Tomorrow Home

Samples of the Writing

The Books

The Characters

Things to Explore


Find the books


About this site


This website is dedicated to the memory of Jessica Lincoln Smith, a John Marsden fan.
Lost tragically at 26, but never to be forgotten.

A Full On Invasion of Australia

The "Tomorrow" Series is a story told against the backdrop of a present day, high intensity invasion and occupation of the Australian mainland.

Please keep in mind that this invasion is simply a mechanism via which the author can create the situations the stories address (which is where the true power of this series lays) and so it does not really matter how plausable such an invasion is. That said, Australians know very little about the threats Australia faces and so this page (and its companion "Real World Threats") have been put together to explain a little about where Australia stands militarily.

So, how reasonable is this premise? To paraphrase Ellie "Excuse me while I choke on my cornies". (1) To be blunt, the invasion of Australia put forward in the "Tomorrow" series is about as credible as an invasion by Aliens.

When writing about the "Tomorrow" series, John Marsden says "[An] issue for me was the security of Australia. I have no political barrow to push, and I know next to nothing about our defence and security arrangements, but it amazes me that we never talk about these issues. We fondly imaging that we live in a perfectly safe country, but history suggests that we shouldn't be so complacent. It is a rare country that has gone fifty years without being invaded. The fact that Australia has had such a long run without a direct military threat is as much good luck as good management, but it's not something we can rely on forever" (2)


"I don't want to traumatise anyone, or make anyone paranoid, but I think we should be realistic and give some thought and attention to defence. It's likely that during the lifetime of today's teenagers they will have to face some sort of pressure or threat from somewhere, so we should be talking about it and making preparations for it." (3)

It is hard to fault the idea that we Australian's as a whole should consider matters of defence more broadly, and it is certainly true that we do face today "... some sort of pressure or threat ..." but it is quite different to the threat depicted in these books. While Australia does face a number of military threats, an all out high intensity invasion such as depicted in the "Tomorrow" series is way down the list

The purpose of this page is to explain why.

Interestingly, the lack of public awareness of defence matters has become a concern to the government and they have set up the Australian Strategic Policy Institute to try and address this. For anyone seriously interested in the Australia's military situation, this is an organisation and website that cannot be ignored. Well worth a browse.


So why is a full on invasion of Australia so unlikley at present ?

Put simply, there are four basic reasons.

  1. This is specifically the threat that the Australian Army, Navy and Airforce are designed, built and trained to defeat.
  2. It is just about inconcevable that the US would not honour its treaty obligations to assist in our defence
  3. No one in out region has anything approaching the specialised military forces required to launch a full on overseas invasion covering a significant distance
  4. The "Tyrany of Distance" cuts both ways.

To cover the points above in more detail.


This is specifically the threat that the Australian Army, Navy and Airforce are designed, built and trained to defeat.

    The defence of continental Australia from invasion is the overriding mission of the Australian Defence Forces. It is explicitly for this mission, defence against a "high intensity" invasion of Australia, that our Army, Navy and Airforce have been designed and built.

    (See the the Australian 2000 Defence Whitepaper which states: "The priority task for the ADF is the defence of Australia. Our approach is shaped by three principles. First, we must be able to defend Australia without relying on the combat forces of other countries - self-reliance. Second, Australia needs to be able to control the air and sea approaches to our continent - a maritime strategy. Third, although Australia’s strategic posture is defensive, we would seek to attack hostile forces as far from our shores as possible - proactive operations.")

    As a result we happen to have easily the most powerful high tech military in the region. Whether this is a good idea is very much open to question (for the negative, see this ABC "Background Briefing" which starts out being about the Australia's SAS regiment but eventually moves into discussing the whole basis of current defence policy and the downsides of it). For the positive aspects of the current policy, see below:

    1. Insurance

      The threat is very unlikely, but it would also be catastrophic for Australia if someone managed it or even attempted it. As such, despite the low probability of such an event, it is considered worthwhile to build our military to defeat it. If we don't maintain such an ability, we run the risk of someone developing the ability to invade faster than we can develop the ability to resist. The problems the British encountered in the run up to World War Two are a clear lesson in the risks of dismissing the possibility of such a threat ever developing.

      Interestingly, given the role New Zeland plays in this series, they have gone the other route. 10 years ago they effectively withdrew from ANZUS (see point 2 below) and now New Zealand appears to have decided that one capability they do not need is the ability to fight a high intensity war. They have scrapped thair airforces' combat capabilities, declined to buy more ANZAC class frigates, sold their heavy lift capabilities. Instead they will rely on distance and diplomacy to keep them safe (and that anyone who wants to invade New Zealand has to come through Australa). It is hard to say they are wrong. For a bit more information, see the Jane's Defence Weekly article on the scrapping of the airforce and the speech by Keith Locke (Green's Party Defence Spokesperson) on the more general dismantling of New Zealand's ability to engage in a high intensity war. In 1999 they were intending to build their "high intensity warfare" military capabilities up, now they are scapping them. In a few years they may start to recreate them - good luck if they try - once these capabilities are gone, they are extremely expensive to rebuild.

    2. Deterrence

      So long as we have the ability to defend continental Australia against a high intensity conventional threat, then there is no real point in anyone trying to develop the ability to invade us. The cost and risks of such an invasion would simply be too high to be worth investing the huge resources needed to build a military that could pull off such an invasion.

    3. Utility

      The high tech military that is capable of defending the "air/sea" gap around Australia while also being able to engage in a full on land battle with the invading forces is also useful in many lesser situations. Not all, however, as the problems with the deployment to East Timor illustrate, and current defence debate in Australia centres on how to "flesh out" our abilities in these other areas.

    In launching this sort of attack, the "enemy" would be playing to Australia's strengths. It would be taking on, head to head, Australia's large (for the region) and powerful airforce (FA-18s fighter bombers plus F-111 deep strike bombers), it would open its supply lines to attack by our surface fleet (FFG-7 and ANZAC class frigates), our hunter/killer submarines (Collins class) and our maritime anti shipping strike aircraft (F-111 and P-3 Orions). It confronts our Armour (Leopard 1), Artillery and Infantry forces. It takes on a military that is small, but highly professional and skilled, acting in the role that they have been designed around and practiced for.

    Real attacks on Australia don't take such a course. You don't attack strength, you attack weakness. This is well illustrated by the attack launched via Bali in October 2002.


It is just about inconcevable that the US would not honour its treaty obligations to assist in our defence.

    Three reasons for this:

    1. After our own military, the next cornerstone of Australia's defence is its treaty with the United States (The ANZUS treaty). This treaty is more than 50 years old and we go to a lot of trouble to maintain its value to Australia.

      Australia has positioned itself as one of the United State's closest allies in the world (only Great Britain is a more loyal ally) and this has certain costs for our international credibility and self-respect but is judged worthwhile to make sure that America will be there for us if need be.

      We also regularly deploy small military forces to fight in America's wars for the same basic reason. Just today (January 23rd, 2003), we farewelled Army, Navy and Airforce units heading for the Persian Gulf to assist the United States in its confrontation with Iraq. Over the years this approach had cost us a significant number of service men killed and injured, but once again that price is seen as an acceptable cost of insuring that America will aid us if need be

      A week after writing the above I came across a quote from Paul Sheehan in the "Sydney Morning Herald" about why we are sending troops to Iraq. (Link to full article): 'Don't think the Prime Minister is not caught by this dilemma. He knows his political capital is leaking away. As one of his closest advisers told me this week: "The PM is losing sleep over this. He knows this policy doesn't have the feathers to fly with the public. But he thinks it's the right thing to do. He's thinking long-term. If one day we ever have to face a militant Indonesia, we've only got one ally who can do the job."' (Emphasis added) What more can you say? Note: This particular page is not concerned with this is the best (or even a good) approach to adopt, simply in demonstrating this is the one we have taken.

    2. The low risk (to the US) of intervention. While the threat of "another Vietnam" always looms over the United States, none of the circumstances that made that engagement so difficult would apply in Australia. Vietnam was an infantry war, a "low tech" war fought in the midst of an alien and hostile population. Engagement ranges were very short, manouver was limited, vast numbers of troops were needed on the ground due to the unreliability of the South Vietnamese Army.

      The reverse is true in Australia. The huge size of Australia, the small size of its population and the open nature of much of the terrain lends itself to high tech, fast manouvering warfare. The sort of warfare at which western - equipment heavy - militaries (including the US and Australian Armies) excel. Any ground war in Australia must be a war of manouver. The country is so large and the available troops so few that you can't hold a meaningful front. The Western Front in WWI (about the equvalent in length to the NSW/Victorian boarder) required millions to hold it. No one can deploy millions of troops into Australia. Given that any widespread war on Australian soil must be one of manouver, then all the advantages lay with the high tech, far seeing, air dominating, fast moving army. In other words, the US and its allies (including Australia).

      At the same time, it may well be the case that the US would not need to land any ground troops at all.

      The key vulnerability of anyone invading Australia is their supply lines. Modern warfare consumes resources at an increadable rate - far faster than Australia could produce them itself - and this means that large amounts of equipment would need to be shipped in. Every single bit of it having to pass over the ocean and whenever it does it is vulnerable to being attacked and destroyed by aircraft, ships and submarines. Due to nature of this operational environment, the United States has the ability to intervene decisively without risking a single soldier on the ground (it is in ground fighting that the US is most vulnerable to casualties). With Australia and New Zealand to provide the bulk of the forces on the ground, supplied and equiped by the US, the United States has the ability to deploy its overwhelming naval and airpower to isolate the battlefield and interdict and destroy enemy forces pinned by allied (ANZAC) ground troops. The effectiveness of this model (and the United States' willingness to apply it) was clearly shown in last stages of the war in Bosnia and again more recently in Afghanistan, while the need for effective (allied) ground troops was equally effectively demonstrated by the problems encountered in Kosovo where such troops were not available. While all these conflicts post date "Tomorrow, When The War Began", this approach has clearly been viable since the Gulf War of 1991.

    3. The overwhelming ability of the US military to project power. At the time of writing (2003), the ability of the US military to project power on a global scale easily exceeds that of all other nations combined. The power of a single US Carrier battlegroup exceeds that most other navies, and the US has more than a dozen such battlegroups. The US Military is a shell compared to what it was at the peak of the Cold War, but, with the collapse of the Soviet Union it is so far ahead of the rest of the world's military's in the area of power projection that there is no comparison.

      This is not to say that the US can overrun any country they choose, far from it. That is not what we are talking about. Instead we are looking at is someone trying to sustain an invasion and occupation of Australia, and the superiority of the US in such power projection capabilities means that anyone who tries to do this in the face of US opposition will lose - badly.


No one in out region has anything approaching the specialised military forces required to launch a full on overseas invasion covering a significant distance

    There is simply no-one in the region with the ability or interest in carrying it out. All the rich nations in our region are small and all the large nations are poor. (South Korea and Japan being the exceptions, but both have special circumstances that rule them out).

    The forces needed to successfully invade Australia are specialised and extremely expensive to develop. As such, none of the nations in the region have been foolish enough to waste the resources needed to develop such a large offensive capability, plus the ability to deploy and sustain it over the long distances involved. Many of the militaries in the region are physically large, but nearly all such militaries have a focus on internal security. Only the militaries of India and China are both large and with an external focus, but neither has any real ability to project force a significant distance beyond its boarders or any real desire at present to do so (The Chinese are focused on Taiwan - just offshore - and the Indians on Pakistan - across a land boarder). The time taken to develop the ability to launch and sustain large forces long distances across the sea would be significant and the effort obvious. Such events would certainly give us time to prepare, and even then there is another complication


The "Tyrany of Distance" cuts both ways.

    The fourth reason an all out invasion is not credible is the shear size and isolation of the Australian mainland.

    Australia is a huge country, with its population centers and military installations widely dispersed. Most of the population is on the east coast, but there is also a significant military and civilian presence in the south and the west and a military presence in the north. The technical challenge of simultanious invasion of Sydney, Melbourne, the Northern Territory, Adelade and Perth is comparable to the challenge of taking Madrid, London, Norway, Athens and Moscow simultaniously, they are that far apart.

    Apart from that, there are only so many places it can be launched from. Anyone who wants to invade Victoria (or most of NSW including Sydney) basically has to come from New Zealand, anyone who wants to mount a realistic threat of invasion of Australia need to come through Indonesia or Papua New Guinea (as the Japanese did in WWII) and even then you would be invading the Northern Territory or Queensland, which is not where Australia's population is concentrated.

    There is simply no-where to invade Perth or Adelade from while Perth is the home of our SAS regiment as well as a major naval base and Adelade is where we build submarines.

    The reason you need a nearby base is the limited tactical range of shipping and aircraft. The United States has the ability to launch attacks around the world with planes based in the US, but to do so they require astonishing amounts of support. In the Falklands War of 1982, when the British wanted to bomb Port Stanley they used Vulcan bombers. To get a single Vulcan down to the Falklands (from their base near Africa) they needed no less than eleven tanker aircraft, and if anything went wrong they lost their aircraft as it was just too far from home. Through the entire war, the substantial British Airforce managed to get just 5 bombing raids in using the Vulcan, and one of the aircraft did not make it home due to a busted air-to-air refueling probe (it had to land in Brazil and was out of the war).

    The story with shipping is a bit different. The key to mechanised warfare (and any war in Australia will be mechanised due to the low troop densities and large areas to be covered) is logistics. Mechanised forces are very bulky and heavy, worse, when 'combat loaded' onto ships they are very inefficent uses of space. The amount of shipping required to move a mechanised force (even one stored efficently rather than one intended to assault a hostile country) over any significant distance is astonomical - so large it strains even the United States when they try. It took more than 6 months to move the US forces to the gulf in 1991 and 3 months to move a much smaller force to the same region in 2003. These forces were not opposed, lots of equipment was pre-positioned in the gulf already and the transports were not combat loaded. Then, once the forces are deployed, you have to supply them and that is even worse.

    It is just not viable to come a long way to launch an invasion - only the US has anything like the ability to do it and even for them it would be very dicey

    That means the 'enemy' has to be a neighbour or have taken over a neighbour, then build up a large stockpile of equipment and supplies. Presuming we would not notice is stretching credibility too far.

    You can harm Australia from a long distance. But if you want to conquer us the rules are very different.

Sorry, a full on, all out, military invasion and occupation of Australia just lacks credibility.

Thankfully, as I said at the start, this is all irrelevant to the stories as that is not where their power comes from. The invasion of Australia that Marsden stages is simply a mechanism via which he can create the situations the stories address.

With that out of the way, what are the real "... pressures or threats ..." that Australia faces?


(1) "The Dead of the Night", Epilogue, p269, Ellie chokes on her Corn Flakes, provoked by something Fi says about Homer.

(2) "Marsden on Marsden", p70

(3) "Marsden on Marsden", p71

Got something to say ? You can contact me at: