Javanese slaves in native compound sick ward

Place Asia: Malaysia, Labuan
Accession Number ART23229
Collection type Art
Measurement Overall: 38.1 x 40.5 cm
Object type Drawing
Physical description pen and black ink on paper
Maker Friend, Donald
Place made Malaysia: Labuan
Date made 1945
Conflict Second World War, 1939-1945

Item copyright: Copyright expired - public domain

Public Domain Mark This item is in the Public Domain


Depicts the emaciated natives of Java, shipped by the Japanese from that island during their occupation of Java, to Borneo. They were a tragic and pitiful spectacle when the Australian troops landed at Labuan in June 1945. They were starved to mere skeletons, ill with beri beri, many too weak to walk, others just capable of dragging their bodies about. The Javanese were promised good jobs and pay; the men worked on the airstrips; the women, brought over ostensibly for office jobs, were put in brothels in Labuan. In 1942, Donald Friend enlisting with the AIF, was posted as a gunner to the artillery unit near Albury. In 1945, Friend was selected for appointment as official war artist. He travelled to Morotai, Labuan and Balikpapan, recording sights which confronted him and drawing in particular on the expressive potential of human form. Friend was extraordinarily prolific, producing 53 paintings and 143 drawings for the Memorial. In his catalogue for the 1990 retrospective of Donald Friend's work at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Barry Pearce noted; 'his focus [is] on drawing the human figure, confirming that it was observing and drawing the non-western races that would give him the greatest satisfaction'. In his Diary entry for 4 August 1945 Friend wrote; '...oils, colours and shapes keep streaking tantalizingly through my mind...if I have enough skill to put down what is in my monad, boldly and vividly as I can see them. The dead Japs [sic] and the Javanese slaves are the most vivid: they'll have to be done first and they'll really be the most difficult'.

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