‘Saving British face’: Operation Semut and the Borneo campaign

Presented by ANU College of Asia & the Pacific

Operation Semut, a secret operation launched by Special Operations Australia (SOA) into Sarawak in March 1945, was ostensibly to support the impending Australian landings at Labuan and around Brunei Bay planned for June. But another, secret, aim - a result of British control over SOA - was to 'save British face lost to the Japanese', and pave the way for the return of British rule in Sarawak. This secret objective had implications for the strategies pursued by Operation Semut, and later led to tensions with the 9th Australian Division, with potentially dire consequences for local people.

Christine Helliwell is an anthropologist and Emeritus Professor in the College of Arts and Social Sciences at The Australian National University. For almost 40 years she has been researching and writing about Borneo's indigenous Dayak peoples. Since 2014 she has focused on the Second World War in Borneo. She has a particular interest in the special operations conducted in Borneo by Special Operations Australia. In 2018 Christine co-curated an exhibition at the Australian War Memorial about those operations, and her recent book Semut: the Untold Story of a Secret Australian Operation in WWII Borneo was the first runner up for this year's prestigious Templer Medal.

Copies of Christine's lauded book, Semut: the Untold Story of a Secret Australian Operation in WWII Borneo, will be available for sale at the event for the discounted price of $30. Cash transactions only, and exact denominations are highly preferred, as the capacity to provide change is limited.