Ray Parkin’s Odyssey – the book

Ray Parkin -  Ray Parkin's Odyssey book by Pattie WrightRay Parkin’s Odyssey by Pattie Wright is the first full and comprehensive account of the life and wartime experiences of the late Ray Parkin.

Illustrated by 100 paintings and sketches, and based on extensive interviews with Ray himself, as well as his letters, diaries and unpublished memoirs, this is a revealing portrait of an extraordinary and fascinating man.

Of all the myriad stories to emerge from the chaos and horror of the Second World War, that of Ray Parkin’s is perhaps the most fascinating and illuminating.

A self-educated Petty Officer, Ray Parkin developed into one of the most acute chroniclers of the POW experience in Java, The Thai-Burma Railway and Japan, writing three classic books on his experiences. He was also an artist of note, and his visual record of those years serves as one of the most powerful and moving accounts of their experience.

This is the first biography of this extraordinary man – a battler from a working class suburb of Melbourne who was to become the most unlikely of friends with Weary Dunlop and Laurens van der Post, and whose words, drawings and paintings form the greatest Australian chronicle of those years of horror.

From the book’s introduction:

‘I jumped off here,’ was how Ray Parkin put it.

He was standing in his home in Ivanhoe in suburban Melbourne, sharp as a whip, tall and reed-straight. On the wall behind him hung one of his own drawings – a large, detailed pen-and-ink sketch of HMAS Perth, his old ship. Running his finger across the work, Ray retraced the escape route he had taken as Japanese torpedoes breached her hull on the night of 1 March 1942, during the Battle of Sunda Strait in the waters between Sumatra and Java.

Ray spoke of how he had left the light cruiser’s lower steering position, some 60 feet below deck, to emerge on the upper deck with the battle raging all around him. He was amidships, he said, racing along in search of a safe place to jump, thus obeying Captain Hec Waller’s final order: ‘Abandon ship! Every man for himself!’ On board a warship in the middle of the night, surrounded by a far superior enemy force, it’s a bad order to hear. ‘It cancels all other drills. You have just got to look after yourself. It’s not often you get into a sticky situation like that… it’s the last resort to get out.’

He was calm as he related the story of Perth’s sinking, one he had told many times, but the men in the film crew I had taken to Ray’s home had never heard it before. You could have heard a pin drop. None of us in our wildest dreams could know what it would be like to leap from the deck of a cruiser into a black, oil-slicked sea, there to spend the next twelve hours fighting for your life.

Look inside!

Click the image above to see sample pages from Ray Parkin’s Odyssey.