Lustre – A history of pearls, shells and people

<em>Aalingoong</em>. <em>Riji</em> (engraved pearlshell) designed by Aubrey Tigan Galiwa depicting the metaphiscal serpernt <em>Allingoong</em> (commonly known as the rainbow serpent) as he deposits pearshell in the bays of King Sound (Kimberley, WA). Courtesy Peter and Sarah Yu

Aalingoong. Riji (engraved pearlshell) designed by Aubrey Tigan Galiwa depicting the metaphiscal serpent Allingoong (commonly known as the rainbow serpent) as he deposits pearshell in the bays of King Sound (Kimberley, WA). Courtesy Peter and Sarah Yu

The museum has been fortunate to host a travelling exhibition on the history of pearling and the uses of pearl shell. The award winning exhibition – Lustre: Pearling and Australia has been very well received by visitors but unfortunately will close soon. If you haven’t seen it yet, do yourself a favour and get along to the National Maritime Museum before August 13. Lustre is full of fascinating objects and interesting stories, particularly the long cultural importance of pearl shell in north western Australian Aboriginal communities.

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What Goes on Behind the Scenes of a Museum

Behind the scenes at the ANMM – a conservation perspective

In late May, the Conservation Department at the Australian National Maritime Museum (ANMM) welcomed me for three weeks as an intern to learn about the role of conservation within the museum, as well as further my understanding of the role a conservator has in caring for a collection. I spent my time at the ANMM constantly shadowing the various members of the conservation team.

What I found opened a new world for me.

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Capturing cuttlefish and other photographic wonders with Scott Portelli

Photo of Scott Portelli with his underwater camera equipment. This picture is taken at Malabar Beach in Sydney. ©Michaela Skovranova -

Photo of Scott Portelli with his underwater camera equipment. This picture is taken at Malabar Beach in Sydney. – ©Michaela Skovranova

During the opening of our new exhibition Wildlife Photographer of the Year we had the opportunity to welcome a special guest: Scott Portelli, an Australian photographer living in Sydney has already travelled the world extensively and took pictures in some of the most remote destinations like The Arctic, Antarctica, Galapagos, etc. He spent hundreds of days in pursuit of different wildlife. Due to his experience, he is privileged to be up close and personal with many creatures. Scott has already won multiple awards, this year he got selected by Wildlife Photographer of the year and his picture can be seen in the exhibition.

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The Last Pirate

船員と犬 A watercolour of a foreign sailor and his dog by Japanese Samurai artist Makita Hamaguchi in 1830. Image courtesy of Tokushima prefectural archive

In the early 19th century Japan had closed its doors to foreign ships in an effort to resist colonisation. One day in January 1830, a British flagged ship appeared off the coast of Mugi, in Shikoku, southern Japan. A low-ranking Samurai official duly recorded information about the ship and its crew before being ordered to send it away by firing cannon at the vessel. The ship, the brig Cyprus, was in fact a pirated vessel with a crew of escaped convicts from Tasmania under the command of the self-styled ‘Captain William Swallow’. Until now, this wonderful record of Australian pirates in Japan has been sitting, unrecognised in a Japanese archive.

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The many survivals of Barbara Crawford

The reality of travelling steerage where diseases found the perfect conditions. ANMM collection 00005627

The reality of travelling steerage, where diseases found the perfect conditions. ANMM Collection 00005627

The year 1837 was a busy one for the colony of New South Wales. Busiest of all was Sydney Harbour, which saw thousands of convicts arriving and a growing number of immigrants. In addition to the free single men and women, whole families were travelling from Britain to try their luck with a new life.

On 5 November 1836 the immigrant ship Lady McNaughton left Ireland for Australia. On board was the largest number of children ever to immigrate to Australia at that time. Passenger lists show 196 of the passengers of the ship were under the age of 14. However, by the time the ship was about 300 kilometres from Sydney, 54 of the passengers had died – 44 of those being children. Even in the age of dangerous sea travel, this was an extraordinarily high death rate. The typhus fever on board showed no signs of abating, with some 90 passengers still afflicted.

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An Australian Stonehenge?

Eel trap

A traditional Aboriginal woven eel trap made by Yvonne Koolmatrie in 1991. The trap is made from a bundle of sedge reed stems coiled with a loop stitch. Yvonne Koolmatrie is from the Ngarrindjeri community in South Australia. Traps such as these were used in conjunction with complex stone arrangements. Reproduced courtesy of Yvonne Koolmatrie ANMM Collection 00015871


Traditional owners will find out next month if their push for a 6,000-year-old network of eel traps in south-west Victoria is to be supported for inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The eel-farms were built by the Gunditjmara people in south west Victoria to manage eels in Lake Condah and nearby Darlot Creek. They are among the earliest surviving examples of aquaculture in the world.

The eel farms cover more than 75 square kilometres and include artificial channels and ponds for separating eels, as well as smoking trees for preserving the eels for export to other parts of Australia. Just to be clear, this industry and the complex of stone arrangements including houses began around 6,000 years ago – before Stonehenge and the Pyramids.

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Ken Warby and life lessons

SPIRIT OF AUSTRALIA driven by Ken Warby on Blowering Dam. ANMM Collection ANMS1163[291], courtesy of Graeme Andrews.

SPIRIT OF AUSTRALIA driven by Ken Warby on Blowering Dam. ANMM Collection ANMS1163[291], 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

Redfern to Hobart: Tribal Warrior crew to make history

The Tribal Warrior crew practicing for the Sydney to Hobart Race. Photo courtesy Daniel Daley.

Some of the Tribal Warrior crew practising for the Sydney to Hobart Race. Photo courtesy Daniel Daley.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have thousands of years of maritime history. More recently, Saltwater people were prominent in early colonial Australian voyages, such as Bungaree, the first Australian to circumnavigate Australia, with Matthew Flinders in 1802-3. Now, a crew from Sydney and south coast New South Wales are attempting to make history as the first Indigenous crew to enter the Sydney to Hobart yacht race.

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Flying home: How to make a zoetrope

Spinning, swirling, flapping, flying, a single line, a blur of blue, a flickering image, a zoetrope.

Spinning, swirling, flapping, flying, a single line, a blur of blue, a flickering image, a zoetrope.

For this month’s craft spot we were inspired by the subjects of acclaimed author and artist Jeannie Baker’s new book Circle, showcased in an exhibition of her collages opening this Thursday. Circle follows the journey of the Bar-tailed Godwit bird, an at-risk species of shorebird that undertakes the longest unbroken migration of any animal, flying from their breeding grounds in Alaska to Australia and New Zealand.

Here we’ve created a paper craft zoetrope of flying Godwit birds. Originally developed as a simple animation toy in the 19th century, the zoetrope relies on the persistence of vision to create the illusion of movement, making it perfect to display these beautiful creatures on their journey “flying on and on, for nine nights and nine days, flying without rest” ( Jeannie Baker, Circle).

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Endeavour: Geelong to Adelaide, day 11

Snugged down at Port Adelaide.

Snugged down at Port Adelaide.

A blog series by Steward Bill Ellemor from on board the Australian National Maritime Museum’s HMB Endeavour replica as it sails from Geelong to Adelaide. See our Sail the Endeavour page to learn more about joining voyages like this.

Friday 19 February 2016

In the last few days voyage crew and supers seemed to really come together as a group, not just the individual watches but the group as a whole — perhaps a function of being a smaller crew — so that at voyage end there was much warmth and good humour on board. At the final voyage, crew and supers meeting with the Captain, after certificates and track charts were distributed a moving thank you speech was made by Alan and acclaimed by all.

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Endeavour sails and so could you


With just days to go, there is still lots of work to prepare HMB Endeavour Replica for its upcoming voyages. Apart from organising bookings, logistics and crew, the ship is being made ready, and last-minute maintenance and painting scheduled.

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Ecuadorian navy training tall ship Guayas arrives at the museum

Guaya enters Sydney Harbour 8 January, 2016 - harbour bridge to the right on a sunny day.

Guayas enters Sydney Harbour, 8 January 2016. Photo Jude Timms/ANMM

The Ecuadorian navy training tall ship Guayas arrived at the Australian National Maritime Museum this morning to an enthusiastic welcome from members of the Ecuadorian community and museum visitors and staff.

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Eden to Sydney voyage, day 3-4

Thursday 6 November 2013, 1800 hours

Hours under sail since 1800 Tuesday: 41
Hours under engine since 1800 Tuesday: 7
Distance over ground: 197 nautical miles

The last 48 hours have seen the HMB Endeavour replica sailing at some distance offshore and weathering variable winds. We’ve also encountered some heavy rain accompanied by a few flashes of lightning – followed the next day by clear skies and a hot sun! So it’s been a busy and exciting time handling sails in order to get the most out of the ship with the wind that we’ve had.

Our last post, written on Tuesday but unfortunately not online immediately due to lack of internet access offshore, saw us 33 miles off Montague Island, sailing slightly north of west. We made two more tacks back and forth off the coast but weren’t able to gain ground to the north.

Waiting for the southerly change. Image: EAP.

Waiting for the southerly change. Image: EAP.

On Wednesday morning as we waited hopefully for the predicted southerly change to arrive, the wind dropped off completely and given the distance we still needed to cover to arrive on time in Sydney on Friday, it was time to power up the ‘iron topsails’ and motor north.

As the day developed, a band of cloud formed in the west, but still no sign of the southerly change during the afternoon. When the change finally did arrive around 1700 on Wednesday evening, it brought with it plenty of wind and rain.

Setting sails in the rain. Image: Nick Brown.

Endeavour crew sets sails in the wind and rain. Image: Nick Brown.

The ‘all hands on deck’ call caught some of us unprepared but we were soon all on deck dressed in the various bright colours of our wet weather gear. Those that didn’t quite get their rain gear on in time ended up soaked through by the end of their time on deck!

Under sail in the rain! Image: Nick Brown.

Under sail in the rain! Image: Nick Brown.

Setting sails was harder work (and more exciting!) than we’d experienced so far this trip due to the stronger winds. Every sail required more muscle power to set and every line carried more weight due to the wind behind each sail.

All the watches had previously had ample practice setting sails and handling lines in light winds, so the voyage crew were well prepared when the wind did pick up and sails needed to be set in a hurry.

The hard work was definitely worth it, as we were soon powering along under topsails, forecourse, spritsail and two fore-and-aft sails. We averaged around 6 knots during the night and at times exceeded 9 knots.

Unfortunately, the swell was still running from the north, making for an uncomfortable ride as Endeavour’s bluff bows punched into the oncoming swell. It made for a tough night for some amongst the voyage crew who suffered from seasickness.

The next morning dawned bright and sunny and seemed to mark a turning point – everyone had a new spring in their step!

Sails set on the mainmast - as seen from above on Endeavour. Image: EAP.

Sails set on the mainmast – as seen from above on Endeavour. Image: EAP.

The swell finally eased as the day progressed, and with the sun shining and sails set it was a wonderful day’s sailing north towards Sydney.

We celebrated two birthdays in the afternoon – voyage crew member David Yarra and topman Amy Spets. In an unusual turn around, ‘all hands’ was called again – this time not to go on deck and set sails, but to gather on the 20th century deck for cake and candles.

Birthday cake, Endeavour style. Image: EAP.

Birthday cake, Endeavour style. Image: EAP.

We made sure the two people left on the helm and the lookouts didn’t miss out on cake!

All’s well.

– Suzannah Marshall Macbeth

Dazzle ship models

Dazzle pattern on a merchant vessel during WWI.  ANMM Collection

Dazzle pattern on a merchant vessel during WWI. ANMM Collection

Towards the end of World War I large numbers of merchant ships were brightly painted in bizarre geometrical patterns known as ‘Dazzle Painting’ later known as dazzle camouflage. The aim was to thwart German U-boat captains who had been destroying large amounts of shipping. The colour scheme was designed to confuse and deceive an enemy as to the size, outline, course and speed of a vessel by painting sides and upperworks in contrasting colours and shapes arranged in irregular patterns. The idea, in essence, was to confuse U-boat captains by making it difficult to plot accurately an enemy ship’s movements when manoeuvring for an attack, causing the torpedo to be misdirected or the attack to be aborted.

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Who said sand paper was dull?

In 2012 the museum acquired a vast collection of negatives of Australian commercial photographer Gervais Purcell (1919-1999). Purcell worked for a variety of clients such as David Jones, P&O, Ansett Australia, Jantzen and many others.


ANMM Collection

In the past few months, I have been cataloguing his ‘swimwear’ work that mainly contains negatives of models wearing swim and beach wear shot in studio settings, beaches and other outdoor locations during the 1940 – 1960 period.


ANMM Collection

Through these photographs I have witnessed the evolution of swimwear styles, starting with the fairly conservative 1940s one piece.


With fabric shortages during the war time, the US Government issued the L-85 order that basically made smaller swimming suits patriotic. Manufacturers in countries like Australia followed suit introducing the cut outs in midriff and bikinis.

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As the swimwear evolved, so did advertising. In the 1950s, ‘Golden Era’ of Cinematography and ‘Golden Age’ of Television, advertising became even prominent and daring.
Informed by market studies, agencies started positioning their ads to address the perceived consumer needs of safety, belonging and success. They also capitalised on featuring scantily-clad young ladies, which noticeably improved ad content and sales scores.

ANMM Collection

ANMM Collection

ANMM Collection

ANMM Collection

I can just imagine the people at the 3M abrasives and sandpaper company branch, looking for ways to make their abrasive paper products look sexy and appealing to the masses. What a better way than ask Gervais to take two bikini beauties to a lovely beach and make them interact with… yes, sheets and disks of sand paper!

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And didn’t they do a fantastic job? I’m not sure if the masses were running to their nearest hardware shop to get their hands on a box of sand paper, but what I can see is the models and perhaps, even Gervais, having a giggle at the crazy ways to accommodate abrasive material into a perfect beach scene!