About Daina Fletcher

Daina Fletcher is a senior curator at the Australian National Maritime Museum.

Midwinter in Antarctica with Roald Amundsen

With midwinter upon us and an ever-so-slight chill in the air, my thoughts go straight to the land of ice, where the darkest day of a four-month twilight darkness means so much – the coming of the sun. Today expeditioners on Antarctica’s scientific bases jump into the icy seas, feast and celebrate with all the ritual and high-jinks befitting the occasion.

With an air temperature of -33.5°C and the water temperature just -1.8°C, 15 of the team at Davis station plunged through a hole in the sea ice for the traditional midwinter swim.  22 June 2017 Photographer © Robert Bonney courtesy Australian Antarctic Division

With an air temperature of -33.5°C and the water temperature just -1.8°C, 15 of the team at Davis station plunged through a hole in the sea ice for the traditional midwinter swim.  22 June 2017 Photographer © Robert Bonney courtesy Australian Antarctic Division

Equally so for their forebears 100 years ago. Bold explorers and adventurers – among them Norwegian Roald Amundsen and his team, who sledged into the interior across uncharted ice to claim the South Pole for Norway in 1911.

Lessons from the Arctic – How Roald Amundsen won the race to the South Pole, a panel exhibition on display in ANMM’s Vaughan Evans Library from the Fram Museum in Norway, explores life for those men on their incredible journey. Catch it until June 30, while the sun is low in the sky and think of those men on midwinter day 1911.

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A Poignant Remnant from the ‘Plucky little Ship Aurora’

20 June 2017 marked 100 years since the famous polar vessel Aurora left Newcastle, Australia with a cargo of coal, never to be seen again.

The museum recently accepted the gift of the ship’s lifebuoy, recovered from the seas six months later.

A powerful emblem, with the ghost lettering of its famous Antarctic expeditions on its rim, it acts as a lifeline to all the sailors, whalers, scientists, workers, expeditioners and sealers whose lives, toils and achievements were entwined with it.

Importantly, the lifebuoy connects all of us to the tragic loss of its captain and 20 officers and crew in 1917. This is the incredible story of a powerful wooden ship and its men.

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Out of Hawaii: Surfing goes global with Australia’s King of the Surf

Jack Eden, Bernard ‘Midget’ Farrelly in action at the first world open surfboard championships Manly, May 1964. ANMM Collection ANMS1078[002] Gift from Jack and Dawn Eden.

Jack Eden, Bernard ‘Midget’ Farrelly in action at the first world open surfboard championships Manly, May 1964. ANMM Collection ANMS1078[002] Gift from Jack and Dawn Eden.

Sydney surfer Bernard ‘Midget’ Farrelly surprised the world in the early 1960s by winning the two keynote world surfing contests of the time. He quickly became the youthful face of surfing in Australia. Yesterday Farrelly was posthumously awarded an AM (Member of the general division of the Order of Australia) for significant service to surfing as a competitor and industry pioneer.

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Lessons from the Arctic: How Roald Amundsen won the race to the South Pole

Roald Amundsen with his dog and ship Fram in the days before leaving for the secret expedition to attempt the South Polenear his home at Svartskog, Norway. Image: Photographer Anders Beer Wilse, June 1910, courtesy Fram Museum.

Roald Amundsen with his dog Pan and ship Fram near his home at Svartskog, Norway in the days before leaving for the secret expedition to attempt the South Pole near his home at Svartskog, Norway. Image: Photographer Anders Beer Wilse, June 1910, courtesy Fram Museum.

‘Race to the Pole – Captain Scott successful’ claimed The Age’s headline writer on 8 March 1912, the day after Norwegian adventurer Captain Roald Amundsen slipped quietly into Hobart in his polar ship Fram. The headline was in hindsight tragically way off the mark but it was not a deliberate ‘alternative fact’ of its day splashed across the established masthead. It was more an excited assumption based on expectation in the former British colonies of Australia and a misreading of Amundsen’s Nordic reserve on his arrival there after 16 months in Antarctica in his well-publicised contest with British naval Captain Robert Falcon Scott.

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Chinese maritime traditions and Lunar New Year: It’s the Year of the Rooster… so bring on the Dragons!

Dragon boat figurehead painted gold, green and beige with red beard and white plastic antennae. ANMM Collection 00039729, Gift from Carlos Ung.

Dragon boat figurehead painted gold, green and beige with red beard and white plastic antennae. ANMM Collection 00039729. Gift from Carlos Ung.

It’s Lunar New Year and time to present the colour and excitement of ancient Chinese culture from the museum’s collections. Dragons feature heavily. And so does racing. (I know that it’s the Year of the Rooster, but they don’t usually like water …)

Dragons have been a potent symbol of Chinese culture for thousands of years – people believed they lived in rivers and lakes and controlled the rains and crops. They were mostly protective, yet when angered created havoc with floods and drought. Chinese communities honoured the dragons with festivals and sacrifices to keep the river dragon happy.

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Wild Ocean Woman: Kay Cottee’s ‘First Lady’

Steering - by foot - across the Pacific Ocean. ANMM Collection, reproduced courtesy Kay Cottee.

Steering – by foot – across the Pacific Ocean. ANMM Collection, reproduced courtesy Kay Cottee.

Imagine being thrown about in your small yacht surfing down a 20-metre wave. You’re in the Southern Indian Ocean, it’s freezing, you’re exhausted and soaked through. You’re days or weeks from land. You have no GPS. You’re alone.

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Harold Cazneaux: Fame and family

Cazneaux family. Image: Reproduced courtesy the Cazneaux family.

Cazneaux family. Image: Reproduced courtesy the Cazneaux family.

‘No tribute could be too high or too glowing for this great lover and promoter of art and photography in Australia.’— Max Dupain writing about Harold Cazneaux’s legacy in 19781.

If you weave your way through the imagery and beautiful photographs in Through a different lens – Cazneaux by the water, you’ll notice that 1937 was a big year for Australian photographer Harold Cazneaux: the culmination of a forty-year career that corresponded with the dawning of the Australian nation, and an emerging national consciousness.

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A working harbour: Waterfront change through Cazneaux’s ‘seeing eye’

Harold Cazneaux, 'A study in curves', 1931. Gelatin silver print. ANMM Collection 00054649.

Harold Cazneaux, ‘A study in curves’, 1931. Gelatin silver print. ANMM Collection 00054649.

Whatever pictures are made of our great Sydney today will in future years have some historical interest and value. As time marches on there will always be a ‘Sydney of yesterday’.

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Man in the machine: submarines, ships, sailors and National memory

Johnnie and Mehmet concept drawing detail. Image: Alexander Knox 2015.

Johnnie and Mehmet concept drawing detail. Image: Alexander Knox 2015.

This is not a blog about the current Federal election … this is about something much more enduring and exciting – a bold new art installation that plays with the idea of animus, memory, the machinery of war, and to a degree geopolitics. It will be launched in the coming months on the forecourt at the Australian National Maritime Museum, and today, International Museums Day with its focus on cultural landscapes, seems an appropriate time to reveal something of the art work.

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It’s a Wrap: The Windjammer Sailors

What's wrapped up under the silk? Image: Andrew Frolows / ANMM.

What’s wrapped up under the silk? Image: Andrew Frolows / ANMM.

Last week saw a Christo-like wrapping of silky black satin on the wharf at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney’s Pyrmont. Intriguing and mysterious the form it enveloped was unreadable…

What could be under the silk? Well it’s an amazingly beautiful material, bronze. Used for millennia for public statuary, it is here applied to fuse old and new in an incredibly detailed and exacting process. This has produced a sculpture that explores something of the history of the site as a mercantile and maritime centre. Continue reading

Marooned on disintegrating ice: Catch Shackleton at the museum before it disappears

The Deck of Endurance 1915, Frank Hurley photographer, courtesy Mitchell Library State Library of New South Wales

The Deck of Endurance 1915, Frank Hurley photographer, courtesy Mitchell Library State Library of New South Wales

“The sight of land scarcely raised our spirits at all, for it is generally reckoned impossible for us to reach it… Hunger is now our lot, not starvation but real hunger all day long. For breakfast we have a seal steak and half a mug of very weak milk…”, Thomas Orde-Lees Endurance storekeeper, near the Antarctic peninsula 24 March 1916 (from John Thomson Elephant Island and beyond 2003).

The next day a blizzard set in, icebergs jostled and floes swirled rapidly around the fragile floating camp of 28 men as it drifted slowly north-west past the islands off the northern Antarctic Peninsula. Expedition leader Sir Ernest Shackleton kept a watchful eye on the danger, with the three lifeboats poised for launch should the ice break up beneath them.

By end of March 1916, a hundred years ago, in the Weddell Sea Antarctic adventurer Sir Ernest Shackleton and his men had been trapped in ice for 14 months. In January 1915 his expedition ship Endurance was beset in Vahsel Bay, en route to Antarctica in his attempt to make the first crossing of the continent, by foot, with dogs and sledges, nonetheless.

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‘Birds are acceptable…’: Waves and Water opens at Noosa Regional Gallery

Anne Zahalka The Bathers 1989. Type C print. ANMM Collection 00019000. Reproduced courtesy the photographer.

Anne Zahalka The Bathers 1989. Type C print. ANMM Collection 00019000. Reproduced courtesy the photographer.

‘Grog and cigarettes are mostly out…milkshakes and tins of baby food are generally in, birds are acceptable provided they never ride a surfboard and keep always in the background, except on those special occasions…’ reported photojournalist Jeff Carter in his Surf Beaches of Australia’s East Coast in 1968.

Well it was a special occasion when the museum opened its Australian beach photography exhibition at the Noosa Regional Gallery recently, in the same week as International Women’s Day, and with seven times world champion Layne Beachley on the podium. She was in company with other surfing luminaries Phil Jarrett, Bob McTavish and Pete Townend, and me but the ironies and the passage of time brought pause for reflection.

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Godzilla meets the Attack of the 50 Foot Woman in the ancient lost wax technique – the many faces of windjammer sailors

Yesterday I visited a sculpture being made at a fine art casting foundry on Sydney’s North Head at Manly. The work is being crafted using the lost wax technique, a traditional, ages-old method that will result in a timeless bronze. Each visit and each stage of the moulding and casting process brings surprises, most recently forms and colours that evoke the strangeness of a cast of characters from B-grade 1960s schlock-horror monster films such as Godzilla and even, in spirit, the hyper-real gigantic 50-foot woman.

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Remembering submarine AE1: ‘…the ocean bed their tomb’

Artist’s view of the work in the museum basin, courtesy Warren Langley

Artist’s view of the work in the museum basin, courtesy Warren Langley Artist: Warren Langley Materials: stainless steel, LED lighting, PVC piping 2015. Supported by a grant from the Federal Government’s Anzac Centenary Arts and Culture Fund.

On 14 September 1914 the 55 metre submarine HMAS AE1 disappeared with all hands, 35 Australian and British sailors, while patrolling German waters off Duke of York Island in present day Papua New Guinea.

On 14 September this year, 101 years on, a major art installation will be unveiled at the Australian National Maritime Museum to commemorate the loss in a work entitled ‘…the ocean bed their tomb’. The work is currently under construction at the workshop of the artist Warren Langley where descendants of those officers and crew, submariners and naval historians gathered recently to view it.

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James Caird into the southern oceans – Shackleton’s carpenter’s view

Lantern glass slide depicting a painting of James Caird by George Marston

Lantern glass slide depicting a painting of James Caird by George Marston. ANMM Collection, 00054094

On 24 April 1916, 99 years ago, Antarctic expedition leader Sir Ernest Shackleton, his Endurance skipper Frank Worsley and four of his crew loaded into the seven-metre lifeboat James Caird and set sail from the rocky spit of the sub-Antarctic Elephant Island to reach help across the treacherous southern oceans, leaving 22 men behind on the barren outcrop.

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