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Video Clip Synopsis:
Weary Dunlop and his elderly comrades return to the site of the Thai-Burma railway. As prisoners of war they each had to dig three cubic metres of earth a day, virtually with their bare hands.

2min 19sec

Return To The Thai-Burma Railway is an excerpt from the film Hellfire Pass (55 mins), produced in 1987.

Hellfire Pass: More than forty years after the notorious Thailand-Burma railway was completed, a group of Allied ex-servicemen, including an Australian contingent lead by Sir Edward “Weary” Dunlop, returned to Hellfire Pass in Thailand to dedicate a monument to the thousands who died during its construction.

Hellfire Pass is a Film Australia National Interest Program.

Study Module

Curriculum Focus: Science
Year: 9-10
Strand: Biology, Human biology
Theme: Science Work

Key Concepts

The theory of evolution and genetics

Curriculum Applicability Notes

ACT:Science: Life and living
NSW:Science: 5.8
NT:Science CC5.2
Qld:Science: Life and living 6.2
SA:Science Life systems 5.6
Tas:World Futures: Investigating the natural and constructed world
Vic:Science: Biological science 6.2, 6.6
WA:Science: Life and living

Context / Background Information

Edward (Weary) Dunlop grew up on a farm near Benalla in Victoria. He was a natural athlete and preferred to play sport than to study. When he left school worked in a chemist shop, but became bored so he went to Melbourne in 1927 to study medicine. At this time he played in Australia's national rugby team and was also a champion boxer.

When World War 2 broke out he enlisted in the Australian Army and was sent to Java in Indonesia. Only two weeks after he arrived there, the Japanese captured the town where he was stationed and many soldiers were taken as prisoners, including Weary. They were taken to the Thai/Burmese border area where the Japanese used them and other prisoners as slave labour to construct a railway through the mountainous terrain. Every day they had to walk many kilometres from the prison camp to the railway where they had to move three cubic metres of earth and rock, often with their bare hands. Hellfire pass is a cutting on the 421 km of the so-called 'Death railway'. As commander of the POW camp, Weary had to decide who was fit enough to work. As a surgeon he had to care for them when they were injured or ill.

After the war he continued working as a surgeon and was knighted in 1963.

Discussion Pointers

Discuss the Second World War and Australia’s involvement in it.

Weary Dunlop was able to forgive and even meet some of his enemies. He worked for peaceful relations with the Japanese. Discuss how many Australians felt about the Japanese for decades after WW2.

Discuss the term ‘survival of the fittest’. In the case of Weary Dunlop, what does the term ‘fit’ mean?

Suggested Classroom Activities

  1. Use an Atlas to find the border between Thailand and Burma (Myanmar). Locate Hellfire Pass and the River Kwai.
  2. Research Darwin’s theory of evolution, which is based around the survival of the fittest members of a population. Explain the relationship between the environment and evolution.
  3. The human population has suffered many plagues and epidemics, such as the plague and influenza epidemics in the last 1000 years, were tens of thousands have people have died. The fitter people have survived. Discuss the effects of these illnesses on the genetic make-up of the human population.
  4. Discuss whether you think Darwin’s theory of evolution applies to humans in the same way it applies to other species.
  5. Research the life of Weary Dunlop and write a short biography. Discuss whether his survival was due to his physical or mental stamina.

Modules That Use This Clip

Science Year 9-10, English Year 11-12, SOSE/HSIE Year 9-10