Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms…
5 August, 1944: Over 1000 Japanese soldiers attempt to break out of the No. 12 Prisoner of War compound on the fringes of Cowra. In the carnage, hundreds are killed, many are recaptured and imprisoned, and some take their own lives rather than suffer the humiliation of ongoing defeat. But one soldier, Hiroshi, determined to avoid either fate, manages to escape.
At nearby Erambie Aboriginal mission, Banjo Williams, father of nine and proud man of his community, discovers a distraught Hiroshi, pleading for help. The people of Erambie have seen enough death and heartache, so Banjo and the Erambie community decide to offer Hiroshi refuge.
Mary, Banjo’s daughter, recently returned from being in service in Sydney, is intrigued by the Japanese stranger, and is charged with his care. Love blossoms, but life for the community on the mission is one of restriction – living under Acts of Protection and Assimilation, and always under the watchful eye of the mission manager. In wartime Australia, the children are terrified of air raids, but their parents fear a life without rights. And for Mary and Hiroshi, there is much in their way.
Mary is forbidden under the Act, and by her own father, to marry Hiroshi, so together they plot their own escape from the mission. But solidarity in the community is eroding and trouble is brewing.
Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms was such a meaningful novel, clearly depicting certain race and cultural relations within Australia during the WWII era, against the backdrop of a gentle love story.
Anita Heiss has done a marvelous job with this novel. There are a lot of challenges posed to the reader and many confronting truths, but her style of writing is entirely non confronting and culturally informative. I learnt a lot from this novel, far more than I did from any Australian history lessons back at school. It made for an excellent bookclub choice as we all had much to discuss and contemplate after reading.
I highly recommend this as a novel all Australians should read as it’s message of tolerance and love is one that could benefit us all in the modern era. It’s also highly suitable for teens and would introduce them to an important episode of Australian history that they are unlikely to learn about in school.
Well done Anita Heiss, very well done!