The year 1942 was one of the most tumultuous in Australia's history, and a key figure in that tumult was the American serviceman. His role, like the war itself, changed dramatically during those twelve months. Hailed as a saviour in March, by September he was often an object of scorn and derision. To some, in fact, the GI seemed to pose a greater threat to the Australian way of life than the Japanese. Admittedly, servicemen and civilians alike were caught up in a strange conflict. Except for air raids on a handful of isolated outposts in the far north, the enemy was not seen. War in Australia was not bullets, bombs, and bloodshed, but gnawing fear of what might happen. Few died in action on the Australian mainland. Many more were killed in road accidents, plane crashes, and pub fights or fell victim to drink and riotous living. By the end of the year it was apparent that the great anxiety over Australia's safety had been exaggerated; however, during the months of Singapore, Bataan, Corregidor, and the battles of Coral Sea and Midway, it was real indeed.
The war in the South-West Pacific area was, of course, only part of a world-wide struggle. To London and Washington it was a minor sideshow; to Canberra, John Curtin, Douglas MacArthur, American and Australian servicemen, and the seven million Australian citizens it was the main event. These divergent views were never reconciled and only added to the pervasive fear felt on all sides. Yet out of what seemed to verge upon hopeless chaos, especially during the first months of 1942, came victory and, in time, closer trans-Pacific ties. Most important of all, the million or so GIs who passed through Australia during 1941-45 provided a first-hand lesson in American ways and laid the foundations of a working relationship (carried on in Korea and Vietnam) which stirred the beginnings of considerable social change in Australia.
What happened in Australia during the early 1940s is not a tale of sterling heroes; instead it is the story of a home front complete with patriots, semi-patriots, "fixers" out to make quick money, men and women with various personal goals uppermost in their minds, Yanks both brave and obnoxious, and thousands of Australians full of dedication but susceptible to all the diverse pressures any nation experiences in a time of stress. And the key word is nation, because World War II did much to make of Australia a national being with national consciousness and national pride. In a very real sense the GI fostered this nationalizing process, even when it was sparked by disdain for his presence and his overbearing ways.
Scores of people on two continents have helped me put this story together. They include ex-servicemen, social workers, historians, government officials, war correspondents, archivists, and many who simply experienced the American invasion of Australia as rank-and-file citizens. I would like to thank especially the staffs of the Mitchell Library and the State Library of New South Wales in Sydney and the National Archives in Washington, D.C. Fellow members of the History School at Macquarie University, were I once taught, furnished invaluable assistance and advice. Bruce Mansfield, former head of that school, provided funds enabling me to travel throughout eastern Australia and New Guinea to visit villages, towns, and cities where-Americans had been stationed. Anthony M. Paul of Hong Kong (formerly of Sydney) has been a constant source of information and encouragement. I am deeply grateful to both.