“Germany must strike soon, either in England or in Africa. We must have plenty of strong protection to shelter us from the mad Nazi holocausts…With Australian faith in Australia, the Gestapo shall not rule us. We, every one of us, are in this war today. The result of this “Battle for Rights” hangs the destiny of the world.”
A few years ago, my dad received a surprise in the mail. It was a copy of a little newspaper, the ‘Schoolboys Chronicle’ which he had created when he was eleven years old, at Neutral Bay Public School in 1940.
I was fascinated by it. To read something your parent wrote as a child is like looking at a photograph of them at that age – it is undeniably and intensely them, but how can it be? I was particularly drawn to his editorial, quoted above. How extraordinary to have this child’s words from sixty years ago, written with such seriousness and passion at the beginning of what would be an unimaginably long and horrifying world war. It was reading what my father wrote as a schoolboy in 1940, that most of all, I think, led me to write my wartime novel, ‘The Blue Cat’.
I’ve actually included the schoolboy editorial inside the novel, on page 63. It’s not the only contemporary document in the book – every dozen or so pages there is something – an advertisement, a photograph, a book illustration, a government order, excerpts from newspapers and magazines. The sorts of things that the three children in the story, Columba, Hilda and Ellery, would have seen and read themselves as they roamed the streets of Neutral Bay in 1942.
I fell under the spell of contemporary documents as a window into history when, as a teenager in the 1970s studying Australian history at high school, my father gave me historian Manning Clark’s ‘Select Documents of Australian History’. This was a collection of ‘primary’ sources - newspaper reports, letters, cartoons, speeches - that were written and published at the time of the actual historical events, rather than the interpretation of those events by historians afterwards. I was RIVETED – it was like slipping immediately into the mind of another, past world in a way my textbooks never seemed to manage. That’s why I wanted to include so many of these direct documents inside my own novel.
The Blue Cat begins with a changing of the time – January 1, 1942, when daylight savings was put in place Australia-wide as the country prepared for what seemed to be the imminent invasion by the Japanese. The novel is about time, about the past, the present and the future, and the impact of great historical events on the everyday life of ordinary people, especially children like Columba, Hilda and Ellery. Like my other novels set in the past, (The Red Shoe in 1954 and The Golden Day in 1967), The Blue Cat takes place in Sydney, in a very different Australia. Yet the country we live in now, and which we will live in tomorrow, has been inevitably and indelibly formed, even if sometimes hidden from sight, by that Australia of the past.
For more background information on The Blue Cat including images and videos, visit, Ursula's website: The Blue Cat. Keep an eye out for our review of The Blue Cat, coming soon.