Escaping War and Writing About It

Truth may be the first casualty; civilians are usually the second

Host – Joan Beaumont

White Butterflies

Ian McPhedran

In 1942, eleven-year-old Colin McPhedran, with his mother and two siblings, fled Burma as the Japanese invaded. Only Colin survived the overland journey toward India. Sixty years later he published White Butterflies, a harrowing account of his life, told with stark simplicity. His son, former war correspondent and defence writer Ian McPhedran, recalls Colin and the creation of his book.

Refugees in Their Own Land

Peter & Sheila Forrest

At the beginning of the Pacific war, thousands of people were forced to flee the Darwin area. They were wartime casualties too; their lives were profoundly disturbed. They were forced to evacuate their homes and remain away for several years. Those who came back often found that everything they owned had been stolen or destroyed. It took years to put lives back together again. These people have had little acknowledgement in Australian history. Peter and Sheila will speak of telling their stories and putting a human face on the northern war in their book Battling: Territorians and Their War.

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Professor Emerita Joan Beaumont

Joan Beaumont is Emeritus Professor in the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University. She is internationally recognised for her work as an historian of Australia in both world wars, and of Australian defence and foreign policy, the history of prisoners of war and the memory and heritage of war. She came to special notice in Darwin in 1988 when Allen and Unwin published her second book – Gull Force: Survival and Leadership in Captivity, 1941 – 1945. The book analysed the experiences of Australians who were captured on Ambon in 1942. Many books have followed, none more highly praised than her prize-winning Broken Nation: Australians in the Great War. She is currently writing a “sequel” to Broken Nation, on Australians in the 1920s and the Great Depression.

Ian McPhedran

Walkley Award winner Ian McPhedran is an Australian author and retired journalist.  From 1998 until his retirement in 2016 he worked as defence writer for the News Corp group. In 2003 Ian reported on the Iraq war from Baghdad. In 2009 he took part in an Australian Defence Force ’embedding trial’ – which Ian described as a frustrating and time wasting process. Ian has written seven books, the latest being The Mighty Krait.

Peter and Sheila Forrest

Peter and Sheila have been researching, writing and publishing about the history of the people and places of northern and inland Australia since the 1970s. In that time they have written and published 34 books as well as innumerable articles, radio broadcasts, films, talks and lectures. They have a special interest in the Second World War in the Territory, particularly the impacts of the war on civilians. Their book Battling: Territorians and Their War (2012) was about the Territory civilian experience and was a stark reminder that ‘war isn’t only about soldiers.’ Their more recent publications include Their Promised Land: A History of the Barcoo Shire, Queensland (2014); The World Flies in … and Darwin Takes Off (2016); Together: A history of the CWA in the Northern Territory (2018); and Mandatory Reading: Lawyers and Life in the Northern Territory (2018).

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