The Fair Dinkum War
Allen & Unwin, 2015
hbk., 32pp., RRP $A24.99
It’s 1941 and World War II has come to Australia. Darwin has been bombed and the American army has arrived in town. From the school fence the children watch them rumble by in a seemingly endless procession heading north. While the grown-ups were worried and studied the newspapers, listened to the radio, frowned and talked in low voices, the children learned about the military vehicles, knew the generals as well as they knew their footy stars and shot one another with pretend blood. Air-raid trenches were dug in zig-zag lines across the playground, out-of bounds except for drills and the real thing and suddenly the was that had been so far away became the fair-dinkum war.
Towns and homes huddled in darkness during the evening blackout; chocolate biscuits and chocolate ice creams became a dream in the Austerity Program and everything possible was recycled for the War Effort. Life became very different for the children especially for those whose fathers were away fighting, those whose fathers were taken prisoner and those whose fathers didn’t come home.
Told through the eyes of a young David Cox whose father had served in World War I and spent this one working on way-out-west sheep stations where it was deemed he would be more useful, this is the story of how war affected Australia in a way that helps today’s children understand that it was not all blood and guts and glory and that 35 years on, it was a different scenario from the remoteness of that first huge conflict that has dominated this year’s commemorations. This time it was on the doorstep, real, fair dinkum and life was changed significantly although the resilience and spirit of the quintessential Australian shines through.
The final in the trilogy that includes The Road to Goonong and Good Enough for a Sheep Station and traces the creator’s life as a young boy in mid-20th century Queensland, it is an excellent insight into how children lived in other times and enables the young reader not only to “be inside” those times but also compare it to their own lives today. Sunday nights for the young David were spent listening to his grandmother read Charles Dickens and learning to play chess in a hard, upright chair!
Through his words and pictures, Cox provides an authentic account of times past that is action-packed yet full of humour and just perfect for introducing students to the notion that there was life before their time! With the 70th anniversary of VE day in the news and children more likely to connect with a great-grandparent who was involved in the conflict and remembers it, this is a timely addition to your collection.
The trilogy is also a springboard into the world of autobiographies and memoirs and demonstrates that these do not have to be boring tomes. Ask the children which parts of their lives they would like to be telling their grandchildren in times to come or what they would like to know of their grandparents’ lives and set up a research and writing challenge that will intrigue and engage.