Ivor Hele - the heroic figure
After a year in North Africa, Hele returned to Australia in March 1942. He settled at his home in Aldinga, South Australia and began work on a series of major paintings from the many sketches he had made. By June of the following year, as the war moved closer to Australian shores, he was sent to New Guinea.
The dense, moist jungle of New Guinea created an entirely new set of conditions for Hele. The terrain was all but impenetrable, with vegetation covering the landscape and creating a canopy of perpetual semi-darkness. As the only mode of transport was often on foot, Hele was allotted a bearer to carry materials and guide him through the jungle. The adverse conditions gave Hele the opportunity to experience first-hand the arduous movements and activities of the Australian troops. Accompanying the soldiers in the thick of dangerous territory, Hele often sketched within a few metres of the Japanese enemy waiting to attack.
In Walking wounded, Missim Trail, Hele paints the injured soldiers struggling through the jungle, their camouflage clothes blending into the dark browns, greens and greys of the vegetation. There is no indication of sunlight in this lush growth. The men appear exhausted and gaunt and resemble one of the exaggerated figures in paintings by William Dobell (1899-1970).
The Missim Trail was a narrow, slushy track that wound up and over precipitous mountains, a track considered worse than the Kokoda Trail. In Hele’s paintings from New Guinea the brilliant light of North Africa has vanished. The men barely emerge from the jungle; their path is unclear, and their feet are hidden by the thick undergrowth. Hele adopts a more painterly style, lessening the technical draughtsman appearance of earlier works.
Questions and discussion
- Describe the mood conveyed in this painting. How is it achieved?
- Examine how Hele uses colour in this work.
- How effective is this painting as a record of the war in New Guinea?
- Hele’s painting technique dramatically changed between each campaign. In order to investigate this, compare and contrast Walking wounded, Missim Trail with Medical air evacuation. Can you suggest reasons for the dramatic change?