Revisiting an iconic image of comradeship
19 April 2021
NOOSA – Marina Amaral is a self-taught Brazilian artist known for her colourisations of historical black and white photographs.
The process involves historical research to determine the colours of each object pictured with colourisation often taking more than a month to complete.
Amaral has become internationally famous not just for her splendid technique but for her selection of images of great principle and meaning, like the greatly admired 'Comrades' wartime photograph by George Silk.
During the Battle of Buna in Papua New Guinea in World War II, Private George ‘Dick’ Whittington was temporarily blinded after being shot by a sniper above the eyes on Christmas Day 1942.
Whittington was assisted to a casualty clearing station by an unidentified Papuan carrier. During their laborious trek, war photographer George Silk captured the iconic image.
Whittington survived the wound but died only two months later from scrub typhus.
Following the war, the ‘Fuzzy Wuzzy Angel’ continued to live in Hanau village and was not identified as Raphael Oimbari until the 1970s after Whittington’s widow used the media to help identify him.
Oimbari then met Whittington’s widow and they agreed they should name their grandchildren in honour of Oimbari and Whittington. He was later made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire.
Through the 1980s and into the 1990s, Oimbari became a powerful advocate for remembering the Papua New Guinean contribution to the war effort and gave his name to the Raphael Oimbari Foundation.
Oimbari died in 1996 aged about 85 and was buried beside his modest two-room bush material house.
Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels was the appreciative name given by Australian soldiers to Papua New Guineans who during World War II were recruited to carry supplies to the front lines and carry injured Australian troops back to casualty clearing stations.
In June 1942, Major General Basil Morris had issued an Employment of Natives Order that allowed mainly Papuans to be recruited as carriers for three years.
In the ensuing four months about 16,000 men were recruited, often with false promises such as a shorter period of service or less difficult working condition. In some occasions, men were forced to become carriers.
An Australian soldier wrote:
“They carried stretchers over seemingly impassable barriers, with the patient reasonably comfortable. The care they give to the patient is magnificent. If night finds the stretcher still on the track, they will find a level spot and build a shelter over the patient.
“They will make him as comfortable as possible fetch him water and feed him if food is available, regardless of their own needs. They sleep four each side of the stretcher and if the patient moves or requires any attention during the night, this is given instantly.”
In 2009, the Australian government began awarding the 'Fuzzy Wuzzy Commemorative Medallion' to living Papua New Guineans who assisted the Australian war effort, bringing survivors and their families to Port Moresby for ceremonial presentations.
Marina Amaral specialises in adding colour to black and white photographs and ‘breathing life into the past’. She has worked with leading companies, museums and institutions, including History Channel, Pan MacMillan, English Heritage, New York Times, Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum and the US National Memorial for Peace.
“Conscience dictates that before you sit down to colourise a historical photograph, you must do your homework,” Amaral says.
“This is why every colourisation goes through long and in-depth research, which, when possible, is supported by the opinions of experts to make sure that the original colours are faithfully reproduced.
"Colour has the power to bring life back to the most important moments.”
The Kokoda Track Memorial Walkway at Concord in Sydney has the Oimbari/Whittington image engraved in granite as its centrepiece. Some 3,000 children each year (as at 2019) visit the memorial and are taught about Oimbari.
Posted by: Peter Dowling | 26 April 2021 at 10:59 PM
When I first joined my local RSL its bistro was known as the Raphael Oimbari Room and there was a large framed copy of this photograph prominently displayed.
I understood that this was done to recognise the significant role of the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels and this was an iconic photograph.
Unfortunately, subsequent renovations, principally to accommodate poker machines, saw the bistro relocated to another area of the building and renamed – Four Seasons Bistro.
The photograph of Raphael Oimbari was consigned to storage where it remains today.
I have forwarded a link to this article to the President of the Sub-Branch with a comment that we are losing these links in the name of commercial gain.
I wish you well with this project, Ross. If you get to sit down to discuss he matter with the president, you might mention that when the image was published on PNG Attitude's Twitter account, over a couple of days more than 280,000 people viewed it and 15,000 people interacted online with it. That old photograph still has a lot of meaning for people and packs quite a punch - KJ
Posted by: Ross Wilkinson | 23 April 2021 at 08:59 PM