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Semut: The Untold Story of a Secret Australian Operation in WWII Borneo

2022 - Shortlisted

Shortlisted

Judges' Comments 

Semut: The Untold Story of a Secret Australian Operation in WWII Borneo blends operational and socio-cultural war history to take the reader through a warts-and-all account of the campaign against the Japanese forces. Most importantly, however, it writes a Dayak perspective back into the story. Christine Helliwell interviewed more than 100 Dayak people to support her extensive archival research. The result is a unique telling of the war in the Pacific.   

The book is absorbing with an intelligent narrative flow. The judges were hooked and convinced from the opening gambit that, although the Dayak side had not been told fully, it was critical to an understanding and appreciation of the allied effort. The original research and the depth of the writer’s expertise produced a compelling story of a secret war which started when a young Kelabit woman looked to the sky and saw ‘white umbrellas’ drifting down toward the padi field.