5 Things I Learnt from Paul Ham’s Sandakan – Review

17674593Sandakan: The Untold Story of the Sandakan Death Marches by Paul Ham, 2013, Trade Paperback, 656p.

Sandakan by Paul Ham, not an easy book to read, but very enlightening and moving. It is a nonfic work that recounts the Sandakan death marches in Borneo during WWII. Sandakan is deep and thoroughly researched, detailing the little discussed massacre of thousands of POWs. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the Pacific War, Australian Diggers or Death Marches. I had knots in my stomach the whole time I was reading this book, so maybe not a good choice for those with a weak stomach.

The biggest shock however were the things that I learnt or were made clearer to me by reading this book.

1. The dropping of the atomic bomb did not end the war in the Pacific. 

This piece of propaganda is still believed by so many people but does not really hold up to historical research. As Ham states, 66 other cities had been razed by firebombing raids, killing many civilians. The loss of two more cities was merely a drop in the ocean for the Japanese leaders. The naval blockade and other economic factors influenced the surrender more. Japan was happy to present the notion they were ‘saving’ the world from nuclear disaster and America was happy to legitimise using the atomic bomb by claiming it ended the war!

2. Allied bombing of Borneo caused mistreatment of Australian and English POWs on ANZAC day.

This little nugget of historical fact is never pulled from the vault on ANZAC day, it certainly doesn’t read very well!

3. The human spirit can take such a beating

I was constantly amazed what these men experienced and still persevered through. Considering the outcome of the Sandakan death marches, the acts of spirit and resistance broke my heart.

4. Not all war criminals were given fair trials

I won’t spoil this just in case you want to read this book and are hungering for the chapters dedicated to the war crimes trials – I know I was – but things don’t really work out as they should. Depends on your point of view.

5. Heritage and the truth mean so much to the families of those who were murdered. 

The most shocking thing to me was the extent Australian and British Government went to hide the massive loss of POWs in Borneo. The families of those involved often embarked on long and oft-stonewalled journeys to find out what actually happened to their loved ones.

Oz Book Review: My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin

119042My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin, paperback, 1901, 280p

I was expecting and preparing to hate this one. There are few books that are on the assigned reading lists at uni that I love, but this semester I am doing a topic all about adaptions – which features a couple of books I really wanted to read, one of my favourites and a couple I was dreading. My Brilliant Career was definitely one of the last category. As you can see by my rating, however, it was a surprise! The only problem was I had already prepared all the scathing remarks to be made in tutorials, throwing around words like pseudo-feminism, and roasting the obviously romantic storyline.

Now I have had to eat my words (and my akubra) because I really liked this novel. Miles Franklin was a master of setting a scene (and she was only 16 when she wrote it). My Brilliant Career invokes the feels of the bush – the real bush – better than any other work I have read. I also identified with Syb’s love of reading, and she made me realise I have a major gap in my reading – I have read only one or two bush poems in my life.

Sybella is a strange character and certainly there were moments that I hated her naiveté and ignorance, so much so I wanted to hit her over the head with a bonnet, but most of the time I found her captivating, interesting and inspiring.

My favourite part of the book – and the reason why it differs from so many other works like it – is the ending, which without spoiling it, is quite unexpected and brilliant. You have been forewarned, this is not a book for the traditional romance reader. I would, however, recommend it to anyone who enjoyed Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre or any reader who wishes to experience some of Australia’s great literary history. Miles Franklin definitely has a place on the list of Australian greats.

Review: Men and Women of Australia by Michael Fullilove


Men and Women of Australia! by Michael Fullilove, Netgalley, 23 July 2014, 426p

Men and Women of Australia! is certainly a type of book I have never stumbled into before. A collection of Australian speeches, all of them deemed important enough to be included. Certainly I felt like the politics were a little one sided (but I will say no more on that topic), but there are some beauties in this volume. An excellent resource for the student of Australian history, those interested in our political history or people who love a well formed speech – Men and Women of Australia! is one moment uplifting, the next hilarious, and then capable of bring down the mood of the reader. The best aspect of this collection of speeches is certainly the snapshot that each speech provides of Australia at the time the words were spoken.

I found some of the additions of speeches from people of other countries to be more infuriating than adding to the overall picture – I was reading this book to hear what Australians thought of Australia, not to hear other people’s opinions.

Some of the choices didn’t do much for me, but many of them where excellently picked. Generally anything Menzies would make me appreciate speech writing as an art form directed solely at engaging and convincing the listener. Some of my favourite speeches would have to have been the humorous ones, such as Barry Humpheries’ ‘Through the thin end of an asparagus roll’, Andrew Denton’s ‘I worship the very protector he sweats in,’ and James Killen’s amazing ‘My honourable friend is beyond insult,’ which today is something my best friends and I say to each other (usually during a wine soaked toast). Any time Tim Winton talks about the sea makes me happy!

Some of the speeches spoke to my feminist views – especially Jessie Street’s ‘Surely we don’t mean liberty and democracy for men only?’ and Julia Gillard’s very memorable torrent of awesomeness at Tony Abbott – ‘the Misogyny speech.’ While talking of social equality, there are some gems in the chapter headed “The Equal Right of All”, notable speakers being Alfred Deakin, Germaine Greer, John Paul II, Paul Keating (you can’t leave out the Redfern Park speech, it’s a favourite of mine), K. Rudd (whose first name shall always be abbreviated), and our present fearless leader, Abbott.

The section that stood out to me was “The Familiar Faded-Green Uniform”, not because of the quality of the speeches, some of which are great, some of which are average, but because Australian armed forces have been given the nod, and so often they are neglected in this kind of compilation. My favourite Australian speech of all time – which went a little bit viral on the internet, is David Morrison’s ‘There is no place for you amongst this band of brothers and sisters’, which is the video in this post… I remember watching it for the first time and being overcome with emotion, and I am glad it made it into this book.

Overall, I certainly would encourage all who are interested in Australian history to pick up this book and peruse the speeches – even those who know little of Australian history could easily benefit from this collection. I certainly will be using the selections in this book, and hopefully video and audio recordings of them, in my Australian history classroom – it is so important that we can connect to the past through the words of Australian men and women.