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The book corner: Finding light in a shadowed world

  • 24 February 2023
Shadowline: The Dunera Diaries of Uwe Radok, edited by Jacquie Houlden and Seumas Spark, Monash University Publishing Shadowline: The Dunera Diaries of Uwe Radok presents a vivid and moving account of the experiences of German-born Uwe Radok from 1940 to 1943 as a wartime detainee in Australia. It begins with his deportation from Scotland to Australia in his mid-twenties and ends with his release from internment and offer of employment. The title of the book is Uwe’s own powerful metaphor for the marginalising experience of homosexual relationships at the time. This is a central preoccupation of the diaries. It also forms a significant part of the larger journey of an intellectually gifted and introspective young man who has to negotiate the challenges of personal growth while dealing with the disruptions of flight from persecution, status as an enemy alien, journey to Australia and internment, and his frustration at being prevented from beginning his life’s work.

Uwe was born in Königsberg, a city which many will associate with Emmanuel Kant. His family was wealthy and he enjoyed a privileged education in German literature, mathematics and music. Under Hitler, Uwe’s father Fritz was dismissed from his employment because he was of Jewish heritage through his grandparents. Uwe was sent to Britain in 1938 where he studied aircraft engineering, learned to fly a glider, and was approved for emigration to Australia. After the outbreak of war, however, Uwe was wrongly classified as a high security enemy alien, and boarded the ill-fated Arandora Star for deportation to Canada. The ship was torpedoed and about 800 lives were lost, but Uwe survived. A week later he was despatched on the Dunera to Australia and, after coming ashore at Port Melbourne, was sent to the internment camp in Tatura.

 Uwe’s diaries describe his narrow escape from death at sea and the horror of undertaking another dangerous sea voyage, this time to Australia, just a week later. Uwe’s portrayal of his internment in Australia reveals the psychological burden of his rejection by Germany, Britain and Australia, as well as the frustration of his ambitions under the conditions of internment. A reader today cannot but wonder about the effects of post-traumatic stress in the enclosed and controlled world of internment. 

Uwe was a gifted mathematician whose education and personality had instilled in him the expectation of clear and certain answers to life’s questions. When his experiences as an internee inevitably lead him