NOOSA - On Monday, PNG Attitude published a famous World War II photograph, newly colourised by Brazilian artist Marina Amaral.
It proved to be an instant hit with many thousands of readers.
Some 76,000 people viewed the image and the accompanying story. Nearly 1,000 engaged actively with comments, likes and shares.
The moment depicted in George Silk’s famous wartime photograph is especially arresting because it is so graphic and compelling.
It tells of compassion and comradeship between men of different cultures sharing a terribly difficult situation.
On a more transcendent level, it is an iconic representation of the special bond between Papua New Guinea and Australia, a bond forged in wartime and continued throughout the ensuing peace.
Most of our Papua New Guinean and Australian readers are familiar with Silk’s photograph, but its depiction in colour – with the sensitivity that Marina has applied and her researched understanding of context – offers a new and more relatable experience.
Marina has made the work something more than an old wartime photograph offering a detached sorrow.
The colour forces the image into the present and conjures a feeling that these are two men we might know. Two ordinary men, one blinded and in need; the other helping as much as he can.
Today they are seen as warriors bound together forever on a bush track.
It has an almost religious aura and, in its universal meaning and appeal, draws us into its feeling of brotherhood, bringing to life once more the painfully slow journey of both men as they trudged from the battlefield to a casualty clearing station.
It is of coincidental relevance that Marina’s beautiful treatment of such an evocative image has come to our attention on the eve of Anzac Day, 25 April, a day marked in Papua New Guinea just as it is in Australia and New Zealand as a point of reflection on the sacrifice demanded by war and of those men and women who made that sacrifice in our name.
The people there on that Christmas Day 1942
Raphael Oimbari (c 1911-1996) was one of 14 men from Hanau village, near Cape Sudest in Oro Province, who worked as carriers with ANGAU. His identity was not known until Whittington’s wife engaged in a public search for him in the 1970s. He was later made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for his wartime service. He remained living in Hanau in modest circumstances for the rest of his life.
Private George Charles (Dick) Whittington (1919-1943) from Kilcoy in Queensland served with the 2/10th Australian Infantry Battalion (QX23902). He survived the mortar shell wounds to his eyes but died of scrub typhus and dysentery just two months later. He left behind a wife and young daughter and is buried in Bomana War Cemetery, Port Moresby.
George Silk (1916-2004), a New Zealand-born photojournalist who began as a war photographer for the Australian government in 1939, covering action in the Middle East, North Africa, Greece and Papua New Guinea. In PNG he trekked 500km with the Allied forces as they gradually pushed back the Japanese army north from the vicinity of Port Moresby to the Sepik in the north-west.
“It was mid-afternoon and New Zealand photographer George Silk was walking along the track towards the beachhead battles when he saw the column of wounded men coming towards him. He stepped to the side, quietly took a photograph of Whittington and Oimbari, and the procession moved along. Silk wasn’t going to disturb them, but at the last minute ran back to get the wounded soldier’s name” – Claire Hunter
In complete contrast to the compelling appeal of Silk’s photograph is this abominable sculpture at Brisbane’s war memorial, presumably the outcome of some committee which felt it more appropriate to slouch a rifle over Whittington’s shoulder and take his stick and give it to Oimbari.
We would need to re-assemble this group of inept revisionists to begin to understand what their motives may have been in destroying the form and meaning of the original image.
Maybe the committee felt Whittington was unsoldierly in not bearing a rifle. And that the stick had to go somewhere so it should be given to Oimbari who didn’t really have his hands full. Or something.
Whatever the reasoning, that committee failed in its understanding of the iconography and failed in its duty to everyone else. What could possibly have been more magnificent than the original now given a new and splendid life by Marina Amaral.