BY KEITH JACKSON
THERE IT WAS, buried at the end of the AAP news story. The revelation of a golden key that may unlock a 70-year long mystery. A mystery some Australian families still grieve over.
And the mystery is this. Who exactly was on the Montevideo Maru when it sank in the early hours of 1 July 1942? What names were borne by those 1,000 and more men from the New Guinea islands who drowned that night?
Eventually, yesterday, it was the Japanese government that came good with the key. And it was the Australian government that looked bad.
Because, back in 1953, the Japanese offered the Allies index cards they’d compiled on all the people they’d taken as POWs.
The rest of the Allies – the British, Dutch, New Zealanders, Americans and the rest -said, yep, we’ll have those cards.
The Menzies government, after an 18 month delay, spurned the offer. No one knows why. And in the ensuing years, until now, no Australian government did anything. Even when asked.
And this despite the fact the government had no idea of the fate of many of those Australians who never returned to Australia’s shores and to their families.
A matter long forgotten and irrelevant today, you think? Try being a member of one of those families. They grieve still.
If it wasn’t for dogged work by researcher Harumi Nakaguchi, the cards the Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara yesterday promised to return to Australia would not have come to light.
For more than twelve months Harumi had been in regular contact with me to get the Australian government to get those cards back here where they could be examined.
At Ministerial level the Labor government had been superficially enthusiastic. But in terms of actual delivery, it was pathetic.
And now the Japanese government has decided to unilaterally send the cards to Australia. Maybe that'll motivate the government to bring closure to this matter and communicate properly with the families.
I also hope the Minister for Veterans' Affairs, Warren 'Tardy' Snowdon, now gets moving and checks those cards against other records the Army holds, many of which had “gone missing” until quite recently.
It is way past time to bring to a close the mystery of who was on the Montevideo Maru.
And, while it's doing that, the Australian government should also recognise the dedication, persistence and compassion of Harumi Sakaguchi.
Today, to many Australian families, the man is a true hero.