Wednesday 23 April 2014

My Australian Story: Kokoda

My Australian Story: Kokoda by Alan Tucker (Scholastic Press)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-1-74362-205-6
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Written in diary form, Kokoda tells the story of World War II from the perspective of a young boy living in Townsville. With two older brothers on the battle front – Harold in the 2/14 Battalion, and Des in the 2/39th Militia Battalion – Archie is updated regularly on the action taking place off Australian soil from their letters home. Des (with Harold’s Battalion joining later) is sent to Port Moresby where his militia battalion has the task of defending the Kokoda Track from the advancing Japanese army.

This is a World War II story with a strong Australian feel. There is much focus on Archie’s life, and what it was like to live in the north of Australia during the war years. Townville was a base for the Americans and many of the local resented this. American soldiers enjoyed comforts local were unable to obtain due to rationing – even water was rationed at times. They lived in fear of Japanese invasion and bombing did occur occasionally in the parts of the Northern Territory and Queensland.

The diary entries show clearly how lack of information caused rumours to run rife. No-one really knew what was happening in the overseas theatres or where family members may be stationed at any given time. All this is recorded by fourteen year old Archie, through whose eyes everything seems a little exciting as well as a little frightening, but he is eager to learn about everything. And throughout the uncertainty of war, home life goes on and he has to deal with school, being the new kid, bullies, and getting a job.

This is a fascinating look at Australia’s war involvement between 1941 and 1942. It touches on peripheral subjects too, such as segregation in the US military and questions whether the Aussies treated Aboriginal recruits any better. It also raises the issues of leadership and what makes a good leader. 

While the focus is on Townsville and the Kokoda campaign, this is set in the context of the rest of the war. Mention is made of the Fall of Singapore, the Bombing of Darwin, Anzac Day services, the Battle of the Coral Sea and other relevant historical events as they happen. 

There are ten pages of historical notes at the end which help to explain the facts the author has drawn on to create this ‘darn good yarn’. Throughout the story, Australian humour, slang and values such as mateship and family shine through.

From the My Australian Story series, this story about the Kokoda campaign and Australia’s battle for the home front is a great tale for any child, ten years and up. The writing is very accessible, easy and entertaining and will suit those interested in war stories, adventure or Australian History. It is an absorbing coming of age journey, particularly for boys.

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