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It is early 1942 and Australia is in the midst of war. While working at a Japanese hospital in the pearling port of Broome, Dr Ibaraki is arrested as an enemy alien and sent to Loveday internment camp in a remote corner of South Australia. There, he learns to live among a group of men divided by culture and allegiance. As tensions at the isolated camp escalate, the doctor's long-held beliefs are thrown into question and he is forced to confront his dark past: the promise he made in Japan and its devastating consequences.
'A brave, profound meditation on identity, trauma, loss and courage... reminds us that there are two sides to every war and that history never ceases to be written... A novel that demands its place alongside Richard Flanagan's The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Mark Dapin's Spirit House.' – Stephen Romei, The Australian
'Piper draws us deeper and deeper into the compelling story of Tomakazu Ibaraki, a man whose strengths – discretion, honour and loyalty – also lie at the heart of his personal tragedy.' – Danielle Wood, winner of The Australian/Vogel's Literary Award in 2002
'After Darkness is about friendships that transcend cliched notions of mateship. It's also about a man silenced by a promise ... a haunting novel that lingers in a most unsettling way.' – Fiona Stager, bookseller, Avid Reader
South Australia 1942
The sun spread on the horizon, bleeding colour like a broken yolk. In the growing light, I watched the details of the landscape emerge. The leaves of the eucalypts became sharply defined. The ochre earth glowed.
The carriage creaked, continuing its gentle sway from side to side as we trundled further inland. I was used to the wide spaces of Broome, but this was a different sort of vastness: acres of sun-bleached pasture and crops that stretched away as far as the eye could see. Here and there, fat-bellied cows and horses pulled at the yellow grass. In the sweep of land before me, not a single person could be seen.
Sweat gathered on my back and the undersides of my thighs, making the seat cling. I reached out to unlatch the window and caught a glimpse of my reflection. Hollow, sleep-starved eyes. Black hair, unkempt and oily. The whisper of stubble on my chin. The last time I had showered was at the camp in Harvey, three days earlier. I hadn’t realized the journey to South Australia would take so long. My buttocks were numb from hours of sitting. Paraesthesia, I thought, remembering the word from one of my textbooks.
I heard a rustling behind me as someone sifted through his belongings. I knew a few of the men in my carriage—those who’d accompanied me on the journey from Perth. I had met the others that morning at Adelaide central, where we had gathered so early that stars were visible in the sky. Guards had surrounded us, rifles strapped to their shoulders, eyes darting to all corners of the terminal. On the deserted platform, we formed a strange group of forty men, united only by our nationality. After bowing and whispering greetings to each other, we fell silent. Judging by the newcomers’ deep tans and loose white clothing, I guessed they were from the Pacific Islands. At Harvey camp, I had met many Japanese from New Caledonia who told me they had moved there decades ago to work in nickel mines.
After we had waited half an hour, a train chugged into view. Japanese faces peered at us through the windows of the carriages. There must have been at least a hundred men inside. The guards corralled us into an empty carriage and then, with a loud hiss and billows of white steam, we set off, leaving the silhouettes of city buildings behind.
As the light grew stronger, I began to relax. Watching the peaceful countryside put me at ease. An old man sat in the seat opposite me. Since our departure, we hadn’t exchanged a word. I stole a glance at him as he stared out the window. Wrinkles creased the skin around his eyes like wet paper. One of the soldiers standing at the end of our carriage began whistling a cheerful tune. Two people near me were murmuring. I caught fragments of their conversation. They spoke with an accent I couldn’t place.
‘… soldiers here are much kinder. Did you see one of them offered me a cigarette?’
‘Maybe our next camp will be as nice and clean as this train.’
I settled back in my seat, enjoying the breeze on my face. As we turned into a bend, I glimpsed the contours of a wide river, its surface glittering white. Dead trees haunted its edges, their limbs stretching skywards, as if begging for forgiveness.
The train began to slow as we approached the outskirts of a town. Farmland gave way to wide, dusty streets. The river coursed ahead of us, just out of reach. We pulled into a train station, stopping with a jolt at the platform. Murray Bridge the sign read. A woman and small girl were sitting on a bench on the platform facing our carriage. The girl was about three—my niece’s age when I’d last seen her—fair-skinned and chubby, with brown curls pulled into bunches on either side of her head. Seeing us, her eyes flashed. She tugged her mother’s arm and pointed at us. The woman stared straight ahead. We were at the station less than a minute when the whistle blew. As the train lurched forward, the woman grabbed her daughter’s hand and dragged her towards our carriage. She came so close I could see a mole above her lip. She spat. A glob landed on the window in front of my face.
‘Bloody Japs!’ she said, shaking her fist.
The train groaned as it moved away. The woman became smaller till she was no more than a pale slip, but I could still see her face. Eyes narrowed, mouth tight—her features twisted with hate.
(Visit Christine's research website for more information about the Japanese civilian internment experience in Australia: www.lovedayproject.com)