Saving Australia

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Saving Australia, Curtin's secret peace with Japan is the story of Australia's desperate attempts to prevent a threatened Japanese invasion during the Second World War. It's a journey into an extraordinary friendship that developed between Japan's first minister to Australia, Tatsuo Kawai, and Australia's wartime leader, John Curtin.

Curtin was alive to the looming menace of an ambitious Japan, but tried in 1941 as leader of the Opposition and then Prime Minister to find a diplomatic solution through his newfound friend.

Kawai is pictured above left, circa April 1941, in the grounds of his leased Melbourne home Carn Brae in the suburb of Auburn with his consul and friend, Tsuneo Hattori, soon after arriving from Japan. Kawai, an avid advocate of Japanese expansion, came under the spell of Curtin's frank and calm style. Consul Hattori later wrote:

"Tatsuo was deeply impressed with Mr Curtin's simple, unpretentious manner of speaking; Mr Curtin also appeared to take note of Tatsuo's solid character. Before he left he made a promise to meet with Kawai soon. Following that the two men became increasingly close, baring their hearts to one another and exchanging opinions."

Within weeks of Pearl Harbor, Kawai went to Parliament House in Canberra and told John Curtin, when asked, that the momentum for war in Japan was too great to stop. When war broke out on 8 December 1941, Kawai and his staff were placed under a loose form of house arrest at Carn Brea where the Japanese continued to gather intelligence on Australia.

Over time, despite Kawai’s continuing loyalty to Japan, his strident militant thinking moderated under Curtin’s influence. In August 1942, just before leaving Australia for Japan, Kawai made an extraordinarily conciliatory statement, starkly different to the shrill declarations coming from Tokyo:

"The outbreak of war was the greatest blow I have ever received in my life. Those Australians who know how I struggled to avert war in the Pacific will understand when I say my spirit has been broken. When peace comes, the white man and the Asiatic must go hand in hand with each other in the Pacific."

Out of political favour, Kawai lunched with Emperor Hirohito at the Imperial Palace on 18 March 1943 and resigned the same day. He alternated during the war between his house in Tokyo and his beautiful coastal retreat house at Manazuru, where he lived frugally, growing tangerines on the slopes of his small acreage.

Towards the end of the war he worked privately for peace. In April 1945 he was sent secretly to China in an effort to negotiate a peace settlement. Kawai, pictured in his garden at Manazuru, also was in frequent clandestine peace talks with liberal friend, neighbour and former diplomat Shigeru Yoshida, who had been jailed by the militants. After the war be briefly became vice minister for foreign affairs and went on as president of the Japan-Australia Society to help rebuild relations between the two countries.

Saving Australia was published by Lothian Books (now Hachette) in 2006 and was a runner up in the 2007 Walkley Awards.

Saving Australia


A book that will force readers to think hard about friendship and public duty....

A review by historian Dr Michael McKernan.

'Zara Gowrie (wife of the wartime Governor General of Australia, Lord Gowrie) remarkably had agreed to accept a gift from an interned Japanese national (ambassador Tatsuo Kawai), who had played a part in providing the intelligence that would guide the (midget) submarines into (Sydney) harbour. Was she mad?

'This book is a study in the tension between the obligations of private friendship and public duty. Bob Wurth, a journalist with extraordinary academic capacities - his footnotes are as detailed and thorough as any I have seen in a long time - does not have Zara Gowrie in his sights in exploring this tension. It is the Attorney-General and Minister for External Affairs, H.V. 'Doc' Evatt, and Prime Minister John Curtin, whose friendship with Kawai he wishes to investigate...

'Evatt seems to have believed in the last days of peace that somehow he and Kawai might broker an Australian settlement with Japan that might avert the coming war... This is an intriguing book, thoroughly researched yet easy to read and one that will force its readers to think hard about friendship and public duty.'

- Extract from a review published in the Canberra Times and in the Winter 2006 issue of the Defender magazine.

Click and read the 2006 story of Saving Australia in

The Bulletin magazine....

kawai's relationship with menzies, fadden and curtin

The John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library has an online resource and travelling exhibition focusing on the relationship between wartime Japanese ambassador Tatsuo Kawai and Australia’s three wartime prime ministers, Robert Menzies, Arthur Fadden and John Curtin. The website was researched and written by Bob Wurth as part of a fellowship with the Australian Prime Ministers Centre, Canberra.

Kawai's relationship with Curtin was by far the most intense, and friendly contact between their families continued for decades after. Click on the image for more detail or go directly to the JCPML web address below:

Tatsuo Kawai's private secretary, Tamaye Tsutsumida, travelling from the United States to Japan to study before becoming the ambassador's private secretary based in Melbourne.

highly readable, interesting, relevant, A great book  -  japan expert, professor alan rix.


    "Saving Australia is highly readable, very interesting and very relevant to the history of Australia-Japan relations. It opens up new areas with regard both to Curtin and to the Japanese side of the relationship. It gives a good sense of the unfolding events in the war and in Australia; the tension between the horrors of war and the polite façade of diplomatic niceties is maintained very well and is backed by strong bibliographical references and primary documentation.  It is a great book."


-  Prof. Alan Rix, Japan expert, author, historian, Pro-Vice Chancellor, the University of Queensland, former head of the Japanese department, UQ.




Perhaps it was unusual good fortune for a journalist and author.  In researching Saving Australia in 2005, I heard that the wartime Japanese ambassador to Australia, Tatsuo Kawai, had spent many years at his retreat house at Manazuru, on the coast overlooking the Izu peninsula in  the Kanagawa prefecture south of Yokohama.

I took the train from Tokyo to Manazuru expecting to find, if anything, a ruin.  On a classic 'dark and stormy night' Kawai's friend and neighbour Toshio Takeuchi led me through a bamboo forest between flashes of lightning and inside the small but beautiful house, above. There was a photograph of Tatsuo Kawai on the wall in his diplomatic uniform. I spotted in the gloom a book shelf. When I investigated, I found 43 dusty photo albums. I had suddenly discovered Kawai's life story in photographs, including his time in Nazi Germany and in Australia. And there I also found messages of greeting to Kawai from John Curtin's widow, Elsie, writing from Cottesloe, Perth, after the war, a sign of the friendship between two families.

In Tokyo, I had discovered Tatsuo Kawai's all-important writings about John Curtin and the country he had come to greatly admire, Australia.  Click on the heading to read more.


Before coming to Australia as ambassador, Tatsuo Kawai was the expansionist spokesman for the Foreign Office in Tokyo in the late 1930s and then roving ambassador to Europe in 1940, including Nazi Germany. Here he talks with Nazi butcher Hans Frank, Governor General Reichminister of Poland.

When Kawai left Melbourne for Japan in 1942, the captain of Kawai's guard, who knew him well, called the diplomat a pacifist.

Click on the heading to read more.


Ambassador Tatsuo Kawai at his residence 'Carn Brea' in Melbourne in 1941 before the outbreak of war with Japan.