Australian troops in a foxhole, Papua

Australian troops in a foxhole, Papua

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Australian troops in a foxhole, Papua

Australian troops in a water-logged fox-hole, only thirty yards from the Japanese front line on the Gona-Buna front, on the northern coast of Papua.

A secret history of sexuality on the front

IT WAS a hot night in Borneo and eight Australian soldiers were sitting around discussing film stars they fancied. The war had just ended - Hiroshima and Nagasaki were ashes - but most soldiers in Asia remained on active duty in the all-male environments theyɽ become accustomed to. They were starved of relationships with women, so the fantasy of screen idols was an intense one.

One boy said June Allyson was his favourite, another liked Susan Hayward, and a third dreamt of Betty Grable. When someone spoke about Marlene Dietrich, things got steamy. One of the horny soldiers, writes Roderic Anderson in his memoir Free Radical, said how much he wanted sex. But when someone put on a ''sissy voice'' and said ''I didn't know you cared!'', the sexual potential of the situation became explicit - so nothing more was said.

Graphic art . Shower in a ruin, a 1945 pen, brush and ink work by Donald Friend. Credit: Australian War Memorial Art

A few days after this incident, however, those same eight soldiers were drunk on ''jungle juice''. Anderson writes that the lights were blown out, they ''groped each other, paired off and disappeared into the night''. Afterwards, an unspoken conspiracy of silence buried the matter no one discussed whether they were ''making do'' or whether it was a more permanent orientation.

Back in those days when ''gay'' meant happily carefree, the idea of a distinct homosexual identity was in its infancy. Homosexuality was illegal in Australia and, in the defence forces, homosexual acts were punishable by life imprisonment. The heterosexual-homosexual divide we take for granted today was a relatively new concept - the very term ''homosexual'' only emerged towards the end of the 19th century.

Official silence, a veil of secrecy and even outright disbelief about wartime sex among servicemen has reigned supreme ever since, compounded by mythologies about Aussie diggers and the ''mateship'' legend. Now, historians are telling a different, more realistic story thanks to the release of an army file on the discharge of male homosexuals in WWII.

During investigations over the past two years, researchers Yorick Smaal and Graham Willett gained almost complete access to the National Archives file, first released in 1992 but in a heavily edited form that revealed little.

One of the key episodes outlined in the fuller file is about a series of incidents in New Guinea in late 1943 involving a group of self-identifying homosexual - or ''kamp'' - men. The records include the life stories of 18 of these soldiers, who were interviewed by a major after they were reported for illicit sex by a United States defence investigator.

The soldiers' names and identifying material have been withheld, but the file details how army authorities, for the first time, began to tackle the idea that there was a difference between homosexual behaviour and homosexual identity.

Dr Willett, a senior lecturer at the University of Melbourne's Australian Centre, suspects that the men agreed to tell their stories in detail in exchange for a medical discharge rather than a dishonourable one.

The historians, whose research was partly funded by the Australian Army History Unit, say they had long suspected homosexuality in the armed services was far more common than traditionally acknowledged. They initially pieced together fractured accounts from novels, diaries, memoirs, oral histories and official records. The accounts include ''situational sex'' between men - ''making do'' because there were no women around, so that 'ɻutch'' men might have sex with ''queens'' with no loss to their masculine status. This is possibly the case with some of the 1945 ''jungle juice'' soldiers in Borneo. Other incidents the researchers came across involved a more clearly articulated homosexual identity.

The stories in the National Archives file, however, are different to those other sources: they not only give extraordinary insight into the lives of homosexual men on the frontline, but also detail their first sexual experiences, relationships and friendships, sex lives, army experiences and their relationships with each other and the American soldiers stationed nearby.

The file, and other New Guinea research material, reveals such things as wild sex parties in the jungle, regular sexual horseplay, and liaisons with American soldiers in old shower blocks.

''Sex was certainly central to their wartime experience and the Americans were particularly prized,'' says Dr Smaal of those 18 soldiers. An historian from Griffith University, his PhD on sexuality in WWII sparked his research with Dr Willett.

'' 'Trade' were often found at the bar at the American Red Cross at Ela Beach where a large 'kamp' crowd hung about. Some Americans would often take half a dozen Australian 'girls', as they were known, out to the bush by jeep or truck where sex would take place. There were usually about 15 US men to six 'girls' at these parties and it was common for the Australians to have more than one partner a night to keep the men satisfied.''

Dr Smaal says the role-playing of the ''girls'' in New Guinea was shaped by commonly held notions of the day about sexuality and gender. ''They were, in the words of the US army provost who alerted Australian officials, men who 'practised the female side of homosexuality'.''

In one excerpt from the army files, a soldier recounts how he would go about with other ''kamp'' men, visiting the American Red Cross at Ela Beach. ''Several times we were 'picked up' by Australian or American soldiers. Once or twice we went along the beach, other times we went in parties in trucks into the bush. We had relations with them.'' Others spoke of how 'ɺunties'' took less-experienced men under their wings and taught them the ''tricks of the trade''.

While Dr Smaal says the ''girls'' were simply one group of Australians - most likely there were also butch Australians going with effeminate Americans - it just so happens this is the group they have found out about. ''The evidence is so fractured, so we have to be cautious about extrapolating too far,'' he says. 'ɻut clearly what is happening in New Guinea is a mirror of what is happening back on the home front and that is quite clear in the interviews. All the ideas playing out in New Guinea about their sense of self and sense of identity are the same that are happening back in Sydney, Brisbane or Melbourne. It is not an isolated instance.''

The jungle sex parties were discovered by the US Army provost in what Dr Smaal describes as a witch-hunt. ''The American army has certainly got a pedigree with that sort of activity,'' he says. The provost had worked with a vice squad, ''so he knew what he was looking for - the signs and codes of the 'perverted practices' he was seeking out''.

Gore Vidal, the late American author and US Army veteran in the Pacific, is quoted in Dennis Altman's Coming Out in the Seventies, as saying that Australian soldiers ''had a reputation for rolling over on their stomachs most obediently''. This sort of account, including Robert Hughes's reports of widespread convict-era homosexual practices in The Fatal Shore, often meets with stern denial along the lines of ''there were no poofters in the armed services''.

But in historian Frank Bongiorno's new book The Sex Lives of Australians: a History, it is suggested as likely there were considerably more instances of homosexual activity in the defence forces than have survived the record because, when discovered, it was possibly dealt with ''quietly and informally, so as not to draw attention to its embarrassing presence''.

This, remarkably, was not the case in New Guinea. Dr Willett says the commander of Australia's military forces in New Guinea wrote anxiously to Melbourne headquarters and wanted to know what to do after the US told him about what was happening among the men.

When alerted to the ''problem'', the top brass spent several months debating the causes and how to respond, being unsure whether to use legal or medical approaches. ''The existence of several different (and often opposing) conceptions of homosexuality at work in the army - namely disciplinary, medical and moral discourses - presented commanders with a variety of policy outcomes,'' says Dr Smaal. ''Working their way through this problem, the army became one of the first Australian institutions to grapple in a practical way with the differences between homosexual behaviour and homosexual identity.''

The defence forces, though, probably worried that the incidents in New Guinea might indicate a much bigger ''problem'', so all the commanders around Australia were contacted to try and get a sense of its scope and how to handle it. ''New Guinea was a flashpoint that got Melbourne [headquarters] thinking about homosexuality and identity and how it was playing out in the rank-and-file and how to deal with it. They realised this was about homosexual people rather than homosexual behaviour.''

This, he says, was a radical change to the past. ''If you go all the way back to that idea of the Australian legend, that idea of sublimated mateship and male friendship that lends itself so well to the army as an institution - there was very little inquiry or interrogation into the shifts between platonic and emotional bonds between men and perhaps where that blurs into something more physical or intimate.''

Many of the soldiers in New Guinea and Borneo in the mid-1940s are probably now dead, but Dr Smaal says a sense of self must have been awakened for some of them. ''It must have been quite a revelatory experience, putting them in touch with feelings and desires that they were unable or unwilling to explore on the home front. It might have confirmed their sense of identity and desire for other men. For some men, they wouldn't be prepared to go back to the lives they were living before the war they wanted to go back and live with their best friends and lovers.''

As one soldier reports in the files, after first joining the army and having sex with eight or nine other soldiers in his unit, he ''ran about a lot'' enjoying many sexual adventures but, five weeks before giving his statement he had met an Australian at the American Red Cross. ''I am greatly in love with him, he returns my love and has asked me to live with him in later life. This I have promised to do.''

Give Him Your Burden

A poor man in Ireland was plodding along toward home, carrying a huge bag of potatoes. A horse and wagon finally drew up alongside him on the road, and the driver invited the man to climb aboard. After getting on the wagon, he sat down but continued to hold the heavy bag.

When the driver suggested that the man set the bag down in the wagon, he replied, "I don't want to trouble you too much, sir. You are giving me a ride already, so I'll just carry the potatoes."

"How foolish of him!" we say. Yet sometimes we do the same thing when we attempt to bear the burdens of our lives in our own strength. No wonder we become weary and overwhelmed with anxiety and fear.

In Psalm 55, David spoke of the anxiety he felt because his enemies were attacking him (vv.1-15). But then he gave his concerns to the Lord and was filled with renewed hope and confidence (vv.16-23). That's why he could write, "Cast your burden on the Lord, and He shall sustain you" (v.22).

When you recall the story of the man and his bag of potatoes, remember the simple lesson it illustrates: Rather than trying to bear your burdens by yourself, set them down in God's hands. —Henry Bosch

Give Him each perplexing problem,
All your needs to Him make known
Bring to Him your daily burdens—
Never carry them alone! —Adams

God invites us to burden Him with what burdens us.

Birthdates which occurred on April 25:
1214 Louis IX king of France (1226-70)
1228 Koenraad IV Roman Catholic German king (1237-54)
1284 Edward II king of England (1307-27)
1599 Oliver Cromwell Puritan lord protector of England (1653-58)
1710 James Ferguson astronomer
1792 John Keble Anglican priest/founder (Oxford Movement)
1825 Charles Ferdinand Dowd US, standardized time zones
1840 James Dearing Brigadier General (Confederate Army), died in 1865
1874 Guglielmo Marconi Bologna Italy, inventor (radio/Nobel 1909)
1900 Wolfgang Ernst Pauli Austria, physicist (Pauli inhibition/Nobel 1945)
1906 William J Brennan Jr Newark NJ, 92nd Supreme Court judge (1956-90)
1908 Edward R Murrow Pole Creek NC, newscaster (Person to Person)
1912 Gladys L Presley mother of Elvis
1918 Ella Fitzgerald Newport News VA, jazz singer (The First Lady of Song, Is it live or Memorex, A-Tisket A-Tasket)
1923 Albert King Indianola MS, blues singer/guitarist (Bad Look Blues)
1925 Flannery O'Connor short story writer (or 03/25)
1930 Paul Mazursky Brooklyn NY, writer/director (Moscow on the Hudson)
1932 Meadowlark [George] Lemon basketball star (Harlem Globetrotter)
1940 Al Pacino New York NY, actor (And Justice For All, Godfather, Scorpio)
1942 Jon Kyl (Senator-Republican-AZ)
1945 Stu Cook Oakland CA, rock bassist (Creedence Clearwater Revival-Proud Mary)
1952 Vladislav Tretiak USSR hockey player (Olympics-gold-1972, 76)
1971 Michelle Harris Newark DE, Miss Delaware-America (1996)

Deaths which occurred on April 25:
1295 Sancho IV the Brave, scholar/king of Castile/León, dies
1342 Benedict XII [Jacques Fournier] Pope (1334-42), dies
1482 Margaret of Anjou Queen (Henry VI), dies
1607 Don Juan Alvarez Spanish Admiral (Gibraltar), dies in battle
1744 Anders Celsius Swedish astronomer (Centegrade Thermometer), dies at 42
1840 Siméon-Denis Poisson French mathematician (Poisson verdeling), dies
1862 Charles Ferguson Smith US Union General-Major, dies of infection at 55
1882 Johann CF Zöllner German astronomer (astro photography), dies
1905 Jacob Olie Dutch photographer, dies at about 70
1937 Clem Sohn air show performer dies at 26 when his chute fails to open
1955 Paulus B Barth Swiss painter/lithographer, dies at 73
1960 Amanullah emir/king of Afhanistan (1919-28), dies at 67
1981 Dixie a mouse who lived 6½ years, dies
1982 Don Wilson TV announcer (Jack Benny Show), dies at 81
1982 John Cody US cardinal/archbishop of Chicago (1965-82), dies at 74
1982 William R Burnett US, writer (Asphalt Jungle), dies at 82
1988 Clifford D[onald] Simak sci-fi author (Hugo, Way Station), dies at 83
1995 Art Fleming game show host (Jeopardy), dies at 74
1995 Ginger Rogers actress/dancer (Top Hat, Stage Door), dies at 83



POW / MIA Data & Bios supplied by
the P.O.W. NETWORK. Skidmore, MO. USA.

On this day.
1185 Sea battle at Dan-no-ura Minamoto Yoritomo beats Taira-family
1449 Anti-pope Felix V resigns
1507 Geographer Martin Waldseemuller 1st used name America
1607 Battle at Gibraltar Dutch fleet beats Spanish/Portuguese fleet
1614 Amsterdam Bank of Loan forms
1660 London Convention Parliament meets & votes to restore Charles II
1684 Patent granted for the thimble
1707 Battle of Almansa-Franco-Spanish forces defeat Anglo-Portuguese
1719 Daniel Defoes publishes "Robinson Crusoe"
1792 Guillotine 1st used, executes highwayman Nicolas J Pelletier
1850 Paul Julius Reuter, use 40 pigeons to carry stock market prices
1859 Ground broken for Suez Canal
1861 7th New York arrives to reinforce Washington DC
1861 Battle of Lavaca TX
1862 Battle of New Orleans LA - US Admiral Farragut occupies New Orleans
1864 Battle of Marks' Mill AR (Camden Expedition)
1867 Tokyo is opened for foreign trade
1875 Latest date for measurable snow in NYC (3")
1876 Chicago Cubs 1st National League game, beats Louisville 4-0 (1st National League shutout)
1881 250,000 Germans petition to bar foreign Jews from entering Germany
1881 French troops occupy Algeria & Tunisia
1886 Sigmund Freud opens practice at Rathausstrasse 7, Vienna
1896 Fight in Central Dance Hall starts fire (Cripple Creek CO)
1898 US declares war on Spain over Cuba
1901 New York becomes 1st state requiring auto license plates ($1 fee)
1915 78,000 ANZAC troops land at Gallipoli
1925 Paul von Hindenburg elected 2nd President of Germany (Adolf Hitler is 3rd)
1926 Giacomo Puccini's opera "Turandot", premieres in Milan
1926 Persian cossack officer Reza Chan crowns himself Shah Palawi
1927 Spain routes 20,000 soldiers to Morocco (uprising Rifkabylen)
1928 Buddy, a German Shepherd, becomes 1st guide dog for the blind
1933 US & Canada drop Gold Standard
1944 United Negro College Fund incorporates
1945 46 countries convene United Nations Conference on International Organization in San Francisco CA
1945 Clandestine Radio 1212, used to hoax Nazi Germany's final transmission
1945 Last Boeing B-17 attack against Nazi Germany
1945 US & Soviet forces meet at Torgau Germany on Elbe River
1945 Red army completely surrounds Berlin
1947 Trial against WWII mayor of Amsterdam Edward Voûte begins
1950 Chuck Cooper becomes the 1st black to play in the NBA
1952 American Bowling Congress approves use of an automatic pinsetter
1952 6th NBA Championship Minneapolis Lakers beat New York Knicks, 4 games to 3
1953 Scientists identify DNA
1954 Bell labs announces 1st solar battery (New York NY)
1954 British raid Nairobi Kenya (25,000 Mau Mau suspects are arrested)
1954 US performs atmospheric nuclear test at Bikini Island
1956 Elvis Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel" goes #1
1957 1st experimental sodium nuclear reactor operated
1957 Ibrahim Hashim forms Jordanian government
1959 St Lawrence Seaway linking Atlantic, Great Lakes opens to shipping
1960 1st submerged circumnavigation of Earth completed (Triton)
1961 Mercury/Atlas rocket lifted off with an electronic mannequin
1961 Robert Noyce patents integrated circuit
1961 Premier Moïse Tsjombe of Katanga arrested in Congo
1967 Abortion legalized in Colorado
1967 Jules Feiffer's "Little Murders", premieres in NYC
1971 About 200,000 anti-Vietnam War protesters march on Washington DC
1972 Hans-Werner Grosse glides 907.7 miles (1,461 km) in an AS-W-12
1974 Chancellor Willy Brandt Secretary Günther Guillaume found to be a spy
1974 Marcello Caetano overthrown in Portugal he is exiled to Madeira and later to Brazil (Carnation revolution)
1975 Mario Soares' Socialist Party wins 1st free election in Portugal
1975 West German embassy blown-up in Stockholm Sweden
1976 Cub centerfielder Rick Monday rescues US flag from 2 fans trying to set it on fire
1976 Elections in Vietnam for a National Assembly to reunite the country
1978 Phillie Phanatic makes 1st appearance
1978 Supreme Court rules pension plans can't require women to pay more
1979 "Rock 'n Roll High Schools" premieres
1979 Peace treaty between Israel & Egypt goes into effect
1980 Announcement of Jimmy Carter hostage rescue bungle in Iran
1982 In accordance with Camp David, Israel completes Sinai withdrawal
1983 Yuri Andropov invites US schoolgirl Samantha Smith to USSR
1984 Rock group Wings disbands
1985 For 2nd time, Wayne Gretzky, scores 7 goals in a Cup game
1985 West German Parliament ruled it illegal to deny the holocaust
1986 ETA bomb attacks Madrid killing 5
1988 John Demjanjuk (Ivan the Terrible), sentenced to death in Jerusalem
1990 Hubble space telescope is placed into orbit by shuttle Discovery
1991 Lisa Olson brings suit against NFL New England Patriots for sexual harassment
1993 Russia elects Boris Yeltsin leader
1994 14" of snow in Southern California
1994 King Azlan Shah of Malaysia resigns
1994 Mexican businessman & billionaire Angel Losada kidnapped
1996 "Bring in Da Noise, Bring in Da Funk", opens at Ambassador Theater NYC
1998 First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton testified via videotape for the Little Rock, Ark., grand jury in the Whitewater case.
1999 Vice President Al Gore was among the 70,000 who attended a memorial service for the victims of the Columbine High School shootings five days earlier.
2001 In unusually blunt terms, President Bush warned China that an attack on Taiwan could provoke a U.S. military response.
2001 A rescue plane flew out of the South Pole with ailing American doctor Ronald S. Shemenski in the most daring airlift ever from the pole.

Note: Some Holidays are only applicable on a given "day of the week"

Australia, Nauru, New Zealand, Solomon Is, Tonga, W Samoa : ANZAC Day (1915)
Azores : Portugal's Day (1974)
Italy : Liberation Day
Portugal : Revolution Day (1974)
England : Cuckoo Day
Babylon : New Years Day (except leap years)
Swaziland : Flag Day
Alabama, Florida, Mississippi : Confederate Memorial Day (1868) (Monday)
US : National Dream Weekend
US : National Earthquake Awareness Week Begins
Actors Appreciation Month

Religious Observances
Ancient Rome : Robigalia god of mildew asked not to harm
Anglican, Roman Catholic, Lutheran : Feast of St Mark the Evangelist
Christian : Latest possible date for Easter (eg 1943, 2038)
Roman Catholic : Commemoration of the Greater Litanies
Christian : National Christian College Day
Buddhist-Laos : Buddhist Holiday

Religious History
1530 The Augsburg Confession was read publicly at the Diet of Worms. Written principally by Philip Melanchthon, the document comprised the first official summary of the Lutheran faith.
1792 Birth of John Keble, English clergyman and poet. Credited with having founded the Oxford Movement in 1833, Keble also authored the hymn, "Sun of My Soul, Thou Savior Dear" (1820).
1800 Death of William Cowper, 69, English poet. A lifelong victim of depression, Cowper nevertheless left a great spiritual literary legacy, including three enduring hymns: "God Moves in a Mysterious Way," "Oh, For a Closer Walk with God" and "There is a Fountain."
1929 The Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America was organized in Detroit, partly in response to the insurgence of Communism in Eastern Europe. Previously, its parishes were under jurisdiction of the Patriarchate in Bucharest, Hungary.
1982 Captured in 1967, the Sinai Peninsula was returned by Israel to Egypt, as part of the 1979 Camp David Accord.

Source: William D. Blake. ALMANAC OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1987.

Thought for the day :
"Spring shows what God can do with a drab and dirty world."

Martha Stewart's Way vs. The Real Woman's Way.
Martha's Way #6: Brush some beaten egg white over pie crust just before baking to yield a beautiful glossy finish.
Real Woman's Way #6: The Mrs. Smith frozen pie directions do not include brushing egg whites over the crust, so I don't do it.

New State Slogans.
Mississippi: We're not Arkansas

Male Language Patterns.
"I broke up with her." REALLY MEANS,
"She dumped me."

Female Language Patterns.
"You wouldn't understand." REALLY MEANS,
"I don't understand, but I'm not going to tell you that. Are you sure we're legally married?"

Angels and Victims: The People of New Guinea in World War II

The New Guinea campaign was one of the hardest-fought of World War II. American and Australian forces relied on native New Guineans to achieve victory.

For the white Australian and American (and some African American) troops who fought there, New Guinea was one of the most horrific battlegrounds of World War II. Dense jungles, intense heat, disease, and fierce Japanese resistance all combined to make service on the island—the second largest in the world—a misery. And it lasted a long time: From March 8, 1942, when Japanese forces first landed on the island, to the end of World War II in the summer of 1945, fighting took place across the island of New Guinea and in its nearby island chains.

The worst suffering, though, was endured by the indigenous peoples of New Guinea, from what is now the independent country of Papua New Guinea in the east, to West Papua, now part of Indonesia. The population during World War II was about 1.5 million people, descended from the island’s first human inhabitants from tens of thousands of years ago, and divided up into numerous tribes. These people possessed rich cultures, and under the pressures of war they would display remarkable courage as well as kindness and compassion. To the invaders from Japan, and the occupiers from Australia and the United States, however, New Guineans appeared as colonial subjects at best, and as slaves at worst.

The Japanese frequently treated New Guineans with extreme brutality, just as they did other indigenous peoples across Asia. Food was always scarce, and Japanese forces arriving in native villages often simply requisitioned all the food they wanted, murdering some villagers and leaving the rest to starve. US Marine Robert Leckie, in his memoir Helmet for My Pillow, described encountering an entire village of native people, men, women, and children, who had fled the Japanese: “Some were hobbling on rude crutches made from sugar cane, some—the ancients—were borne aloft on litters, some were supported by the more stalwart among them all had been reduced by starvation to mere human sticks.” Many of their men were missing, having been forced by the Japanese into slave labor. In other villages, Japanese occupation was not much worse than it had been under the Australians. Even so, in the ensuing campaigns, more Japanese soldiers would die of starvation than from any other cause.

Before World War II began, the island of New Guinea fell under Australian administration. Then, and after fighting began, the Australian authorities treated native peoples as children—not to be brutalized, certainly, but also not to be regarded as capable of running their own affairs. The Australians primarily regarded native New Guineans as sources for supply and labor. Some offered to work voluntarily. Others were forcibly conscripted into service of one kind or another. As many as 37,000 New Guineans were working as forced labor at any given time during the war. One Australian official remarked in 1942 his opinion that “these natives will respond to force and command, but they will not be coaxed.”

Native villagers carrying wounded soldiers to an American aid post near Buna, New Guinea. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

As fighting ramped up, however, particularly along the legendary Kokoda Track from the Owen Stanley mountain range to the vital post at Port Moresby, the Australians discovered a new dimension to the Papuan peoples. Australian forces fighting the Japanese in this forbidding region suffered heavy casualties, and often in the course of fighting wounded men became separated from their units, or isolated away from adequate medical care. Those captured by the Japanese could expect long, horrific imprisonments, if they weren’t killed outright. Natives, though, treated wounded and lost Australians with great kindness, providing them with food and shelter or carrying them many miles back to the Allied lines—all at great risk to themselves, and for no rewards asked or promised. Australians took to calling the New Guineans “Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels,” and journalists made much of their heroism and presumed loyalty.

Likewise, the “coastwatchers”—Australian planters who remained behind after the Japanese occupied parts of New Guinea, and small Australian and American military detachments—absolutely depended on native peoples to provide them with supplies, and to serve as guides. In almost all cases, the New Guineans provided this aid willingly, risking and often losing their lives in doing so.

The Australians, and, subsequently, Americans like Leckie, often attempted to reciprocate these acts of kindness with gestures of their own, providing food, medical attention, and other relief to suffering villagers. In some cases, though, Australians and Americans treated the native people arrogantly or with brutality, inflicting beatings on those who refused to work for them, or worse. While there was no widespread, deliberate cruelty such as that inflicted by the Japanese, people living under Australian and American control still endured awful living conditions. In some parts of the island during the war, one in four of native villagers would die from starvation, disease, military action, or murder.

Native stretcher bearers carry a wounded Allied soldier through rough terrain near Sanananda, New Guinea. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Time would prove that the kindness the indigenous people of New Guinea had shown to the Americans and Australians was real, but that their supposed “loyalty,” much touted by Allied propaganda, was not. The truth is that no one ever asked the native people their point of view. After the war ended, researchers seeking oral testimonies from New Guineans who had lived through the war were astonished to learn that the native peoples were united in one opinion: that they wanted the “whites”—among whom they included Japanese, Australians, and Americans—just to go away and leave them alone.

American Indian Code Talkers

The idea of using American Indians who were fluent in both their traditional tribal language and in English to send secret messages in battle was first put to the test in World War I with the Choctaw Telephone Squad and other Native communications experts and messengers.

Ed Lengel, PhD

Edward G. Lengel is Senior Director of Programs for the National WWII Museum’s Institute for the Study of War and Democracy.

Indonesian Confrontation, 1963–66

Between 1962 and 1966 Indonesia and Malaysia fought a small, undeclared war which came to involve troops from Australia, New Zealand, and Britain. The conflict resulted from Indonesia's President Sukarno's belief that the creation of the Federation of Malaysia, which became official in September 1963, represented a British attempt to maintain colonial rule behind the cloak of independence granted to its former colonial possessions in south-east Asia.

The term "Confrontation" was coined by Indonesia's Foreign Minister, Dr Subandrio, in January 1963, and has come to refer to Indonesia's efforts at that time to destabilise the new federation, with a view to breaking it up. The actual war began when Indonesia launched a series of cross-border raids into Malaysian territory in early 1963.

The antagonism that gave rise to Confrontation was already apparent in December 1962, when a small party of armed insurgents, with Indonesian backing, attempted to seize power in the independent enclave of Brunei, only to be defeated by British troops from Singapore. By early 1963 military activity had increased along the Indonesian side of the border in Borneo, as small parties of armed men began infiltrating Malaysian territory on propaganda and sabotage missions. These cross-border raids, carried out by Indonesian "volunteers", continued throughout 1963. By 1964 Indonesian regular army units had also become involved.

Accession Number: P01499.003

Malaya, 29 October 1964: captured infiltrators emerge from the jungle near Sungei Kesang, South of Terendak. D Coy 3 RAR troops guard them.

Australian units that fought during Confrontation did so as part of a larger British and Commonwealth force under British command. Australia's commitment to operations against Indonesia in Borneo and West Malaysia fell within the context of its membership in the Far East Strategic Reserve.

At first the Australian government kept its troops from becoming involved in Confrontation, not least because of fears that the conflict would spread to the long - and difficult to defend - border between Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. Requests from the British and Malaysian governments in 1963-64 for the deployment of Australian troops in Borneo met with refusal, though the Australian government did agree that its troops could be used for the defence of the Malay peninsula against external attack. In the event, such attacks occurred twice, in September and October 1964, when Indonesia launched paratroop and amphibious raids against Labis and Pontian on the south-western side of the peninsula. Members of the 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (3 RAR) were used in clean-up operations against the invading troops. Although these attacks were easily repelled, they did pose a serious risk of escalating the fighting. The Australian government relented in January 1965 and agreed to the deployment of a battalion in Borneo.

The military situation in Borneo thus far had consisted of company bases located along the border between Indonesia and Malaysia to protect centres of population from enemy incursions. By 1965 the British government had given permission for more aggressive action, and security forces now mounted cross-border operations with the purpose of obtaining intelligence and forcing the Indonesians to remain on the defensive on their own side of the border. Uncertain where the Commonwealth forces might strike next, the Indonesians increasingly devoted their resources to protecting their own positions and less on offensive operations, although these continued on a much reduced scale.

Accession Number: P01706.003

Sarawak, British North Borneo, 1965: soldiers of 3 RAR board a Belvedere helicopter to search for Indonesian infiltrators.

The first Australian battalion, 3 RAR, arrived in Borneo in March 1965 and served in Sarawak until the end of July. During this time the battalion conducted extensive operations on both sides of the border, engaged in four major contacts with Indonesian units, and twice suffered casualties from land mines. Its replacement, the 28th Brigade, 4 RAR, also served in Sarawak - from April until August 1966. Although it had a less active tour, the 28th Brigade also operated on the Indonesian side of the border and was involved in clashes with Indonesian regulars. Two infantry battalions, two squadrons of the Special Air Service, a troop of the Royal Australian Signals , several artillery batteries, and parties of the Royal Australian Engineers were involved in Borneo. Ships of the Royal Australian Navy served in the surrounding waters and several RAAF squadrons were also involved in Confrontation.

Accession Number: P01654.008

Member of 4RAR cleaning a Bren gun at a camp near the Sarawak/Kalimantan border, 1966. The marks on his legs are an antiseptic applied to mosquito bites sustained on jungle patrols

Continuing negotiations between Indonesia and Malaysia ended the conflict, and the two sides signed a peace treaty in Bangkok in August 1966. Twenty-three Australians were killed during Confrontation, seven of them on operations, and eight were wounded. Because of the sensitivity of the cross-border operations, which remained secret at the time, Confrontation received very little coverage in the Australian press.

Charles Bean was Australia's Official War Correspondent and later Official Historian for the First World War. Many of the items in these papers were written or maintained by Bean in his role as war correspondent, reporting events for the Australian public at the time. These papers were also referenced by Bean during development of the Official History of the First World War. Read more about the records of Charles Bean.

A brief history on the service of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples written by military historian Dr Chris Clark with the assistance of a generous grant from the Gandevia Foundation.

Australian Troops At War In Korea 1950

Title reads: "Special Edition - Exclusive! Australia at War in Korea".

Intertitle reads: "Cinesound, on its own initiative, and with the invaluable co-operation of the Minister for Air and Service Chiefs, is able to bring you this, the first of a series of exclusive stories of Australia's part in the War in Korea".

Intertitle reads: "This story is dedicated to 77 Fighter Squadron RAAF which was the first United Nations unit to go into action alongside the Americans in their gallant struggle to stem North Korean aggression".

CU Geoffrey Thompson, Cinesound cameraman, behind camera. CU Bede Whitman, Cinesound cameraman, behind his camera. Pan over Iwakuni airfield in southern Honsu, Japan. LS planes lined up on Iwakuni airfield. MS servicing of machines inside hangar. CU Japanese mechanic on trolley. CU another Japanese mechanic at work on plane. MS Australian and Japanese at work on aircraft. CU Japanese worker. MS Australian and Japanese worker side by side servicing aeroplane. CU bullet-damaged fuselage of plane. MS Japanese workmen taking trolley-load of bombs for loading into plane (2 shots). CU Rocket being loaded beneath wing of Mustang.

Exterior of bungalow in which Commanding officer of 77 squadron, Wing Commander Lou Spence, lives with his wife and family. MS His two children seated on steps of bungalow. MS Spence and wife walk out of bungalow. Spence enters his car. CU Plate on door - "No. 77 Squadron Operations Room". Corporal walks in. MS Crews being briefed CU Airmen types (3 shots). MS Air crews leaving building and entering truck. MS Truck pulls up. Pilot jumps out and runs to his 'plane. MS Pilot climbing into cockpit. MS Another pilot climbing into cockpit. CU Hatch being pulled over cockpit. CU Another hatch being pulled over cockpit. MS Another pilot entering his plane. MS Pilot in cockpit. MS newsreel camera being fitted in belly of Mustang (2 shots). MS Mustang taxiing. MS Control tower at airfield. LS Towards and pan Mustang taking off. LS Formation of 4 Mustangs if flight.

Various shots of Japanese farm workers looking up as aircraft pass from their work in the fields (4 shots). CU Spence's two children looking up. LS Mustangs roaring overhead. LS Dakota aeroplane in which Thompson flew flying over coast. MS The Dakota in flight. LS Wirraway in flight in which Whiteman flew. MS Wirraway in flight. LS clouds and the coastline of Korea. MS Wirraway in flight. Aerial shots of Taegu (2 shots). Aerial shots of huge refugee encampment in a dry river bed (2 shots). MS Mustang peeling off from formation. Various shots of raid on North Korea, some shots taken from planes as they dive in (10 shots).

MS Mustang in flight. MS 4 Mustangs making for Taegu air field. MS Plane coming in. MS Mustangs being reloaded. MS Dakota being unloaded. MS Unloading truck driving off with mixed crew (from USA, Australia, Korea and Japan). MS Two Afro-American GIs looking up. MS American carrying rocket for loading up. MS Rocket being fitted under wing of Mustang. LS Mustangs on airfield with bombs on trucks in foreground. MS Pile of ammunition. MS Ammunition being loaded. LS servicemen in meal queue at the airfield. MS Americans and Australians in queue. MS Americans and Australians drinking. MS lookout scanning sky with binoculars. CU lookout. MS Mustang taking off.

Various shots of another raid, most shots taken from inside 'plane. (12 shots). LS the Korean coastline. LS Personnel at Iwakuni airfield running for shelter as air raid siren goes (practice raid). MS Workers jumping into slit trench shelters. MS Lookout. LS Mustangs peeling off for landing. MS Fire engine and Japanese crew on standby. CU Japanese firemen. Airfield defence man in foxhole. MS Antiaircraft gun and crew standing by. LS Mustangs landing (2 shots). MS Group of pilots reporting int he Intelligence room (2 shots). CU airman. CU Spence and another man looking at wall map. Night shot of plane being refuelled. CU plane being refuelled. MS rockets being loaded. MSs and CUs Australian airmen sitting round drinking beer (4 shots). MS American General George A. Stratmeyer visiting Squadron, he awards Spence with the American Legion of Merit. CU Stratmeyer, pan to Spence. MS group of pilots. LS towards and pan Mustangs taking off (2 shots). Aerial shot over mountainous country.

Date on original dope sheet is 06/09/1950. RAAF = Royal Australian Air Force.

Remembering the “wasman” of Papua New Guinea

Australia’s embrace of the Pacific future needs to look to the untold past as well.

Forty-four years after Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) independence in 1975, Australia still struggles with the legacy of its colonial past. For those Australians who are aware of the history, it sometimes sits uncomfortably. For many others, it might be a surprise to learn of it at all.

As Australia pursues its “step up” to strengthen ties with its Pacific neighbours, this past still echoes. A positive example of the relationship between Australians and Papua New Guineans can be found farther back, in the Second World War. If we let them, the lessons from this history can point the way to a better relationship today.

Fuzzy Wuzzy Angel Raphael Oimbari helps Private George Whittington in 1942 (Photo: Australian War Memorial)

Some of this history is well known. The campaigns in 1942 against Japan on the Kokoda Track and at Buna and Gona were legendary victories. A famous image from that time shows a Fuzzy Wuzzy Angel – the term for Papua New Guineans who came to the aid of Australians in the Kokoda campaign – helping a blinded Australian soldier as he walks along a track. It’s a picture that captures the connection between two cultures.

There is, however, another legacy of shared wartime history between Australia and PNG, one which is largely unknown and is rapidly disappearing as the living memory of those involved passes.

Even after the successes on the Kokoda Track and at Buna and Gona, there was still a lot of fighting to be done in the islands to Australia’s north. Punching above their weight in this theatre were the Coastwatchers, forerunners of today’s Special Forces, who observed and reported on Japanese movements and came to the rescue of downed Allied airmen and seamen. Future US President John F Kennedy was famously rescued by Coastwatchers after his torpedo boat, PT109, sank in Solomon Islands.

The Coastwatching Organisation had been set up by the the Royal Australian Navy long before the war, but by 1943 it had been subsumed by the highly secretive Allied Intelligence Bureau (AIB) and become known as M Special. Some of the original Coastwatchers in the islands to Australia’s north had stayed behind when the Japanese invaded. A number of them were captured and executed.

With their work behind enemy lines, the Coastwatchers helped turn the tide of the war in the Pacific. And they were not just Australians. In Tok Pisin, the Coastwatchers were called wasmasta or wasman. All but two of the Australian Coastwatchers have passed away, and probably all of the Papua New Guineans.

Some of those who knew the PNG wasman after the war are still living. They heard the stories of the wasman, but rarely tell them. When they pass, the stories will pass as well – unless they can be preserved.

In 1943, the AIB brought 76 young men from Port Moresby to train at a camp in Queensland. The men were from all over the Territories of Papua and New Guinea. Exactly how they came to be in Port Moresby is not clear. Many had been working on plantations away from their home villages in the islands when the Japanese invaded, and they may have fled the invasion at the same time as the white planters they worked for.

Australian and PNG Coastwatchers aboard US Submarine Dace (Photo: Australian War Memorial)

In any case, on 21 June 1943 they embarked an Australian hospital ship bound for Townsville. From there, they travelled by rail and road to the secret camp at Tabragalba, not far from Canungra in the Gold Coast hinterland. Here they trained as Coastwatchers. More young men arrived later.

The Australian officer who set up the Tabragalba camp, Army Captain Harry Murray, was a Gallipoli and Western Front veteran from the Great War who had settled in New Ireland in PNG as a planter. He recognised that reinsertion of Coastwatchers into the islands to observe and report on Japanese positions and movements would not work without local assistance. And so the young men from the islands trained with the Australians at Tabragalba. They were armed with US M1 Carbines, better for jungle fighting than the Army’s bolt-action Lee-Enfield .303, and deployed back to their homeland on US submarines.

The Papua New Guinean Coastwatchers were the eyes and ears of the Australians in a place where white men stood out. The formula worked well, and the intelligence provided by the Coastwatchers would prove critical to the Allied effort.

In addition to the Australian Military Cross and Distinguished Conduct Medal, Murray also received a Silver Star, the US military’s third-highest decoration, in recognition of his and his teams’ contribution.

Captain Harold Murray being presented with the US Silver Star, Torokina, South Bougainville Island, April 1945 (Photo: Australian War Memorial)

Beyond coast watching, there were also successful guerrilla campaigns in Papua and New Guinea in places such as New Britain, where almost all the fighting was done by hundreds of armed locals, coordinated by a small number of Australians who mainly stayed in their camp.

Many of the young Papua New Guinean men who served with Australian soldiers formed bonds of comradeship with them, something rarely possible before the war, in a land where the relationship at the time was one of “master” and “native”.

Older Papua New Guineans in some areas have knowledge of the Second World War through the stories of people who lived through it, notably in the provinces surrounding the Kokoda Track, the islands region, and the northern coast of PNG. Some of these people were children during the war years and are still living. For them, the shared wartime experience forms part of the positive way in which Australia is still perceived, in some cases despite the later conditions of colonial rule.

For many years, although less and less, Anzac Day has been commemorated at small cenotaphs and memorials around the country, and in a large ceremony at Bomana, outside Port Moresby, by expatriates and Papua New Guineans who took part in the war. Papua New Guineans who fought the Japanese would proudly roll out and march or take part in ceremonies, sometimes travelling long distances from their home villages.

Sargeant Major Rayman, a New Ireland native, served with the Coastwatchers in the south-west Pacific (Photo: Australian War Memorial)

PNG also has its own annual day for commemorating those killed in war, National Remembrance Day, held on 23 July.

In Australia, some of the stories of the wasman have been kept alive, mostly in private accounts by Australians who owed the success of their operations ­­– and their lives – to the local knowledge, skill, and courage of their PNG comrades. These accounts were mostly written soon after the war.

Few in Australia would be aware of these stories today. The Australian emphasis on the Kokoda Track campaign means that far more people are likely to know about the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels.

In PNG, knowledge of the wasman is largely restricted to those older people who knew them when they were young or saw them on Anzac Day, wearing their medals if they had them. Younger Papua New Guineans are hardly aware of what their forebears did during the war, but it is a history all Papua New Guineans should not only know, but of which they should be proud.

Many memorials and cemeteries from the era, apart from those tended by the Office of Australian War Graves, have fallen into disrepair or become overgrown, to varying degrees according to their remoteness from central administration. Well-attended commemorative activities and sites which are taken care of are likely to be close to central administration, and unfamiliar to people distant from these places. As a result, commemoration of the service and sacrifice of Papua New Guineans during the war based on war graves, memorials, museums, or interpretive centres is out of reach for most of the population. With probably all of the wasman now passed and only a few older people still alive who lived through the war, knowledge of this legacy of shared history of Australia and PNG is disappearing fast.

The Cenotaph in Kavieng, New Ireland (Photo: Paul Slater)

Like many things in PNG, where personal relationships carry so much weight, sustaining this legacy needs a different approach, a more personal one. Things often do not go to plan, and it is difficult to know what will work and what will not. One thing is certain, though: many Papua New Guineans love a good story, because stories are personal. The story of the wasman is a great story. And because it is about both our cultures, it reinforces positive perceptions of Australia’s history in PNG.

The key to preserving the legacy may lie in schools, by telling the story through the voices of both Australian and PNG historical characters, in English and Tok Pisin. The effort could be supplemented with teaching at both Primary and Secondary levels, with links to the Australian curriculum, and a focus on how our two peoples worked together for success.

This should not be a bald exercise in promoting Australian interests. Those interests would be well served by helping PNG honestly tell its own stories, from a PNG perspective. They may have been told locally by those who took part, but usually only in the oral tradition – they have seldom been written down. The written historical resources, those on which an educational legacy could be based, are mostly in Australia in the National Archives, the Australian War Memorial, and in personal accounts by Australians, who in telling their own stories also told those of their PNG comrades.

Time is limited, but the 80th anniversary of the start of the Second World War is an opportunity to give those stories a PNG voice, to ensure they outlast the living memory of the war.

Cemeteries away from central administration have become overgrown (Photo: Paul Slater)

Some former wasman went on to become successful in administration and government, while others languished, perhaps wondering where the camaraderie they had shared with Australians went after the Japanese were gone. For any of these men, their experiences would likely have shaped the rest of their lives, just as they did for their Australian counterparts. That is why, for as long as they could, they still travelled long distances to attend Anzac Day ceremonies in centres remote from their villages.

Their positive experience was not always replaced with a positive experience of Australian administration following the war, when the undeniably racist colonial rule, sometimes benevolent, sometimes not, reverted to its previous mode of “master” and “native”.

These historical contradictions persist today, 44 years after PNG’s independence. At the government level, Australia’s ability to manage the relationship is tainted by developed-versus-developing-country problems. Australia’s current lack of knowledge and understanding of the people, geography, and culture of our nearest neighbour means that PNG is more foreign to us than Southeast Asia or the Middle East. Our attempts at engagement are sometimes awkward, fraught, and characterised by poor, confusing, and 180-degree decision-making.

Australia is working to fix this through the Pacific “step up”. To some degree, this effort will be seen in PNG through the lens of Chinese expansion, and there will be a sneaking (and partly correct) suspicion that this is the motive. Therefore, we need to show we are not just trying hard, but genuinely interested, on a cultural and personal level, in a place where everything is intensely personal. What better place to start than with lessons from the past, when we worked so well together?

It will only work if we both know what happened.

A lonely unmarked cross on Nago Island near Kavieng, where Coastwatchers were executed by the Japanese (Photo: Paul Slater)

Australia’s colonial army

Papua New Guineans have a long history of involvement in the Australian military. The first PNG soldiers were recruited by Australians immediately before Japan entered World War Two. They eventually formed five battalions of the Pacific Islands Regiment, or PIR.

The iconic image of ‘fuzzy wuzzy angel’ Raphael Oimbari escorting wounded Australian soldier Dick Whittington. George Silk/Australian War Memorial

Despite active service throughout New Guinea during the war, the PIR was disbanded in 1947 by Australian authorities as a result of fears of “arming the natives”. It was raised again four years later as the Cold War threatened to turn hot.

During the 1950s the 600-man regiment had much in common with other “colonial armies” in its segregation and the assumptions about the inherent capabilities of PNG troops. Only Australian officers were considered capable of command, as PNG troops were seen as not yet up to the task of modern warfare.

The racially based differences were most starkly represented in unequal pay and conditions for the soldiers. Papua New Guineans, for instance, were not issued with boots or shirts.

The lower wages and poor conditions made the PIR an inexpensive addition to Australia’s defence. But, for Papua New Guineans, the army offered relatively high pay and social status. There was never a shortage of willing volunteers.

PNG soldiers represented a real contribution to Australia’s defence when the entire regular infantry force during the 1950s consisted of just three other battalions.

'It was a real labour of love'

Ramale, New Britain, 14 September 1945. Daughters of Mary Immaculate, or F.M.I. Sisters, who risked their lives to deliver food to missionaries and civilian detainees held captive for three and a half years in New Britain during the Second World War.

When the Japanese invaded Rabaul on New Britain in January 1942, a group of 45 F.M.I. Sisters refused to give up their faith. Instead, they risked their lives to help save hundreds of Australian and European missionaries and civilian detainees who were held captive by the Japanese for three and a half years, first at Vunapope and then in the dense jungle of Ramale.

More than 75 years later, Lisa Hilli, an Australian artist of Gunatuna (Tolai) heritage, discovered their little-known story while researching Australia and Papua New Guinea’s shared war history as part of a creative commission for the Australian War Memorial, supported by the Anzac Centenary Arts and Culture Fund.

It was while she was researching in Rabaul that she first learned of the Daughters of Mary Immaculate, or F.M.I. Sisters, of the Vunapope Catholic Mission. These remarkable Tolai, Bainings and New Guinea Islands women had helped to save the lives of hundreds of men, women and children in New Britain during the Second World War.

Ramale, New Britain, 16 September 1945. View looking down on the mission, the home of 300 internees, mostly Catholic Missionaries.

“Vunapope in my language of Kuanua means place of the Pope,” she said. “It was a Catholic mission, which was established by European missionaries, so a lot of European and Australian missionaries were based there from the late 1800s. When Japan invaded Rabaul in 1942, a lot of the Australians were evacuated, but the ones who stayed behind evacuated to Vunapope, and so Vunapope became this refuge, or safe haven, for a few months.”

Vunapope was eventually taken by force by the Japanese, and in October 1942, the Japanese set up an internment camp to hold the Europeans, Australians and mixed-race children.

“It was only due to the courageous acts and efforts of Bishop Leo Scharmach that their lives were spared at all,” Lisa said. “He was Polish, but he managed to convince the Japanese that he was German and they should spare the lives of the missionaries and the mixed-race children who were there at Vunapope.”

Ramale, New Britian, 16 September 1945. Bishop Leo Scharmach, pictured on the left, wearing a white hat and glasses. The Bishop convinced the Japanese he was German and helped save the lives of the men, women, and children who were interned at Vunapope and then Ramale.

The bishop is said to have told the Japanese he was the Adolf Hitler’s representative in New Guinea and that they had to respect his status and those under his care.

At about this time, the Japanese declared that the Indigenous people of New Britain, including the F.M.I. Sisters based at Vunapope, were ‘free’.

“When the Japanese invaded the then Australian territory of Papua and New Guinea, they ‘liberated’ all the Papua New Guineans and held all the Australians and Europeans captive,” Lisa said.

“The Japanese said, ‘You’re free you don’t have to worship your western masters’ religion anymore’ … but the F.M.I. Sisters were completely loyal to their faith, and to their religion, and to their service to the Catholic missionaries.

“The F.M.I. Sisters basically risked their own lives and provided food for the Catholic missionaries and for the Australians and Europeans whilst they were held at Vunapope. They refused to give up their faith.”

Vunapope, New Britain, 16 September 1945. Japanese naval guards at Vunapope Mission watching the Australian party come in for the evacuation of Catholic Sisters and Priests from the Ramale Valley internment camp.

When Vunapope was destroyed during the Allied counter-offensive in June 1944, the Japanese marched 300 men, women and children six kilometres away into the dense jungle valley of Ramale.

The internees represented 17 different nationalities and came from countries such as Germany, Austria, Belgium, Netherlands, France, Italy, Ireland, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Sweden, America, Canada, Britain and Australia.

Despite Japanese efforts to stop the F.M.I Sisters from engaging and practising Christianity with the Australian and European Sisters, the women continued to devote themselves to God. They were determined to help keep the Australian and European missionaries alive by growing and harvesting fresh produce and delivering heavy baskets of it over gruelling distances, up and down a steep incline.

Ramale, New Britain, 16 September 1945. After the internees were liberated, food was brought from Rabaul and carried downhill to the camp. The F.M.I. Sisters had risked their lives carrying baskets of fresh produce through grueling conditions to help keep the 300 Australian and European internees alive during the war .

“They disobeyed the Japanese, and they stayed true to their vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, even in war,” Lisa said.

“They started building gardens and growing food, and every day they would bring heavy bags of fresh produce, carrying them on their heads.

“The Japanese would stand guard at the top of the valley, and inspect the food to make sure they weren’t smuggling anything else in.

“They would then take the best of the food, and the Sisters would walk back down into the valley and give the rest of the food to the prisoners of war. And they did that every day.”

Ramale Valley, New Britain, 14 September 1945. A choir comprised of the internees at Ramale Valley Internment Camp singing for Major General K.W. Eather, General Officer Commanding 11 Division.

Ramale Valley, New Britain. Some of the inmates at the Ramale Valley Internment Camp. Contact with the camp was made by Allied troops and representatives of the Australian Red Cross following the surrender of the Japanese. The internees had to wait for several months in Ramale Valley until suitable buildings were prepared for them. Vunapope Mission had been razed to the ground.

The Ramale camp was liberated by Australian troops on 14 September 1945 when troops of HQ 11 Division occupied the area following the surrender of the Japanese.

“It’s an amazing story, and it’s been sitting there for 75 years, just waiting to be found,” Lisa said. “The F.M.I. Sisters kept them alive essentially, but no one had really looked at them, and honoured them for it.”

Lisa has since created an artwork in recognition of their strength, labour, and dedication. To complete the work, she relied heavily on a draft 100-year history from Sister Margaret Maladede at Vunapope and research at the National Library of Australia and the Memorial. The resulting artwork features a large digital photographic collage of an image of the Sisters from the Memorial’s collection and a series of 45 hand-embroidered cotton cinctures, or religious belts worn by the nuns.

Ramale, New Britain, 2 October 1945: Former internees singing Ramale Greets You at a concert staged as thanksgiving for the liberation of the camp. Personnel of the 11 Division attended.

Bitagalip, Ramale Mission, New Britain. The Mission Choir practising for Christmas festivities in December 1945.

“For me, it was really significant, and I felt really honoured to be asked [to complete this commission],” Lisa said.

“I was actually born at Vunapope, and the more I researched into the history of these Sisters, the more it revealed to me the significance of that place, and made me feel really connected to it.

“Their convent is in the lands that I’m from, and the year that the F.M.I. Sisters became their own independent Indigenous-led convent was the year of my birth – 1979 – so throughout the commission there were all these beautiful layers of connection for me.

Ramale Valley, New Britain. A group of Sisters waving as they prepare to move out of the Ramale Valley Internment Camp.

Sisters and Priests boarding an Army barge for transfer to the motor launch Gloria. They are being evacuated from Ramale Valley to Rabaul.

“Military history from the Second World War is everywhere in Rabaul it’s just evident everywhere you go.

“I remember my mother always told me that during the war my grandmother … would lie flat on the ground whenever the planes would fly over and pretend that she was dead. That was my only real understanding of the war in my homelands and how that impacted my family.

“Rabaul was largely a war from the air, and when the Japanese flew in, they dropped bombs everywhere, and I remember thinking about the fear that my grandmother would have felt.

“Then when I found an image of the F.M.I. Sisters in the Memorial archives, taken on the day the Australian troops came in and liberated the camp, I couldn’t believe it.

Artist Lisa Hilli paid tribute to the women through her art, creating a large digital photographic collage of an image of the Sisters from the Memorial's collection and 45 hand-embroidered cinctures.

Ramale Valley, 2018. Artist Lisa Hilli visited the site of the camp as part of her research. Photo: Lisa Hilli

“It was so hard to find any information about them. This is the problem when it comes to archival records about black or Indigenous people their records aren’t always there, so I had to dig really deep into the archives to find anything about them.

“It’s an incredible story and it’s really important for me to be able to share Papua New Guinean women’s stories, particularly related to war, because women’s stories aren’t always told, particularly in war or the military, and then you add another level of being black or Papua New Guinean, and it’s like, good luck. So to find this, and to be able to highlight it, and reveal it, was just really special.

“It’s a legacy for my own people, so it’s really significant for me to be able to do that.”

The watercolour flowers in the artwork were carefully selected to represent the different nationalities of the men, women and children who were held captive at Ramale. The Sister in the middle is holding a sprig of wattle, a reference to Australia and to the Australian soldiers who liberated the camp.

A detail of the stitching on the cinctures. There are 45 cinctures to represent each of the 45 Sisters.Photo: Lisa Hilli

For her artwork, Lisa adorned the Sisters with flowers in reference to the different nationalities of the men, women and children who were held captive at Ramale. There’s the iris to represent the French, the poppy to represent the Belgians, the cornflower to represent the Germans, and a Korean hibiscus to honour the South Korean comfort women that were brought over by the Japanese. The wattle in the middle is a reference to Australia and to the Australian soldiers who liberated the camp at Ramale, while the 45 hand-embroidered cinctures represent each of the individual F.M.I. Sisters.

“Only 12 or 13 of these women were photographed, but there were 45 of them, so I wanted to make sure that they were all recognised and honoured,” she said.

“I was really interested in the Sisters’ habit as an item of clothing that signified the practice of their faith. The black cincture they tied around their waist was a very distinct item of the habit that was worn only at the time. They don’t wear it today, and so I kept coming back to it as a really significant piece of clothing from that war history period.”

Watch the video: Aboriginal dance show - Australia


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