The day before Anzac Day might not seem the best time to publish a piece claiming that the significance of the Australian victory at Kokoda was a myth propagated by the Labor party, but that’s what we got from Stephen Barton, a political scientist and former Liberal apparatchik.
The second part of the claim is both the most offensive and the most easily demolished. I got the full Kokoda legend taught to me at school in South Australia in the early 1960s, straight after saluting the flag and reciting our loyalty to the Queen at Assembly. That was about thirty years into the premiership of Sir Thomas Playford. The idea that the Labor party, or radical historians, managed to sneak the story into the school curriculum as propaganda is as unbelievable as it is offensive.
Now let’s turn to the substantive claim. I’m not an expert on military strategy, but neither is Barton, and he doesn’t cite anyone who is. He defends Churchill’s strategy of fighting Germany first and Japan second, and claims that
Japanese supply lines were overextended, their best troops were in China and their southern thrust had run out of steam
Had the Japanese driven south to Port Moresby it would have been a grim setback, but not a decisive blow.
This argument sounds plausible, but it would sound even more plausible if you crossed out “Port Moresby” and substituted “Townsville” or “Rockhampton”. The lines would have been extended even further then and the Japanese occupiers could have been left, as Barton suggests, to “wither on the vine” until the war was over. In effect, Barton has reinvented the Brisbane Line.*
* There’s no reason to believe the claim made by Eddie Ward that the Menzies government adopted, or even considered, a “Brisbane Line” plan. But it’s an obvious corollary of reasoning like Barton’s and there’s little doubt that such ideas were discussed.