Recording of historic WWII capture saved for future generations


Matthias Ulungura.

Matthias Ulungura who as a young Tiwi Islander, captured – and disarmed – the first Japanese serviceman taken as a POW on Australian soil in 1942. This photo was taken by author and researcher Ronald Rose on Melville Island between in 1962. Photograph by Ronald Rose, courtesy AIATSIS Audiovisual Archive (AIATSIS Ref. Rose.R05.BW-N007382.09.)


24 April 2012

A rare audio recording describing how an Aboriginal man captured – and disarmed – the first Japanese serviceman taken as a POW on Australian soil will join other unique and unpublished field recordings preserved and saved for future generations.

The analogue recording - held by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) in Canberra - recalls the events of 19 February 1942 when Matthias Ulungura, a young Tiwi Islander, captured downed Zero pilot Sergeant Hajime Toyoshima.

The 1990 cassette recording in the Tiwi language is of Marie Assumpta Ulungura, the wife of Matthias Ulungura, who recalls the historic event when Toyoshima’s Zero was hit by anti-aircraft fire during the raid on Darwin and force landed at Snake Bay on Melville Island.

The interview is just one of thousands of audio recordings currently being preserved and digitised by AIATSIS – whose audiovisual archive is the world’s largest and most unique collection of Australian Indigenous culture.

AIATSIS Chairperson Professor Mick Dodson AM says that the fact that the AIATSIS collection contains numerous war related material was little known.

“The Institute’s audio archive alone contains over 45,000 hours of sound recording,” Professor Dodson said.

“Each item provides an invaluable link between past, present and future generations of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians whether they are recordings of languages, ceremonies, music, oral history, cultural narratives, site descriptions, research seminars and important events”.

Professor Dodson said that AIATSIS’ Collection includes oral accounts documenting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander experiences of war, both as servicemen and women and as civilian onlookers.

 Examples include:

 Professor Dodson said the fact that an Aboriginal man took the first Japanese prisoner of war on Australian soil was hardly known in Australia.

He added that the book The Black Diggers by Robert A Hall and published by AIATSIS’s Aboriginal Studies Press in 1997, makes reference to this capture.

The very brief account states:

 “I walked after him and grabbed his wrist near gun. He got proper big fright. I take revolver from his right side near his knee. Then I walk backwards pointing gun.  I say “Stick ‘em up, right up, two hands, no more holding hands on head.” I point revolver more close.

The account goes on to state that after capturing and disarming Toyoshima, Matthias then handed him over to the Australian Air Force aerodrome guard at Bathurst Island Mission, Corporal Moore, who from that time on employed Matthias as his personal bodyguard.

Corporal Moore explained:  “Naturally I could not put him on the payroll or enlist him [Australia still forbade the enlistment of Aboriginal men or woman at that time] but I fed him and he served with me for almost the whole of 1942.  He went on foot patrols with me all over Bathurst Island and on to Melville Island.  He and Clement (another Aborigine) also accompanied me on patrols around the Island in a sailing craft and he helped me organize a mine laying project………”

The author then adds: “Clearly, Matthias and other Aborigines were of great assistance to the overstretched two-man RAAF guard on Bathurst Island.”

This wasn’t the only Japanese captured by Aborigines either for later Louie Piraptameli, another Bathurst Islander, captured five Japanese airman, the crew of a downed Japanese bomber.

Professor Dodson said while war related oral recordings and separate audiovisual material were but a small part of AIATSIS’s massive audiovisual archive, they were nevertheless important.

“Unfortunately, only 25 percent of the collection has been digitised. Much of it is still endangered and time is rapidly running out to see this vital task completed.”