03
Sep
12

Exhibition: ‘Home Front: Wartime Sydney 1939-45’ at the Museum of Sydney

Exhibition dates: 31st March – 9th September 2012

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Some poignant photographs in this posting of young Australian men setting off to fight in the early stages of the Second World War. The message scrawled in chalk on the side of the train (below, at left) reads, “Berlin first stop. Look out Hitler, we’ll be there soon.” Little did they know it would be five long, hard years of fighting and countless deaths before that aphorism would come true. The 6th division AIF troops first fought in North Africa against the Italians at Tobruk and was then sent to Greece to fight the German advance. About 39 per cent of the Australian troops in Greece on 6 April 1941 were either killed, wounded or became prisoners of war. The division then fought in the Pacific War on the Kokoda Trail campaign in the New Guinea theatre until the end of the war.

I wonder how many of the men, smiling and leaning out of the train carriage or departing on a troop ship, returned to these shores?

The last photograph in the posting is so very eloquent it actually moved me to tears. The women being hoisted aloft to kiss her loved one last time – clutching her handbag, complete with rumpled, lumpy stockings. To the right (and this is what caught my eye), a man looks straight at the camera while another right next to him has this distant melancholy look on his face as though he is not actually there. A portent of things to come. Brave men, fighting in the only war that Australians have had to fight for their own freedom, not at the whim of a colonial power or overseas ally in some far of distant land. Brave men and women – we wouldn’t be here without them.

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Many thankx to the Museum of Sydney for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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S Hood
6th division AIF troops waving from troop-train carriage, 13 September 1940
1940
© Australian War Memorial

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Troops of the 6th Division wave goodbye, Sydney 1940
1940
© Australian War Memorial

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Men of the 6th Division returning from Wewak crowd the deck of HMS Implacable, 18 Dec 1945
1945
© Australian War Memorial

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An Australian built DAP Bristol Beaufort VIII aircraft, serial no A9-700, in flight over Sydney Harbour near the Bridge
c. 1944
© Australian War Memorial

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Partly submerged RAN accommodation ship damaged during the unsuccessful Japanese midget submarine attack 1 June 1942
1942
© Australian War Memorial

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Two women donning gas masks as part of an air raid drill
Nd
© Argus Newspaper Collection of Photographs, State Library of Victoria

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Members of the Wardens’ Women’s Auxiliary making for the scene of an incident
c. 1943
© Argus Newspaper Collection of Photographs, State Library of Victoria

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“In May 1942 three Japanese midget submarines entered Sydney Harbour in an attempt to sink allied ships, bringing the once far away war to the shores of the harbourside city and shaking the country to its core. Coinciding with the 70th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Sydney Harbour, Home Front: Wartime Sydney 1939-45 a new exhibition opening 31 March at the Museum of Sydney, explores the experience of the women, men and children who rallied together to support the war effort from home.

Unprepared for another world war, Australians initially referred to the conflict as ‘the phoney war’, however it wasn’t long before propaganda posters were plastered around Sydney, censorship and food rationing became the norm, and tank traps and barbed wire replaced bronzed bodies on Sydney beaches. For six long years the world seemed to come to Sydney as soldiers, sailors and airmen from many nations called Sydney home, making wartime an exciting and thrilling period for some, while for others it was a long and lonely time interrupted by the occasional letter from a loved one serving overseas.

Almost 40,000 Australians lost their lives with the war leaving a lasting impact at home and transforming the lives of generations of Australians, in particular the lives of women, says Curator Annie Campbell. “As well as having to cope with war related anxieties and stress, many women were ‘manpowered’ to work in wartime industries such as ammunitions factories and aircraft construction. Everyone had to make sacrifices on the home front, however despite wartime shortages and rationing, women were expected and actively encouraged to look smart, which often involved some innovative thinking. One of my favourite objects in the exhibition is a wedding dress made out of parachute silk and mosquito net for a war bride, later worn by her sister and two girlfriends on their special days.

While the troops were busy on the battlefields, Sydneysiders prepared for the possibility of an enemy invasion on home soil. An anti-submarine boom net was installed across Sydney Harbour to keep out attacking forces, bomb shelters were constructed in Hyde Park and protective timbers were placed around landmark buildings. In 1942 blackout restrictions were introduced to limit the effectiveness of air raids, all Sydney lights were switched off and car, train and tram headlights were masked, giving the city a sinister feel. But it wasn’t all doom and gloom, large numbers of people were ready to have fun in Sydney and the Trocadero on George Street became a mecca for white American servicemen, while the Booker T Washington Club in Albion Street Surry Hills serviced the African-American GI’s,” says Campbell.

Highlights of the exhibition include the microphone used by Prime Minister Robert Menzies to announce that Australia was at war, remnants of the Japanese midget submarines that attacked Sydney, over 100 photographs and artworks depicting wartime Sydney, and a short documentary featuring historic footage. Over 200 wartime Sydney mementoes will also feature in the exhibition including propaganda posters, warden’s memorabilia, letters from soldiers serving overseas and a selection of wartime fashions.”

Press release from the Museum of Sydney website

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Sydney kindergarten children wearing air raid headgear designed to muffle sounds and prevent them from biting tongues
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© Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW

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Eve Holliman, Hilda Jamieson and Vera Thurlow converting a car into an ambulance
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© Argus Newspaper Collection of Photographs, State Library of Victoria

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Woman war worker
1944
© Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW

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Change Over to a Victory Job propaganda poster
Nd
© Australian War Memorial

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Advertisement for Ponds
1945
© National Library of Australia

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Weaver Hawkins
Jitterbugs
1945
Oil on canvas, Art Gallery of New South Wales
© Estate of H F Weaver Hawkins
Photograph Jenni Carter

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S Hood
Sydney embarkation, 13 September 1940
1940
© Australian War Memorial

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S Hood
Sydney embarkation, 13 September 1940
1940
© Australian War Memorial

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Museum of Sydney
Cnr Bridge and Phillip Streets
Sydney, NSW 2000
T: (02) 9251 5988

Opening hours:
Open daily 9.30am – 5pm
Closed Good Friday and Christmas Day

Museum of Sydney website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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