Dorrigo Evans is not typical of Australia and nor are they: volunteers from the fringes, slums and shadowlands of their vast country: drovers, trappers, wharfies, roo shooters, desk jockeys, dingo trappers and shearers. They are bank clerks and teachers, counter johnnies, piners and short-price runners, susso survivors, chancers, larrikins, yobs, tray men, crims, boofheads and tough bastards blasted out of a depression that had them growing up in shanties and shacks without electricity, with their old men dead or crippled or maddened by the Great War and their old women making do on aspro and hope, on soldier settlements, in sustenance camps, slums and shanty towns, in a nineteenth-century world that had staggered into the mid-twentieth century.
Though every dead man is a reduction of their number, the thousand POWs who first left Changi as Evans’ J Force – an assortment of Tasmanians and West Australians surrendered in Java, South Australians surrendered at Singapore, survivors of the sinking of the destroyer, HMAS Newcastle, a few Vics and New South Welshmen from other military misadventures, and some RAAF airmen – remain Evans’ J Force. That’s what they were when they arrived and that’s what they will be when they leave, Evans’ J Force, one-thousand souls strong, no matter, if at the end, only one remains to march out of this camp. They are survivors of grim, pinched decades who have been left with this irreducible minimum: a belief in each other, a belief that they cleave to only more strongly when death comes. For if the living let go of the dead, their own life ceases to matter. The fact of their own survival somehow demands that they are one, now and forever.
Richard Flanagan, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Knopf, 2013, p. 213-4
You many have trouble getting hold of a copy: Booko (on the day I looked) has it sold out almost everywhere, but you can pre-order the reprint.