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Reviewed by:
  • No Turning Back: A Memoir
  • Rob Hilliard
No Turning Back: A Memoir, by E T W Fulton, edited by Elizabeth Fulton Thurston. Canberra: Pandanus Books, 2005. ISBN 1-74076-141-3; xxi + 314 pages, maps, photographs, acronyms and abbreviations and glossary, notes, index. A$31.78.

No Turning Back: A Memoir is divided into four parts—tracing Ted Fulton's life from growing up in Sydney, through his prewar days in the Pacific, to his time as a soldier during World War II, and then back to New Britain. Nonetheless, the majority of the narrative relates to his time in what is modern-day Papua New Guinea. The memoir provides insight into the motivation behind a move to the region and the way in which it transformed his life and the lives of those around him. It touches on a selection of pre- and postwar existences available to these Australians and how they were able to use their experience during the war. Through these interactions, Fulton provides a view of the local people and the environment at peace, during the war and in its aftermath.

There is a frankness about the tenor of the memoir. Fulton's writing style is well described by the editor, his daughter, as consistent with "laconic understatement." His stoicism belies the physical hardship, climatic extremes, disease, isolation, risk, stress, and the nature of the people, places, and situations in which he often finds himself. Throughout, Fulton displays dogged patience combined with a strong sense of respect for those who assisted his journey. There are also inherent geographical, practical, professional, and often emotional contrasts between the times he spends in Australia and those [End Page 646] abroad—he is seemingly well aware of what was distinctive about his life, and the balance of the book represents this well.

The early chapters cover Fulton's youth, education, and employment in Sydney prior to his first sojourn in the Pacific. These early chapters provide an interesting context for what follows. The section on prewar New Guinea focuses on the Torrecelli Mountains and his work there as a prospector, miner, and recruiter. It provides some compelling debate on the role of the private enterprise in the form of recruiters and prospectors versus the role played by better-known kiaps, or patrol officers. Another noteworthy aspect concerns Fulton's experiences with travel and transportation. At various stages, he comments on the realities of using local carriers, shipping, and, fascinatingly, early air transport.

The second section of the memoir focuses on Fulton's time with the Australian Army in the Middle East and Greece. Although he experienced much prior to the war, and, indeed, behind Japanese lines after this point, Fulton still describes the fighting withdrawal from Greece as "the longest day of my life" (113).

The largest part of the memoir deals with Fulton's time with Australian New Guinean Administrative Unit. The men of the unit fulfilled the dual roles of providing intelligence on Japanese movements in the area from behind enemy lines, as well as carrying the responsibilities of prewar patrol officers. Fulton found himself rafting down rivers, rescuing missionaries from deep in the interior, and conducting long patrols in rugged mountain areas. Once more, he makes interesting comments regarding the operational realities of his work, the reliance on local support, the means of dealing with the villagers, and the effectiveness of "police boys." We also gain insight into his sometimes-strained interactions with US units and his frustration with the way the war was being waged in the Sepik, and, in particular, the impact this had on the local New Guineans. Furthermore, Fulton's perspective on the war after spending 1,874 days of his 2,200 in the army on active overseas service, and the effect on his physical and mental health, is striking.

The final section deals with the last fifty years of Fulton's life. The last two chapters, written by his daughter, look at his attempts to reestablish himself in New Britain on his copra plantation. They provide an important context for her work as editor and show the respect and reverence she held for her father and the world she...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9464
Print ISSN
1043-898X
Pages
pp. 646-648
Launched on MUSE
2007-08-13
Open Access
No
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