by Peter Brune
Crow's Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin/Chicago: Independent Publishers Group, 2005. Pp. xii, 692.
Illus., maps, notes, biblio, index. $29.95 paper. ISBN: 1741144035
A Bastard of a Place
deals with the Australian defense of Papua -- southeastern New Guinea – in 1942-1943, a campaign today hardly remembered except “Down Under.”
The campaign conducted largely by Australian troops against the Japanese invasion of Papua in 1942-1943 was one the grimmest of the Second World War, carried out under the most amazingly harsh environmental conditions, described as “the nastiest” theatre by one historian. Brune, a well-known Australian military historian, uses the letters, diaries, and memoirs of the troops, including Japanese troops, to supplement documents and historical accounts so as to give the reader a remarkably detailed look at the campaign, which at times hung on the actions of literally handfuls of men on both sides. Brune wisely divides his work into three parts, to focus on the three principal aspects of the campaign, the fight for the Kokoda Trail, a purely Australian show, the defense of Milne Bay, in which a few American troops took part, and the complex battle for the Gona-Buna-Sanananda area on the northeastern coast of Papua, in which American troops first played an important role. Brune pays little attention to matters of policy and strategy, but focuses on the troops at the ‘sharp end.’ There are vivid accounts of brutal combat among men on both sides, who were often ill and hungry, as the battle lines moved back and forth across some of the most rugged terrain in the world.
A valuable read for anyone interested in men at war and particularly for those who are familiar with the Pacific War from American accounts, which tend to overlook this theatre unless U.S. troops were involved.