Monday 14 July 2014 by robvan. 7 comments
Exhibitions, News

In a three year ARC funded research project titled: Beyond Allied Histories: Dayak Memories of World War II in Borneo the ANU and the Memorial will provide new research into how different groups of people experienced the Second World War in Borneo.  The research team combines anthropological expertise from Dr Christine Helliwell of the College of Arts and Social Sciences at ANU with curatorial expertise from Robyn van Dyk, Head of the Research Centre at the Memorial, in a genuinely collaborative project.

Multiple generations of Australians have served in foreign lands often unimaginably different from their own place of birth and culture. This project explores the impact of war on Borneo and the memory of war by focusing on the memories of the island’s indigenous Dayak peoples as well as Australians who served.

Borneo is a highly significant Australian wartime site and the project will advance scholarly understanding of the experience of war during this significant period in Australia’s war time history. The project will draw on the Memorial’s extensive archival records and collections on Borneo including those of Australian soldiers and prisoners-of-war.  It will also draw on anthropological fieldwork among Borneo’s indigenous Dayak peoples.

As well as a scholarly book and articles the project will generate a major public exhibition at the Memorial in 2017 that will represent Australian and Dayak responses to the war. The exhibition will make use of the Memorial’s collections to convey the Australian experience as well as video and sound recordings, and items of Dayak material culture, to convey indigenous experiences of the war.

The project will also generate a pool of Dayak translated oral histories. These will form part of the Memorial’s collections from which other scholars working on the war in Asia-Pacific can draw. Nothing like this currently exists either in the collections or elsewhere in Australia.

The exhibition will convey an understanding of both Australian and Dayak activities in Borneo during the Second World War, commemorate Sandakan and the Sandakan-Ranau ‘death marches’ during which so many Australian (and British) prisoners of war lost their lives, and foster awareness of the part played by Borneo peoples themselves – often in concert with Australians – in the war against the Japanese.



I'm a student of World War II, the fight in Borneo was never covered by correspondences, it was tooth & nail with very few stories emerging from the dark jungle.

Tracy Brandis-Gray

Very interested to follow this project. My uncle was in the ill fated operation python in Borneo WW2. I was extremely lucky to have met two of the locals who are still alive,one who saw my uncle held captive by the Japanese in his fathers house in Lahad Datu and the other one who saw my uncle being brought to the small island of Tabisan.

Claudia Edwards

My grandfather was a prisoner for over three years at Sandakan, he died May 1945. I am very pleased this research is being done and looking forward to the Exhibition in 2017.

Noni Lyall

My Grandfather Pte Robert P Clark VX31077 died at Sandakan on the 24th February 1945. As a consequence of this research I hope that the AWM will now recognise the contribution of the indigenous peoples of Borneo and acknowledge them on the Sandakan Memorial.

John Pryor

The slaughter that was Sandakan has been hidden for FAR TOO LONG. It should be brought into the light!

Patricia Sabine

Congratulations Robyn! Suggest you may like to contact the Australian Army Museum Tasmania re relevant material in their collection. Major Chris Talbot is the Museum Manager.


Thank you Pat - I will get in touch with the museum! Robyn