Camouflage Australia: art, nature, science and war
Sydney University Press
In 1939 a group of artists, designers, architects, scientists and military experts met in Sydney, Australia, to discuss the impending war. Convinced that the need for regional innovations in the military science of concealment and deception was urgent, they nominated a zoologist to lead a campaign to camouflage Australia.
Camouflage Australia tells a once secret and little known story of how the Australian government accepted the advice of zoologist William John Dakin and seconded the country's leading artists and designers, including Max Dupain and Frank Hinder, to deploy optical tricks and visual illusions for civilian and military protection. Their work was an array of ingenious constructions for the purpose of disguise and subterfuge. Drawing on previously unpublished photographs and documents, Camouflage Australia exposes the story of fraught collaborations between civilian and military personnel who disagreed over camouflage's value to wartime operations and the usefulness of artists to warfare.
In this engrossing book, Ann Elias provides international context for the historical circumstances and events of the organisation of camouflage in World War II in Australia and the Pacific region. She elaborates on the parallel involvement of British and American artists in the field of concealment and deception, and reveals the widespread interest shown by western naturalists and scientists in the application to warfare of the behaviours and aesthetics of animals.
Camouflage Australia, by redressing the near invisible contribution of Australian artists and designers to defence in World War II, makes a major contribution to the history of art and to the history of Australia. Importantly, by discussing how citizens dutifully transformed themselves into servants of the war enterprise as camouflage labourers, camouflage designers, and camouflage field officers, the author provides a valuable historical perspective for the 21st century when ethical conflicts and moral struggles dominate debates on war participation. And camouflage itself, even in an age of nuclear warfare, retains many of its historical methods and controversies.
About the author
Ann Elias is an associate professor in visual arts at Sydney College of the Arts, the University of Sydney. She has written extensively on camouflage in nature and war, as well as on the history of flowers in visual culture.