Title: Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms
Author: Anita Heiss
Opens: Hiroshi is wide awake and waiting as the bugle sounds across the camp at 2 am.
Blurb: On the 5 AUGUST, 1944 over 1000 Japanese soldiers broke out of the No.12 Prisoner of War compound on the fringes of Cowra and escaped into the surrounding countryside. In the carnage, hundreds are killed, many are recaptured, and some take their own lives rather than suffer the humiliation of ongoing defeat. But one soldier, Hiroshi, a gentle university student serving his country, manages to escape.
At nearby Erambie Station, an Aboriginal mission, Banjo Williams, father of five and proud Elder of his community, discovers Hiroshi, distraught and on the run. Unlike most of the townsfolk who dislike and distrust the Japanese, the people of Erambie choose compassion and offer Hiroshi refuge. For the community, life at Erambie is one of restriction and exclusion – living under Acts of Protection and Assimilation, and always under the ruthless eye of the mission Manager. On top of wartime hardships, families live without basic rights.
My Thoughts: The period that BARBED WIRE AND CHERRY BLOSSOMS covers is the year between the Cowra breakout in 1944 and the end of WWII in 1945. I am surprised how few Australians have even heard of the breakout, our family visited the Japanese Gardens on the site a few years ago and it is so peaceful and beautiful that it is hard to imagine the events in this book taking place. But they did. During the story author Anita Heiss highlights the attitude of the Australian Government and, sadly, many Australian citizens, towards the Aboriginal people; along with the conditions they lived under. When Banjo finds the escaped Japanese prisoner, Hiroshi, cowering on the mission he argues with the other Elders that the community should hide the man as they have something in common; Aboriginals are fighting the Australian Government and so are the Japanese. So that makes them allies rather than enemies. I loved this reasoning and can really understand where Banjo is coming from. Aware that not all of the community would agree, the Elders decide that only a few will be in on the secret and they will hide him in the Mission air raid shelter as it never gets used. Banjo’s oldest daughter Mary is chosen to take food to Hiroshi each day as she is well loved and no one would suspect her of harbouring an escapee. The unfolding story is riveting.
Banjo’s family and fellow community members do not live a life of freedom – they are bound by law to live on the Mission. The Mission Manager, called King Billy by the community Elders, is a white man assigned by the Government, to dole out food and water rations, and give permission for travel and for marriages. It is just dreadful that this happened –the Aboriginals lived under the ever present fear that rations and permissions could be severely curtailed as punishment or to ensure good behaviour. Permission was needed to travel outside the mission to access work, shops, medical facilities and even the local cinema – with many places having separate sections for the Aboriginals so they didn’t mix with other Australians. In fact at one stage it the Mission community realise that the POWs at the local Cowra POW camp had better conditions than the mission. Horrible! Yet for all of that, the people of Erambie Station are resilient, upbeat and protective of their own. And young Mary is very protected by her family; except when she goes into the shelter to take what little food they can spare to Hiroshi. Here she is away from watchful eyes and is free to talk to him and they share with each other all manner of things from their separate cultures – and a love of literature and poetry. Gradually this talk develops into friendship and then into a love that must be kept as hidden as the main in the shelter.
BARBED WIRE AND CHERRY BLOSSOMS looks at the appalling lack human rights and also explores two different cultures and how the government policies of the time affected them both in different ways – the story also demonstrates how a community of people showed more compassion than their own government showed to them.
For more about the author – Click Here
A – Excellent Stuff – a real page turner and hard to put down. I carved out extra reading time just so I could finish it. This book got carted into the bathroom with me, read over meals, read at work, and/or kept me up late at night. If this author has more work, I will certainly read it.
Review can also be found at Books and Musings from Downunder