Memory and Imagination
A collaboration between Col Madigan (survivor), Jan Senbergs (artist) and Don Watson (historian)
Jan Senbergs 'The Armidale drawings, 1 The Attack' 1998 Collection of the artist
A Bendigo Art Gallery Travelling Exhibition Sponsored by the Pratt Foundation through the Australia Foundation for Culture and the Humanities
On 1 December 1942, HMAS Armidale succumbed to air attack and sank into the depths of the Timor Trench with the loss of 100 lives. The story of the dire plight of the survivors has entered the public annals of naval history only relatively recently. Armidale ‘42: Memory and Imagination, commemorates this story of bravery and endurance.
The artist, Jan Senbergs, who has frequently interpreted Australian history through series of works, created The Armidale Drawings in collaboration with one of the survivors, the architect Colin Madigan (whose firm Edwards, Madigan, Torzillo & Briggs Pty Ltd designed the National Gallery of Australia and the High Court of Australia).
Madigan and Senbergs met in the 1970s while Senbergs was working on the High Court mural. Over the years they remained in contact, but it was not until 1996, when Madigan saw Senbergs painting The swimmer, that he spoke of his ordeal and the sinking of the Armidale. Senbergs reflects:
Hee stared for a while, looking carefully at the painting,then turned to me and said: ‘You know, I was in the water like that once.'
Survivors of the sinking of HMAS Armidale were thrown into the Arafura Sea. Many were badly injured and covered in oil. Under a hail of gunfire they bound a raft together from floating remains of the wreck. Battling sharks and sea snakes, they hauled the ship’s lifeboat onto the raft and repaired it with canvas. In an attempt to maximise longevity they decided to split up, some taking to the lifeboat while others remained Ofl the raft. Eight days later the lifeboat and its complement were found by the RAAF 27 survivors and two dead men. No trace of the men on the raft was ever found.
The beautifully illustrated book accompanying the exhibition contains Col Madigan’s recollections and his own images drawn from memory, and reproduces the series of pastel and acrylic wash drawings by Senbergs which make up the exhibition. An essay by Don Watson places the sinking of the Armidale and subsequent events in an historical context aligned with current understanding of the issues.