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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Photo story- Ansel Adams Cruise and Workshop

The view from under the cloth through the lens of an 8 x 10 deardorff camera. Upside down and back to front.

The view from under the cloth through the lens of an 8 x 10 Deardorff camera. Upside down and back to front…

It is odd under here.

The warm, almost suffocated air inside the velvety fabric tent.  Like hiding under the covers. The image- all upside down, back to front and obscured, unfocused in a gridded glass plate.  It is a concept of the life in front of the lens. While I look through this camera, a passer by, enamoured with the display of vintage technology, stops to take a photograph of a photograph being taken.


We are outside the museum for an introduction to our Ansel Adams-inspired photography workshop, learning what it is like to work with large format analogue cameras like those Adams would have used.  We’ve toured the beautiful images in the exhibition with ANMM curator Richard Wood and now it is time for our workshop with tutors Michael Waite and Benjamin Stone-Herbert  from the Australian Centre for Photography.

photography large format

ACP Tutors Michael and Ben set up large format cameras for everyone to try.

Tiny slide frames are handed around. This is how we will learn to compose our shot.  Michael suggests that even contemporary landscape artists and photographers may not have any better tool for thinking about a shot than a simple rectangular frame held up to the life around them.  The perfect photo may just be found in deciphering the best way to frame the vast chaos and disordered collection of shapes in any given environment.

frames workshop participants

It is really a perfect day to be out on the harbour. Blazing sun cut by the cool breeze flapping in from the open doors and windows of our tiny ferry as it powers down the Parramatta River. Michael encourages us to concentrate on the journey. To not see the ferry as a barrier between us and the “out there” subject but as something that could frame our images. A scratched window, a red railing, a smear of reflection all adds to the scene. This idea is inspiring and releasing to almost all the participants and they head about keenly experimenting with compositions in, on and through the ferry towards the passing vistas.

photographer river




There is no shortage of beautiful and fascinating subjects- Graffiti-ed pylons, churning water, dilapidated boats and sheds along the river, or even the other photographers.



And it is lucky we are focusing on the journey.

As we pull in towards our destination (the semi- submerged shipwrecks of homebush bay) we discover the water level is too low to go any further today. We have to be content with a long distance shot or risk being marooned on the banks of the river. But there has been so much to capture already no one seems to be worried. As Ansel Adams would say “every experience is a form of exploration” and today, it would seem, we have been explorers.





Exposed! The Gervaise Purcell Collection

In 2008 while researching and developing the museum’s travelling exhibition Exposed! The story of Swimwear, I was contacted by Leigh Purcell, the son of respected Australian commercial photographer Gervaise Purcell (1919 – 1999). His work from the late 1940s covered a variety of fashion and maritime related subjects for clients including retailing giants David Jones and Hordern Bros, radio technology manufacturer Amalgamated Wireless Australasia (AWA), swimwear manufacturer Jantzen, tourism operator Ansett Airways, and cruise ship operators P&O.

Photo of lady in one piece swim suit on beach

Fashion shoot for Jantzen fashion shoot with Beverley Evans at Kurnell, Sydney, 1957. ANMM Collection. Reproduced courtesy Leigh Purcell

Photo of two men and one woman at table on cruise liner

Fashion shoot for Jantzen fashion on Matson liner SS Monterey, 1957.
ANMM Collection. Reproduced courtesy Leigh Purcell

Leigh told me he still had his father’s Graflex Crown Graphic camera, camera accessories and a box of negatives including some from swimwear fashion shoots in the 1950s. I jumped at the chance to see his father’s commercial work and so we met at the museum’s photography studio to view the negatives.  Leigh kindly allowed our photographer Andrew Frolows to digitally scan a selection of the negatives into positives. This process revealed arresting fashion images that were clearly perfect for inclusion in the museum’s swimwear exhibition.  I was hooked.

Discussions were soon underway to borrow Gervaise Purcell’s photographic equipment and a selection of images for display.

Exhibition view of Gervaise Purcell display

Exhibition view of Gervaise Purcell display in Exposed! The Story of Swimwear at the Australian National Maritime Museum 2009. Photographer Andrew Frolows ANMM.

At the time I hoped that the museum would eventually acquire this rich and diverse photographic archive as much of Purcell’s commercial photographs had not been seen publically for decades and were a valuable record of Australian maritime related business ventures in the second half of the twentieth century.

In the intervening years I kept in touch with Leigh and to my delight in 2012 he offered his father’s photographic negatives and equipment to the museum. I wrote a proposal to acquire this material into the National Maritime Collection which was thankfully approved.  First hurdle leapt.

Now the substantial and exacting task of documenting and scanning the collection of 3,000 negatives is underway.  Our registrar Tennille Noach is bringing the collection to light so you can enjoy these evocative photographs as much as we both do. Look out for Tennile’s upcoming blog post about this fabulous photographic collection.

Penny Cuthbert
Curator Sport and Leisure History

A day in the life of a cruise ship

Like nocturnal animals, they come home as dawn breaks, find their haven to sit out the heat of the day, and then head back out as the day cools into the evening. That’s one day’s pattern in the life of a cruise ship that comes to Sydney.

Cruise ship on Sydney Harbour at dusk, with sun setting and ship lights onDawn breaks. Sneaking in through the heads, lights ablaze, beating the sun still chasing it from under the eastern horizon, the cruise ship picks up its pilot and silently, unnoticed by most of Sydney still sleeping. It glides down the western channel, past Bradleys, Fort Dennison, under the bridge at a crawl, hard to port and a sideways slip routine, sometimes helped by a tug, has it berthed at the Barangaroo terminal before 7am. Continue reading

Sydney under attack!

Under the cover of darkness Japanese submarines stand north-east of Sydney ready to send three midget submarines with their two-man crews to victory and possible certain death. The date? 31 May 1942. The time? 8.01 pm and the first of the three submarines enters Sydney Harbour undetected.

In the hours that followed there was panic, indecision, bravery and death. One midget submarine became entangled in the boom nets – anti-submarine nets positioned across the inner harbour entrance; unable to release itself, the submariners blew the submarine and themselves up. A second submarine successfully fired two torpedoes, one of which struck the sea wall of Garden Island beneath the barracks ship HMAS Kuttabul. Twenty-one sleeping ratings were killed and another 10 injured. The third Japanese midget submarine was sunk by depth charges.

The mystery of what happened to the second submarine – M24 – was finally solved in November 2006 when its wreck was found off Sydney’s northern beaches. But what happened to the remains of the two submarines destroyed during the raid?

Their wrecked remains were recovered from the waters and the bow section of one was rebuilt into the stern section of the other. This largely intact composite submarine was then toured SW, Victoria and South Australia to raise money for the naval relief fund. Today it is magnificently displayed at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. The second remaining conning tower can be seen at the Naval Heritage Centre on Garden Island, Sydney.

With the 70th anniversary of the attack looming large it offers us a time to reflect and to remember the bravery of those involved – the sailors, the submariners, the volunteers, the civilians. And there is an opportunity for you to commemorate this important anniversary – join us on a harbour cruise on Saturday 2 June as we visit important sites connected with the attack.

Lindsey Shaw, senior curator

Sailing into Cobh


Balmoral calling at Cobh, Ireland - Titanic's last port of call

Yesterday’s bleak morning weather continued through much of the day, although there were plenty of shipboard activities to keep passengers’ minds off it with Michael Martin giving a lecture on Cobh, the Balmoral’s next port of call, in addition to the usual range of shipboard activities. After struggling with on board connectivity (thus the lack of photos – I’ll have to upload more later) I lost track of time, noting only that our arrival in Queenstown would be delayed a couple of hours.

As matters turned out, the delay turned to be fortuitous. I looked up suddenly to see land slipping past, and the grey skies and rain that had been falling earlier cleared in time for our arrival. Those few hours meant that we sailed in with blue skies and an exquisite evening. What an astonishing welcome it was – a rainbow in the sky that might have been ordered for the occasion, and the streets of Cobh lined with well wishers come to welcome us in to port.

Arriving Cobh

Wellwishers meet the Balmoral as she sails into Cobh

This time I joined the passengers who dressed for the occasion and, wearing a c.1912 green silk walking suit (with, alas, no hat – it was forgotten in the packing, and I was bareheaded in a 1912 fashion faux pas) and walked into a throng of people all welcoming us ashore.

The Mayor of Cobh, Jim Quinlan, formally welcomed us in a Civic Reception, and then we were free to wander the streets. I’ve always found this an extraordinarily beautiful town, and (as a result of Ireland’s neutrality in World War II) it escaped much of the terrible bombing that irrevocably changed the architecture and character of many other ports such as Liverpool and Southampton. Tiers of houses rise up the slopes facing the harbour, and many of the shopfronts had remarkable displays in honour of the centennial – books, newspaper articles, models, children’s paintings and even mannequins dressed in Titanicera fashion.


Titanic window display in Cobh with works by schoolchildren

Cobh is also rich in memorials not only to the Titanic, but also to the tragic Lusitania, the Cunarder sunk by a u-boat off the Old Head of Kinsale. Many of the survivors, as well as the bodies retrieved from the water, were brought ashore here, to be buried in the Old Cemetery in mass and individual graves.

It’s not only the tragedies with which it has links that are remembered here, though – there’s also the memory of the many migrants who emigrated from here to new lives. I have my own ancestors who sailed from Cobh to Australia in the 19th century, as did many on board the Balmoral. Our stay was limited to a few hours, but they were lively, colourful and warm ones as the bands played music in the streets and the pubs over flowed. I spent a couple of hours in the Mauretania pub (I’ve always had a weakness for it thanks to the name – a memory of the Cunard vessel) drinking pints of Guinness and chatting with a gentleman who had come down from Cork city to see the Balmoral come in. Elsewhere, the band at the Commodore was prevailed upon to play “A Nation Once Again”, the song that Irish immigrant Eugene Daly played in the tender as he and his fellow passengers prepared to join the Titanic.

There were still groups of people waiting to wave us off as midnight approached and we were away. It was an odd feeling to leave behind that beautiful town with its well-lit streets and head into the dark of the open seas, with only a canopy of stars overhead and the occasional fishing craft to illuminate the night outside our own floating haven.


The old White Star Offices, where many embarked on the tender that would take them out to join the Titanic

Woke up this morning to a heavily rolling ship and the news that this will continue for a while yet, at least until tomorrow afternoon. There was still a very big crowd who made it to the second sitting of Senan Molony’s talk on The Irish Aboard Titanic, and afterwards I finally had the chance to catch up with friends-of-friends who are on board.  At some point I will have to rug up warming and go for a turn on the decks. I think everyone on board is mindful that today is the 10 April – exactly 100 years since Titanic sailed from Southampton.

Installation of Remembering Titanic – 100 years

Tomorrow our new exhibition Remembering Titanic – 100 years opens to the public and runs until 11 November this year. The exhibition marks the 100th anniversary of the tragic sinking of Titanic on 15 April 1912.

Over the past couple of weeks our exhibition team have been busy installing the show which features a memorial to the passengers who were on board the fateful voyage, models, memorabilia, and costumes from James Cameron’s movie Titanic (1997). There are many events planned throughout the exhibition, including a movie marathon on the anniversary day, so be sure to check out the event listing on our website.

Entry to Remembering Titanic - 100 years

Exhibition panel in Remembering Titanic - 100 years

Installing objects in Remembering Titanic - 100 years

Making final touches to Titanic movie costumes

View more exhibition installation photographs on our Flickr page.

Meet Inger Sheil, our in-house Titanic expert

Inger SheilMeet Inger Sheil, the personal assistant to the museum’s director and  Titanic researcher. Over the next week, Inger will recall an epic journey of discovery and research that’s occupied much of her life… We hope you enjoy.

Spending a childhood on Sydney’s northern beaches, the sea was a part of daily life. My grandmother shared my taste for documentaries, and together we’d watch Jacques Cousteau explore the world’s oceans. The first shipwreck I encountered on screen, however, was not the one that can lay claim to being the most infamous of all, but the more recent Andrea Dorea. As it lay in depths accessible to scuba divers, I watched in fascination as they explored the submerged wreck, and listened to the dramatic stories of survivors who described the terrible collision that sank her in 1956 off Nantucket, Massachusetts.

It was this human element that was to draw me to the Titanic some years later when I was introduced to the story of that great tragedy of the Belle Époque. A second-grade school friend showed me a book, and the outline of the famous story began to solidify for me – the lack of sufficient lifeboats, the ‘unsinkable’ reputation, the wealthy who were able to take lifeboat places when the third-class passengers could not. It would be many years before I found that the truth was not quite so simple, but the broad brushstrokes were there. Tucked into my childhood ephemera is a sketch I made in the journal I kept as a seven year old. Stick figures play out the story on a ship pitched at a dramatic 75 degrees to the sea’s surface, with terrified passengers and crew handing small children down to mothers in lifeboats. A sequel illustration of the scene ashore shows dripping survivors demanding their money back from ticket agents. Growing up, I picked up books on the subject where I could. I had just moved to Singapore when the Titanic was rediscovered in 1985. The challenges of a new school in a new country couldn’t compete with the fascination of the Time magazine cover painting of the lost ship on the ocean floor. With my interest reignited, I was able to locate such classics as Walter Lord’s vividly narrated A Night to Remember. But access to information was limited to some books and the occasional television program. No one in my immediate circle shared the fascination.

All this changed in 1996 when I first gained access to the internet. It enabled me to track down and order books and magazines on the subject from around the world, and to contact other enthusiasts. My bookshelf was soon creaking with the works of over 80 years of writing on the subject, and I became absorbed in online discussions about every aspect of the ship, from the minutiae of the lives of those connected with it to the placement of its rivets.

In fact it was the social history that most interested me. It was not so much the passengers – that cross-section of Edwardian British and American society along with immigrants from around the globe – but rather her crew that drew me in. These were the men and women for whom Titanic wasn’t a means of flitting from one continent to the other or a vehicle to a new life in a foreign land, but a career and a way of life on the sea.

– Inger Sheil

Antarctic voyage winner…

During last year’s exhibition Scott’s Last Expedition, we ran a competition to win a trip for two to Antarctica with Orion Expeditions. We received over 6,000 entries over four months!

Out of those entries we have a winner! Congratulations Nicole!

Antarctic Voyage winner

Nicole came to see Scott’s Last Expedition with her boyfriend and his parents, who were visiting Sydney. Nicole and her boyfriend are frequent visitors to the museum, so were thrilled to find out she’d won.

Nicole is 25 years old and works locally in Pyrmont. She likes to travel and recently came home from a holiday in South-East Asia, so is really excited that she now has another holiday coming up to plan for.

The prize she won is a Junior Suite for two people on the ‘Scott and Shackleton’s Antarctica – Ross Sea’ expedition from Orion Expeditions, departing 25 January 2013 (valued at just under $60,000).  This voyage covers some of the polar regions famously charted during the first race to the South Pole by pioneering explorers Scott and Shackleton 100 years ago. Nicole will voyage across the Ross Sea coast which extends from the ice shelf northwards until it reaches the very tip of Victoria Land and Cape Adare. The trip will also take in the sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island with its large colonies of penguins and elephant seals and Campbell Island. Having seen the recreation of the hut in the museum’s exhibition Scott’s Last Expedition, Nicole will have the opportunity to visit the real hut at Cape Evans as well as Shackleton’s hut at Cape Royds.

 Nicole’s first question when she found out was what she needed to pack!

 Of course the next question is: Who will you take with you Nicole? I know of a certain ‘someone’ who would love to go to Antarctica…*wink* *wink*

Scott’s Last Expedition is now open at the Natural History Museum, London until 2 September 2012. It will then travel to the Canterbury Museum, NZ. It was developed through a collaboration between Natural History Museum, Canterbury Museum and Antarctic Heritage Trust NZ.