Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Foreword to the Blog Version of The Sky Looked Down

Cover of The Sky Looked Down
Source: Frank Samethini Collection

Francesco Karel Samethini (1915-2000) was born in Bondowoso, East Java, in the Netherlands East Indies. He and his younger brother, Henri (Han), grew up on a sugar plantation managed by their father. After receiving primary schooling in the East Indies, the boys were sent to Holland for secondary schooling. They returned to Java in the early 1930s. Han became a musician and band leader. Frank pursued a business career, and by the end of the decade he was working for a steamship line agent in the bustling port city of Surabaya. Here he spent happy nights on the town, fell in love with his future bride, Lisa, and dreamed of blissful years to come with a wife and family. Here he was called to arms by Queen and Country, and here he was taken captive, a prisoner of war, by the Empire of Japan. His story begins in early 1939 and ends in December 1945.

Following the Second World War, Frank and his family lived in Indonesia and the Netherlands before settling in New South Wales, Australia in 1960. He began writing his POW memoir in the mid 1960s at Bondi, but the work was not completed until many years later. In the early 1990s, in Narrabeen, he approached historian Nan Bosler to ask her help in publishing his story. Nan recalls:
I was managing the Narrabeen Community Learning Centre and had established a Local History Resource Unit at the time and Frank came into my office one day to talk. He told me about the story he wanted to leave for his children and how no one was interested in publishing it. We continued to share an occasional cup of tea, sometimes at the Learning Centre and sometimes at his unit at WG Taylor Village with his wife, as he told me more of his story. As an historian I felt that his story needed to be recorded but he was right: publishers were not interested. I suggested to him that I would find the time to type it all so that he would have his story in a readable format.
It took us a while. I would type from his handwritten pages, endeavouring to keep it very much in his words but doing a little bit of editing as I went - not of the story content but slight rearrangement of words, modification of grammar, etc. I would give him the finished work and he would give me more handwritten pages. He would sometimes come back with corrections, particularly when I had misread his writing or to add bits that, seeing that part of his story printed out, had come back to his memory.
By the time I had finished typing all of his story I had become quite engrossed in it. A typed manuscript seemed to be an incomplete project. I suggested to Frank that I could arrange to have it printed as a hard copy book and that it would be a good idea to have enough books printed to be able to give copies to his children. [1]
In 1992 Nan arranged to have five leather-bound copies of the memoir printed and bound in Harbord, NSW. Frank gave one copy to his wife Elisabeth (Lisa) and the others to his four daughters. Nan writes:
I was very happy to see his pleasure and know that the story that he called his love story was now in ' book' form. I just hoped that it would be treasured by his family, who would be much richer for knowing the love story of Frank Samethini. [2]

Title page
Source: Frank Samethini Collection

This blog version of The Sky Looked Down makes the story available to a broader readership for the first time. Illustrations and footnotes have been added to supply a bit of historical context and to enable the reader, insofar as possible, to see persons, events and locations as the author saw them. An immense debt of gratitude is owed to Frank's family, in particular Elisabeth and daughters Mary-emma and Christine, for lending a copy of the book and providing several photos from the family collection. This project would have been impossible without their help and steady encouragement.

- R.K.
[1] Personal e-mail to editor from Nan Bosler, 6/9/2010. Quoted with permission.
[2] Ibid.