When in doubt, Razzle Dazzle them

The HMT ZEALANDIA in Sydney Harbour in her dazzle paint. ANMS0047[060]

The HMT ZEALANDIA in Sydney Harbour in her dazzle paint. ANMS0047[060]

We often see WW1 through a black and white lens. Images of trench life, battle scenes and soldiers are always shades of grey. The endless mud is never brown, the blood is not red and the uniforms of both sides are the same indistinguishable colour. So it was with some surprise when I came across some plans for the painting of Allied ships whilst looking at the unique “dazzle” defence of ships during the war.
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Waves of migration returns on Australia Day

The museum’s award-winning digital projection Waves of migration returns this Sunday, Australia Day, to once again illuminate the museum’s iconic roofline with a rich tapestry of migration stories drawn from our collection.

Waves of migration illuminates the roof of the museum in Darling Harbour

Waves of migration illuminates the roof of the museum in Darling Harbour

Waves of migration explores the history of migration to Australia and the compelling stories of those who’ve come across the seas – from British convicts and early settlers, to Jewish refugees and displaced persons; from post-war European migrants and Ten Pound Poms, to Indochinese boat people and seaborne asylum seekers from Afghanistan. Continue reading

The opulent ship with a royal connection

With plenty of attention focused on the British royal family at the moment, I was delighted to discover a royal connection in a recent addition to the museum’s collection – a framed 1900 print of the Orient liner Ophir in the Suez Canal by British artist Sir Frank Brangwyn.

Ophir in the Suez Canal by Frank Brangwyn, 1900

Ophir in the Suez Canal by Frank Brangwyn, 1900. ANMM Collection. Copyright David Brangwyn

Ophir was built by Robert Napier & Sons in Glasgow in 1891 and was the first twin-screw vessel to operate on the Australian mail service. It was often described as ‘the opulent Ophir’ because of its sumptuously-decorated interiors.

In 1900 it was chartered to the British Admiralty as the royal yacht HMS Ophir for the tour of the British Empire by the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York (later King George V and Queen Mary). The main task for the Duke was to open Australia’s new Federal Parliament in Melbourne, but the tour also served to thank the colonies for their assistance during the Boer War.

HMS Ophir souvenir medallion, 1901

HMS Ophir souvenir medallion issued to school children, 1901. ANMM Collection

In March 1901 the Duke and Duchess departed Portsmouth on an eight-month tour that took in the following ports: Gibraltar, Malta, Port Said, Suez, Aden, Colombo, Singapore, Albany, Melbourne, Sydney, Auckland, Wellington, Lyttleton, Hobart, Adelaide, Albany, Fremantle, Mauritius, Durban, Simonstown, St Vincent, Quebec, Halifax and St John’s.

The tour was an outstanding diplomatic success, with thousands of people turning out in each port to welcome the royal couple. The museum holds several mementos from the tour, including a breakfast menu and a souvenir copper medallion issued to school children in New Zealand.

HMS Ophir breakfast menu from the royal tour, 11 April 1901

HMS Ophir breakfast menu from the royal tour, 11 April 1901. ANMM Collection

Following the royal tour, Ophir’s popularity soared, helping to sell summer cruises to the Norwegian fjords. However the vessel continued to lose money for the Orient Line because of its high running costs and it started to spend increasing time laid-up. During World War I it was commissioned as an armed merchant cruiser and in 1918 it was purchased by the Admiralty and converted into a hospital ship. Ophir was finally scrapped at Troon, Scotland, in 1922 – a sad end for the former royal yacht.

The museum’s colourful Frank Brangwyn print captures Ophir at the height of its grandeur and popularity, surrounded by Arab traders in bumboats as it travels through the Suez Canal. Brangwyn (1867–1956) was a prolific artist whose favourite subjects included ships and life on the high seas. Like many European artists of the time, he was influenced by Orientalism and the colours of the Mediterranean and Africa.

Art historian Libby Horner writes, ‘[Brangwyn’s] paintings, whatever the title, are usually concerned with the dignity of human labour, and the working man.’ Our print certainly epitomises this – it is not a staid ship portrait but a vibrant picture of how Ophir would have been seen by the inhabitants of Port Said or Suez, when it was a regular visitor on the fortnightly Royal Mail route from London to Sydney.

The long-held belief is that Ophir was named after a gold mining town near Bathurst, NSW. However recent research by the P&O archivist Rob Henderson into the personal papers of the Anderson family (co-founders of the Orient Line) suggests that it was named after the biblical port of Ophir, thought to have been on the coast of Arabia on the Red Sea. A wonderful connection between a vessel, a shipping company and an artist so inextricably linked with the Orient and the exotic sights and delights of travel by sea!

Kim Tao
Curator, Post-Federation Immigration

An American icon

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.

Three museum staff members installing photographs

Installing Ansel Adams photographs. (L to R) Stephen, museum preparator; Will, museum conservator; and Matthew Del Grosso, Collection Specialist from Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts.

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

Mystery solved! The pretty woman is…

Portrait of Hera Roberts

Miss Hera Roberts on board HNLMS Java, 10 October 1930
Samuel J Hood Studio ANMM Collection

This is one of my favourite photographs by Samuel J Hood. It is also one of the most beautiful portraits that I have seen from the museum’s collection. For quite some time though, the identity of the subject remained a mystery. Time and time and again I would go back to this photograph, zooming in and back out, trying to spot that elusive clue that would miraculously lead to a name; a name and then hopefully a story. So imagine my surprise when I came back from the holiday break and saw that someone had found exactly that. A name and a story… Continue reading

Changing Pyrmont – guest post by Jane Bennett

Meet Jane Bennett, an artist whom you may see around the museum wharves from time to time. We invited Jane to contribute a guest blog post about her work and current exhibition at Frances Keevil Gallery.

Hi, Jane Bennett here.

I would like to invite you to the annual end-of-year show at the Frances Keevil Gallery where I will have three of my recent Pyrmont paintings on display.

I first started painting Pyrmont when I was in art school in the late 1970s, documenting Pyrmont’s original character that came from its industrial heritage – the workers’ cottages perched on the creamy sandstone escarpment above dark, decaying wharves and warehouses.

During the 1980s Pyrmont was discovered by developers and radically transformed from a once-neglected industrial suburb in a 19th-century time warp, to a sleek media and entertainment hub. Buildings were often demolished as fast as I could paint them. Almost everything that I have painted has either been demolished or has changed beyond all recognition – the pubs have been gentrified, working-class terraces are replaced by apartment blocks and old warehouses are converted into offices. Continue reading

Canoes and reflections in Melbourne

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Canoe on display at ACMI

During a recent Melbourne visit I encountered a pleasant surprise among the intriguing cacophony that is Australia’s film and television history at Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) near Federation Square – one of the ten canoes from Rolf de Heer and Peter Djigger’s 2006 film of the same name.Nestled in a cove of green space is one of the canoes, a ngarrdin, made in 2006 by Yolngu men Philip Gudthaykudthay, Peter Djogirr, Bobby Bunungurr, Michael Dawu, Billy Black, Steven Wilanydjanu Malibirr and Roy Burnyila.

Ten Canoes was born of a dialogue between de Heer, co-director Peter Djigger and the Yolngu community in north-eastern Arnhem Land. It was inspired by a photograph taken by anthropologist Donald Thomson during a visit to their lands  Arafura Swamp in 1930s.

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Canoe and still images from Ten Canoes film at ACMI

The ngarrdin on display is made from a single piece of stringy bark with folded and sewn ends, with knowledge from Elders Peter Minygululu and Philip Gudthaykudthay, and reference notes and photographs from the visual treasure trove that is the Donald Thomson collection in Museum Victoria (Museum Victoria holds two other canoes made for the film).

At ACMI, Thomson’s black and white photographs are displayed with the canoe alongside colour stills of similar scenes from the film – a split vision of continuity and change.

The story of making the film is an important assertion of Indigenous voices in filmmaking as told at ACMI, while the recontextualised beauty of the canoe itself entices you in to its space, but also breaking out of the historical timeline presented in the exhibitions on the ground floor entitled Screen worlds.

LED light artwork

Jonathan Jones, untitled (muyan) 2011.
Glass, aluminium, light emitting diodes, electrical cable; designed by Marc Raszewski and Andrew Hayes; dimensions variable; installation view National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; commissioned by National Gallery of Victoria for The Barak Commissions, Felton Bequest; collection of National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Just across the ACMI foyer and courtyard in the Ian Potter Centre – NGV Australia I spotted the work of a speaker from our Nawi conference – Kamilaroi/Wiradjuri artist Jonathan Jones. During the Nawi conference Jonathan spoke to us about light, reflection, water and the passage of the canoe through the water as inspiration.

Jonathan’s fabulous work is nestled in the cathedral-like foyer at the Ian Potter Centre. It is made of LEDs in light boxes which references Victorian Wurundjeri leader, quiet activist, mediator and artist William Barak (1824-1903). In particular Jonathan was inspired by two of Barak’s paintings featuring fires at ceremonies. These paintings excited Jonathan’s imagining of light, reflection, its cultural resonance, and Barak’s role in history at a time of massive change.

The work is installed near the main stairway of the centre, in dialogue with another artwork by Brook Andrew entitled Marks and witness: a lined crossing in tribute to William Barak (2011) which scales the heights of the foyer and stairway.

In his artist statement Jonathan offers: ‘In early 1903 Barak predicted his own death, stating that he would die when muyan (wattle) bloomed.’

The work turns from white to yellow (muyan) in August to remind people of Barak’s importance. Wish I’d seen it in yellow!  If you visit this month, you’ll catch it as the wattle blooms.

Remembering Adam Cullen

Adam Cullen, well-known Australian artist, worked at the Australian National Maritime Museum for six years from 1994 and all his friends and colleagues here would like to say how saddened we were to hear of his death.

Adam came to the museum from the Museum of Contemporary Art and worked in our conservation and design areas as a preparator, forming the creative backbone of exhibition construction and installation.  Sculptor Stephen Crane, his supervisor, remembers Adam’s good humour and gentle nature in the workplace, often spiked with observations on life’s underbelly, and how many laughs were had when spacking, painting and finishing.

Wall in Commerce exhibition featuring Adam Cullen’s work.

Painting was what he did and sadly one of the core exhibitions which featured his gestures, some words scrawled on the wall about  the history of Trade Union movement, has just been bumped out, this week of his death.

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Adam Cullen’s Mark Occhilupo. ANMM Collection

Adam worked part time and left the museum after he won the Archibald Prize in 2000. The museum holds a startling portrait of surfer Mark Occhilupo in its collections and many stories of Adam in its soul.

Adam and I shared an interest in Eastern Long-necked turtles and I am very sad to hear that he can no longer enjoy them at his property in the bush.

Craig Walsh: illusionist

image of art installation, restaurant on a street in toronto

Craig Walsh, documentation of Incursion (Water), 2007, image courtesy the artist

An unsuspecting shop window on a dark street, empty, except for a few wooden chairs and tables.

A trickle at first, then pooling, sloshing, filling, water floods the restaurant.

Tables bob,tip and capsize, gigantic Groper-like fish swim in and around.

On the street outside a small crowd gathers to watch in disbelief, passing drivers crane their necks to do a double take of this uncanny scene.

I’m watching documentation of artist Craig Walsh’s digital projection work, Incursion, a site specific project for the 2007 Nuit Blanche in Toronto, Canada, and a featured work in our lovely exhibition Fish in Australian Art.

In just a few short weeks Craig Walsh will be here at the museum for an in- conversation event with Stephen Scheding, co-curator of Fish in Australian Art. It will be an opportunity to hear from Craig on his work, his use of technology, his collaborative process and a chance to see extracts and documentation from some of his diverse and spectacular site-responsive installations and projections. After the talk, audiences will also enjoy wine, cheese and the chance to pop in into see the beautiful exhibition as it enters it’s final weeks.

art installation toronto

Craig Walsh, documentation of Incursion (Water), 2007, image courtesy the artist

Craig is well known for his large scale public artworks, projections that simulate surreal scenarios, artificial life forms, portraits and stories onto the landscape or sites of significance. He plays with the sculptural properties of projections to instil a kind of mythology into any chosen location. Having exhibited as far and wide as Yokohama, Gwangju and Murray Bridge, Craig has had the opportunity to work with people and places from all over the world, particularly through the recent Digital Odyssey project, a tour and residency that saw him packing his life and his studio into a caravan to travel around Australia producing 16 new works the space of 18 months in collaboration with regional communities. For the moment, he is enjoying the stability of a home in the suburbs while he undertakes a residency in Sydney.Looking at Craig’s body of site-specific work makes you wish you had seen all this in situ. There is something special about accessing the insight that an artist can shed on their own practice, particularly in revealing the visual trickery behind artworks. For example Incursion is not just a projection, it has elements of performance and sculpture- the footage was made by creating a scale model of the restaurant into which water and fish and miniature furniture were all placed and filmed through the glass. The resulting footage projected onto a rear projection screen covering the glass windows of the real restaurant created a captivating illusion, an environment where the fish were not part of the “…of the day” menu but rather the dominant species invading and consuming the space of the restaurant.

Questions for Craig? Why not join us for Craig Walsh: In Conversation 9 August at 6pm. Tickets and more information at http://fishexhibition.anmm.gov.au/en/Events

Object of the Week : The convict artist Richard Browne

Reg #00000022 ANMM Collection 'The same Native presenting the fish he has caught to his wife / Native man of NS Wales with his mutton that the [sic] spear fish with'.

Reg #00000022 ANMM Collection ‘The same Native presenting the fish he has caught to his wife / Native man of NS Wales with his mutton that the [sic] spear fish with’.

In the late 1980s the Australian National Maritime Museum found itself in the process of acquiring two unusual paintings. The works dated to the 1820s and depicted Aborigines fishing: one portraying a couple in a canoe and the other a man presenting a catch of fish to his wife (shown above). At this point the ANMM was still just a construction site, but curators working to build the museum’s collection recognised the rarity of the items and their possible contribution to our knowledge of the history of Indigenous Australians and their long association with the sea.

However there were some issues to consider with the two paintings. For a time, confusion reigned over the identity of the artist. The images, quite stylised, appeared to be by the same hand as a number of other works that were all signed with the surname Browne or Brown, and a variety of initials; T, TR, IR, JR. A study by Niel Gunson on the artworks strongly suggested they were all by the one man, Richard Browne (1771-1824), an Irish convict.

Browne was born in Dublin in 1771 and sentenced to transportation in 1810, possibly for the crime of forgery. He arrived in Sydney in 1811 and within a few months had reoffended and was convicted a second time. This time Browne was sent north, to the secondary penal colony of Newcastle and it was here that he began producing artworks. Browne’s best known works from this time appear in the manuscript titled Select Specimens From Nature of the Birds and Animals of New South Wales. The commandant of Newcastle, Lieutenant Thomas Skottowe, had an interest in natural history and commissioned Browne to create the drawings for the manuscript which included many images of Aborigines, their tools and their activities as well as insects, birds and animals.

Of the later period of Browne’s life, 1817-1824, little is known. It appears that he was designated ‘free by servitude’ in 1817 and was based in Sydney, marrying, and fathering several children before dying on 11 January 1824.

Retrospectively, Browne’s artworks have received a wide variety of interpretations, praise and criticism. The elongated, angular style of his figures have been described as caricatures, aimed at amusing rather than informing. It is thought that many of his works were intended as souvenirs and conformed to an English colonist perspective rather than providing a realistic record. It is difficult to determine what Browne’s intentions were, however he most certainly painted many of the images from life and it has been argued in recent years that his works were created as, and are useful as, ethnographic records. Many of Browne’s paintings, now in the collections of the National Library of Australia and the State Library of NSW, contain details of Aboriginal tools, clothing and occupations.

Reg #00000021 ANMM Collection. ‘Niga, Fishing in the surf with his Mutton / Burgon. Celebrated Fisherman of New South Wales, in a canoe – the woman sitting down is supposed to be is [sic] wife’.

Most importantly for the Australian National Maritime Museum, this painting by Browne provides a rare image of Aboriginal watercraft, in this case a bark canoe, generally made from a single piece of bark lashed at both ends. As depicted in Browne’s artwork, men generally stood in canoes to fish and a fire was produced within the canoe for warmth and cooking. ANMM curator David Payne has recently been involved in workshops to reproduce and build these types of lashed-bark canoes.

Browne’s painting, caught perhaps between a realistic interpretation and a fixed European perspective nevertheless contributes to the historical information available to us in relation to Aboriginal watercraft technologies.

Next week the museum will be hosting the first major conference on the watercraft of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples titled Nawi : Exploring Australia’s Indigenous Watercraft. This important conference will bring together a wide range of academics and experts and a great variety of sources to promote the study of this important topic. For information on the conference, or to register to attend, please visit our website.

Penny Hyde

Curatorial assistant

Fish in Australian art opens tomorrow

Tomorrow, our new exhibition Fish in Australian art opens to the public and runs until 1 October. As a keen lover of visual arts, I’m particulary excited about this exhibition. I can’t wait to spend some time exploring the show! The exhibition features over 100 works of art and design, including pieces by celebrated artists such as William Buelow Gould, Conrad Martens, Rupert Bunny, Margaret Olley, William Dobell, Arthur Boyd, Yvonne Koolmatrie, John Olsen, John Brack, Michael Leunig, Craig Walsh and many more.

Over the past week I dropped by the exhibition space to see how the installtion was going. Here are a few snaps, with more available for viewing on Flickr.

Preparator installing fish sculpture

Above: Trevally dance machine, 1993, Ken Thaiday Sr, born c 1950.

Four small fish sculptures

Preparator installing small fish sculptures into cabinet

Neon Fish, 2010, Deborah Halpern. Reproduced courtesy of the artist.

Above: Neon Fish, 2010, Deborah Halpern. Reproduced courtesy of the artist.