At 2 am on Sunday 9th August 1942 the Royal Australian Navy’s County class heavy cruiser HMAS Canberra (D33) was leading a combined US and Australian naval task force protecting the US 1st Division Marine landings on the islands of Tulagi and Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands.
My mother has often told me this story of the evening of Sunday 31st May 1942:
‘It had been a normal Sunday: Church, followed by lunch, a visit to my grandparents, some radio and then suddenly, while I was taking a bath, sirens split the air, Dad turned off the lights, and I shivered in the dark.’
After the Battle of the Coral Sea Commemoration dinner on the USS Intrepid, I was up early and on the train to Boston and the John F. Kennedy Presidental Library and Museum.
I seem to have bad luck visiting this northern city, teaming rain, windy, 6 degrees (celsius) – just like my last three visits! Bad to worse, the train ran late by half an hour and when I arrived at the JFK Library for my meeting with Karen Abramson, Head of Archives, building works nearby had cut their cable to the outside world. So, with no computers, no phones, and no voicemail, the friendly docent (US word for volunteer) at Reception did not have any mobile numbers, couldn’t look them up and didn’t have access to ‘go fetch’ Karen, and the security officer didn’t have a radio and couldn’t leave his post.
Last Thursday I had the privilege to attend the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea on board USS Intrepid, a WWII aircraft carrier, where the museum’s new documentary Clash of the Carriers, premiered in front of Prime Minister of Australia, Malcolm Turnbull and Mrs Turnbull, President of the United States, Donald and Mrs Trump, veterans of the battle and 700 guests.
On 28th March 1942 the troopship RMS Queen Mary arrived in Sydney with 8,398 Americans on board, destined for the Pacific War. These first American troops to be transported on the ‘Grey Ghost’ (the nickname for the camouflaged giant, yet fast, former liner) had embarked in Boston on the 18th February on what became known as their ’40 days and 40 nights’ voyage.
SS Mariposa was launched in 1931 by the Matson Line to carry 700 passengers in luxury across the Pacific from San Francisco to Sydney. Stripped down to carry up to 5000 personnel, Mariposa was one of the minor ‘monsters’ of the Allied troopship fleet during World War II. The world’s biggest ocean liners, nicknamed ‘the monsters’ were requisitioned to transport troops and materiel because they could outrun most enemy ships and submarines and therefore needed fewer naval escorts as they sailed around the world.
Where else can you see a President’s signature (Abraham Lincoln), a Queen’s signature (Victoria R), rare books and etchings, and a seventy-year-old gardenia in one place – but in the USA Gallery of the museum!
These are just a few of the objects from the multi-million dollar collection of paintings, models and artefacts we’ve compiled from the museum’s American collection to represent more than 200 years of the close maritime connection between the seafaring nations of the USA and Australia.
Australian surfer Mick Fanning is in the news after surviving an attack by a Great White Shark during a surfing competition in South Africa. The incident reminded the Museum’s USA Programs Manager Richard Wood of a family tragedy involving a shark attack in Sydney Harbour.
Marcia’s been taken by a shark
Ern Flint, who died on 3 July at the age of 88, lobbied for many years to earn recognition for the service of the more than 3,000 Australian civilians who risked life and limb serving under contract in the US Army Small Ships Section during World War II.
Superman has it, and so does the Smithsonian Institution: x-ray vision. We’ve just finished hanging 40 intriguing x-ray images of fish specimens from the USA’s National Fish Collection, a library of more than 4 million preserved specimens of some 20,000 fish species from around the world held by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC (that’s a lot of preserving jars).
Ansel Adams – Photography from the Mountains to the Sea is being installed in the USA Gallery at the museum, it opens to the public on Thursday 4 July.
The vintage prints, from the hand of the photographer, explore his fascination with photographing water in nature, and developing techniques to capture the movement of waves, waterfalls and geysers previously hidden to the human eye. I especially like looking into the black parts of the photographs and seeing that they are actually full of very dark details. Continue reading