Review in the Courier Mail

The following review by Gillian Cumming appearing in the Courier Mail, 03 November 2012:


Exploring the life of PoW Ray Parkin reveals the soul of an artist and a very private man, writes Gillian Cumming.

The more Pattie Wright delved into Ray Parkin’s life, the more she discovered what a complex character this extraordinary man was.

A naval petty officer aboard HMAS Perth when it was sunk off the coast of Java during World War II, Parkin became a prisoner of war on the Thai- Burma railway then a labourer in a Japanese coalmine.

Melbourne-born Parkin chronicled his life during those war years in meticulous diaries and evocative artwork, which friend and fellow PoW Sir Edward “Weary” Dunlop took charge of to safely return to Australia.

For although he was a man of simple beginnings, with no formal education, Parkin was a gifted writer and artist and a man who adored nature.

In fact, his post-war years were spent penning several highly regarded books on the experience of war, works such as Out of the Smoke, Into the Smother and The Sword and the Blossom.

Parkin possessed “the soul of an artist and a philosopher’s enquiring mind”, says Melbourne-based film producer and writer Wright, whose comprehensive account of his life and wartime experiences, Ray Parkin ‘s Odyssey, has just been published.

Wright, whose book The Men of the Line chronicling the experiences of Australian PoWs was published in 2008, was driven to contact Parkin after reading a biography on Sir Edward, which led her to read Parkin’s Into the Smother.

“I remember standing on the balcony of our house I had tears in my eyes and I just wanted to tell him how touched I was by the book and how he had taken me right there,” Wright recounts.

Wright made contact with Parkin, gently forging a relationship with the very private, introspective man that moved, over ensuing years, from cautious interviewee status to an almost comfortable friendship.

“He was feisty, but he was fascinating,” Wright says. “He knew he was different. He was a good father, a good husband, but he was an egocentric man. It was about him. ”

And he knew that I was his best bet to start telling his story.”

Parkin passed away at the age of 94 in June 2005, leaving Wright to continue working through his letters, diaries and unpublished memoirs, and to draw on her many private interviews, to publish a very revealing portrait of a fascinating man also finally putting a spotlight on Parkin’s 100 remarkable paintings and sketches.