‘Birds are acceptable…’: Waves and Water opens at Noosa Regional Gallery

Anne Zahalka The Bathers 1989. Type C print. ANMM Collection 00019000. Reproduced courtesy the photographer.

Anne Zahalka The Bathers 1989. Type C print. ANMM Collection 00019000. Reproduced courtesy the photographer.

‘Grog and cigarettes are mostly out…milkshakes and tins of baby food are generally in, birds are acceptable provided they never ride a surfboard and keep always in the background, except on those special occasions…’ reported photojournalist Jeff Carter in his Surf Beaches of Australia’s East Coast in 1968.

Well it was a special occasion when the museum opened its Australian beach photography exhibition at the Noosa Regional Gallery recently, in the same week as International Women’s Day, and with seven times world champion Layne Beachley on the podium. She was in company with other surfing luminaries Phil Jarrett, Bob McTavish and Pete Townend, and me but the ironies and the passage of time brought pause for reflection.

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The Little Guys: Puppets and Creating Harmony

Lois Carrington and her Little Guys. Image: Graham Tidy / Canberra Times.

Lois Carrington and her Little Guys. Image: Graham Tidy / Canberra Times.

“The more meetings there are, the more exchanges that take place between nations, the better individual relations are : collaboration, solidarity and comradeship are no longer empty words, but the foundations for a better understanding of human problems and a bringing together of nations.”

Dr. Vesely, 1932. Cited by Margareta Niculescu, “Once again… UNIMA”, in UNIMA 2000, UNion Internationale de la MArionnette (UNIMA), Charleville-Mézières, 2000, p.9

Lois Carrington (nee Griffiths) was a lover of language, she studied Russian, French and Latin at university, her other passion was teaching. It was a natural fit for her to answer the Australian government’s call for teachers to help smooth the transition to Australian life for the influx of post World War II migrants. So in 1949, fresh out of university, passionate and with few resources, Lois began her career to teach English “on the way”, aboard migrant ships and at reception centers across Australia.

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The End of a Watermark: Changes to our Permanent Gallery

Watermarks exhibition gallery, when it opened. Image: ANMM.

Watermarks exhibition gallery, when it opened. Image: ANMM.

The museum is undergoing an exciting change to its permanent galleries. After more than 15 years, on 29 February the Watermarks Gallery set its sails for the last time (pardon the pun). The gallery first opened in 2001 and told the story of how water and the ocean plays a vital role in the lives of all Australians and how the coast has inspired our recreational lives.

Our new permanent gallery exhibition, ULTIMATE DEPTH: James Cameron’s Deepsea Challenge, will open in late 2016. Continue reading

Scrimshaw: A Whaler’s Pastime

The other day, I was walking through the Museum’s stores, when a strange object caught my eye: a neatly framed pair of odd looking dolls with very puffed up hair, which reminded me of the very elaborate 1980s hairstyles like the one Joan Collins wore on her Dynasty days.

Whale bone and human hair dolls. ANMM collection 00018316

Whale bone and human hair dolls.  ANMM collection 000018316

These dolls are part of the Museum’s scrimshaw collection. Scrimshaw are objects created by whalers from the by-product of the whale, such as bones, teeth, baleen and bones. It was first done by sailors working on whaling ships out of the coast of New England between 1745 and 1759 until the moratorium of commercial whaling in 1986.

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Diving into the past: the Beatrice Kerr collection

Swimming Gala poster featuring Beatrice Kerr

A swimming gala poster featuring Beatrice Kerr. ANMM Collection.

“By-the-bye, everyone rushes after lunch to the Palace Pier to see a young Australian girl in a swimming and diving performance. We went with the rest, and can assure our readers that Miss Kerr is better worth seeing than nine out of ten of the famous dancers…”

Poster advertising Beatrice Kerr's swimming and diving show.

Poster advertising Beatrice Kerr’s swimming and diving show. ANMM Collection.

Digitising the National Maritime Collection archive reveals some interesting stories from the lives of the people behind the objects. One such story was the career of aquatic star Beatrice Kerr. I found her both entertaining and inspirational, while scanning and researching her letters, handbills and photographs.

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Who said sand paper was dull?

In 2012 the museum acquired a vast collection of negatives of Australian commercial photographer Gervais Purcell (1919-1999). Purcell worked for a variety of clients such as David Jones, P&O, Ansett Australia, Jantzen and many others.


ANMM Collection

In the past few months, I have been cataloguing his ‘swimwear’ work that mainly contains negatives of models wearing swim and beach wear shot in studio settings, beaches and other outdoor locations during the 1940 – 1960 period.


ANMM Collection

Through these photographs I have witnessed the evolution of swimwear styles, starting with the fairly conservative 1940s one piece.


With fabric shortages during the war time, the US Government issued the L-85 order that basically made smaller swimming suits patriotic. Manufacturers in countries like Australia followed suit introducing the cut outs in midriff and bikinis.

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As the swimwear evolved, so did advertising. In the 1950s, ‘Golden Era’ of Cinematography and ‘Golden Age’ of Television, advertising became even prominent and daring.
Informed by market studies, agencies started positioning their ads to address the perceived consumer needs of safety, belonging and success. They also capitalised on featuring scantily-clad young ladies, which noticeably improved ad content and sales scores.

ANMM Collection

ANMM Collection

ANMM Collection

ANMM Collection

I can just imagine the people at the 3M abrasives and sandpaper company branch, looking for ways to make their abrasive paper products look sexy and appealing to the masses. What a better way than ask Gervais to take two bikini beauties to a lovely beach and make them interact with… yes, sheets and disks of sand paper!

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And didn’t they do a fantastic job? I’m not sure if the masses were running to their nearest hardware shop to get their hands on a box of sand paper, but what I can see is the models and perhaps, even Gervais, having a giggle at the crazy ways to accommodate abrasive material into a perfect beach scene!

Mouths of Gold

The wreck of the Dunbar in 1857 is a well-known story in Sydney and the effect it had on the colony at the time. One of the outcomes of the wreck was the recovery of the artefacts it left behind. In addition to the ship itself, there were hundreds of everyday objects that do not often survive the rigours of domesticity but tell the story of life in a growing colony. In effect the wreck becomes a time capsule, preserving together the materials of many different industries and areas of life.

Denture plate recvered from the Dunbar shipwreck of 1857. ANMM Collection

Denture plate recvered from the Dunbar shipwreck of 1857.
ANMM Collection

There were many day to day items in the Dunbar collection that tell of the increasing wealth of its residents. Remnants of clocks, watches, furniture labels from iron bedframes and ovens, coins, jewellery and silver tableware are just a few. Some small but interesting pieces also found were sets of dentures. These are made of gold and despite their torture like conations, they are surprisingly delicate and one of the many wonders of what could survive a devastating shipwreck such as the Dunbar. It did get me wondering what the state of dentistry was in the colony of Sydney in 1857 and whether these dentures were an export from London, or did they possibly belong to one of the passengers? We know from the passenger list that there were a number of wealthy passengers on board who could have afforded dentures and at least one surgeon, Alexander Bayne,  who might have been a practicing dentist also.

Dentistry across the globe up until this point was an unregulated industry and attracted many pretenders. Traditionally the practice was a side industry for surgeons, chemists and even silversmiths. Australian newspapers from the early 1800’s onwards have numerous advertisements for dentists. And it is interesting to see that most promote other services as well. There were ‘dentists’ who were also apocathries, accoucheurs (male midwives), surgeons, photographers and ‘cuppers’ (practitioners of bloodletting). The usual arrangement at this time was to set up a practice in a room in your house and advertise the hours you would be ‘at home’. It was a relatively casual affair it seems as there was no sterilization or hygiene standards to consider so a ‘dentist’ could indeed be multi-tasking practitioner. Continue reading

A tale of love and adventure between two teakwood panels

The journal of the Loch Bredan

The teakwood cover of the journal of the Loch Bredan made by the ship’s carpenter from the panels of the ship’s charthouse door. The journal was written and illustrated by Chief Officer Robert Robertson Smythe, 1902.
ANMM Collection, photographs by Sabina Escobar, ANMM

The museum recently acquired the journal of the Liverpool barque Loch Bredan, by Chief Officer Robert Robertson Smythe. This wonderful logbook/journal was written and beautifully illustrated by Smythe during his 123-day voyage from Sydney to Liverpool via Cape Horn from the 25 July 1902 to 24 November 1902.

The Loch Bredan, built in 1882, was a steel-hulled barque of the ‘Loch’ ships of Liverpool owned by D&J Sproat & Co. She traded between England, Australia and New Zealand, arriving for the first time in Australia at Watsons Bay on November 1891 after a three-month journey from Antwerp, Belgium. In 1902, the Loch Bredan was forced to return to port within a fortnight of leaving Sydney on the return journey to Liverpool. During this trip, the ship ran into such severe weather that three life boats were smashed along with the charthouse’s doors.

She left Adelaide in September 1903 having picked up crew and cargo and disappeared with no scrap of wreckage ever found. Chief Officer Smythe was not on board, as he had signed off after arriving in Liverpool in November 1902. During this voyage, (the last one before its disappearance) the ship’s carpenter used the teakwood of these doors to make the covers for Smythe’s journal. These covers and the memories written on its pages are the only remaining pieces of the Loch Bredan today. Continue reading

A tale of three blazers, two t-shirts and one pocket – collecting America’s Cup apparel

Imagine a sailor, navigator or tactician and you don’t picture them in a blazer. Blazers are part of a formal uniform which need to be viewed alongside other artefacts to reveal their character and meaning. Most of the jackets and blazers in the sporting collections at museum have been collected as part of a selection of material related to sporting personalities, but here I’ll detail a few of them in isolation, to chart some of the key campaigns during Australia’s participation in the America’s cup.

Photo of

The Australia II crew gathers for the 30th anniversary of Australia’s America’s cup victory in front of Ben Lexcen’s innovative Australia II tank test model on display at ANMM’s Wharf 7 Maritime Heritage centre. Skipper John Bertrand asked to hold Ben Lexcen’s green and gold team jumper as a tangible memory of him, of ‘Benny’. Ben Lexcen died in 1988.

In the years leading up to 1983 Australia had won the right to challenge every three years bar one since 1962. Then Sydney media baron and sailor Sir Frank Packer bankrolled the Alan Payne designed Gretel to scare the Americans a little with its efficient winch system, deck layout and speed to windward. With six further challenges moving from the east to the west coast of Australia the two countries had enjoyed a twenty year rivalry. Continue reading

My Special Place – School students meet Saltwater Visions

One of the education programs for primary and junior high school students at the Australian National Maritime Museum is called ‘My Special Place’. This Visual Arts program focuses on the artist’s use of cultural and personal symbols to communicate a sense of place.

Students with teacher guide in gallery with Indigenous barks and artworks

Students in the museum’s Eora gallery during the My special place schools program

While the Saltwater Visions NAIDOC week display of ten bark paintings from the museum’s Saltwater Collection is on display in the Tasman Light Gallery, the museum’s teacher guides take groups of students and begin their session by sitting them down in front of the barks. Continue reading

60 years on, thanks for all the photographs Sam

Ship's officer with pet dog on SS CHINDWARA, 1912-1933 Photographer: Samuel J Hood Studio ANMM Collection

Ship’s officer with pet dog on SS Chindwara, 1912-1933
Photographer: Samuel J Hood Studio
ANMM Collection

Much of what I research seems to gravitate toward the museum’s Samuel J Hood photographic collection. Even when I try to focus on a specific historical event, the odds are, Sam or one of his photographers were there snapping away and I’m left spellbound by a spectacular series of glass plate negatives. Sixty years ago today, we lost one of our most prolific and compelling photographers. We lost a man who ensured that much of early twentieth-century Sydney was documented for us to appreciate today. Continue reading

George Cruikshank: Satirising the Eastern trade

'An interesting scene on board an East-Indiaman, showing the effects of a heavy lurch, after dinner' by George Cruikshank, 1818 Currently on display in the museum's latest exhibition, East of India - Forgotten trade with Australia ANMM Collection

‘An interesting scene on board an East-Indiaman, showing the effects of a heavy lurch, after dinner’ by George Cruikshank, 1818
Currently on display in the museum’s latest exhibition, East of India – Forgotten trade with Australia
ANMM Collection

‘“Make us laugh or you starve—Give us fresh fun; we have eaten up the old and are hungry”’
~ William Makepeace Thackeray, 1840

In his work, An essay on the genius of George Cruikshank, the English novelist William Makepeace Thackeray wrote in admiration for one of the most famous illustrators of his day. Thackeray was trying to convey how a ‘greedy public’ has ‘bought, borrowed or stole’ a ‘heap of personal kindnesses from George Cruikshank’ and therefore owed a great deal to the caricaturist. In a way, one of Cruikshank’s ‘kindnesses’, an engraving from the museum’s collection, portrays the essence of what Thackeray was trying to say. The themes of greed, fickleness and arrogance highlighted by Thackeray, are illustrated brilliantly in Cruikshank’s caricature which is currently on display in the museum’s latest exhibition, East of India – Forgotten trade with Australia. Continue reading

Discover your past: Inside History Magazine’s Q&A

Inside History Magazine's Expert Q&A with ANMM, December 2012

Inside History Magazine‘s Expert Q&A with ANMM, December 2012

On 13 December 2012, my colleague Penny Hyde and I participated in Inside History Magazine’s weekly Expert Q&A hosted on their Facebook page. For weeks prior to the forum, we brainstormed the kinds of questions people were likely to pose. Nothing, however, could have prepared us for the deluge of interesting questions and comments posted over just one hour! One thing certainly became clear throughout this experience, and that is, there is a growing network of people present online who are passionate about all things genealogy and family history. This is an audience hungry for information and willing to delve into the various research tools open to them. We enjoyed ourselves so much, in the end, we’re not sure if we learned more from them, than they did from us! Continue reading

Flickr Commons turns 5!

Five years ago today the Flickr Commons was launched. Since then, about 250,000 images from 56 different libraries, archives and museums have been uploaded, promoting the world’s photographic collections in all its splendour. I don’t think any of us envisioned the response it has elicited from audiences around the world. In particular, from a large group of elite photo investigators, people the National Library of Ireland refers to as the ‘Flickeroonies’ and who we often call the ‘super sleuths’. This group have invested hours upon hours of thorough research identifying people, places and key events, adding new meaning to the images on The Commons. To celebrate The Commons’ 5th birthday and, as a hats off to these contributors, The Library of Congress sent out a call for the most viewed, commented or favourited images on The Commons. We, and quite a number of other institutions, answered the call and the result was a fascinating array of snapshots from the past.

Baby and a dog on a sailing ship, c 1910. By Samuel Hood, ANMM Collection 00023789

Baby and a dog on a sailing ship, c 1910. By Samuel Hood, ANMM Collection 00023789

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These are a few of our favourite things…

The year is drawing to a close and we have enjoyed investigating, researching and sharing parts of the museum’s collection with you. We have come across the weird and wacky, but we have also made discoveries that have stopped us in our tracks and demonstrated the enormous depth of the collection.


The Whale Cure for Rheumatism in Australia (1902)
Printed in The Graphic
ANMM Collection

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