Shortly before the Japanese invade, the van Hoorn family throws their famous Sinterklaas party at their tea plantation. One of their guests, Mattijs, a Dutch pilot, hopes to forge a future in the Dutch East Indies, possibly with the family's daughter, Anna, but she is torn between her dreams of Holland and her desire to belong.
Meanwhile the housekeeper, Diah, keenly observes the goings-on around the plantation, wondering how much to tell her freedom-fighter brother. When the Japanese forces finally arrive on Java's doorstep, they all have to make decisions that will affect the rest of their lives, especially those who must evacuate to Australia.
Sunbirds depicts the intricate web of identities and loyalties created by war and imperialism, and the heartbreaking compromises that so often ensue.