Jack’s Island is a book about war: about rationing and blackouts, enemy alerts and, above all, a fear of the Japanese. The setting is Rottnest Island, a small island off the coast of Western Australia, which was a military base in World War Two. When Jack Jones and his friend Banjo find a Japanese helmet and rifle in the island’s scrub, the stage is set for a riveting read.
Jack and Banjo ride bikes, build hill trolleys, and sail homemade canoes. When a young intellectually disabled boy, Dafty, finds a live hand grenade, the boys simply have to explode it. When the big guns on Oliver Hill are being tested, they simply have to sneak into the restricted area and watch. Jack and Banjo never mean to get into trouble but some how they always do.
Jack and Banjo attend the island’s small school. When the bullying schoolmaster, Mr Patterson, hits Banjo, causing blood to flow, Dafty comes to his defence. As a consequence, Dafty is sent to an asylum in Perth. During the ferry ride to the mainland, Dafty jumps overboard. He is believed drowned. But strange things are happening on the island. When a mysterious stranger is sighted, everyone assumes it is a ‘Jap’. Only Jack and Banjo know otherwise.
Jack’s Island has all the elements of a Boys Own adventure story: the island, the enemy, and prohibited activities. Yet, it has an unexpected depth that was never tiresome or preachy. I laughed aloud many times during the reading, not from any cheap attempt at comedy, but from the innocence of its narrative voice and from the pranks of its protagonists. Thoughtful boys (and girls) of an upper primary school age would enjoy reading it.