Dianne Wolfer

Photographs in the Mud - Teachers' Notes


Photographs in the Mud is set on the Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea during World War Two. It tells the story of one battle from the point of view of two soldiers, one Australian and one Japanese.

Author Inspiration

In 2002 I walked the Kokoda Track as research for a young adult novel. During the trek I heard many stories about the hand-to-hand fighting that occurred in PNG and the terrible conditions suffered by soldiers from both armies. It was hard enough to walk, crawl and scramble over the Owen Stanleys with just a daypack. Trying to imagine exhausted soldiers, sick with malaria and other diseases struggling through mud as they carried a rifle and fifty pounds of gear seemed impossible. As I hiked, many ideas for stories came to mind. The story for Photographs in the Mud is one that persisted.

The dense terrain along Kokoda meant that battles were often fought on a 'one-man-front'. Rain, mist and jungle foliage hid enemy soldiers until they were almost upon you. The killing was therefore strangely intimate. Many years after the war, veterans from both sides spoke of the eyes of soldiers they had killed. Those eyes still haunted their dreams.

The war memories of one soldier, Kokichi Nishimura, from the Japanese 144th Regiment, made a particular impression on me. Kokichi spoke of tumbling down a steep slope into a ditch with an Australian soldier. Both soldiers were badly wounded. They were so close they could look into each otherís eyes. The night passed. In the morning Kokichi was still alive. The Australian wasn't.

In my story it is unclear which soldier survives and I like this ambiguity. During drafts, my daughter and her friend keep asking, 'But which one lives?' They couldn't believe that I really didn't know. But I don't. For me, the point of the story is that, beneath the uniforms and propaganda, soldiers from all armies share a common humanity. Men from both sides have family and loved ones waiting at home, praying and hoping that they will return.

In an earlier draft both soldiers died. Originally I felt this would be the most honest ending. Prisoners were rarely taken along the Kokoda Track and many of the wounded didn't survive. Following much thought, and discussions with editor, Ray Coffey, I came to see that allowing one man to live was a better ending. It was essential however that the reader, like me, does not know which man survives. I wondered how Brian would manage to portray this in his illustrations and was amazed and impressed by his clever 'blocking' of the soldiers on page.

I also loved the way Brian extended my feelings of the soldiers' common humanity by including snapshots of the families waiting at home. I think this is particularly powerful on the double spread on (page??).

This interweaving of text and illustrations, and working collaboratively with another person has been a wonderful experience for me as a writer.

Author Information

Dianne is the author of 11 books for children and teenagers. Her young adult books, Dolphin Song, Border Line and Choices, have all been shortlisted for various awards. Photographs in the Mud is her first picture book.

Dianne grew up in Melbourne, Bangkok and Albury. She loves traveling and this has inspired ideas for many of her stories. After training as a teacher, Dianne worked in Perth, the hills of Nepal and downtown Tokyo. For the past nine years, she has lived in a small town on the southern coast of Western Australia with her daughter and an exuberant spotty dog.

When Dianne is not writing or teaching at the Denmark Agricultural College, she enjoys walking on the beach and through the bush. She also loves reading, swimming, snorkelling at Greens Pool and diving.

Dianne is currently working on a fantasy novel whilst two books for younger readers are in production. The first, Horse-Mad will be released August 2005. The second, The Kid whose Mum kept Possums in her Bra will be released in 2006.

Educational Adaptability

Photographs in the Mud lends itself to discussions of war and studies of Papua New Guinea, one of our closest neighbours. It could be used in conjunction with other texts (In Flanders Fields) to talk about the nature of war in both broad and specific terms. English Learning Outcome 2. Attitudes and Beliefs - linked to Overarching Learning Outcomes 6, 7, 8, 9, 11 and 13

Discussion Topics

  • How are Hoshi and Jack similar?
  • How are they different?
  • Which one do you think lives? Why?
  • Where else have Japanese and Australian soldiers met in battle?
  • Have Japanese/Australian attitudes and relationships changed since WW2? If so, how?
  • Should veterans 'let go of' or forget the past? Why/Why not?
  • Do you know any Japanese people?
  • What are some 'stereotypes' about the Japanese?
  • What do you think everyday life is like for a Japanese person your age?
  • Do you know anyone who has been to war?
  • How would you have reacted if you were Jack watching Hoshi looking at the photograph of Hana?
  • How do the illustrations draw out and add to the story of Photographs in the Mud?
  • Do you have a favourite page?
  • How does the inscription on the final page make you feel?
  • What are some of the ways we can avoid war as a community?
  • What can you do personally?


  • Listen to the song, The Band Played Waltzing Matilda, then write a poem or a song from the point of view of a PNG war veteran.
  • Make up a play about war - include 2 different viewpoints
  • Make either an Anti-War poster or a poster recruiting soldiers into the Australian Armed Forces.
  • Give a short talk relating the war experiences of one of the people listed below. Perhaps you could do it from their perspective.

Research Topics

  • The Kokoda Track is a 96km trail which cuts across the Owen Stanley Range in Papua New Guinea. Research the track's war history.
  • Find out about the people living in the villages along the track today.
  • Why was the village of Kokoda strategically important? (airstrip)
  • Who were the 'fuzzy wuzzy angels'? What did they do?
  • What is bushido? Why was it important for Japanese soldiers?
  • What was the difference between the AIF and militia soldiers?
  • Why were the militia called 'chocos'? (because like chocolate they would melt in the sun)
  • How did this image change after the battles for Kokoda and Isurava?
  • Find out about the 39th Battalion.
  • Who was Private Bruce Kingsbury? How did his actions help change the course of the war in PNG?
  • Other people to research could include Emperor Hirohito, Major-General Tomitari Horii, General Sir Thomas Blamey, Captain Geoffrey Vernon, Lieutenant-Colonel Ralph Honner, Major-General Arthur 'Tubby' Allen, Major-General George Vasey, Major Chaplain Albert Moore (Salvation Army), Damien Parer (photographer).
  • Find out about other battlesites where Australians have fought.

Some Web Sites to Explore

Other References with both Japanese and Australian viewpoints

  • Brune, Peter. Those Ragged Bloody Heroes
  • Ham, Paul. Kokoda