Art History: the bells of HMAS Perth and USS Houston
Research Seminar: “Touchstone objects: the bells of HMAS Perth and USS Houston”
Sydney Southeast Asia Centre, University of Sydney
This paper examines allied heritage in Indonesian waters, focusing on two naval ships, HMAS Perth and USS Houston, which sank in the Sunda Strait in 1942. While the recent illegal salvaging of these naval vessels for scrap metal has drawn international condemnation, a historical perspective demonstrates that the salvaging of objects from these ships dates to the 1960s. Some of these activities, including David Burchell’s 1967 expedition to HMAS Perth and USS Houston, and more recent interactions with the sites by divers and other stakeholders, can be understood as ‘cultural impacts’ (McKinnon, 2015). But other early salvaging, such as that which resulted in the profit-motivated recovery of HMAS Perth’s two bells, can be seen as a precursor to the larger-ˇscale salvaging we see today. In this paper, I examine the history of the bells of HMAS Perth and USS Houston as a way of introducing questions about what protection and preservation mean in an underwater context. I advocate for a new approach that accepts neither non-ˇdisturbance nor the inevitability of loss, but instead prioritises the advance, judicious removal of symbolic objects from threatened warship wrecks.
Please join us for Welcome Drinks after the seminar in the Holme Courtyard from 4.30-6pm.