When the Japanese invaded Rabaul on New Britain in January 1942, a group of 45 F.M.I. Sisters refused to give up their faith. Instead, they risked their lives to help save hundreds of Australian and European missionaries and civilian detainees who were held captive by the Japanese for three and a half years, first at Vunapope and then in the dense jungle of Ramale.
More than 75 years later, Lisa Hilli, an Australian artist of Gunatuna (Tolai) heritage, discovered their little-known story while researching Australia and Papua New Guinea’s shared war history as part of a creative commission for the Australian War Memorial, supported by the Anzac Centenary Arts and Culture Fund.
It was while she was researching in Rabaul that she first learned of the Daughters of Mary Immaculate, or F.M.I. Sisters, of the Vunapope Catholic Mission. These remarkable Tolai, Bainings and New Guinea Islands women had helped to save the lives of hundreds of men, women and children in New Britain during the Second World War.