Remembering the Guardians of Sunda Strait: An exhibition at the Houston Public Library

Peeling vinyl from the exhibition walls. Image: Lindsey Shaw / ANMM.

Peeling vinyl from the exhibition walls. Image: Lindsey Shaw / ANMM.

On a dark and stormy day in Houston, Texas, museum’s latest international travelling exhibition starts to take shape.

While it pours outside, six of us – three Thomas Printworks installers, Danielle Wilson (Curator at the Julia Ideson Building, Houston Public Library ), Nana Booker (Honorary Australian Consul Emeritus) and I (intrepid Curator) – spend over an hour painstakingly peeling off vinyl lettering from the previous exhibition. To the tune of the Bee Gees’ Stayin’ Alive, we peel and peel and peel, preparing the walls for their new graphics.

The exhibition we are installing has been three years in the making. Guardians of Sunda Strait – the World War II loss of HMAS Perth and USS Houston relates the story of the Battle of Sunda Strait, when our two gallant ships fought to the death against an overwhelming force of Japanese warships off the north-west coast of Java in the then Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia).

This coming 1 March marks the 75th anniversary of the battle, when more than a thousand Australian and American lives were lost and the survivors taken as prisoners of war. Bringing together material from Australian and American institutions, the exhibition will take just over a week to install in Houston’s beautiful Julia Ideson Building.

The entrance to the gallery where our exhibition will be shown until 30 June . Image: Lindsey Shaw / ANMM.

The entrance to the gallery where our exhibition will be shown until 30 June . Image: Lindsey Shaw / ANMM.

Today we started with the graphic elements, stunningly designed by Virginia Buckingham. Stay tuned for further reports as the exhibition continues to take shape. And meet just some of the many people who help bring a concept to life.

The first of 16 wall graphics is successfully applied. Image: Lindsey Shaw / ANMM.

The first of 16 wall graphics is successfully applied. Image: Lindsey Shaw / ANMM.

The crates of objects and installation gear have arrived!  They spent the past three days acclimatising to the Houston conditions – which is standard museum practice. With the assistance of Mark and Gray from Ty Art, the installation has been smooth and without issue. The design drawings by Carola Salazar are clear and easy to understand and that has made my job as installation manager that much easier.

The three crates of objects from Australia waiting in the gallery. Image: Lindsey Shaw / ANMM.

The three crates of objects from Australia waiting in the gallery. Image: Lindsey Shaw / ANMM.

Measuring and marking the location for the 1939 chiffon handkerchief produced for the commissioning of HMAS Perth into the Royal Australian Navy. The handkerchief has been lent by the Australian War Memorial. Image: Lindsey Shaw / ANMM.

Measuring and marking the location for the 1939 chiffon handkerchief produced for the commissioning of HMAS Perth into the Royal Australian Navy. The handkerchief has been lent by the Australian War Memorial. Image: Lindsey Shaw / ANMM.

Everything is fitting into place nicely and our progress is steady and measured – we don’t want any accidents or dropped objects! Quite a few staff members from the Special Collections area of the Library have dropped by and are all keen to see the finished product. Half a dozen general visitors have knocked on the door to ask what we’re doing and when we’ll be finished. And the security guards have taken a great interest in the show and can’t wait to let people in.

Story 6 talks about the survivors returning home after the war. The framed calico undershirt has some 200 POW signatures and addresses. It is on loan from the Australian War Memorial. Image: Lindsey Shaw / ANMM.

This panel examines the survivors returning home after the war. The framed calico undershirt has some 200 POW signatures and addresses. It is on loan from the Australian War Memorial. Image: Lindsey Shaw / ANMM.

Artefacts have been removed from the wreck sites of both Perth and Houston. Featured here are two plates from HMAS Perth and a cup and saucer from USS Houston. Illegal salvage of material from the sites is a great cause for concern. ANMM divers will be conducting surveys in the coming weeks and working with the Indonesians on heritage plans for these WW2 heroes. Image: Lindsey Shaw / ANMM.

Artefacts have been removed from the wreck sites of both HMAS Perth and USS Houston. Featured here are two plates from HMAS Perth and a cup and saucer from USS Houston. Image: Lindsey Shaw / ANMM.

The media are starting to get interested and I finished an interview with The Scuttlebutt newspaper which goes to 15,000 Veterans in the Houston area. Local visitor websites are advertising the exhibition so I’m confident we’ll have a good visitation rate over the period of the exhibition.

— Lindsey Shaw,  Australian National Museum Honorary Research Associate. 

Explore more stories of War and Peace in the Pacific during World War II over here in our feature stories, including the Bombing of Darwin and the Attack on Pearl Harbor.

One thought on “Remembering the Guardians of Sunda Strait: An exhibition at the Houston Public Library

  1. its great to see this exhibition is coming! I will certainly visit as I have dived Perth and Houston in 2013 and I would be one of the oldest divers to do so! My mothers first husband died on the Perth (Les petty) I alerted the US. To the fact Houston was being being salvaged not knowing Perth was also as the visibility was terrible and the current very bad sometimes we aborted dives

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