Welcome to the museum's blog, updated by staff across all areas of the museum.
Category Archives: From the collection
Officially known as the National Maritime Collection, the museum’s collection currently contains around 140,000 documented objects and artefacts that represent the breadth of Australia’s maritime heritage and capture our country’s diverse relationship with the sea and waterways. Read some of the amazing discoveries that have been made here on our blog.
Shocked survivors from the wrecked ship Clan Ranald sitting amongst rocks at Troubridge Hill on the Yorke Peninsula, South Australia, 1909. Some are wrapped in blankets and a policeman stands with them. Courtesy State Library of South Australia PRG 280/1/43/84.
Acts of the White Australia policy
Today marks the 60th anniversary of the abolition of the controversial dictation test, which was a central feature of the Immigration Restriction Act 1901. This was one of three pieces of legislation, together with the Pacific Island Labourers Act and the Post and Telegraph Act, which were passed after Federation in 1901 and colloquially known as the White Australia policy. Together these acts placed restrictions on immigration and sought to remove prohibited immigrants, namely those from Asia and the Pacific Islands, from the new Commonwealth. On 8 October 1958, the Immigration Restriction Act was replaced by the Migration Act 1958, which introduced a simpler system of entry permits.
The dictation test required non-European immigrants to write out a passage of 50 words in any European language (later any prescribed language) as dictated by the immigration officer. Since the choice of language was at the discretion of the officer, undesirable immigrants were destined to fail the test. They could then be declared prohibited immigrants and deported. One of the most infamous cases of the application of the dictation test dates to 1909 and involved the Scottish cargo ship SS Clan Ranald, its Asian and Indian crew (known as lascars), and one of South Australia’s worst maritime disasters.
The French and United States factories at Canton, c1841. ANMM Collection 00015750. Purchased with USA Bicentennial Gift funds.
History in art
When I visit maritime museums, I am always drawn to the ‘China trade’ paintings of Canton (now Guangzhou), the southern Chinese port to which all foreign trade was restricted from 1757 under the Qing dynasty’s Canton System. There is something about their composition that is so intriguing – the merging of Chinese and European artistic traditions, the bustling river crowded with boats, and the detailed architectural rendering of the Western merchants’ hongs (factories) with their national flags proudly displayed out front.
Recently I have been researching one of the museum’s China trade paintings as part of a broader project on the 200th anniversary of the arrival of Cantonese settler Mak Sai Ying in Sydney in 1818. Our oil painting depicts the French and American hongs on the western side of the Thirteen Factories district along the Pearl River. It has been dated about 1841, or the latter stages of the First Opium War (1839–1842) between Britain and China, which would result in the abolition of the Canton System and the opening of five Chinese treaty ports to foreign trade. What I really wanted to know about our painting was: why would the British Red Ensign be flying in front of the Spanish factory?
The Australian National Maritime Museum acknowledges the Gadigal people of the Eora nation as the traditional custodians of the bamal (earth) and badu (waters) on which we work. We also acknowledge all traditional custodians of the land and waters throughout Australia and pay our respects to them and their cultures, and to elders past and present.
The words bamal and badu are spoken in the Sydney region’s Eora language. Supplied courtesy of the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council.
The Museum would like to advise visitors that this content may contain the names and artwork, by deceased Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
This year’s NAIDOC week theme is ‘Because of her, we can!’, which celebrates the invaluable contributions that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women have made – and continue to make – to our communities, our families, our rich history and to our nation. For at least 65,000 years, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women have carried our dreaming stories, songlines, languages and knowledge that have kept our culture strong and enriched us as the oldest continuing culture on the planet.
A new exhibition, Unbroken Lines of Resilience: feathers, fibre, shells, brings together some of Australia’s most renowned Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander female artists, leading practitioners in their fields of weaving and shell stringing. Their innovative works highlight the unbroken practices of our First Nations women and their deep cultural connections and knowledge systems. These practices include harvesting and processing organic and contemporary fibres, feathers and shells to create intricate bodywear for adornment.
The Camenzuli family in Paola, Malta, a few days before their departure for Australia on Skaubryn, 1958. From left: Lucy, Lina, Georgina, Zaren, Mary and Joyce. Reproduced courtesy Camenzuli family.
It’s International Museum Day, an annual event that raises awareness about the role of museums in cultural exchange and the development of mutual understanding. This year’s theme of ‘hyperconnected museums’ focuses on how museums can make their collections accessible and connect with local communities. It’s a theme that is pertinent to our Remembering Skaubryn: 60 years on exhibition, which is drawn from an important collection of photographs documenting the fire and rescue on the Norwegian migrant liner Skaubryn in 1958. Skaubryn was carrying 1,080 passengers, mostly German and Maltese migrants, and was the only vessel lost at sea during the era of post-war migration to Australia.
We have been amazed by the public response to Remembering Skaubryn, with offers of material for our collection, oral history interviews, and visits from survivors, their families and descendants, as well as local community groups such as the Australian-German Welfare Society. It has been wonderful to hear from visitors who have found a personal connection to the exhibition, reminding us that immigration is lived history but also living history, where the impacts of life-changing migrant voyages resonate right down through the generations. Continue reading →
Making it look easy, Ethel May Sterling and her daughter Margaret aboard her husband’s ship, ER Sterling. ANMM Collection 00035539.
Mothering on the high seas
As Mother’s Day approaches a maritime museum is not usually a place one would look for motherly sentiment. Yet here at the museum and the Vaughan Evans Library, there are small yet extraordinary reminders of what motherhood can mean. And how hard it can be for some.
Skaubryn survivors were transferred to Aden in one of Roma’s lifeboats, 1958. ANMM Collection Gift from Barbara Alysen ANMS0214. Reproduced courtesy International Organisation for Migration.
The 60th anniversary of the Skaubryn sinking
The Norwegian liner Skaubryn was the only vessel lost at sea during the era of post-war migration to Australia, when it caught fire in 1958 with 1,288 people on board, including more than 200 children. Two of the survivors, who were both eight years old at the time of their voyage, recently registered for the Welcome Wall and shared their stories with the museum.
Port bow view of Skaubryn on fire in the Indian Ocean, 1958. ANMM Collection Gift from Barbara Alysen ANMS0214. Reproduced courtesy International Organisation for Migration.
Photography has always played a critical role in documenting the movement of people across borders. The photographs linked to the vast archive of Certificates of Exemption from the Dictation Test, for instance, put a face to those impacted by the Immigration Restriction Act (White Australia policy) for the first half of the 20th century. In more recent times, the 2015 photograph of the body of three-year-old Alan Kurdi washed up on a Turkish beach brought the horrors of the Syrian refugee crisis to a global audience. Photographs, as material (and now increasingly digital) objects, also cross borders to bear witness to the lived experiences of migration and diaspora.
The museum holds a rich archive of photographs relating to migration (many of which are in the process of being digitised), ranging from informal family snapshots to official portraits promoting government mass migration schemes after World War II. One of our most significant collections documents the fire and rescue on the Norwegian liner Skaubryn in the Indian Ocean in 1958. A selection of these photographs is now displayed in our Tasman Light Gallery to mark the 60th anniversary of the Skaubryn disaster.
On the 12th of June 1886, a crew member of the German barque Paula performed what was a routine task on voyages around the world at the time – he dropped a tightly sealed glass bottle, containing a piece of paper, overboard. The paper was a printed form letter that was filled out with hand-written details of the ship and its location. It included instructions for anyone who might find the bottle washed ashore: they were requested to send the note to the Deutsche Seewarte (German Maritime Meteorology Institute) in Hamburg, or to their local German Consulate.
In early 2018, 132 years after the Paula’s note had been dropped in the ocean, a Western Australian woman Tonya Illman was strolling along the sand dunes on a beach near Wedge Island, 180 kilometres north of Perth. She noticed something sticking out of the sand, it was the Paula‘s message in a bottle, still with the paper inside and with some hand-writing still faintly legible. Tonya had stumbled across the longest known unfound message in a bottle in the world.
Photographer Samuel J Hood capturing the love of a sailor. ANMM collection 00035634.
Valentine’s Day is not usually a day associated with sailors. Roses and chocolates are hard to find at sea and some would say romantic prose has no place on the decks of ships – particularly ships which do not come equipped with a cocktail bar and a pool.
For centuries, mothers warned their daughters about falling in love with a sailor. Tales of seafaring rogues and cads abound. As recorded countless times in songs and ballads, heartbreak was the only outcome for someone who caught the eye of a roving sailor. He was bound to desert the fair maiden, who would then usually die a tragic death caused by loneliness, grief or shame. Not really the stuff to make the heart swoon on Valentine’s Day. But do sailors really deserve this bad reputation? Is it true that no one can anyone really ever compete with a sailor’s real and greatest love, the sea?
The partially submerged remains of the ferry Greycliffe, following the collision with Tahiti. 40 lives were lost in the disaster. ANMM Collection 00036858, Samuel J Hood Studio.
The sinking of the Greycliffe ferry on 3 November 1927 remains the most significant accident on Sydney Harbour to date. Forty lives were lost when the ferry collided with the Union Steamship Company’s liner Tahiti. The tragedy had a marked impact on the city – many old Sydney families can still recount their personal connections to the disaster, particularly those associated with the suburbs around Vaucluse and Watsons Bay where many of the victims lived. It inspired significant plot points in the novels Waterways by Eleanor Dark (1938) and Careful, He Might Hear You by Sumner Locke Elliott (1963).
Today, on the 90th anniversary of the disaster, we tell the story of Betty Sharp, the teenage girl who had a haunting impact on the recovery teams at the time of the accident and through subsequent retellings of the disaster.
Thomas W. Lawson in his office, surrounded by the fresh flowers and books he loved. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.
At the beginning of the 20th Century, the world seemed unbearably young. It had yet to experience a World War or the Great Depression. Fossil fuels were the future and any new technology was seen as a good thing. It became known as the Gilded Age and it must have been heady times for those who had the cash to enjoy it. And there were plenty of those. One, in particular, was Thomas W Lawson. At one time Lawson was thought to be one of the wealthiest men in America with a fortune estimated at over USD $50 million (over $1 billion in today’s money).
SPIRIT OF AUSTRALIA driven by Ken Warby on Blowering Dam. ANMM Collection ANMS1163, courtesy of Graeme Andrews.
Museums are truly wondrous places. Reminding us all where we have come from. Our shared history and what humans have experienced. I have always been constantly inspired by these stories but I now find myself using them as life lessons to be held up during moments of parental pressure. Continue reading →
It’s in the nature of all materials to degrade and break down, some faster than others. Even with our conservation, preservation and archiving techniques designed to slow that degradation, objects from our collection need a bit of extra help to survive. While digitising the National Maritime Archive last year, I came across a surprising discovery: a collection of photographic negatives that were degrading while in our archive storage. Continue reading →
What do you call a group of Curators? #AskACurator 2016
Thank you for your questions for this year’s #AskACurator. Many of your questions centred on the topics of curatorial practice in a changing world as well as the personal experience of being a curator. In discussing the answers, our curators reflected that they each approach their job in unique ways: the exhibition specialist, the art history major, the maritime archaeologist, the historian and seeking a way to connect with Indigenous communities.
We began our #AskACurator round table with a quib asking what does one call a group of curators? A gaggle. A curiosity of curators. An exhibition of curators.
Amateur whaling, or a tale of the Pacific by Oswald Brierly, 1847. ANMM Collection 00005660.
Oswald Brierly is probably known to most Australians for the whaling scenes he painted while at Twofold Bay, near Eden in New South Wales, which perfectly captured the drama and danger of the whaling at that time. He spent five years at Twofold Bay managing a business there for the Scottish-born entrepreneur and pioneer Ben Boyd. However, his time there would end up being just a small part of this versatile man’s truly remarkable life. Continue reading →