Rabaul Chinese, visible at last

Today I received the news that SBS would be showing footage of the liberation in 1945 of Chinese people from the labour camp of Ratongor on the Gazelle Peninsula near Rabaul, Papua New Guinea.

For some reason Australian historians have overlooked our own Pearl Harbour, a tragedy that might be declared then, months before, as an absolute certain future and a wholly predictable sequence to the American version on December 7, 1941. On the 21st January, 1942, Japanese forces invaded the town of Rabaul. The consequences for all remaining residents were horrific.

Perhaps it is shame that keeps Australia from broadcasting the events in Rabaul during 1941 and 1942 whereby all its populations were left to find their own way to survive, including the brave but inadequate military force, ill-equipped, undermanned and doomed to make but a small wound on an overwhelming swarm. Only a few of the population were evacuated, the rest left ill-informed and yet sharply aware of what was ahead. When I use the strong word of shame I do not immediately attached the connotation of racism to it, as Peter Cahill does both in his book “Needed But not Wanted” and in his interview with SBS News see https://www.sbs.com.au/news/survivor-recalls-unwanted-chinese-liberated-by-australia-after-world-war-ii. I haven’t done so, not because I don’t agree with Peter’s interpretation, but more that I think the Australian Defence Authorities, or whoever was making the decisions about Rabaul, used every one of the Rabaul population as sacrificial lambs in an attempt to send a message via Japanese informants embedded in the town that Australia was oblivious to the absolute likelihood of an invasion as they frantically tried to get up to speed. By minimising evacuations, by not giving any priority to providing full blown military support, and not providing information, all the while, I suspect, being fully aware that Rabaul as an isolated location offered no means of escape for all those remaining, civilian and military alike, from any invading forces, Australia could be accused of abandoning the Rabaul population in order to cover up their own ill-preparedness.

However, past is past. It is now over seventy-eight years since the invasion and seventy-five years since the liberation of Rabaul’s various populations. Isn’t it time for recognition, faulty or flawed as the decisions of the time may have been?

My soon-to-be-published novel Between is about a family from Rabaul. It’s my attempts to provides glimpses into the impact of surviving in what Mr Cahill hints as being a regime on racism, where hierarchy is measured by who you are or if you are measured as sitting in between. For the fictional family of my novel the ‘between’ status applies not only under the control of Australia but also the control of Germany and Japan.

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