I acknowledge the Traditional Owners on whose land I walk, I work and I live. I pay my respects to Elders past, present and future.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

'Gentlemen of the Flashing Blade'

You may have recently read Stuart Start, the Eye Feature in the ‘Townsville Eye’, October 8, 2016, which features the post World War 2 Displaced Persons Transit Camp or Migrant Camp located in Stuart. Presently an exhibition of photographs from private collections featuring this Stuart Migrant Camp has been curated and put on display at the City Library, Townsville. The exhibition will move to the Courthouse Theatre from November 16-20 when will Full Throttle Theatre Company will perform a production entitled Displaced, ‘a locally written play inspired by the true story of a Polish couple who left war-torn Europe and settled in Townsville, after spending two years in the Stuart Migrant Camp.”
When my book ‘Gentlemen of the Flashing Blade’ was first launched in 1990 it too was released to time with a play, which was a visiting production of Summer of the 17th Doll by playwright Ray Lawler. I find it rather fascinating then, that just as I have achieved a reprint of ‘Gentlemen of the Flashing Blade’ in 2016 through the auspices of Boolarong Press, coincidently the post World War 2 displaced people and their stories have once more captured the public eye and interest. The migration of Displaced Persons to Australia between 1947 and 1951 was, in character and scale of preparation, unprecedented in the history of migration to Australia. Despite, and possibly because of, the plight of the current huge numbers of displaced people in the world, many of whom are seeking safety and refuge in Australia, just as the displaced persons of 1947 to 1951 did, this post World War 2 story of displacement is still being revisited and re-examined by historians and survivors' children and grandchildren alike.
I wrote ‘Gentlemen of the Flashing Blade’ from a unique position being both an historian and daughter of a displaced person cane cutter. I was therefore in the position to take the reader on a graphic and authentic journey from International Refugee Organization (IRO) Assembly Camp, across oceans to the shores of Australia, through Displaced Persons Camps, and deep into the cane fields of tropical north Queensland. In that journey two major themes of north Queensland history, immigration and the sugar industry, met.
‘Gentlemen of the Flashing Blade’ celebrates and records the days of manual cane cutting through a fictional character Branko Domanovic a displaced person cane cutter. Branko however, is an embodiment of the displaced person cane cutter and a true Gentleman of the Flashing Blade. When Branko arrived in Australia in 1949, the sugar crop of north Queensland was still cut by hand, by the oft mythologized ‘Gentlemen of the Flashing Blade’. Cane cutting was one of the least desirable unskilled occupations to which the displaced persons were allocated and one to which they made an invaluable contribution. Today the days of the manual cane cutter are no more. They are but the stuff of memory, history and legend.
When Branko stepped onto the deck of the Mohammedi, a displaced person refugee, he left behind him a war torn home land and loving family. In the sweat and dust of a North Queensland cane field youthful hopes and ambitions died. But there, at least, he breathed freely and moved without looking over his shoulder. He could dream that when he made good money and his country was free he would go home. He never did.
Reprint of 'Gentlemen of the Flashing Blade' 
'Gentlemen of the Flashing Blade' can now be purchased from: 

I recommend to the reader the PhD thesis by Dr. Jayne Persian entitled: ‘Displaced Person (1947-1952): Representations, Memory and Commemoration. It can be accessed from this link
She has consequently written further on the subject including an academic article called ‘Bonegilla: A Failed Narrative’. There will be people living today in the Ingham district whose parents and grandparents passed through Bonegilla which was the largest and longest operating post-war migrant camp in the post World War 2 period. 320 000 migrants were processed through Bonegilla in the years 1947 to 1971. Persian points out that Bonegilla is referred to as the birthplace of Australian multiculturalism. In her article she questions how this came about and “raises questions not only as to whether Bonegilla is a reactivated or a failed site of memory, but also as to the success or failure of multiculturalism as a historical narrative in Australia.”


  1. Thanks Bianka! My new book is Beautiful Balts: From Displaced Persons to New Australians (2017) https://www.newsouthbooks.com.au/books/beautiful-balts/

  2. Thanks Jayne I'll have to get it. Congratulations!