Maritime Moustaches

Able Seaman Thomas Fleming Walker in the uniform of the New South Wales Naval Brigade circa 1900. ANMM Collection 00054875. Gift from John Walker.

Able Seaman Thomas Fleming Walker in the uniform of the New South Wales Naval Brigade circa 1900. ANMM Collection 00054875. Gift from John Walker.

Moustaches were big in the late 19th century. Really big.

As the wielder of a reasonably large moustache, I thought I might look into the museum’s collection of photographs and see how many and what sorts of moustaches are there. My hunch was correct – there are hundreds and hundreds of them. From nice thick ‘chevrons’, to the simple ‘English style’, to the classic ‘handlebar’ and even a few ‘walrus’ and ‘toothbrushes’. So I thought I would create a display of Maritime Moustaches in time for that important event every year – Movember!

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Japanese flapper lands on Australian shores!

Kono San at a Movietone event on board SS Sierra, 8 August 1929 Samuel J Hood Studio ANMM Collection

Kono San at a Movietone event on board SS Sierra, 8 August 1929
Samuel J Hood Studio
ANMM Collection

I am constantly amazed at the array of discoveries that are being made in the Australian National Maritime Museum’s collection. Some of them are just what you might expect from a maritime history collection, and others are just downright unusual. Until recently, the above photograph was catalogued as ‘unidentified Japanese woman’ posing on board the San Franciscan liner SS Sierra at an event celebrating the arrival of Australia’s first Movietone News truck on 8 August 1929. However, as one of our Flickr Commons followers demonstrated, Sydney photographer Samuel J Hood photographed his fair share of interesting characters from far away shores. Continue reading

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

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

Prevention is better than cure.

Photo of the

Textile conservator showing a flag with a damaged corner.

“Preventing textiles from damage by storing them appropriately is better than spending time repairing them”.

This is the guiding philosophy behind the textile storage project at the Australian National Maritime Museum. Three main storage formats have been implemented to minimise handling. Textiles are mainly hung, rolled or placed in boxes with internal supports to protect the collection.

However, when damage has already occurred, it is necessary to repair textiles to prevent further damage prior to rolling or storing them.

The conservator stabilises areas of fabric loss.

It is important to stabilise areas of fabric loss to prevent damage.

Large flat textiles like banners and flags are interleaved using acid free tissue then rolled carefully onto archival cardboard rolls, covered using Dacron or polyester felt followed by cotton/polyester Interlock or Stockingette. The outside of the roll is covered with a final layer of acid-free tissue.

The conservator shows rolled storage method.

Roll storage method for large, flat textiles (Eg. banners and flags)

Clothing and uniforms are hung on Dacron padded coat hangers covered using cotton Interlock while swimwear and accessories are stored separately in boxes or grouped together, separated on cardboard shelving within boxes.

Swimwear is stored on archival cardboard shelving within archival boxes.

Swimwear is stored on archival cardboard shelving within archival boxes.

Collars are stored in boxes using internal supports to soften folds.

Collars stored in boxes using internal supports to soften folds.

Hats are stored separately on powder coated metal hatstands using internal supports constructed using Dacron padded Ethylene foam supports covered using cotton Interlock.

Hats are stored separately using internal supports on hatstands.

Hats are stored separately using internal supports on hatstands.

Titanic Threads

Hobble skirts, Kimono-style dresses, tea gowns and opulently beaded dinner dresses…..

What is the Belle Epoque?

How is it different to the Edwardian Era?

Can you read a piece of antique fashion like a historical document?

And just how does a costume designer on the set of a movie like Titanic decide what to dress the actors in to reflect authentic period fashion with just the right amount of Hollywood-style creative license?

We are just a week out from our fascinating History week seminar Titanic Threads which will be illuminating the answers to these questions and more.

Concept sketch for Rose Dewitt Bukater

Concept sketch for Rose Dewitt Bukater. Illustration by David La Vey. Image courtesy 20th Century Fox.

Fiona Reilly, Head of Costume at the National Institute of Dramatic Art( NIDA) and herself a talented and experienced theatre, film and television costume designer will be bringing insight into the processes behind this seemingly glamorous profession. More than this she will also have in tow a selection of gorgeous and authentic fashion items from and inspired by the Belle Epoque era for a fashion parade by NIDA students at the event. NIDA has an extensive costume collection including antique clothing dating back as far as the 1800s kept for the purposes of student research.

Titanic Threads will also connect with our current exhibition Remembering Titanic: 100 years that features beautiful costumes from the 1997 blockbuster Titanic. Walking through the exhibition with Fiona she explains how there would have been at least 6 of each of these outfits, spares are always made on the set of a film in case the outfit is snagged, stained or damaged during production (and if you’ve watched the ending it’s no wonder that more than few of the infamous “sinking dress” were required to withstand multiple takes of running around the ship and hours of wading in water). Jack’s costume is the one she really disagrees with, even a third class passenger would have dressed much more formally than this, it would have been quite scandalous to be caught in what he wears most of the time- something akin to an undershirt. Of course there are other discrepancies, a little bit of a creative take on history as films so often do- Rose shows far too much cleavage and a woman of her breeding wouldn’t have ever been caught outside without a hat to match this yellow sundress. Other elements are quite true to form however, costume designer Deborah Lynn Scott would have spent extensive time researching from photographs and actual vintage fashions to recreate the style and feel of the era.

Molly Brown costume concept sketch

Molly Brown costume concept sketch. Illustration by David La Vey. Image courtesy 20th Century Fox

Our resident historian, author and Titanic enthusiast Inger Sheil will also joining the line up at Titanic Threads to share the stories of some of the couturiers on board the infamous vessel.

Fashion can be a very special index of a period in history- social mores, economic climate, political identities and artistic influences. The Belle Epoque is no different.  To this end Titanic Threads will also unveil some of the historical context behind this era’s shift in styles that took puffs sleeves to tapered, wasp-waisted corsets to chemise – brassiere combos, and the emergence of bustle-free, oriental inspired and empire line garments that changed the course of fashion as we know it.

Titanic Threads

Wednesday 12 September 6-8pm

$20/ $18 members ( includes light refreshments and exhibition entry)

Bookings Essential and available online

Who’s that girl?

Reg #00013208 ANMM collection. Untitled portrait of a woman, William Hall

Reg #00013208 ANMM collection. Untitled portrait of a woman, William Hall

Reg #00013207 ANMM collection. Untitled portrait of a woman, by William Hall

Reg #00013207 ANMM collection. Untitled portrait of a woman, by William Hall

In the depths of the Australian National Maritime Museum’s photographic collections, as you would expect, there are lots of pictures of boats. Boats of all kinds: yachts, warships, passenger liners, ferries, tugs, steamships, motor launches – you name it. Recently I have been cataloguing the photographic collection of a relatively obscure Sydney photographer, William Hall (1877-1951). Hall’s images are simply gorgeous. Despite not being a sailing man himself, Hall took to the water each weekend to capture the vessels, sailors and spectators that converged on Sydney Harbour for the weekend racing carnivals. He became a fixture on the harbour, expertly handling his camera despite the rough and wet conditions as his motor boat wove through the competitive vessels. Each Monday Hall would display his photographs in his shopfront window, becoming a regular attraction as people crowded to see the images and discuss the weekend’s races. The images themselves are generally quite candid – crew members throwing their hands up to wave at the spotted photographer, yachts dipping, flying, crashing and sinking and the beautiful blooms of the vessel’s sails as they capture the winds of the harbour.

As much as I enjoy working with these sailing images, I was delighted to find a number of studio portraits within the William Hall collection. There are portraits of men, some family shots and the occasional wedding – but most strikingly there are a number of beautiful portraits of women. Some appear to be actresses, and indeed several are wearing costumes. Others are perhaps client commissions from Hall’s photographic studio and tantalisingly even have the illegible remnants of a name at the top of the glass plate negative. All of the photographs appear to capture a little something of their subjects, an extraction of personality through the pose, their dress, the look, the lighting. They are intriguing and evocative.

Reg #00013237 ANMM collection. Untitled portrait of a woman in costume, WIlliam Hall

Reg #00013237 ANMM collection. Untitled portrait of a woman in costume, WIlliam Hall

Reg #00013273 ANMM collection. Untitled portrait of a woman, William Hall

Reg #00013273 ANMM collection. Untitled portrait of a woman, William Hall

Who are these women?

Well that’s something we are hoping you can help us with. Do any of the faces look familiar to you? If you can provide any information at all hop on over to our Flickr site and let us know! If anything, just enjoy looking through these beautiful photographs.

Penny Hyde

Curatorial assistant

Object of the Week: Jantzen, an American company in an Australian market

Jantzen box

Reg # 00000168 ANMM collection 1930s. Jantzen packaging featuring the company’s icon & logo, the red diving girl.

The history of the swimsuit is a long, gorgeous and complicated story that has it all – sex, celebrity, politics and an international stage. The evolution of swimwear design involves technology as much as it involves fashion, as fabrics and techniques developed and improved. Its peaks and troughs followed international events such as world wars and the sexual revolution and the designs lead, and are led by, fashion trends on national and global scales. For Australia, a land of endless beautiful beaches and relentless sunshine, the story of swimwear is an intrinsic part of our social history and our interactions with water. Continue reading

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.

Object of the Week

Black Lance ‘Brigadier’ swimsuit

There is something about a Black Lance ‘Brigadier’ that will tantalize customers into buying it. It’s packed with personality and styled for comfort as well as beauty. Six exclusive design star buttons hold the halter-neck top to the trunks. Easy to slip on and off. Both skirt and bust display the latest two-colour regimental stripes.

-Black Lance catalogue, 1930s, ANMM Collection

Women's Black Lance swimsuit

Women's Black Lance swimsuit, 1930s, ANMM Collection

This maillot (one-piece) swimsuit was manufactured by Melbourne company Black Lance in the 1930s. Designed by Peter O’Sullivan, the popular ‘Brigadier’ swimsuit features star-shaped buttons (which fasten the top to the trunks) and nautical stripes inspired by naval uniforms.

Featuring a halter neck and a low cut back, the slightly risqué design upheld modesty with the use of a skirt-panel. O’Sullivan’s patented ‘inbuilt trunks’ became a feature of Australian and international swimwear fashions well into the 1970s.

Made from a wool knit, the Australian designed and made swimsuit reflects the booming wool industry of the early 20th century. Australian swimwear designers and manufactures worked closely with local knitting mills, developing a range of materials in the quest for lighter, more elastic, and drier swimsuits.

The Australian National Maritime Museum holds a range of swimwear items in its collection, including Canadian style swimsuits of the 1890s, men’s Surf Life Saving Club vests of the 1930s, bikinis of the 1950s, and board shorts of the 1980s. If you would like to learn more about the development of Australian swimwear, you can search the museum’s collection on-line.

'Black Lance Water Fashions' catalogue, 1930s, ANMM Collection

'Black Lance Water Fashions' catalogue, 1930s, ANMM Collection