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Tragedy depicted in a new & hopeful light

Christine Arnott Artist CHRISTINE ARNOTT writes about what inspired her to paint this interpretation of the Montevideo Maru tragedy

MY MOTHER, especially in her later years, found consolation that her brother, Neil Smith, and her brother in law, Harry Harvey, were together with Arthur Gullidge and others from the 2/22nd Battalion Band, when the Montevideo Maru sank.

In my mother’s mind’s eye, Neil and Harry were resting with their comrades.

My uncles enlisted as bandsmen and stretcher bearers, they did not carry firearms. They joined up to assist their fellow Australians in any way that they could, taking into account their own religious views as members of the Salvation Army.

My father had been required to stay in Australia to work at the Commonwealth Aircraft Factory, so was at home when his relatives and his mates went off to war.

He used to say he'd lost most of his mates when the Montevideo Maru went down. And, when he remembered them, which was frequent, he spoke of them being “all together" on the ship. I know he was comforted by that thought.

My mother got very emotional whenever she heard the song, 'We're off to see the wizard, the wonderful wizard of Oz'. She had vivid memories of the Band playing this song as the troops had their final parade through the streets of Melbourne before sailing for Rabaul.

To me, this music symbolises the attitude of those men: enthusiastic but unprepared for the horrors they would face when they reached their destination. This innocence and purity of intent has influenced my painting.

I attended the memorial session at Parliament House on 21 June 2010. This was a moving and proud moment for me. However, I was concerned when it was mentioned that the wreck of the Montevideo Maru may be disturbed.

After returning to my accommodation, I had a restless night. The thought of anyone disturbing the ship was very distressing to me.

As I was lying in bed, I envisaged the ship at the bottom of the ocean, surrounded by nature in a pristine tropical environment.

The spirit of the men who perished would be at peace, and it would be at one with their environment.

I knew I had to paint this image, to express my vision of where the men are. They are At Peace Now - together in Death as they were in Life.


Keith Jackson writes: Chris’s painting, At Peace Now, offers a peaceful and beautiful interpretation of the outcomes of a black and tragic story.

The policy of the Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Society is that the ship should not be explored or disturbed in any way. Veterans’ Affairs Minister Alan Griffin and others, including the veterans who were mates of the men on the Montevideo Maru, share the Society’s view on this matter. We know where the ship lies; we need know no more.

The Society’s aim is to have this site declared as an official war grave and it is currently working on this project with the Federal Government. Declaring the site as a war grave will protect the wreck from interference. Although, since the vessel lies at a depth of about 4,200 metres, any intrusion is unlikely.


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