Breaching Pentagons art gallery

Local curators paint important picture of Australia’s war history

It’s one of the biggest military bases in the world, famous for its defensive ties and service history.

But experts from University of Southern Queensland have infiltrated the Pentagon’s boundaries, curating a first-of-its-kind art exhibition to share the story of Australia’s military alliance with the US.

Hanging inside the walls of this massive five-sided concrete and steel building, “The Kangaroo and the Eagle: Allies in War and Peace – 1908-2020” showcases hundreds of prized paintings by artists from across the world.

It includes works by Lyndell Brown and Charles Green (Australian Official War Artists), and the University’s own Michael Armstrong and Margaret Baguley, to name a few.

Many depict soldiers’ day-to-day routines, while others feature the weapons, armoury used during battle.

But securing these works was no mean feat.

It took three years for curators Associate Professor Martin Kerby and Professor Margaret Baguley from the University of Southern Queensland to turn a dream into a reality.

“We were invited to the Pentagon in 2019 to meet with the chief curator,” Associate Professor Kerby said.

“From there, it was months and months of researching, sourcing, locating and contacting artists.”

Steeped in history, each work reflects a pivotal or symbolic moment in the US-Australian security alliance as they were played out on the world’s battlefields.

One such example is the portrait of Corporal Lawrence Carthage Weathers (pictured), who grew up in Adelaide before joining the Army in 1916.

Despite being wounded and badly gassed, Corporal Weathers was responsible for the capture of 180 prisoners and three machine guns north of Péeronne in France in September 1918.

Four weeks later, he died at Louverval of wounds received when taking the Hindenburg Line.

Corporal Weathers never knew of his Victoria Cross, which was gazetted on Christmas Eve that year.

This painting of Corporal Weathers was gifted by Albert Lee Jones, a talented artist and chief curator at the Pentagon, and is part of the current exhibition.

“These are the stories we felt we needed to share,” Professor Margaret Baguley said.

“In recognising the need for an alliance with the United States during the First World War, Prime Minister John Curtin laid the groundwork for the successful defence of Australian interests and the post war ANZUS (Australia, New Zealand, United States Security) Treaty, which to this day remains the central pillar of Australian Foreign Policy.”

Associate Professor Kerby also noted that the exhibition highlights the importance of not taking democracy for granted.

“The exhibition provides a visual historical timeline between significant military events involving Australia and the US,” Associate Professor Kerby said.

“It is imperative that we understand how history continues to effect contemporary events.”

“The Kangaroo and the Eagle: Allies in War and Peace – 1908-2020” will be on display at the Pentagon indefinitely.

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