Again I am talking about Ian Townsend’s Line of Fire. Reading it took me back to my teenage years. His characters lived in pre-World War Two Rabaul while I had lived in pre-Independence Rabaul (1960s) but life and the inhabitants had not changed very much between my recall and Ian’s narration. While the circumstances of Ian’s story sit behind my stories (the shambolic preparations for an invasion, the impact of Japanese occupation and extreme bombing by not only the enemy but also the allies), Ian’s novel is mostly located within the social group that locals would call ‘Europeans’ or “Expatriates’. Mine is about those who are almost invisible – neither indigenous nor western – and yet Ian does not overlook them. On page 174 of Ian’s novel, there’s one appearance that works for me here. It’s the early stages of the Japanese Naval attack on Rabaul and a key character (who hadn’t been seen since his home was bombed) is led to a place ‘called Refuge Gully behind the town, where about 30 civilians … and about 200 Chinese and New Guineans were camped … The Chinese shopkeepers had nowhere to go. They kept their wives and children with them, terrified after having read about the Japanese massacre of civilians in Nanking.‘ My novel’s characters are based on the stories I have heard from Chinese, Mixed-Race (their name for themselves) or Malay/Ambonese families of Rabaul, many of whom had lived in Rabaul for two or three generations, and too many of them no longer able to return to their country of origin for a whole raft of reasons.
In 1975, a new nation of Papua New Guinea (PNG) was focused on uniting its many tribes and language groups. These nation-less souls were very worried about their futures.