After darkness : Japanese civilian internment in Australia during World War II

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Traumatic experience, such as that induced by war, is often followed by long periods of silence, as individuals and communities strive to distance themselves from the pain of the past. Yet time brings a shift against what author W G Sebald termed the ‘conspiracy of silence’, with testimonies and deathbed confessions often occurring decades after events. Across its creative and theoretical components, this thesis addresses the question: How do we narrate the traumas of the past, as individuals and collectively? It considers the moral and ethical implications of silence and telling, and examines how the passage of time affects our understanding of the past. After Darkness is a work of historical fiction about Japanese civilians interned in Australia and other wartime misdeeds. In 1989, retired doctor Tomokazu Ibaraki reflects on the time he was interned as an enemy alien in South Australia during World War II. While working as a doctor at a Japanese hospital in Broome, he was arrested and sent to Loveday, South Australia. As the world of the camp unfolds through the doctor’s retelling, details about his past emerge—his deep connection with the nun he trained in Broome, and a trauma in Japan that triggered the breakdown of his marriage. At camp, he befriends a troubled half-Japanese internee, and when tensions between internees escalate, the doctor’s loyalties are divided as his sense of duty conflicts with his moral integrity. After Darkness explores how we face the traumas of our past and find the courage to speak out. The exegesis is divided into four chapters, with each investigating different expressions of silence in narratives about past trauma. The first highlights the gaps in historical literature about the 4301 Japanese civilians interned in Australia during World War II. I profile five former Japanese civilian internees to demonstrate their varying voices according to their place within the dominant cultural paradigm. The second chapter is a creative non-fiction essay investigating the effects of silence and testimony on the understanding of Japan’s wartime past. Through interviews with members of civilian activist organisations, I explore how the accidental discovery of unidentified human remains in Shinjuku in 1989 triggered the unearthing of traumatic memories, prompting individuals to speak out and opening up a dialogue for new understanding. The third chapter examines the representation of memory of trauma in Austerlitz, The Remains of the Day and After Darkness. Through the gaps in narration that introduce conflict in the voice, these texts probe how and when to narrate the traumas of our past, and highlight the repercussions of postwar silence. The fourth chapter is a personal essay charting the evolution of the thesis. I consider how, through writing the thesis, I addressed the gaps and silences of my own past—namely the disjuncture arising from my peripheral perspective of my Japanese heritage.
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