Soundtrack to the sea

Sheet music in the ANMM Collection.

Sheet music in the ANMM Collection.

It is so easy for us today to access music anytime, anywhere and in any style that it is difficult to imagine that music was still influential in people’s lives prior to radio, stereo, records etc. Music was played live but it was also widely distributed in the form of sheet music. Cheaply produced in large quantities sheet music meant people could play or learn the songs themselves and the song could be sung in a wide range of venues including homes, pubs, street corners, wharfs and music halls.

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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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Pete O’Sullivan: A life of motorcycles, cars, swimwear and cattle

Beachgoers at Newcastle, c1910. This period saw Australians embrace swimming at the beach for leisure. ANMM Collection ANMS0551[041].

Beachgoers at Newcastle, c1910. This period saw Australians embrace swimming at the beach for leisure. ANMM Collection ANMS0551[041].

In this island country, the coastline stretches over a distance of more than 36,000 kilometres, so it’s no surprise that Australians are obsessed with water, beaches and water sports. It is this obsession with water that has contributed to Australia’s reputation as a nation of swimmers, surfers and beach goers.  With the introduction of paid holidays and leisure time for families, Australians crowded the beaches making them the place to be. Continue reading

The many meanings of Australia Day – celebration, commemoration and contestation

The Founding of Australia by Captn Phillip R N 26th January 1788. Algernon Talmadge, 1937. Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

The Founding of Australia by Captn Phillip R N 26th January 1788. Algernon Talmadge, 1937. Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

The 26th of January – Australia Day – has long been associated with boats on Sydney Harbour. In 1838, to mark 50 years after the arrival of the First Fleet, a regatta was held, watched from the foreshores by ‘crowds of gaily attired people … bearing the supplies for the day’s refreshments…’ and from the crowded decks of steamers ‘decked out in their gayest colours’.

In the early 1800s, in the colony of New South Wales, 26 January was referred to as First Landing Day or Foundation Day. In a very short time, however, the day had shifted from official toasts to the king at the governor’s table to a people’s celebration.

But the history of Australia Day has taken many more twists and turns along the way. In 1938 it wasn’t thought proper to include convicts in a parade of history through the streets of Sydney. And this same parade was met with a silent group of protesters who called Australia Day a National Day of Mourning.

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The ‘March of the Gallant Five Thousand’

Australian Light Horse saluting the Governor-General

Australian Light Horse saluting the Governor-General, Sir Ronald Munro Ferguson, and riding along Macquarie Street in Sydney, 24 April 1915.
Samuel J Hood Studio, ANMM Collection

At about 2pm on 24 April 1915, 5,000 Australian troops marched through streets of Sydney. Symbolising the State’s official farewell to the troops, it wasn’t until a few months later that they finally embarked for war. On this day, 99 years ago, over 200,000 people flocked to the city to bid farewell and a safe return to ‘Our Boys in Blue’ and ‘The Khaki Men. It was a goodbye seemingly unaware of the horror that would unfold the following day – the day Australian and New Zealand forces commenced a devastating 8-month conflict; the day they landed at what is now known as ANZAC Cove. Continue reading

It was ‘a veritable blaze of splendour’: Lightshows of the past

'Searchlight Practice - USA Fleet' 1908 ANMM Collection

‘Searchlight Practice – USA Fleet’. Hand coloured postcard, 1908
ANMM Collection

Back in the olden days, you may be surprised to know, in honour of visiting international navy fleets, we hosted special events often called ‘Sydney Illuminations’. In 1908, during the United States Great White Fleet visit, ‘Magnificent! Splendid! Beautiful!’ were the words used to describe the electric lighting and searchlights placed around Customs House, Martin Place and Circular Quay. Even the great battleships themselves were lined from bow to stern in ‘dazzling brilliance’, in what culminated in a spectacular festival of light attended by thousands of people. Sound familiar? We’ve experienced the festival of light that is Vivid Sydney, and tonight a real treat is in store for International Fleet Review. Fireworks, projections and light will once again animate the Sydney Opera House and visiting ships on the harbour. At 7:40 tonight, it’s showtime! Continue reading

100 years: The first fleet of the Royal Australian Navy

On this day, 100 years ago, the Royal Australian Navy’s first fleet of warships entered Sydney Heads ‘from out the morning mist’, as The Sydney Morning Herald dramatically described it. Headed by our first naval flagship, the aptly named Indefatigable class battlecruiser HMAS Australia, HMA Ships Sydney, Encounter, Melbourne, Warrego, Parramatta and Yarra comprised our first Fleet Unit. Sydney’s shores were lined with thousands of people, dressed in their Edwardian best, with their waistcoats and feathered hats. Over the next few days, Sydney Harbour will come alive once more, this time without the Edwardian garb, for International Fleet Review and what will be the largest gathering of navy ships most of us has ever seen.

Video: Reproduced courtesy of Sea Power Centre – Australia, via 1913 Fleet Entry Continue reading

Forgotten stories of Indian servants heard 200 years on

Woman voice recording at sound studio

Voice recording at the sound studio.

I recently had the privilege of meeting a group of talented voice actors, some professional others amateur, but all great performers. They were hard at work in a recording studio for an audio component of our East of India – Forgotten trade with Australia exhibition. I approached actors from two Sydney based Indian theatre groups Nautanki Theatre and Abhinay School of Performing Arts, along with Roanna Gonsalves and Craig Menadue, and asked them if they would be happy to read some testimonies given by Indian servants working in Australia in 1819. Most of the actors were intrigued, keen to find out more and fortunately happy to participate. You can listen to the actors who effectively dramatised the statements in our exhibition that opens this Saturday, 1 June. Continue reading

Cooktown: The museum heads north for a week

It’s hot. And humid. But what else can you expect for far north Queensland in December? And it could have been worse – however, the southest trades were blowing across the hills on the coast, providing a margin of comfort across the town.

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Cooktown from Grassy Hill, looking to the south west in the evening

Everyone drives a 4WD, but I was on foot, and in Cooktown to undertake a museum outreach project funded through a grant from the Maritime Museums of Australia Project Support Scheme (MMAPSS). My goal was to document and write a management plan for May-Belle, an iron flood boat and ferry from the gold-rush era of the late 1800s, and part of the James Cook Museum collection, expertly managed by Melanie Piddocke.

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May Belle being measured

The real heat was on the Tuesday – with six hours spent in the tin shed annexe where the boat was stored, often down on hands and knees, or lying under the vessel. It was dusty, dirty and over 30 degrees even with the shutter doors open. Plenty of fluids kept things under control and by early afternoon, after an 8 am start, I had enough data recorded to retire to an air-conditioned room and draw out the elements from the dimensions taken, then give it a check. All good at the end the day, and dinner that night with Melanie and former council administrator Darcy Gallop, who retrieved the vessel in 1973, brought out some stories about the social side of the craft, which is now on the Australian Register of Historic Vessels, along with its close sisters up in Coen, even further north.

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Cherry Tree Bay at 6 am

On Wednesday I began writing the report, putting together a comprehensive management plan about the vessel’s history, construction, current condition and how best to conserve, interpret and display the vessel. At lunch Melanie and I met Ian McRae from the regional council, who had overseen putting the Coen boat up for nomination. Ian is a keen supporter of heritage in the area and was about to let the Coen people know their craft had been recognised.

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An indigenous outrigger canoe made in 2010

For Thursday Melanie had kindly organised a meeting with the Indigenous community in Hope Vale, 45 minutes inland. This is the successor to Hope Valley, formerly on Cape Bedford, which had been forcibly abandoned during World War 2. This incident is not well recognised and is one of a series of sad events that have overrun the Guugu Yimithirr community since the goldrush of the 1870s ‒ the event that brought the flood boats into being.

At Hope Vale I discussed the museum’s work and the experience of the conference Nawi – exploring Australia’s Indigenous watercraft, plus my own particular involvement with building nawi, and heard from them what they knew of their own outriggers. These are hollowed-out logs with a hunting platform at one end, and a single outrigger. Willie Gordon, a well-respected community member and acclaimed leader of tours into his country, was particularly interested. Later in the day renowned local artist Roy McIvor and his wife, Thelma, came by the museum to meet us, hear about the ANMM work and talk about their story too. It was a wonderful exchange, and if the ANMM can host another conference in the future we look forward to inviting more representatives from the Cooktown and Hope Vale area.

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Endeavour river Cooktown, the site where Endeavour was beached for repairs.

As well as the work side there was time early in the mornings and late evenings to walk the coastline bush track, or take in the view from Grassy Hill, where James Cook had stood assessing his situation as Endeavour was being repaired on the shoreline below him in 1770. The James Cook Museum display talks about the community’s stories about this event, too; by 1770 they were accustomed to foreign ships, as Macassan traders been coming for trochus and beche-de-mer for probably 100 years or more before. The Macassans came and went, however, but this visitor in his big canoe did not just come and go in a short time, he stayed for a long time, but did manage to make contact. Both sides of the community, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, recognise the importance of this event. Two key artefacts reside in the museum, the anchor Endeavour lost and one of the cannon jettisoned to make the ship lighter. Through the dry season many tourists come to Cooktown to see these and learn more about the event that dramatically affected this community.

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Endeavour anchor and cannon on display at James Cook Museum

Divine Provenence

My name is Oliver O’Sullivan, and I am currently completing an internship at the museum, working in the curatorial department at Wharf 7. I started on 25 July, and on the first day Lindsey Shaw, my supervisor, assigned me a few tasks which I am now going to tell you about.

One of the main issues with working at a museum of this size is the number of artefacts which accumulate over time, and the difficulty resulting from the constant need to keep the information we have on the various items up to date. With this in mind, my first task was (and still is) to update the database in relation to eight of these artefacts, and attempt to establish their history and also their significance within the Australian context.

One of the items which I found quite interesting was a book that had been donated to the museum during the 1980s by Keith Wingrove. It was called A Narrative of the Loss of the Royal George at Spithead, August, 1782, by Admiral Sir C P H Durham, 1840, and whilst the actual contents of the book do not concern Australia particularly, the background of the book itself is fascinating. The story of the Royal George is of an enormous man-o-war which sank whilst undergoing routine maintenance in an English port, taking possibly upwards of 1000 lives with it to the bottom.

The front cover of the book features a piece of the orginal wood deck from the Royal George

The book in the collection is a relic of the wreck, as it has a section of the decking from the actual ship for its front cover (the back cover was probably replaced).What makes the book significant to Australian history, however, is the fact that the book was also one of the few personal possessions carried by John Stannage, who was a radio operator, and one of only three people on board the Southern Cross airplane when it completed the world’s first east/west trans-Atlantic flight in June 1930, under the pilotage of Sir Charles Kingsford Smith (1897-1935), the Australian aviation pioneer. The book was given by Stannage to a friend of his, who in turn passed it on to Norman Lindsay (1879-1969), one of Australia’s most famous and enduring artists. Lindsay retained the book for many years before passing it on to Keith Wingrove, his close personal friend.

Internal image of the book

A Narrative of the Loss of the Royal George at Spithead, August, 1782, by Admiral Sir C.P.H. Durham, 1840

Such interesting provenance is rare.