Seeking Safe Haven
Fieldwork routinely leads to these priceless stories, many of which are nevertheless too tangential to make it into the dissertation. One of my favourites relates to one family’s story of their experience of the panic caused by the Japanese attacks on Australia during WWII. My informant reports that a hysteria swept through the local community, who feared that their small rural holdings would soon be overrun by invading forces. My informant’s father, convinced that Doreen was soon to fall, ordered his family to pack all of their belongings and flee to the safe haven of… Strathewen. Nonlocal readers probably won’t understand why this story is so priceless: Strathewen is just down the road – some 18 km away from Doreen: it’s unclear why relocating there would have provided any greater safety…
One odd side effect of collecting these sorts of stories from older community members is the palpable afterglow of gratitude toward the US for its timely entry into the war – an afterglow that extends to encompass one somewhat awkward American researcher, trundling around with a digital recorder to capture this kind of oral history… There is a strong, sustained sense that the US cares deeply about Australian security – a belief that overrides even some often intensely critical opinions about the current US administration.
[Note: Image from Australia Under Attack, 1942-1943 – this site posts some fantastic artwork and documentary material from this period, and is well worth a browse.]