The sun spread on the horizon, bleeding colour like a broken yolk. In the growing light, I watched as the landscape condensed and emerged. 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 had become accustomed to the extravagance of space in Broome, but this was a different sort of vastness: acres of sun-bleached pasture and crops stretched away as far as the eye could see. Here and there, fat-bellied cows and horses pulled at the yellow grass. Sweat gathered on my back and the undersides of my thighs, making the vinyl seat cling. I reached up to unlatch the window. Fresh air kissed my face.
We had gathered at Adelaide central that morning, so early that stars were visible in the sky. On the deserted platform, we formed a strange group of fifty men, united only by our nationality. I already knew some of the group—they had been my companions on the journey from Perth. I met the others that morning. Like us, they had been transferred from camps in other states. Guards surrounded us, rifles strapped to their shoulders, eyes shifting to all corners of the terminal. After half an hour, a steam train chugged into view. Japanese faces peered at us through the windows of the carriages. There must have been at least two hundred men inside the train. We were corralled into an empty carriage. Before long we set off, leaving the silhouettes of city buildings behind. As the light grew stronger, red-tiled houses emerged from the gloom. They looked like something out of a storybook, with their neat gardens and white fences.
I settled back in my seat. My body ached from days of constant travel. The points where my buttocks and back touched the seat were numb. The last time I had showered was at the camp in Harvey, four days earlier. I hadn’t realised the journey to Adelaide would take so long.
An old man sat in the seat opposite me. So far, 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. Someone behind me coughed. Others began to murmur. 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.’ Farms dotted the countryside. I glimpsed the contours of a wide river. Here and there I saw dead but still-standing trees, their ghostly limbs stretching skywards, as if begging for forgiveness.
About two hours into the journey, we approached the outskirts of a town. Spacious, two-storey houses fronted onto wide, dusty streets. The river glittered in the distance. Small watercraft bobbed along its banks. We pulled into a train station, stopping with a jolt at the platform. Murray Bridge the sign read. A woman and girl were sitting on a bench in front of our carriage. The girl was about three—my niece’s age when I’d last seen her—fair 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 the whites of her eyes. 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.
The train reached Barmera at six o’clock that evening. Despite the late hour, the sun beat down, casting everything in a copper light. Dust floated in the air. Aside from the soldiers waiting to escort us to camp, there wasn’t a soul around. A wide dirt road stretched ahead of us, framed by swathes of green farmland on either side. In the distance, the slate-grey roof and white walls of a cottage stood out among the greenery; the cottage’s open windows were the only sign of habitation.
Four soldiers stood on the platform, plus two on horseback who waited on the track. They wore the same uniform as those who’d guarded us on the train, but everything about them was different: the way they rested the butts of their rifles on the ground, their craggy faces and their easy grins. ‘Next stop, Loveday!’ one of them yelled, motioning for us to follow the path.
On the train I’d pitied the other men with their scant belongings, but on the three-mile walk to camp with my four bags, I envied them. As we followed the track, I caught snatches of their conversation.
‘How hot will it be in the middle of the day?’ one wondered. ‘It can’t be worse than the ship. At least we have fresh air here,’ said another.
The soldiers chatted to each other, and every so often they thrust their hands into the grapevines growing on either side of the path and pulled out bunches of ripe fruit.
Burdened with my luggage, I fell to the back, where the older members of our group were walking. A guard on horse- back brought up the rear. I was wondering whether I could abandon one of my suitcases, when I heard a cry and a scuffle behind me. One of the men from New Caledonia was on his hands and knees, his head almost touching the ground. I dropped my bags and ran to him. His complexion was pale and his pupils were dilated, so I coaxed him to lie down. The guard on horseback called for the others to halt, and a crowd gathered around the man.
‘Christ, he looks like death,’ said the guard.
I pressed my hand to his forehead. He was burning. ‘What’s your name?’ I asked the man. He looked at me but said nothing. I asked him again.
‘He doesn’t speak Japanese, only French,’ said someone in the crowd. A slight man with hollow cheeks stepped forward. ‘But I think his name is Yonetsu. He was on the ship with me.’
‘What’s the matter with him?’
The man shrugged. ‘Probably ill from the ship. They gave us very little to eat—only one meal a day. Even I got sick. We weren’t allowed to go on deck. Many died, especially the older ones like him.’
‘He’s weak,’ I told the guard. ‘I don’t think he can walk. Is there something to carry him on—a stretcher?’
‘Nah, we’ve got one at headquarters, but that’ll take too long. He doesn’t look like he’ll last another hour. . . Hey, Jack!’ The guard at the front of the group turned his horse around.
‘I have to take this one to hospital. Can’t have one cark it already. Can you give us a hand?’
One of the guards and I eased Yonetsu from the ground, but we needed the help of several more men to get him into the saddle. He was so feeble he could barely sit up, so we broke off vines to wrap around his body and secure him to the guard.
By the time they departed, the sky had turned from blue to violet. We resumed our walk and a white glow appeared on the horizon ahead.
‘Is that the camp? Loveday?’ I asked the guard nearest to me. ‘Yep, that’s it,’ he said. ‘It’s always lit up like that at night.
Bright as daylight.’
I struggled along at the back of the group, stopping to adjust my load from time to time. By the time we reached camp, almost an hour later, my hands were blistered and weeping. We lined up outside a concrete building and one by one were called by name to enter. Three men sat behind desks scattered with paper. I approached one of the officers. He looked me up and down, stopping at the sight of my bags.
‘Four bags? Christ, did you bring your entire house?’ ‘My medical equipment—I thought. . .’
He lifted his eyebrows. ‘Occupation?’ ‘Medical doctor.’
‘A doctor? Here or overseas?’
‘Both. In Japan I was a doctor, but more recently I was working at a hospital in Broome. Also at the camp in Harvey— they asked me to help. There were not enough doctors.’
‘Is that why you got here later than the others from Broome?’ I nodded. ‘The military doctor at Harvey, Dr Mackinnon, asked me to stay behind. The camp commander approved the extension.’
The officer turned his attention to the form. Still writing, he addressed me again.
‘I see you’re thirty-three. How long have you been here? Your English is good.’
‘I came to Australia in 1938. It has been almost four years.’ The man beside me struggled to make himself understood. Linen factory, he said over and over in Japanese, referring to his occupation. ‘Marital status?’
I was caught off-guard. I opened my mouth but nothing came out. The officer looked up.
‘Well, are you married or not? Got a wife?’ ‘I—ah . . . Yes, I am married.’
‘Where is she? Here?’
‘No. She’s in Japan. In Tokyo. She’s never been to Australia.’ He looked as if he was about to ask something further, but he nodded briskly and returned to his notes. After a while, he paused, tapping one end of his pen on the desk.
‘I’m putting you in Camp 14C, where most of the other men from Broome are. But you can’t take any of this stuff with you.’ He motioned to my open suitcase. ‘Scalpels, scissors—it’s far too dangerous with some of the other internees. We’ll put them in a safety deposit box along with your valuables. Got any valuables?’
Before we were allowed to enter the camp, we were subject to a medical examination. Although I knew what to expect— I’d carried out the same procedure on hundreds of new internees at Harvey—I wasn’t prepared for the indignity of being probed while naked. The doctor was a lanky man with an abrupt manner—perhaps because he was eager to finish the late-night inspections as quickly as possible. His long, thin fingers prodded me with surprising force while he dictated the condition of my lungs, heart , hair, teeth and genitals to his assistant in a voice louder than what seemed necessary. The doctor met my gaze only once, when I mentioned that I was a physician, too. By the time we’d all been examined, it was almost midnight.
We stood outside the camp entrance, bathed in the glare of the f loodlights. Everything appeared too bright and too crisp. Even the whispers of my companions were amplified in the stillness of the night.
‘They’re watching us now, aren’t they? From that tower?’ The nearest guard tower was twenty feet away, just behind
the ring of floodlights. I squinted at the enclosure at the top of the tower. The barrel of a mounted machine gun jutted out against the sky.
‘They’re always watching us,’ another man said. ‘When we’re eating, sleeping and shitting. They have to. And even if they aren’t watching us, they want us to think they are.’
‘Will they shoot us?’ the first man said. ‘Only if we try to escape.’
A guard strode down the incline towards us, his feet kicking up small clouds of dust. ‘Ready to enter?’ His voice boomed across the landscape. His face was red and shiny, as if he’d just emerged from a hot shower. He unlocked the gate and stepped back to let us into the long rectangular wire enclosure.
‘Say goodbye to freedom,’ he said under his breath.
We squeezed into the space that was just larger than an army truck, and the guard locked the door behind us. We jostled and bumped each other. A wooden beam cut into the small of my back. I wondered how long we’d be kept like this, but the guard called, ‘All in!’ and after a few moments a second guard opened the door on the other side. We spilled onto a wide dirt road that seemed to go on forever.
‘Welcome to Loveday Camp 14,’ the guard said as he shut and locked the door. ‘That’s the birdcage gate. It’s how we get you in and out. There’s another one like it on the other side. You’ll get used to them soon enough. Eighteen of you are in 14B and the rest are in 14C. All in 14B raise your hand.’ He counted the hands. ‘Right, you lot are in here.’ He walked over to a door built into the wire fence and unlocked it. ‘Your compound leader’s waiting for you. The rest of you come with me.’
We farewelled the men leaving us. They were mostly Formosans and New Caledonians. Although I’d only been with them a day, I felt a strong kinship with them, having come this far. The old man who’d sat opposite me on the train was among them. He smiled at me before going through the gate. I never found out his name.
We walked down the road that bisected camp.
‘This is called Broadway, because of all the bright lights,’ the guard said, indicating the road.
He began to whistle a tune. Although the melody was cheerful, hearing it in that empty space filled me with sorrow.
‘Hey, look over there,’ the man beside me whispered.
To our right, thirty feet away, a figure stood on the other side of the fence. An Occidental man in a light-coloured shirt and pants stared at us with dispassion, the way one would watch cars passing on the street. Although he probably meant no harm, his ghostly appearance perturbed me and I dared not look again.
We passed a juncture where the road intersected a narrower track about fifteen feet wide that marked the start of the two other compounds.
‘This small road that cuts across the middle is what we call the Race. And this is your camp, 14C,’ the guard said, indicating the fence on his left. ‘Though the entrance is at the other end.’
The low line of buildings beyond the fence appeared bleak in the unnatural light. The guard stopped whistling as we neared the end of the road.
‘Anyone there?’ he called.
‘Yes,’ a voice responded from some distance away. Footsteps moved towards us. The guard unlocked the door and we filed into the compound. Three men stood on the other side.
‘Welcome to Camp 14C,’ said the tallest of the men. The skin at his jaw was pulled tight. His round, wire-rimmed glasses ref lected the glare of the f loodlights. ‘My name is Mori. I’m the mayor of this compound. My colleagues and I are responsible for maintaining order and ensuring all internees are treated fairly. We hope to make life at camp as comfortable as possible for you.’ He used the formal language of a native Tokyoite—words I hadn’t heard for years. ‘This is my deputy, Mr Yamada.’ He gestured to the man next to him, who had a broad, suntanned face and close-cropped grey hair. Mr Yamada nodded and smiled. ‘And the secretary, Mr Hoshi.’ The third man bowed deeply, his paunch pressing against the waistband of his trousers. Sweat shone on his balding pate. ‘We’re here to ensure your time at camp is as comfortable as possible. If there’s anything you need, please come to us. Usually we’d take you on a tour immediately after your arrival, but as it’s very late we’ll show you your tent and the latrines and ablutions block tonight, and the rest of camp tomorrow. Your group is being spread across four tents. Could the men from Menaro come with me? The men from Batavia follow Mr Hoshi. You’re a large group, so you’ll be in two tents. And the one late arrival from Harvey camp—from Broome, yes?’ I nodded. ‘Please follow Mr Yamada.’
Mr Yamada stepped forward and greeted me.
‘You’re Ibaraki-sensei, from Broome? Harada told me all about you. Here, let me take one of your bags. The tent’s this way.’
Before I had a chance to protest he took one of the suitcases out of my hand.
‘Harada? Harada Yasutaro’s here?’ I asked, relieved to know I had friends among the camp population. Harada was the vice-president of Broome’s Japanese Association. When we’d said goodbye at Harvey Camp, I wasn’t sure whether we’d see each other again.
‘Yes, but he’s in a different row of tents. I’ll show you tomorrow. We were going to put you with him and some of the divers from Broome, but when we found out you were a doctor . . .’ Yamada smiled. ‘We thought you might prefer to stay in my tent. You’ll like everyone in there. It’s a shame you didn’t arrive two weeks ago with all the others. We appointed the executive committee last week. We could have done with another educated man such as you.’
We walked along the lines of tents, then stopped near the middle of a row.
‘This is our tent: row eight, number twelve,’ he whispered, so as not to wake the others. ‘I’ve already made your bed. Drop your luggage and change your clothes if you’d like, then I’ll show you the latrines. I’ll wait for you at the end of the row.’ I set my suitcases down and sorted through my belongings, feeling for my nightclothes and toothbrush. I winced in pain as my blistered hands knocked against something hard. I heard the sigh of breath from inside the tent. A rustle as somebody stirred. I was touched by Yamada’s kindness, especially since I was a stranger to him. I looked up at the heavens and silently said a prayer of thanks. The stars were faint pinpricks beneath the glare of lights.
The next morning I woke early. Grey light filtered through the opening of the tent. It must have been no later than six, but the day was already full of the promise of heat. A warm breeze teased the edges of the tent. A fly circled above me in lazy arcs. My neck and back were damp against the bedsheets. The rise and fall of the breath of the men around me grew louder, filling my ears. I raised my head and sweat trickled down my neck. My six companions slept on, apparently unconcerned by the gathering heat.
In Broome, on Sundays, I would rise at five o’clock and walk for two hours along the shore of the bay, weaving between the pink-red sand and the spiky fringe of grass that skirted it. The sun would burst from the horizon in an orange haze, slowly bringing the sand, the grass and the sea into sharp definition. Those walks always cleared my head and provided me with a calmness with which to begin the week.
I crept to the doorway of the tent and looked out. In the bleak morning light, the landscape appeared completely different to the previous night. Rows and rows of khaki tents stretched away from me. Beyond them, the iron roofs of the mess halls were clustered next to the internal road I’d walked down last night. Stepping out of the tent, I turned to face the outer fence. Between the last line of tents and the perimeter fence was a f lat, dusty expanse, littered with pebbles and clumps of stubborn grass. Beyond the barbed-wire fence, dirt, grass and scrub continued in flat eternity.
I walked towards the latrines in the northwest corner of the compound, passing a small galvanised-iron shed with padlocked shutters. Yamada had pointed it out to me last night. ‘You can buy cigarettes, razors and other supplies here,’ he’d said.
I reached the concrete latrines and ablutions blocks, easily identifiable by their stench. Following the path that hugged the fence, I wandered past two mess halls and a kitchen. The air was alive with the clink of metal pots and bowls as breakfast was being prepared. The rich smell of fried butter greeted me. I looked at my watch. It was just past six. Breakfast wouldn’t be served for another hour.
I slipped back in between the rows of tents, catching sight of the men inside, still prostrate on their beds, sheets crumpled beside them. I continued until I’d reached the fence that faced the world beyond the camp. From what I’d gathered, our camp formed one section of a roughly circular larger camp that had been divided into four quadrants. As well as the Japanese in 14B and 14C, there were Italians and Germans in the other two compounds. A fenced-off divide separated each of the four camps, so although we could see each other, we had limited contact.
The barbed-wire fence stood before me, steel tips dull against the brightening sky. A stretch of cleared land surrounded the camp like a moat. At the edge of the clearing a forest of tall red gums stood like sentinels. Bark peeled from their trunks like blistered skin.
I’d received a letter from my mother the week before I’d left Harvey. In the months before my arrest she had urged me to return to Japan. But I told her I had to stay in Broome to honour my contract. In truth, the contract had already expired—I wasn’t ready to go back to Japan.
‘Dear Tomokazu,’ my mother’s letter had begun. ‘Snow has fallen steadily this week. Although the days are getting longer, the ice on the awnings grows heavier each day. Have you been well? I am in good health.’
Mother informed me she saw my sister, Megumi, and her two children almost every day. She’d visited the family graves early in the new year and said everything was in order.
‘Your younger brother, Nobuhiro,’ began the next sentence, but the rest of the paragraph had been neatly cut from the paper by the censors, forming a rectangle of empty space. The void seemed to have a force of its own, drawing the meaning of the words into it.
The letter ended with: ‘Please take good care of yourself. I will write again when I have more time. From, Mother.’
I was anxious to know what had become of my brother, who was in the navy and, when I’d last heard, had been sent to China. Although there were eight years between us, we were close. I often played with him in the fields at the back of our house. He was only ten when I moved to Tokyo to study. He’d planned to study medicine, like me, but that changed when the war began. The letter didn’t mention my wife. My mother used to see the Sasakis from time to time, but I’d heard nothing of them in the past year.
Trying to calm my mind, I walked along the fence until I reached my row of tents. I was surprised to discover a Buddhist altar in the space between the last row of tents and the outside fence. It was a simple structure, no more than shoulder-high. It was made from unpainted pine; the roof was swollen and faded from the elements. Two rough-hewn doors splayed open, revealing a miniature scroll with the words ‘Eternal Happiness’, and a vase with several withered stems.
In Japan, I would have lit a stick of incense at such a time. But here, so many miles from home, all I could do was kneel before the altar and close my eyes.
I sensed a movement to my left and saw a figure come to stillness about thirty feet away. As I stared at him, I real- ised he was half-caste. The eyes were too round and the nose too broad for a Japanese. The young man had a towel folded over his shoulder, soap in one hand—straight-backed and passive-faced, like a soldier in a parade. Our eyes met and he nodded almost imperceptibly before continuing on his way.
I stepped into the mess hall and was assaulted by a barrage of voices, clangs and scrapes. The room thrummed with the sound of several hundred men eating breakfast. I longed for the silence of the early morning, when hardly a soul had been awake.
‘Meat?’ Yamada offered me a tray piled high with thick slices of something dark brown. ‘I think it’s mutton. Always mutton. Not to my taste, but it keeps me going till lunch.’
The smell of mutton in the morning made me feel weak, but I took a sliver, not wanting to appear ungrateful. Yamada poured me a cup of tea and offered me the first helping of oatmeal, toast, butter and jam. He introduced me to the other people at our table, who were also in our tent. I had difficulty hearing the introductions over the clamour, but I gathered that aside from one elderly man from Borneo they had all come from Sumatra.
‘We all worked together at a rubber production company. I am—I was—the director. The others work in production. Watanabe is in accounting. We worked hard, but business was tough. Especially after the Dutch froze our assets—those bastards. I’ll never forgive them for what they did to us.’ As he recalled the Dutch embargo on Japanese trade, his face darkened. For a moment I was worried he would become enraged. But just as quickly, he brightened. ‘What about you, sensei? Which university did you go to? Tokyo or Kyoto?’
‘Ah, the very best.’ He turned to the man on his other side. ‘Did you hear? He went to Tokyo.’
In between mouthfuls, I glanced at nearby tables, looking for my friend Harada. Raised voices cut through the din in the hall. I paused, knife and fork raised, trying to make out a conversation behind me. I caught the long, flat vowels of a native English speaker.
‘. . . took two pieces—same as everybody else. If you’ve got a problem with it, why don’t you ask that fella over there. Seen him take more than his fair share.’
The second speaker’s voice was muffled, but the few words I heard were enough to tell me that English was not his first language.
I turned around in my seat. It took me a few moments to locate the men. The first was sitting at a table two rows behind me. He had a tanned complexion typical of many of the divers I’d known in Broome, but there was something distinctly un-Japanese about his person. He had a strong jaw and powerful, sloping shoulders that seemed to dwarf the rest of his body. I sensed he was a living portrait of someone I knew—the photographic ghost-image of a friend. He leaned forward in his chair, speaking to the man opposite him, a slight man whose face I couldn’t see.
‘You’re telling me I took two big pieces? Jesus Christ. Hey, Charlie, would you listen to this?’ He turned to the person next to him, who was similarly broad and muscular, but had fair skin and wavy hair that fell over one eye. He was one of the half-castes. I recognised another person at their table as the young man I’d seen on my morning walk.
‘He reckons I took more than my fair share because I took two big pieces. As if counting how many pieces I take isn’t enough, they’ve also got an eye on the size of the meat we take. Next they’ll be counting how many pieces of toilet paper we use.’
Charlie shook his head. ‘Not worth getting worked up about it, Johnny. Can’t win this one.’ His voice was flat.
I realised who the first speaker was: Johnny Chang. He’d been a well-known personality in Broome, a young businessman who’d run a noodle shop in Japtown then later started up a taxi business, the first of its kind in town. I had a clear mental picture of him on the corner of Short Street and Dampier Terrace, one arm draped over the open door of his parked car and the other fanning his face with a folded paper while he chatted to people on the street. He was known to everybody and moved among the Japanese, Chinese, native and even the white population with ease. His father was a Chinese immigrant who’d found a modest fortune on the goldfields and moved to Broome to start a restaurant, eventually marrying the Japanese daughter of a laundry owner.
It was strange I hadn’t recognised Johnny straight away. Perhaps it was the difference in attitude; in Broome, he’d always been easygoing, but here it was as if he were another man.
‘What right have you got to tell us what to do, anyway? Acting like you own the place, with your so-called mayor who doesn’t even follow his own bloody rules.’ Johnny’s voice filled the crowded hall. ‘Yeah, that’s right, him . . .’ Johnny jabbed a finger towards Mayor Mori, who was sitting a few tables away. ‘He gets all sorts of special treatment. Two or three helpings of food, first in line to use the showers, no cleaning duties. Don’t think I haven’t noticed.’
Mori continued to eat, delicately spearing a piece of mutton with his fork and bringing it to his mouth. His expression was difficult to read.
Yamada hissed to Watanabe across the table. ‘That half- caste—what’s his name? Chang? The troublemaker. He needs to watch himself. He’s an embarrassment to our compound. He’s upset many people already.’
I wondered whether I should mention my Broome connection to Johnny Chang. But we’d never been intimately acquainted, so I kept quiet.
Yamada turned to me. ‘Last week he forced his way into the executive meeting when we were in session. Said he’d been waiting to use the recreation tent. We told him the meeting was more important, but even then he wouldn’t leave. He has no respect for authority—no respect for our ways. None of them do.’ Yamada flicked his hand towards Johnny’s table with an expression of disgust.
I was surprised by the news of Johnny’s antisocial behav- iour. As far as I knew, Johnny had had little trouble with the authorities in Broome. He was friendly with the constables, some of whom he’d known for years.
‘You haafu fools don’t deserve the Japanese blood in you!’ said an old man at the mayor’s table, speaking in Japanese. He shook his fist at Johnny.
Johnny thumped the table and stood up. ‘You bloody racist! I know what you just said. Think I don’t know what haafu means? You fucking Emperor-worshipping pig—’
Charlie put his hand on Johnny’s shoulder, trying to quieten him. People began yelling at Johnny to get out.
‘Chinese bastard!’ someone cried.
Johnny shrugged off his friend. ‘Don’t tell me what to do like the rest of these arseholes. I can handle myself. I want to get out of here anyway. I can’t get far enough away from these pigs.’
He kicked his chair and shoved the table as he walked out. Silence descended as everyone watched him. I heard the sigh of my own breath. My heartbeat filled my ears. But only a few seconds later, the cloud of noise rose again. The screech of cutlery. Shrill voices. The banging of plates.
I looked at the food in front of me. White specks of lard flecked the meat on my plate. The mutton had turned cold.
After breakfast, Yamada led me to my old friend Harada’s tent. Inside the tent, figures ducked and weaved as the inhabit- ants folded bedding, sorted through belongings and swept the ground. Although I’d rarely socialised with the divers in Broome, when the men saw me, they stopped what they were doing and bowed in greeting.
‘Doctor, you made it! I’m so glad to see you,’ said one young diver from Wakayama, whose name escaped me. I was moved by his warmth. I’d treated him in the hospital once, although I couldn’t recall what for. Sister Bernice would know.
‘Ibaraki-sensei, is that you?’ Harada was crouched next to an open suitcase on the floor. Seeing his face, shiny with perspiration, brought to mind those nights in Broome we’d spent drinking, playing mahjong, faces gleaming above steaming bowls of soup. But when Harada stood up, I was shocked to see how thin he’d become in the few weeks since I’d last seen him. He walked towards me and gripped my shoulder in an awkward embrace. ‘When did you arrive?’
‘Just last night,’ I said. ‘You came from Harvey?’
‘Yes. Another military doctor arrived last week, so they sent me here. But look at you; you’ve lost so much weight.’
His collarbones felt like they could snap beneath the force of my hand. His skin was hot.
‘It’s nothing,’ he said, pushing away my arm. ‘I don’t like the food here.’
‘Has the doctor seen you?’
‘Yes, yes. Me and five hundred other men.’
Behind him, one of the divers who’d been listening to our conversation looked at me and shook his head. I wondered what he meant by that gesture, but I didn’t have a chance to find out as someone shouted nearby, a repeated word, taken up by a chorus of people as it was passed from tent to tent.
‘We have to go,’ Harada said. ‘Headcount near the fence. Come, I’ll show you.’
He packed the last of his belongings into his suitcase and closed the lid. We followed the stream of people walking towards the fence that faced the internal road. The strength of the sun seemed to have multiplied in the short time I’d been inside the tent. Even the air was hot, burning my throat whenever I took a breath.
‘It’s not like Broome, is it?’ I said, one hand shielding my eyes. ‘No. It’s a long way from Broome,’ Harada said, gazing at the rows of canvas tents, the wire fence and the f lat, dusty expanse beyond. He coughed. ‘Think this is hot? It was worse two weeks ago. Forty-three degrees. Even hotter in the tents. Felt like hell on earth.’ He gasped between every few words,
as if the effort of talking and walking was too much.
When we neared the fence, Harada and I separated to join our respective rows. Yamada beckoned for me to stand in line next to him. I regretted not having the foresight to bring a hat as many of the men around me had. We baked in the sun as a procession of four army personnel entered the camp from the gate to our right.
‘Start the count!’ the officer at the front of the line said, and the others peeled away to walk between the rows, counting as they went. The remaining officer stared at each internee in the first row. He wore long khaki trousers, a white shirt with the sleeves rolled to his elbows and a khaki peaked hat, whose brim plunged his eyes into shadow. His mouth was a perfectly still line. In his right hand he held a riding crop.
The officers who’d been counting reassembled at the front and compared numbers.
‘All present?’ the head officer asked. ‘All present, sir,’ they chorused.
The head officer stepped forward and addressed us. ‘It has come to my attention that some of you are not observing protocol regarding cleanliness. Belongings in tents must be neat at all times, and beds must be made each day. Failure to do so will result in severe reprimand, and repeat offenders will be detained with a view to punishment. To facilitate this, the other officers and I will conduct surprise inspections of tents and other areas.’
Yamada groaned. ‘Just what we need. Major Locke going through our belongings.’
I squinted against the glare, praying the major would stop speaking and we could go back to our tents soon. He droned on and on. Even I, who had a good grasp of English, had trouble following his speech. My nostrils felt as if they were on fire.
Several rows behind me, I heard a thud. I turned around, but couldn’t see past the other men turning around like me. I heard urgent whispers.
‘. . . imperative that you observe these rules as—’ Major Locke broke off. ‘Silence down the back. What’s going on? ’
He turned to the young officer next to him. ‘McCubbin, see what’s the matter, will you?’
The officer jogged to the back of the group. After a while, he called back: ‘Someone’s collapsed, sir. He’s on the ground. Must be the heat.’
Yamada turned to me. ‘Sensei, you should go.’
I pushed my way through the lines until I saw a circle of backs surrounding someone prostrate on the ground.
‘I am a doctor. Can I help?’
When the men stepped back to make room for me I recognised the man on the ground.
‘Harada!’ I dropped to his side. ‘Harada, it’s me, Ibaraki. Can you hear me?’
His body was covered in sweat. His eyes were half-closed. I pulled up his lids and his eyeballs rolled.
‘What happened?’ I asked.
‘We were just standing there, and then he was on the ground,’ the man next to me said.
I checked Harada’s pulse. It was racing. The officer gave me a canteen of water and I pressed it to Harada’s lips.
‘Heat exhaustion?’ the officer asked, crouching beside me. ‘I don’t think so. He’s sweating too much. I think it’s
something else. He should go to hospital.’ ‘I’ll get a stretcher.’
I asked some of the men to shelter Harada from the sun while we waited for the officer to return.
Harada drifted in and out of consciousness, sometimes opening his eyes to look at me, at other times lolling his head to one side, prompting me to check his pulse again.
At last the young officer appeared with a stretcher and another guard. The three of us eased Harada onto the canvas.
He looked small, his feet not even reaching the end of the stretcher. The two men hoisted him up, and we walked slowly to the exit. Major Locke had resumed his talk about cleanliness. ‘Hang on, he’s not coming with us, is he?’ the guard said
to the officer, nodding at me.
‘Please, I’m a doctor.’ My throat tightened at the thought of leaving Harada in his precarious state. ‘This man is very ill. If we delay any longer he might die. If something should happen on the way, I can help.’
The officer’s face clouded. He looked back at Major Locke, who was still talking. ‘Well, okay, then. I’ll have to be on guard. Here, you take this end.’
I took the ends of the stretcher from him, careful not to jolt Harada. We crab-legged to the gate and onto Broadway. After shuffling along the internal road for several minutes, lurching beneath our load, we finally passed through the birdcage gate and emerged onto the track towards headquarters. My palms became slippery as the handles of the stretcher scraped against the wounds on my hands. I winced.
Despite my best efforts to keep a quick pace, I slowed under the load. The young officer, whose name I’d discovered was McCubbin, offered to take my end. I tried to hide my injuries, but blood stained the handles.
‘Christ—is that from you?’
McCubbin stared at the crimson streaks.
‘Yesterday, when I carried my suitcases from the station . . .’ ‘Geez, I wish you’d told me. I wouldn’t have made you carry him.’ He shook his head.
We passed a camp on our right, smaller than Camp 14. It was prettier, too, with shrubs and saplings shading the huts. A couple of Italians who were crouched near the fence, weeding a garden, lifted their heads and watched us walk by. We walked in silence for a few minutes more, then the scattered buildings of headquarters came into view. A large, concrete structure that cast a long shadow on the earth, and rows of nearly identical galvanised-iron buildings surrounded by stone-edge f lower beds. The hospital was one such structure, with a peaked roof and windows on all four sides. Inside, standing screens divided the room into two wards: the beds nearest the door contained two ailing Australians, one asleep with a towel on his head and the other with a bandaged foot resting on a pillow. I assumed they were military personnel. From the beds beyond the screens, occasional coughs punctuated the silence.
The medical officer who had examined me the previous day stood at the foot of one of the Australians’ beds. He wore a khaki shirt and shorts beneath his white coat. He looked up from his clipboard.
‘Another one? What is it, the heat?’
‘His pulse is very fast. He’s sweating and has a fever. I do not think it is the heat,’ I said.
The physician glanced at me. ‘You’re the doctor I saw yesterday, aren’t you?’
‘Bring the patient into the internees’ ward, then.’ He indi- cated the back of the room. ‘You, too, doctor. You can help with the diagnosis.’
There were only two Caucasians among the ten or so patients in the internees’ ward; the rest were Japanese. They stared dully as we manoeuvred Harada onto an empty bed.
The doctor checked Harada’s pulse, temperature and eyes. ‘Well, he definitely has a fever. How long’s he been like this? ’ he asked.
‘Almost half an hour,’ I said. ‘Has he had any water?’
‘Yes, a little. A few mouthfuls.’ ‘What’s his name?’
‘Harada. Tsuguo. Or just Harada.’
‘Harada? Can you hear me, Harada? Can you open your eyes?’ Harada turned his head away.
The doctor put his stethoscope to Harada’s chest. ‘Has he been coughing?’ he asked.
‘I was with him for only a few minutes, but I think so, yes.’ He continued to examine Harada, checking his glands and kidneys. After a minute he folded his stethoscope and
returned it to his coat pocket.
‘You’re right, it’s not the heat. This patient has TB. I’m surprised we didn’t detect it when he first arrived. Of course, we’ve had hundreds of new internees in the past few weeks.’ Fever, chills, shortness of breath. I often saw cases of tuberculosis in Broome. Why hadn’t I thought of that? I felt crestfallen at the thought that my failure to detect the condi-
tion had allowed it to spread and worsen.
‘George!’ the doctor called out. Moments later the assistant who’d been present at my medical examination entered the room. ‘Can you grab this internee’s file?’ He turned to me. ‘What
was his name?’
‘Harada. Tsuguo Harada,’ I said. ‘H-A-R-A-D-A?’ the doctor asked. ‘That’s right. From 14C.’
‘And what’s your name?’ ‘Ibaraki. Tomokazu Ibaraki.’
‘Dr Ibraki,’ he said, mispronouncing it. ‘I’m Doctor Ashton. We could do with another doctor at camp. You could work at the infirmary in 14B. You’d also have to help the orderlies. You’d be paid of course. Not much, but it beats sitting around doing nothing. How does that sound?’ He held out his hand. When I hesitated, he glanced down. His expression changed. ‘Good Lord. Whatever happened to your hands?’
After Harada was given nourishment and allowed to rest, his condition became stable. In the afternoon, he was moved to the tuberculosis ward of the infirmary. I visited him the next day. The complex hugged the eastern corner of 14B, a stone’s throw from the duty guard camp. As I approached, I could see the guards and officers through the fence arriving from headquarters in trucks or on horseback along the dusty road.
The three galvanised-iron buildings of the infirmary stood side by side, perhaps the largest structures in our camp. An enclosed walkway ran through the middle of the buildings, connecting them, and it was through this I entered, eventually finding my way along the dim corridor and past the other wards to where Harada was kept. The TB ward was at the back of the complex, in a room isolated in its own building with a heavy curtain covering the doorway. Inside, the shutters were closed against the wind and it was dim, even though it was sunny outside. A dozen patients occupied the room, the sigh of their breaths and gentle rise and fall of their chests the only signs they were alive. Harada lay in a bed close to the door, and when I stood beside him, his eyes fluttered open and he gave a brief smile.
I decided I would apply to work as an orderly at the infir- mary. I’d be able to monitor Harada, and I could think of no better use of my time at camp.
I mentioned the idea to Yamada after lunch, the midday sun bearing down on us as we walked back to our tent. With little shade at camp, there was no escape from the heat.
‘Is that part of the voluntary paid labour scheme, where the Australian government pays you a shilling a day?’ Yamada asked.
‘I think so.’ I mopped my brow with a handkerchief.
‘We discussed it at the executive meeting last week. Some of the New Caledonians expressed interest in working in the vegetable gardens. While we don’t oppose it, we don’t want to work for the enemy just for pocket money. You can see how that presents a problem, can’t you?’
I blinked. Yamada’s expression was serious.
‘But we also know boredom could lead to unrest in camp,’ he continued, ‘so we’ve approved the scheme, with the suggestion participants commit small acts of sabotage from time to time.’
‘Acts of sabotage?’
‘Pulling out plants, planting seedlings upside down, that sort of thing. Not so much that it’s obvious, but a few disruptions here and there. But in your case, that would be impossible.’ He laughed. ‘Imagine! Deliberately making patients ill. No, your employment at the infirmary is for the good of the camp, so I’m sure Mori would find no problem in you working there. What’s the matter, Doctor? Are you all right?’
At the mention of ill patients, I had suddenly felt weak. I pressed my fingertips to my eyelids. I saw blackened limbs and rotting flesh.
‘Just the sun,’ I said. ‘I think I’m all right.’
At the start of my first shift, one of the orderlies greeted me inside the entrance to the infirmary. Stepping in from the sunlight, I took a moment to adjust to the gloom. A fan circled overhead, blowing air onto my face.
‘Sensei, it’s an honour to have you join our team,’ the young man said, bowing deeply. His long, thin fingers fretted the sides of his trousers. His name was Shiobara and he was from Saitama prefecture, although he’d been a clerk at a lacquer factory in the Dutch East Indies the previous six years. I followed him along the walkway into the first building. Two wards of about sixty feet in length opened up on either side. ‘These are the general internee wards—for fever, malaria, non-contagious infections and the like,’ Shiobara explained. A small chair and desk stood at the entrance of each ward.
A stocky young man sat at one of the desks, cheek resting on his hand, eyes shut. His lids flew open when he heard us. He stood up and bowed several times, apologising for his sleepiness.
‘This is Matsuda, from tent twenty-one,’ Shiobara said. ‘He’s been working long hours. We all have.’
Light streamed through the open windows. About twenty beds lined the walls, more than half of which were occupied. The clean, spartan room, the metal beds and white sheets— even the patients who watched us in silence—in some ways felt like home. I couldn’t help but think back to my first few months in Broome, when my senses were keen to the strange- ness around me and everything appeared brighter, sharper and crisper, as if a veil had lifted.
We continued along the walkway, crossing into the middle building. An office and storage space opened up on one side. Among the cabinets, shelves crammed with books and odds and ends, chairs, pillows and piles of blankets was a space for the orderlies: a clearing big enough for a few mattresses, three chairs and a low table. This was where I would spend much of my time, and where I’d sleep if I was on the night shift. Although it wasn’t much to look at, the evidence of an abandoned go game on the table gave it a homely feel.
Shiobara led me into the final building. The light dimmed. A curtain of thick white cloth covered the entrance to each ward. ‘You already know the TB ward,’ Shiobara said, nodding to his right. ‘And this is the ward for pneumonia and other respiratory illnesses. The orderlies for these wards don’t have to sit in the room due to the risk of infection.’
I followed Shiobara outside to a small one-room building near the entrance gate. The heavy aroma of frying fat reached me, and when we stepped into the dark room I heard it sizzle and pop. The dull thwack of a blade on wood stopped. Once my eyes adjusted, I saw a stout Occidental man in a white apron staring at me.
‘This is Francesco, the hospital cook,’ Shiobara said. ‘He used to work in a restaurant. He makes all the meals for the patients, and for us, too.’
The cook looked at me and shrugged, then returned to chopping onions. Shiobara showed me where the trays, dishes and utensils were kept and where to wash them. As breakfast was about to be served, he demonstrated how to portion meals and loaves of bread. Two other orderlies entered the room, both from the Dutch East Indies. Together we carried the trays to our waiting charges.
Soon afterwards, Shiobara left me to return to camp. He’d worked the night shift and had hardly slept. I continued alone for the rest of the day, asking the other orderlies for help from time to time. The work wasn’t difficult but it required stamina—all day I shuttled meals, cleaned dishes, mopped the f loor and changed bedpans, so that by the end of my shift my legs trembled with exhaustion. It brought to mind my hospital internship in Japan, where I’d spent much of my time cleaning up after the patients. Eight years later, it seemed I had returned to the point at which I’d begun.