Two sisters writing about their soldier-father - nothing too remarkable about that. Except that he and they are First Australians and both authors were very young when their father died, aged 38, of war-caused illness.
So they never knew him and he left no records. How to make a book out of that?
Their mother, Rita, only married to her husband Jack for seven years, relentlessly kept his story, life and spirit before his children; there was also a son born four months before his father's death.
Jack Huggins's father had served in the First World War, probably impelling his son to fight in the Second. Sent to Singapore, inevitably Jack Huggins, survivor of the fighting, became a prisoner of war, to work on the infamous Death Railway. Like all the other Australians on the railway, his suffering is indescribable.
Yet Jack Huggins was different. He was a First Australian. The authors speculate, rightly so, I think, that the brutality their father suffered was greater because he was black.
Returned to Changi a broken man, Jack was eventually repatriated to Australia. Here again he was different. He already owned his own home in Ayr in north Queensland and he gained a good and steady job in Ayr, at the Post Office.
It is not a criticism of the book to say that to this point the writing is a straight-forward account of captivity. But then the authors move it in a different and exciting direction.
Theirs is a deeply spiritual understanding of their father. In so many ways, they demonstrate, he is still with them. Through their mother's intense recollections, of course, but spiritually too. They know he watches over them, guides them, and celebrates and grieves with them and their families. Unexpectedly the book offers a significant insight into Indigenous spirituality and the strength of family.
There is also another issue the authors raise. Deeply proud of the extent of Indigenous service for Australia at war and pleased with the extensive efforts to celebrate and commemorate knowledge of this service, the authors ask, why? "We can't forget the reality of the harsh treatment that was meted out to our fellows", who were denied, for so long, the legitimate thanks of the nation and the appropriate rewards for their service.
They were not citizens before 1967, yet Indigenous Australians loyally served their nation at war. Jack Huggins, a tall, handsome, deserving soldier, died far too young in the service of his country, leaving his family bereft. His daughters have given him the tribute he deserves. Read this book. It will give readers a newly awakened pride in First Australians and a strong sense of a people fighting to win.
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