Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
School of Arts & Humanities
Dr Ffion Murphy
Dr Marcella Polain
This thesis is in two parts. The first and major part consists of a historical novel followed, in part two, by an essay. The title of this thesis, “Navigating the Wreck”, refers metaphorically to the Fall of Singapore in 1942, the ensuing human tragedy unleashed on the people of Singapore and Malaya, and the literary and historical processes of exploring, interpreting and depicting the past. The Japanese occupation of Singapore has, to date, been described mostly by Western historians and former prisoners of war who have forged a predominant patriarchal narrative. In that narrative—despite the all-encompassing nature of the occupation and the cataclysmic effect it had on civilians—women are virtually invisible.
The objective of this thesis is to privilege women’s experiences by ethically gathering, analysing and re-imagining the accounts of a group of women of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds—Chinese, Indian, Malay, Eurasian—who lived through the occupation, using historical fiction to engage as broad a readership as possible. As well as literary praxis, research centres on analysis of relevant literature, including eight ethnically diverse published female memoirs and eleven women’s oral histories held by the National Archive of Singapore.
The essay discusses the artefact-centred, pragmatic and self-reflexive bricolage approach of this thesis, its feminist and phenomenological framework and my ethical responsibility and outsider authorial position as a white Australian woman reliant on local witness accounts. Feminist concerns addressed in the thesis are invisibility, plurality and intersectionality and I adopt a critical feminist phenomenology based on five aspects of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex to discuss the aims and the research and writing processes of the thesis.
Working within that framework, I summarised and categorised female oral interview data from audio and written transcripts enabling comparison of each woman’s individual experience of the war and the effects that the occupation had on each woman’s life situation, revealing a diverse set of experiences, some of which influenced my literary choices. By immersing myself in the particular remembered experiences of each of the female interviewees and considering their stories against the tapestry of my own extensive lived experience of the physical, cultural and social world of Singapore, as well as an in-depth investigation of other historical data and male and female written memoirs, I identified gaps and silences that needed to be addressed. These include the strategic household, wage earning, food-supplying and charitable role that women played in the dangerous and difficult situation of the occupation as well as the ignored or marginalised active participation of women in Singapore’s pre-war anti-colonial communist movements, support for and armed participation in anti-Japanese activities in China as well as the jungle-based guerrilla militias in Malaya, and the urban anti-Japanese underground in Singapore.
The essay weaves the creative thinking and practical processes of researching and writing the novel through discussion of practice, literature, theory, methodology and craft, retrieving and exposing what is usually submerged in the creative process to indicate a matrix of production.
Part one, Salvaged from the Wreck A novel is not available in this version of the thesis
Crabb, D. N. (2021). Navigating the Wreck: Writing women’s experience of the Japanese Occupation of Singapore. Salvaged from the Wreck: A novel -and- Diving into the Wreck: A critical essay. https://ro.ecu.edu.au/theses/2416