Beyond a book’s cover

Lucilla Ronai is the Paper Conservator at the Museum. She ensures the many books in the collection are physically and chemically stable. A Paper Conservator also considers the condition of collection items, methods of display during exhibition and loan as well as their safe storage when not in use. Image: Kate Pentecost/ANMM.

Lucilla Ronai is the Paper Conservator at the Museum. She ensures the many books in the collection are physically and chemically stable. A Paper Conservator also considers the condition of collection items, methods of display during exhibition and loan as well as their safe storage when not in use. Image: Kate Pentecost/ANMM.

A booklovers guide to bookbinding and conservation

You might be surprised to discover that over 50% of the Museum’s collection is paper, photographic material and bound items – also known simply as ‘books’. Where else would those swashbuckling adventurers record their travels than in their trusty but often weathered journals?

Our collection includes over 2,000 bound volumes. This ranges from printed books (such as dictionaries), manuscripts (such as logbooks, journals, diaries and sketchbooks), atlases and magazines. The earliest book is an account of the first journey of the Dutch to the East Indes and dates from 1617. The most recently printed book is the Year Book of HMAS Toowoomba, from 2009.

What are the main differences between these books you ask? The materials and techniques used to string words, images, paper and covers together to create the functional item you know and handle as a book. Continue reading

Stories of growing up in Australia

Earlier this month I was delighted to receive a copy of the new book by award-winning author Nadia Wheatley called Australians All: A history of growing up from the Ice Age to the apology (Allen & Unwin 2013). The book explores the history of growing up in Australia through 80 personal stories, ranging from prominent people such as Ethel Turner and Eddie Mabo, to many lesser-known Australians.

Australians All cover

Australians All by Nadia Wheatley. Courtesy Allen & Unwin

The stories are set against a chronology of significant events including the arrival of the first boat people, the gold rush, the Great Depression, the two world wars, the Vietnam War and the national apology to the Stolen Generations. They are woven together with a rich selection of historical images as well as evocative new illustrations by artist Ken Searle.

In Australians All, Nadia Wheatley has effectively situated personal lived experiences within a broader context of local, national and international histories. This helps to reinforce the notion that history is not a series of disparate events but a fascinating intersection of stories, causes and effects that have resonance in both local and global communities. Wheatley has also succeeded in drawing out shared childhood experiences across place and time, cultures and generations, and because of this I think Australians All will become a very valuable social history resource for young readers today and in the future.

Tu Do by Ken Searle

Illustration of Vietnamese refugee boat Tu Do. Copyright Ken Searle. Courtesy Allen & Unwin

One thing that makes this book even more special is that it features the story of sisters Dzung and Dao Lu, who fled South Vietnam with their family in 1977 in the fishing boat Tu Do, which is now part of our museum’s floating vessel collection. Dzung and Dao’s father, Tan Lu, had built Tu Do (meaning ‘Freedom’) at the end of the Vietnam War, specifically to escape life under the new communist regime.

Lu family on Tu Do

Tan Lu (left) and Dzung and Dao (standing and sitting on hatch) on Tu Do, 1977. Photographer Michael Jensen. ANMM Collection

Prior to departure in September 1977 Tan staged an engine breakdown so that surveillance of Tu Do would be relaxed. He installed a more powerful replacement engine and his group of 38 passengers set off in the dark. Dzung, six, and Dao, four, had been given cough medicine to keep them quiet, and chaos erupted several hours out to sea when they realised Dzung had been left behind! They returned to find her, crying and mosquito-bitten in the mangroves. The voyage resumed, with Tu Do eventually making landfall near Darwin on 21 November 1977. The Lu family were transferred to a migrant hostel in Brisbane and were later granted asylum.

Dao, Dzung and Tuyet Lu

Dao and Dzung Lu with their mother Tuyet, 2010. Photographer Andrew Frolows. ANMM Collection

Dzung and Dao Lu were among the 137,000 Indochinese refugees who were resettled in Australia in the 1970s and 1980s. Their story, along with others in Australians All, highlights the importance of childhood journeys and experiences in shaping, and understanding, our national history. The museum is pleased that this story will be more accessible to younger audiences.

The restored Tu Do at the museum

The restored Tu Do at the museum, 2012. Photographer Andrew Frolows

The fishing boat built by Dzung and Dao’s father is now displayed at the museum’s wharves and stands as testament to the courage, hope and ingenuity of all refugees. You might like to visit Tu Do during Refugee Week, which runs from 16-22 June 2013, and celebrate the many contributions made by refugees to Australian society.

Kim Tao
Curator, Post-Federation Immigration

Australia’s first watercraft – Tales from ‘100 Stories’

Dugout canoe with sail

Annie Karrakayn, Ida Ninganga, Isaac Walayungkuma, Yanyuwa and Garrawa, Rra-alwanyimara, dugout canoe, 1988 Paperbark tree, 496 x 60am (length x bredth)

Yolngu country, eastern Arnhem Land, and the wet season is slowly seeping into the land. Three men haul a dampened sheet of stringy bark from a smouldering fire that carries the scent of the bush. Carefully, they push one end of the heated bark through a narrow gap between two sturdy branches driven almost parallel into the ground. Like wet, pliable leather, the warm and supple end folds upwards, and the sides come together dripping moisture at the base. The men then bind the top of the branches together tightly and, using a sharp blade, make a long angled cut, forward and down to the bottom tip of the folded end of the bark. Holes are pierced along the raw edge and fingers deftly thread fine, damp bark strips to sew the sides together. The prominent bow of a derrka has been created, and a canoe unique to Australia has begun to form, built with knowledge and skills that are thousands of years old. Continue reading

A prized ram – Tales from ‘100 Stories’

If you could design a trophy, what would it look like? Personally, I would suggest something grand, shiny and of a size that visitors to my home would notice, but not too overstated of course.

In the museum’s collection we hold quite an unusual trophy, something I would have never dreamt of. Commissioned in Scotland by the whiskey distiller Johnny Walker, it features a ram’s head. Yes, a ram’s head! And not only that, it doubles as a cigar box!

You don’t believe me? Take a look at our video on Youtube which also features in the eBook version of our new publication 100 Stories from the Australian National Maritime Museum.

100 Stories from the Australian National Maritime Museum is available as a free eBook for iPad in the iBookstore or for purchase in our museum shop.

100 stories from the museum’s collection

On 29 November 2012 the museum celebrates its 21st year – cue the celebratory fireworks! As part of this milestone we have published a new book 100 Stories from the Australian National Maritime Museum

The book is a treasure trove of tales related to our collection, working on the premise that every object has a story. From the remarkable Saltwater Collection of bark paintings from Arnhem Land to surfboards inspired by the Bra Boys and the 2005 Cronulla race riots, the book reveals the diversity of our collection and Australia’s rich maritime history.

Over the next week or so, we will share some of our curators favourite excerpts from the book, giving you a sneak peek into the publication.

The book is available for purchase on our new online store or as a free eBook for iPad. Head to our website for all of the deatils.

The following excerpt was written by our curator Kim Tao. We hope you enjoy.

Door to freedom

Photo of

Valerie Lederer’s front door key to the family’s house in Vienna, 1938

A few days before boarding the Orient liner SS Orama for Australia in June 1939, Jewish migrant Arthur Lederer wrote ‘Doors’, a poem reflecting on his family’s desperate search for a new home away from Nazi-occupied Europe:

Some doors have hearts it seems to me
They open so invitingly;
You feel they are quite kind – akin
To all the warmth you find within…
Oh, may mine be a friendly door;
May all who cross the threshold o’er
Within find sweet content and rest,
And know each was a welcomed guest. Continue reading

Heroic, Forceful and Fearless – legendary tugboats sail into history

Book cover featuring Heroic with Queen Mary as a troopship during world War II, on Sydney Harbour. Photographer Samuel Hood. ANMM Collection

Book cover featuring Heroic with Queen Mary as a troopship during world War II, on Sydney Harbour. Photographer Samuel Hood. ANMM Collection

A new book jointly published by the museum and Citrus Press and launched here last week adds a new chapter to Australian maritime history by telling the story of those unsung but determined little workers of the waterfront – the tugboats.

We all remember it whenever a ship becomes front page news – whether it’s the visit of a gigantic new cruise ship like the Queen Mary II or a disaster like the grounding of the cargo ship Pasha Bulker off Newcastle in a winter storm a few years ago. They might become household names – but who ever knows the name of the tugboats that attend them, guiding them safely into port or towing them to safety?

Randi Svensen’s new book, Heroic, Forceful and Fearless is a history of tugboat men and their powerful and sturdy vessels. It’s a story of bravery, ingenuity and even a touch of skulduggery in the days when tugboats and their crews raced each other to puck up a tow.

Tugboats and their crews are often the unseen, unnoticed heroes of our waters. They are the Davids nudging Goliaths as they pull and push leviathan tankers and majestic cruise ships, many times their size, safely along narrow channels to harbour berths. The advent of tugboats changed forever the reliability of commerce between Australia and the rest of the world. And, as they pushed their heavily laden barges, they also opened up trade on our inland rivers.

Svensen relates a fascinating history of tugboats in Australia from the early paddlewheelers that took over from rowboats that man-hauled becalmed sailing ships up the harbours and into ports — right through to the powerful, multi-directional azimuthing propeller-driven tugs of the present day.

Author Randi Svensen at the launch of Heroic, Forceful and Fearless: Australia’s tugboat heritage

Author Randi Svensen at the launch of Heroic, Forceful and Fearless: Australia’s tugboat heritage

The author has written their history through the stories of the great characters who owned the tugs or skippered and crewed them. It’s a story full of make-do Australian ingenuity when things didn’t quite go according to plan, as well as unparalleled seamanship and bravery in weathers that would wreck much larger ships.

It is the stories of cheeky ‘kisses’ on a Queen’s hull, and convenient collusions, but also of rivalry so intense there was more than a touch of skulduggery afoot. There are tales of  having to man the aptly named ‘dog boats’ to pick up floating carcasses, as well as idle hours spent fishing, away from the boss’s gaze.

There were river tugs and barges stranded for months by receding waters miles inland during drought, and men (and sheep) pitched overboard on stormy shorelines. And from those surprising ‘little tugs that could’ there are untold and unheralded wartime exploits by tugboats and crews far from home, as well as far too close to home.

The names of so many tugboats hint at tales waiting to be told, but perhaps none better reflect the character of the industry — both the people and the tugboats themselves — than the tugs Heroic, Forceful and Fearless.

This is the first-ever history of the tugboat and towage industry in Australia, produced as a handsome, well-illustrated hardcover in an accessible, anecdotal style that will give it a wider appeal beyond the specialist market for an industrial history. It’s a history that needed to be told while some of the industry’s characters are still around to tell the tales. The striking cover image is drawn from the museum’s Samuel Hood collection, with numerous other collection images appearing prominently. Publication has been underwritten by towing industry representatives Chris Stannard of Stannard Marine, PB Towage and Svitzer, while the author, maritime historian Randi Svensen, has maintained complete editorial independence.

This work continues the museum’s publishing association with Svensen whose family history Wooden Boats Iron Men – the Halvorsen story was co-published by the museum and Halstead Press in 2005, and is in its third printing.

Hero towing Pamir from Sydney Heads, 1945. Photographer Max Dupain. ANMM Collection

Hero towing Pamir from Sydney Heads, 1945. Photographer Max Dupain. ANMM Collection

Heroic, Forceful and Fearless: Australia’s tugboat heritage is available from booksellers nationwide and the museum’s retail outlet The Store who can be contacted by phone +61 2 9298 3675 or

– Jeffrey Mellefont