The experience of wartime impinged on everyday life not just on the battleground. The first American soldiers arrived in Brisbane in 1942. They were paid significantly more than their Australian counterparts, they could purchase cigarettes excise free, their uniforms were smart, and they got the attention of the taxi drivers, barmaids and the girls in general. The smouldering resentment of the Australian troops gave way to some huge street fights, most notably the so-called ‘Battle of Brisbane’. These clashes between Australian and American soldiers were censored, and were certainly not suitable subjects for an Australian official war artist such as Sir William Dargie, who was stationed in Brisbane at the time. Yet Dargie’s etching, Brisbane, provides a graphic insight into the situation. A young, flimsily-clad, girl is walking with two American soldiers. One, a stylishly dressed negro, strides ahead, while another cigarette-smoking American is at her side. Behind them, a downcast Australian soldier in his army fatigues plods along, fully aware that he is not going to feature in the action.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002