Set during the Second World War, Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms tells the story of Hiroshi, a Japanese Prisoner of War, and Mary, a young Wiradjuri woman living at Erambie Station, an Aboriginal mission.
At the beginning of the story, Hiroshi is held, alongside many others, in the No. 12 Prisoner of War compound in Cowra, NSW. But being kept prisoner is shameful for the Japanese soldiers, who have been raised to either fight or die for their country – even to the point of committing suicide should they be captured – and so a decision is made amongst the prisoners to stage a rebellion and escape from the the compound.
In the melee, and immediately afterwards, many of the Japanese prisoners die: some are killed, some take their own lives, and many are recaptured. But Hiroshi manages to escape, and he is taken in by the Williams family at Erambie. Looking after a Japanese prisoner of war is not easy when the very act of hiding him could put them all in a lot of trouble, and the people living at Erambie are already struggling to survive, living as they are under the Protection and Assimiliation Acts, and always under the watchful eye of the mission Manager.
As Hiroshi soon discovers, life in the Prison Compound was better than the life the Australia’s Indigenous people experience on the missions.
Hiroshi is hidden in the family’s air-raid shelter – a risk in itself, as if there really is an air-raid, it is not only the Williams family who will need to shelter there, but also their neighbours. The Williams eldest daughter, Mary, is given the once-daily task of delivering food and water to the man. These visits must be kept short, so as not to strike up anyone’s curiosity, but over time Mary finds she is staying longer and longer, as she and Hiroshi share stories about their lives. Love blossoms between them – but will they be able to stay together, and overcome the restraints imposed by Hiroshi’s culture, and the living conditions imposed on Mary and her people by the Australian government?
This was such a sweet story. Anita captured the reality of life as a Japanese soldier so well, and presented life at Erambie station in a way that made it real. So often we think we know what has happened in the past, but actually being fully aware of the experiences of people living in that time is not. This is where fiction really sheds light on situations and experiences where text-books cannot.
Highly recommend this great read.