The ''Battle for Australia'', which was commemorated for the fourth consecutive year at the Australian War Memorial yesterday, is a myth according to an eminent British World War II historian.
Antony Beevor, who is attending the Memorial's history conference, said while the Japanese had briefly considered invading the Australian mainland they had equally quickly rejected the idea.
''You can't say Kokoda saved Australia because, in objective terms, Australia was not at serious risk,'' he said. ''But the victories [at Kokoda and Milne Bay 70 years ago] combined to assure Australia that it was no longer in any danger; I can't go much further than that.''
The author of the bestsellers The Second World War, D-Day, Crete, Paris, Berlin and others, Dr Beevor said Kokoda and Milne Bay were Australia's equivalent of El Alamein, the North African battle of which wartime British prime minister Winston Churchill said ''before El Alamein we never had a victory, after El Alamein we never had a defeat''.
The history conference, the most significant of its type to be held in the city this year following the recent cancellation of the Army history conference due to a lack of Defence funds, is entitled ''Kokoda: Beyond The Legend''.
It comes hot on the heels of the AWM's ''Battle for Australia'' ceremony yesterday which featured a wreath-laying ceremony, an appearance by Parliamentary Secretary for Defence Senator David Feeney and a turnout of school children with sprigs of wattle. ''Battle for Australia Day'' is commemorated on the first Wednesday of September.
''We know now of course that the Japanese never seriously considered invading Australia,'' Dr Beevor, the Memorial's inaugural Boeing Visiting Fellow, said. ''But, of course, the Australian government at the time didn't know that … With the rush of Japanese advances in early 1942 and obviously after the bombing of Darwin and Wyndham and so forth it was perfectly natural the fear of an invasion should develop.
''The Japanese had considered it but they'd ruled it out because they knew it would require 10 divisions which they simply didn't have and they wouldn't be able to support them [even if they had them].''
The real value of Kokoda and Milne Bay was as a tough school in jungle warfare in the case of the first and as a surprise wake-up call to the Japanese in the case of the second, Dr Beevor said.
''In terms of learning the lore of jungle warfare; in terms of dealing with the Japanese, Kokoda was a very steep learning curve and a very unpleasant learning curve,'' he said. ''[But] Milne Bay was the sharper reverse.''
Dr Beevor said the Australian success in beating off the Japanese invasion force had shown that the ease with which previous Japanese landings had won their objectives was a thing of the past.