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

Don’t forget to honour your mother! Medals and mementoes from the collection

It is hard to imagine a situation where the bond between a mother and child is more heightened than in war. Throughout two world wars Australian mothers anxiously watched their sons depart to fight in places many had never heard of and some never returned from. Gallipoli, Ypres, Tobruk, Tarakan. In times of war and great separation, personal tokens such as jewellery provide a visual expression of pride and a comforting and constant reminder of an absent loved one.

Women marching in WW1 parade

Mothers marching in a WW1 recruitment parade. ANMM collection, gift from the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron. Photographer William J Hall.

During WWI and WWII societal pressure to join the armed forces must have been the source of immense emotional conflict for Australian mothers. The natural concern to protect your children and to keep them from harm was at variance with the patriotic push for men to risk their lives in the service of their country.

Perhaps due to the absence in Australia of conscription for overseas military service, government propaganda was produced during WWI and WWII that was persuasive and passionate on the subject of enlistment – and not all of this material was aimed at men. Maternal pride was appealed to as mothers and women were called upon to encourage men to do their duty and join the forces. Slogans on posters exclaimed ‘Won’t you help and send a man to join the army to-day!’ and ‘The cry of the mothers : Australians! Enlist now!’.

With a mother’s anxiety comes pride and honour. The two world wars mobilised and united the Australian population in a way that has perhaps never been seen since. To have a son who was fighting not only evoked pride but inspired patriotism and drew Australian mothers directly into the war effort. For women, particularly in the First World War, supporting your children’s enlistment was your most important contribution.

WWI Royal Australian Navy female relative badge

WWI Royal Australian Navy female relative badge. ANMM collection, gift from Marjorie Thomson. Reg #00046509

WWII female relative badge. ANMM collection reg #00015187



During both world wars the Department of Defence issued badges and brooches to mothers and female relatives of those who were on active service to recognise this contribution. These badges contain wording such as ‘To the Women of Australia for Duty Done’, and displayed identifying bars or stars to indicate the number of male relatives on active service.

These badges would have been instantly recognisable at the time, making the wearer identifiable as having a son or relative away on active service. They were an official symbol of the important role that mothers and other female relatives played as moral supporters during wartime.

As well as these officially distributed badges, it was popular in times of war for servicemen to make and send mementoes such as badges and jewellery to their mothers and family members. These handmade keepsakes fulfilled a similar purpose with their patriotic style and were a visible symbol of loyalty and pride. On a personal level they also provided a direct link between those in service and those who were waiting for them at home. The Australian National Maritime Museum holds several examples of these handmade mementoes, including the badge below.

'RAN Mother' handmade badge

‘RAN Mother’ WWII handmade badge. ANMM collection, reg #00015184

This badge, made during WWII from mother-of-pearl, contains the words ‘RAN Mother’ in gilt wire. While the officially produced badges are registered and traceable to their original owners, this handmade badge unfortunately has no such identifying link. Made by a member of the Royal Australian Navy for perhaps the most important lady in his life, what it represents in its anonymity is a sweet reminder of the link between a mother and son who remained in each other’s thoughts during war.

Heartfelt handmade mementoes or official tokens, both were worn as medals of honour for Australian mothers during war. Separated in extreme circumstances, these tokens were symbols of the link between a mother and her child.

Penny Hyde, Curatorial assistant