In 1939, Ray Parkin was serving on the Australian light cruiser HMAS Perth. At first glance he looked every inch the archetypal petty officer that he was - tough, practical and a model of naval discipline. Yet Ray was no ordinary sailor. Despite a lack of formal education, he had the soul of an artist and a philosopher's enquiring mind.
As HMAS Perth was embroiled in war - in the Mediterranean and then in South-East Asia - Ray became both a witness and a chronicler of the conflict through his meticulous diaries and his minutely observed watercolours and sketches. When Perth was sunk off the coast of Java, Ray was one of the survivors. After a valiant attempt to sail back to Australia in a lifeboat, he surrendered and spent the rest of the war as a prisoner of the Japanese, first building the Thai-Burma Railway and then working as a slave labourer in a Japanese coalmine. The horrors and privations of those years saw some of his most memorable artwork - documenting both the beauty of the natural world and the savageries and humiliations of the POW ordeal. They were also years that saw the founding of lifelong friendships with fellow prisoners Edward 'Weary' Dunlop and Laurens van der Post. Ray's experiences gave him the material for the three seminal books he would publish after the war: Out of the Smoke, Into the Smother and The Sword and the Blossom.
Ray died in 2005, acclaimed not only for his art and his wartime trilogy, but also for his prize-winning masterpiece H.M. Bark Endeavour, an extraordinary evocation of Captain Cook's ship and its voyage up the east coast of Australia in 1770.
This remarkable biography, illustrated by 100 paintings and sketches, is the first full and comprehensive account of Ray's life and wartime experiences. Using extensive interviews with Ray himself, as well as his letters, diaries and unpublished memoirs, Pattie Wright has written a book that is powerful, moving and compelling.
Highly Commended for the FAW National Literary Award for FAW Excellence in Non-fiction Award 2012