To Love a Sunburnt Country, страница 1
About the Author
Other Books by Jackie French
There are many ways to love your country: to Virginia, Beth, Barry, Peg, Noel, Geoff, Fabia, Angela, Lisa, Nina, Trish, Kerry, Penny, Tony, Robyn, my brother Peter, my mother Val, my father Barrie, whose military service, memories and analysis I have given to Michael in this book, and most of all to Bryan and Edward, always.
Gibber’s Creek Gazette, 1 December 1941
HMAS Sydney Sunk, 645 Crew Lost
The Prime Minister John Curtin today announced the sinking of the HMAS Sydney off the Western Australian coast by the German commerce raider Kormoran, disguised as a Dutch merchant vessel. In half an hour of fighting both ships were crippled …
St Elric’s School
5 December 1941
via Kota Bharu, Malaya
… it’s grand news about the 9th Division ending the siege of Tobruk, isn’t it? I’m pretty sure Jim’s one of the ‘rats’. Of course he can’t tell us where he is, but in his last letter home he talked about using half his cup of tea to shave with, and said he’d had enough sand to last him the rest of his life, and would everyone please not even say ‘sandwiches’ when he gets back.
Mum worries, but when I told her that Jim can look after himself as well as any bloke I know, she just smiled and said it was a mother’s job to worry, and that she worries about me getting my teeth knocked out at rugger or my train getting derailed on the way back from Sydney, and that ninety-five per cent of being a mum is worry anyway. But you know Mum.
Well, that’s all, I think. I’d tell you about school and all that, but sub-Junior Year is enough to bore anyone to concrete. At least I’m off home on ‘holidays’ in a few days, which means dagging a thousand sheep when it’s ninety-six degrees in the shade. Actually, I can’t wait.
Wish you were going to be at the Christmas party this year. Maybe you even will be. I’ll look up from the punch bowl and there you’ll be, in the spotted voile dress you told me about. What is a spotted voile anyway? It sounds like a small English animal, the burrowing kind. If someone made you a dress out of them, I hope you’ve trained them not to bite.
I’m glad Moira and Gavin are doing so well now. We are all longing to see you home at last. Dad says that war with Japan is inevitable, even if the government won’t admit it publicly. Can’t you stuff Moira and Gavin into a wheelbarrow and push them onto a ship, even if Moira refuses to go? Or just come home yourself? But be careful sneaking past all those German U-boats and ships disguised as innocent Dutch traders.
If you’re not at the party, I’ll sit by the river and think of you.
Wishing you were here, or if not, that I was there, with you.
CRAIGIETHORN PLANTATION VIA KOTA BHARU, MALAYA, 9 DECEMBER 1941
Her name was Nancy of the Overflow, and she could do anything, except stop the entire Japanese Army, even at sixteen. She could not even stop the six Japanese soldiers in their dull green uniforms slipping silently across the plantation compound outside, without endangering those she loved.
If those soldiers saw her lying there on the study floor, peering through the window, they’d kill her. They’d kill Moira, her sister-in-law, and her baby nephew. Then they would invade her country, if Gentleman Once, and Michael, and Michael’s father, were correct.
Had war really come? There’d been no bombing, no thud of guns, none of the tragic clamour of war she’d heard in newsreels. There’d been a far-off booming noise at dinner, but she’d taken it for thunder.
Back in her own world she knew the voice of thunder, could tell if it was circling around or heading away, whether it would spark a bushfire or bring a deluge to put one out. But this was not her land. Not her trees: too green, too heavy. Nor was it her air, thick with moisture that erupted into rain.
Had those growls in the sky been gunfire?
What were Japanese soldiers doing here, if war had not erupted like a small silent volcano in the night? The Japanese Army was supposed to be far to the north, in Thailand. Australia couldn’t be at war with Japan with no warning. Both countries had signed a treaty saying that they would formally declare war before any attack was made.
There’d been nothing about war with Japan on the wireless last night, just the war with Germany in Europe and Africa, how the Russian winter was slowing the German advance towards Stalingrad. No worries, Ben had told her and Moira last week. The Japs aren’t going to risk war with the British Empire. And if they do try to land in Malaya, we’ll stop them easily.
Moira was reassured. Nancy wasn’t. She knew her brother well enough to sense the worry behind his easy smiles.
Ben and ‘Pig Iron Bob’ Menzies said that war between Australia and Japan wasn’t inevitable. But Mr Menzies wasn’t even Prime Minister any more, and if the Japanese weren’t preparing to invade, why was Ben up north with the local Volunteers?
Australians would stop the Japanese, of course. She knew that as surely as she knew the colour of the paddocks after rain. But, here and now, the safety of her nephew and sister-in-law was up to her.
She stayed lying on her stomach on the wooden floor of the bungalow, still as a lizard on a rock, watching the small secret men in their grey-green uniforms move out the gate towards the jungle, bayonets held ready.
Ben had also said the Japanese Army didn’t travel at night. They were as blind as bats without their glasses. Yet there they were, disappearing silent in the darkness …
She peered into the dark of the compound as the soldiers vanished, becoming one with trees and shadows. She could almost make herself believe they’d never been there.
If she was invadin
She forced herself to wait, counting her heartbeats, to make sure the compound stayed empty before she moved. She wanted to move. Wanted to run after those soldiers, grab their bayonets, stab them, as they’d stabbed women and children in China, stab the whole Japanese Army, stab the whole mess of politicians and diplomats who failed to keep those she loved safe, stab any invader who might try to take her country.
And she couldn’t. For the first time in her life here was something no amount of determination could change.
She took a deep breath, smelling the lavender furniture polish Moira had sent out from England, and her own sweat. She could get her sister-in-law and baby nephew to safety. Now, before more soldiers arrived, and planes and bombs. South, to Singapore, so strongly defended by British, Australian, Indian and Malay forces that no Japanese invaders could take it, and from Singapore onto a ship to Australia, to Overflow, sun-drenched paddocks and men and women who’d use the rifles that potted rabbits, the shotguns kept for snakes, even bayonets made with carving knives if they had to, before they would accept an invader on their land. Moira should have left for Overflow a year ago — that was the reason Nancy had come here in the first place, to help Moira pack up the bungalow and leave.
How could she get them to Singapore? Yesterday she would have driven to Kota Bharu, where Ben was stationed, to get a ship from there.
Kota Bharu was to the north. If the Japanese were already in Malaya, then Kota Bharu would be their first target. Maybe even now it had been taken …
Impossible. The Japanese Army could not defeat her brother, or men like him.
And yet Japanese soldiers had been here …
Were there many more out there, marching down the road in the darkness, slipping between the jungle tangles? Was it even safe to take the car? A car was obvious, a large target to fire upon.
No choice. It would be hard enough to persuade Moira into the car tonight, impossible to persuade her to walk along the road, much less scurry through plantations. Nancy could become a shadow between the rows of rubber trees that even the Japanese Army would never see. Not Moira, with her thin white ankles and high heels, her English cheeks that had only felt the sun when protected by a hat and veils, still weak after a difficult pregnancy. Nor was Nancy entirely sure that even she could evade an army carrying a five-month-old baby. You couldn’t tell a five-month-old to hush.
But you can lug a baby wherever you want it to go, thought Nancy. She couldn’t lug Moira.
They must drive to the railway station. The stationmaster might have news that the wireless lacked, telegraphed directly from Kota Bharu or wherever the Japanese had landed. Take the train to Singapore, then a ship home. No more excuses: that Moira’s troubled pregnancy and Gavin’s premature birth meant they were still too delicate to travel, and that impregnable Singapore meant Malaya was safe from attack even if the Japanese did declare war. If Moira was well enough to go to a dinner party with the District Commissioner and his wife last week, she was well enough to take herself and her child south to safety. Moira must now admit she and Gavin would be safer in Australia, even on a voyage through seas patrolled by increasing numbers of German ships.
Nancy believed her sister-in-law was as delicate as a goanna, and just as stubborn, like the old one behind the chook shed at home who’d dug up a whole paddock of potatoes, thinking they were eggs, goannas being fond of eggs: he had bitten every spud, unwilling to accept that none of them were eggs.
Moira had spent the last three months refusing to admit there was any danger to her, her baby, her husband, to this southern part of the Empire. Or perhaps Moira simply didn’t want to go to Australia at all. Or at least not to Overflow. Nancy suspected there were aspects of her new family that Moira was not prepared to accept.
For Gran was Aboriginal. Unmistakeable: dark skin, dark eyes. And proud of it, wearing a white dress, her white hat with cherries, to church, even to the Bluebell Tea Shop in town where the sign said, No Aboriginals Allowed, daring anyone to ban her from their building, to even think of hauling her or her children to a reservation. Granddad had been white, whatever that meant, for his skin was saddle leather, from years on horseback. Only his hair had been truly white, leached by old age. She’d been named for him, Nancy for his Clancy, Clancy of the Overflow. Nancy Clancy sounded stupid, but she was stuck with it. Mum was white. Nancy and Ben could pass for white-with-tan, with Mum’s schoolteacher accent and the affluence of Overflow behind them.
Moira must have known Ben was a quadroon. Ben would never have kept something as important as that from the woman he loved. But a well-off plantation manager with slightly too-dark skin could pass here in Malaya, where many men had a dark tan. In Australia Moira would have to abandon her servants and picnic parties for life on an Australian station with a ‘native’ grandmother-in-law. ‘Native’ was such a Moira word: ‘Nancy, darling, don’t wear that. It’s what the natives wear …’
All was still outside. Time to move. Nancy inched along the floor to the hallway, still on her stomach, in case more soldiers peered through the windows, keeping her head down — Gran always said your head was the most recognisably human part of you. You kept your head tucked into your body and your eyes down when you were hunting. She was prey now. She supposed the same camouflage rules applied. They were all prey, every civilian in this land, running from the beast with a million tentacles called war.
Moira has no choice now, thought Nancy, finally, gladly, standing upright in the shelter of the hall. If it would take the entire Japanese Army to get Moira south to Overflow … The Japanese had come.
via Gibber’s Creek
8 December 1941
via Kota Bharu, Malaya
Just a short note to tell you that your mother and I are increasingly worried about the situation in Malaya and the growing possibility of war with Japan. I know that sea travel at this time is far from ideal, but we feel strongly that the danger from German ships is only going to get worse. If Moira still refuses to leave Malaya, then Nancy must come home, now.
I know that Nancy believes that she must stay to look after Moira and Gavin, that she must do her duty as you are doing yours. But she is still only sixteen, no matter how capable and independent she seems. Son, you must, somehow, convince her to come home, now, with Moira and Gavin if possible, but without them, if necessary. I would urge you to come home too, but know your loyalty to your unit and your friends.
No matter what the papers and politicians say, Malaya is no longer safe. Your mother is writing to Nancy today too, but I hope I can rely on you to get your sister on a ship back to Australia, as soon as possible.
Your loving father,
Gibber’s Creek Gazette, 8 December 1941
Populate or perish, says Australian Minister for Information, Arthur Calwell. Unless Australia expands and develops its population and economy, there can be no guarantee that any victory over the Japanese is permanent. Women must have more babies, said Mr Calwell.
This reporter asked Mrs Joseph McAlpine, wife of Gibber’s Creek Dr McAlpine, now serving with the AIF, what she thought of Mr Calwell’s proposal.
‘An excellent idea,’ she said. ‘Send my husband back on leave and we’ll get started immediately.’
CRAIGIETHORN PLANTATION, 9 DECEMBER 1941
‘Darling, don’t be ridiculous. Soldiers, here?’ Moira blinked up from her white froth of pillows. She reached for the matches to light the lamp by the bed.
‘No! No ligh
‘What? Nancy, you’ve had a nightmare.’
‘I wasn’t asleep.’
‘What were you doing out of bed anyway?’
‘Shh. Couldn’t sleep. I went to get a book from the study. That’s when I saw them.’
‘It was probably one of the servants.’
‘They were soldiers. I saw six of them, in uniform. They had bayonets.’
‘Bayonets …’ Moira looked uncertain. She whispered, ‘You’re sure?’
To Nancy’s surprise, Moira stopped arguing. She swung her legs out of bed, stylish in a pink silk nightdress. ‘You’d better go and get changed, then start packing.’ She reached for the bell pull to call the servants.
‘No.’ Nancy grabbed her hand. ‘We can’t risk waking anyone.’
Guilt raked her. Servants. Darling Choi and Rah and all the others. But the Japanese in Thailand had called themselves liberators, ousting the European colonisers. The servants would be safer without her and Moira. Safer if they stayed here and could be ‘liberated’, could say truthfully that their employers had simply left.
How safe that would be she didn’t know. She suspected that there was no safety for anyone in war. Bombs fell, hit whoever was below. Bullets were almost as imprecise. But this was the servants’ home, even if they did not legally have title to the land. Moira may have lived here for the three years since she had married Ben, but this land was not her home.
‘No noise. No lights. One bag, something you can carry. A change of clothes.’ What else? ‘Jewellery. Any money …’
‘Nancy, I can’t fit all Gavin’s things in one bag. You simply don’t understand —’
‘If there has been an invasion, we have to hurry. Now. If we get to the station and find it’s a false alarm, we can come back and pack up properly.’
Moira stared at her, then nodded. ‘Very well. But I warn you, if this is a wild goose chase I am coming back, and not to pack. You understand?’
‘Yes.’ Nancy hesitated. ‘I’ll load the car, then come back for you and Gavin.’ That way she could check the compound for strangers, silently, unseen.