadden in May 1943, Prime Minister John Curtin advised that after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Lieutenant General Iven Mackay, who had been appointed by the Menzies government, submitted a defence plan to the present Minister for the Army, Mr Forde, which related to the defence of Australia. This plan concentrated on the defence of the vital parts of Australia, involving holding what is known as the "Brisbane Line". The Government rejected the submission and took steps to defend the whole of Australia. Included in these steps were the recall of Sir Thomas Blamey from overseas to take the post of Commander-in-Chief in Australia and the recall of A.I.F. Divisions abroad, the appointment of General Douglas MacArthur as Commander-in-Chief of the Southwest Pacific Area and representations for the despatch of naval, land, and air forces to the SWPA, together with aircraft and other supplies for the equipment and expansions of the Australian forces.

Mr Fadden claimed that the first that members of the present Opposition knew of the so-called "Brisbane Line" was when it was mentioned a a meeting of the War Council in February 1942. This suggestion was rejected by the War Council which included Government and Opposition members.

Sir Iven Mackay, responsible for Home Defense from 1 September 1941 until 5 April 1942) visited General Douglas MacArthur in Melbourne at 4:00pm on 24 March 1942, only three days after General MacArthur arrived in Melbourne after his dramatic escape from the Philippines. Sir Iven Mackay, then the new Australian High Commissioner for Australia in India, visited General Douglas MacArthur again at 5pm on Sunday 7 November 1943 at MacArthur's General Headquarters Southwest Pacific Area (GHQ SWPA) in Brisbane. Prior to this General Sir Iven Mackay had been General Officer Commanding Second Army.

After the Japanese bombed Darwin on 19 February 1942, Major-General George Vasey issued an operational instruction on 10 March 1942 explaining the role for the Australian Army's Northern Command. Thursday Island and nearby islands were to be defended to the "limit of human endurance". Townsville was to be defended by its local brigade group which was required to be active and aggressive. In the event of impending defeat there was to be a scorched earth procedure implemented and a withdrawal to Charters Tower to the west. Brisbane was to be defended against sea, land and air attacks.

On 16 March 1943, General Douglas MacArthur held an "off-the-record" talk to the Press from 12:15pm to 2:15pm at his General Headquarters Southwest Pacific Area (GHQ SWPA) in the AMP building on the corner of Queen Street and Edward Street, Brisbane. General MacArthur caused quite a flurry of interest from the press members present when he mentioned the infamous "Brisbane Line". It was reported in the Brisbane "Courier Mail" on 17 March 1943 that MacArthur had indicated that the Brisbane Line ran from Perth to Brisbane. When further questioned by the Press on his statement he then distanced himself from his earlier statement. George H. Johnston, War Correspondent for the "Argus" newspaper was one of the members of the Press at this "off-the-record" talk with MacArthur on 16 March 1943. He wrote in an article on the 18 March 1943 that "It was Gen. MacArthur who abandoned the "Brisbane Line" concept and decided that the battle for Australia should be fought in New Guinea." 

Colonel Sid Huff, General MacArthur's aide-de-camp, wrote in his book "My Fifteen Years with the General" as follows:-

The big task of the Allied forces in the SouthwestPacific was to establish and hold a line against the Japanese, who had moved into New Guinea, directly north of Australia, and were preparing to push on southward. It would be difficult to exaggerate the odds which MacArthur faced at this time. The enemy had proved to befar more capable than anticipated. The Japs had in a few months pushed out over a vast area, capturing Malaya, the Dutch East Indies, Burma, Borneo, New Britain and other islands. Corregidor had fallen in May. By mid­summer there seemed to be nothing to prevent a Japanese landing in Australia. So desperate was the Allied outlook that at one time it was planned to withdraw defense forces from Northern Australia when necessary, to establish a line across the center of the country, and to try to hold half the continent until help could come from America.

It was in such circumstances that MacArthur lived up to the confidence that Australians had placed in him. He threw these defensive plans out the window and decided that the way to stop the Japanese was to attack them before they got to Australia. He had a couple of American infantry divisions, one Australian division which had been recalled from Egypt, the untested Australian militia, about 200 airplanes capable of operating effectively in combat and a small Allied naval force. We still controlled important areas in New Guinea, where the Japanese landed at Buna, on the north coast, in July and started attacking through the Owen Stanley Mountain Range in an effort to seize Port Moresby on the south coast. There was only one answer in MacArthur's mind: stop the enemy on the mountain trails where the small but valiant Australian forces could operate most effectively.

Many years later General Douglas MacArthur stated in his reminisces that the Australian General Staff planned to defend Australia on a line of defence that followed the Darling River from Brisbane to Adelaide.

In January 2001, Dallas Goodwin from Mount Isa told me about the remains of concrete tank traps that he had visited near Tenterfield in New South Wales. They were used to span a bottle neck in the Clarence River Valley east of Tenterfield in northern New South Wales, in an area known as Paddys Flat. The concrete pillars are still visible in and beside the river near the crossing. Dallas indicated that this was part of the so-called "Brisbane Line" defence plan. Dallas also described some well known tank traps just north of Tenterfield on the Bald Rock Road. They consist of log pillars and a concrete wall in the valley. The sign posts on the road claim that they formed part of the "Brisbane Line" defences.

An obituary for Julie Theresa Potter (nee Hanlon) that appeared in the Courier Mail in Brisbane on 5 May 2010 stated that Julie remembered her father Ned Hanlon, often regarded as Queensland's best Health Minister, once told her that he had "ordered the destruction of Commonwealth pamphlets advising that the territory north of Brisbane might have to be abandoned in the event of a Japanese invasion."  Apparently when the United States consul called to ask if the Queensland Government was moving to Tweed Heads, Ned Hanlon replied "Tell them Cabinet is meeting in Townsville on Monday."

Darryl McIntyre, author of the book "Townsville at War 1942" states in his book that the "Brisbane Line" did not exist.

 

Was it Fact or was it a Myth?

 

REFERENCE BOOKS

Gallaway, Jack, "The Odd Couple - Blamey and MacArthur at War", University of Queensland Press, 2000.

Long, Gavin, "MacArthur", Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1969

McIntyre, Darryl, "Townsville at War 1942 - Life in a Garrison City", Townsville City Council, May 1992.

Thomson, Judy, "Winning with Intelligence", Australian Military History Publications, 2000

Courier Mail, Tuesday 17 March 2009
Our Queensland - Celebrating 150 Years

Courier Mail, 5 May 2010 (page 66)
Obituary for Julie Theresa Potter (nee Hanlon)

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I'd like to thank Dallas Goodwin for his assistance with this home page.

 

 

 

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This page first produced 25 January 2001

This page last updated 04 May 2013