A Matter of trust: Dayaks and Z Special Unit operatives in Borneo, 1945 exhibition

Source: Australian War Memorial

The Australian War Memorial will launch their new exhibition A matter of trust: Dayaks and Z Special Unit operatives in Borneo, 1945 on Thursday 12 April 2018.

The exhibition tells the story of the unique relationships built between Z Special Unit operatives, whose origins ultimately led to today’s Special Forces, and Borneo’s indigenous Dayak people who served alongside them during the latter stages of the Second World War.

Before the Second World War, many Australians had never heard of Borneo. But in 1945 the large south-east Asian island, with its remote jungles inhabited by indigenous Dayak groups, became a key Australian battleground.

The Japanese invaded Borneo in 1941 and proved to be brutal occupiers. Despite the risks involved, local populations began supporting the Allies.  Covert Allied operations were organised to insert trained operatives behind enemy lines to gather intelligence and train and arm local peoples, many of whom had already been conducting guerrilla warfare against the Japanese. The highly trained operatives, most of whom were Australians serving in Z Special Unit, lived and worked in difficult jungle terrain at constant risk of discovery by the Japanese, and depended heavily on support and assistance from the Dayaks.

This exhibition explores the work of Z Special Unit operatives in Borneo and the relationships they developed with the indigenous populations. In the face of discovery and Japanese reprisals, Dayaks and operatives discovered surprising affinities and formed remarkable alliances.

The exhibition has been developed in partnership with the Australian National University with the support of the Australian Research Council. It has been co-curated by Professor Christine Helliwell of the Australian National University and Robyn van Dyk Head of the Memorial’s Research Centre.

On display are collections of photographs taken by operatives behind enemy lines, original maps (including a silk escape map), letters, diaries, Dayak parangs, and other objects related to Z Special Unit.

The exhibition closes on Sunday 16 September 2018.

Free curator-led talks

Join curator Robyn van Dyk in Anzac Hall for a tour of the exhibition and hear stories of Z Special Unit and the Dayaks they served alongside. Thursday 19 April

Thursday 3 May

Read more about working with the Dayaks in Borneo