Anzacs and surf lifesavers

Installing the Souter murals in the Australian National Maritime Museum's Navy gallery

Installing the murals in the Navy gallery, March 2015

A few weeks ago we installed a series of murals in the museum that were painted by David Henry Souter for the Bondi Surf Bathers’ Lifesaving Club (BSBLC). In January 1921 a ceremony was held to unveil an honour roll listing the names of the club members who had served during World War I and died far from their beloved Bondi. Also unveiled that day was this series of murals. The local sporting gazette The Arrow reported on the unveiling and made brief mention of the paintings:

The interior of the clubhouse is now distinctly attractive. The walls are panelled and Bulletin artist Souter has supplied a series of friezes done in his own inimitable style. (21 January 1921, p.6)

Souter (BSBLC President, 1920–21 season) completed the series in 1934 when he painted an additional two works.

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Vivid Weekend number two…

What can be said about weekend number two for our vivid celebrations? For a start, the lead up to the Saturday Night featuring Lane, Jackson and Evie J was blessed by the one and only Neil Murray, a man who can tell a soulful story through music and lyrics.

Neil Murray and Band on the Performance Platform...

Neil Murray and his band on the performance platform…

After Neil played two awesome sets with his band, rising stars Lane Sinclair and Jackson Besley took the stage.

Lane and Jackson performing under a rainbow filled colour scheme.

Lane and Jackson performing under a rainbow filled colour scheme.

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Goat Island – Conservation Kayaking

‘Conservation kayaking’, by former conservator Julie O’Connor. From Signals 103 (June-August 2013).

Centrally located in Sydney Harbour, Goat Island is managed by NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS). As part of the recent Sydney Harbour National Parks Management Plan, NPWS plans to encourage greater use of the island.

NPWS officers are working with volunteer organisations to preserve the botanical and biological environment surrounding the island’s buildings. During August, September and October 2012, I made three visits to historic Goat Island with a group of conservation kayakers, which offered an insight into the island’s maritime history.

Preparing for the trip.

Preparing for the trip.

On each visit to the island, we launched our kayaks from Birchgrove Park, and then circumnavigated the island from east to west. Approaching from the south-east, we passed an Aboriginal shell midden, a pile of discarded shells on the shore. This is the last dietary remnant of the Sydney Aboriginal people who used Goat Island before its colonial occupation from the 1820s. It later became a source of lime for mortar during the construction of buildings on the island.

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Suitcases, boats and bridges

Last week I was invited to speak about the museum’s work at the Suitcases, boats and bridges: telling migrant stories in Australian museums workshop, organised by Dr Nina Parish from the University of Bath and Dr Chiara O’Reilly from the University of Sydney. The workshop brought together academics, museum professionals and museum studies students to discuss how migrant stories have been collected and articulated in a number of Australian museums, ranging from large government-funded institutions such as ours, to smaller regional, suburban or volunteer-run museums.

Suitcases and boats in Passengers, the museum's permanent exhibition about Australia's immigration history. Photographer Andrew Frolows

Suitcases and boats in Passengers, the museum’s permanent exhibition about Australia’s immigration history. Photographer Andrew Frolows

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Applications open – MMAPSS 2013-14

The 2013–2014 round of the Maritime Museums of Australia Project Support Scheme (or MMAPSS) annual grants program is now open to support eligible Australian organisations that care for and preserve Australia’s maritime heritage.

The applications closing date is 31 August 2013.

Grants of up to $10,000 each are available to support legally incorporated not-for-profit organisations that care for Australia’s maritime heritage and a variety of project types are eligible for funding in the areas of collection management, conservation, presentation, the development of relevant education or public programs which make significant collections more accessible to audiences and museological training.

The MMAPSS internships program offers an opportunity for staff and volunteers from regional and remote organisations to spend time at the Australian National Maritime Museum for up to two weeks with funding of up to $3,000 available for successful applicants.

The program last year supported four internships and the projects of 30 organisations including variety such as a research project into Mallacoota’s regional military maritime history from WWI, a digital film documentary on paddle steamer and barge building at Goolwa 1853-1913, data logging units to monitor collection storage conditions at Eden Killer Whale Museum, and the development of a Vessel Management Plan (VMP) for the P.S Canally.

On arrival at Morgan October 2011  (Photographer J.Seton)

P.S Canally on arrival at Morgan October 2011
(Photographer J.Seton) – P.S Canally Restoration Committee

If your organisation has an object or collection that contributes to an understanding of Australia, its people and developments which have influenced its maritime history you may be interested to visit the MMAPSS website for details about the application process, key dates, eligibility and a list of past grant recipients.

You can also make contact via the details on the website if you have any questions about the program or want to discuss your project.

– MMAPSS Coordinator

The Maritime Museums of Australia Project Support Scheme is funded by the Australian Government.

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

Hidden in plain sight: revealing the Sirius anchor

If you read my previous blog, you might know that we’re currently treating the Sirius anchor while it’s on display inside the Australian National Maritime Museum.

Sometimes, actions taken to protect objects change their appearance.  When the Sirius anchor was prepared for its original conservation treatment in 1986, a thick layer of marine concretion and organic growth acquired during nearly 200 years underwater was removed with hammer, chisel and a descaling gun.  This exposed the corroded metal of the anchor and allowed it to be treated by electrolysis – this process converts corroded iron to black metal and removes salts.  When treatment was completed the Sirius anchor was painted with an anticorrosive coating.  The thick, black, glossy paint flowed into the crevices and channels throughout the anchor, rounding off the anchor’s surface and filling in some of its texture.

A newly recovered anchor in its treatment tank, clothed in marine concretion and organic growth.  This image appears to be the Sirius anchor on display at ANMM.  Image courtesy Jon Carpenter, WAM.

A newly recovered anchor in its treatment tank, clothed in marine concretion and organic growth. This image appears to be of the Sirius anchor on display at ANMM. Image courtesy Jon Carpenter, WAM.

Now that the coating has reached the end of its life and we are removing it, the Sirius anchor is slowly being re-revealed.  The exposed surface has the characteristic ‘eroded wood’ appearance of corroded wrought iron.  We can now see the complex texture of the anchor, with its chains of islands, undulating channels, serrated points and small hollows.  We have also found the holes drilled into the anchor to take the cathode rods used in the electrolysis process.

direction of bars

The construction of the anchor is visible again. The hole drilled for the cathode rod has also been revealed (at the top of the image).

The anchor was created by hammering together a series of iron bars under intense heat.  The direction of channels and ridges in the anchor’s surface show the meeting and fusing of these bars.  The construction of the anchor, disguised for 25 years, is now becoming visible again.

The Sirius anchor has been on display in the museum since 1991.  Despite its monumental size, there is a tendency for visitors to hurry past the anchor to temporary exhibitions and perhaps not really see it.  Yet now, as we work on the anchor, visitors are stopping by for a chat and they have lots of questions about what we’re doing.

Some visitors are surprised to discover that there is such a day-job as conservation.  Indeed, one visitor asked us if we were real!  Perhaps they had never seen anything other than a manikin in a display environment.

Usually – in order not to disrupt the visitor experience – we undertake the maintenance of permanent displays before opening hours, almost secretively. But this means that the public have little opportunity to appreciate what goes into putting and keeping objects on display.

While working on the anchor we’ve met a First Fleet descendent whose ancestor came to Australia on Sirius, chemistry students studying aspects of maritime archaeology, and children fascinated by the tools and muck which are all part of large object conservation. We’re loving meeting visitors while giving the anchor the conservation care it needs.

We’ll be working on the anchor on weekdays until July 5, so be sure to stop by and meet this significant piece of Australian history and the people who look after it.

ANMM staff and volunteers at work on the anchor.
Clockwise from top left: Senior Paper Conservator Caroline Whitley, Shipwright Lee Graham, Senior Textiles Conservator Sue Frost and volunteer Jan Russell painstakingly remove the old coating.

Elysium Antarctic Visual Epic – opens 13 April

Antarctica, a place I dream of exploring, but like so many of us, it seems so out of reach. That’s why I can’t wait to for the exhibition Elysium Antarctic Visual Epic to open at the museum this Saturday.

Photo of man in icy water

Videographer braves below-zero waters, Danco Island. Steve Jones/

The exhibition follows a team of 57 explorers from 18 countries that set out on a unique scientific and artistic expedition to Antarctica in 2010 to document the environment and record any evidence of climate change. Continue reading

Ferguson Reef archaeology expedition 21 – 24 March

Thursday 21 March

Before departing Lizard Island this morning the team took advantage of the early start by climbing Cook’s Look the iconic hill on Lizard Island. The same hill climbed by Lieutenant James Cook and some of the crew of HMB Endeavour in 1770 shortly after that vessel had run aground on a coral patch now known as Endeavour Reef, south of Lizard Island. Cook used this vantage spot to find his way out of the ‘labyrinth’ which had so nearly claimed his vessel.

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Expedition team at Cooks Look

After climbing Cook’s Look our expedition vessels departed Lizard Island bound for the Flinders Group, 50 or so miles north.

After a smooth passage the two vessels anchored in the channel between the cluster of islands that make up the Flinders Group just south and east of Princess Charlotte Bay. In March 1899 a cyclone destroyed a pearling fleet anchored in the Bay, with the loss of over 400 lives including at least 100 local Aboriginal people who were swept away and drowned as the result of a huge tidal surge associated with the cyclone. Continue reading

A week away, working in the UK

Over the last week of February I travelled to the UK as part of my work at the museum, where my first appointment was to attend the meeting of the International Congress of Maritime Museums’ (ICMM) International Historic and Traditional Ships panel. I have been a member of this panel since it was brought together in 2011, and the broad aim is to be an advocate on behalf of historic and traditional ships in relation to their various survey and regulation issues, including both operational and static craft.  We met in Greenwich, hosted by Martyn Heighton from National Historic Ships UK, which manages a register similar to our Australian Register of Historic Vessels (ARHV)  and works from the National Maritime Museum (NMM). In practical terms we were there to coordinate progress from the two working parties, and as Convener of Working Party Two I had a detailed report to present, with discussion and further actions to move forward with. Continue reading

A chance encounter in Albury

Last week I went to Albury to install our travelling exhibition On their own – Britain’s child migrants at Albury LibraryMuseum. This lively venue is the only regional stop in our national tour, which has so far taken in Adelaide, Melbourne, Fremantle and Canberra.

While Albury was not a major destination for British child migrants, it does have strong links with Australia’s immigration history because of its proximity to the Bonegilla Migrant Reception and Training Centre near Wodonga. Bonegilla (1947–71) was Australia’s largest and longest-operating migrant reception centre and many of the post-war migrants who passed through it later settled in the Albury-Wodonga region.

Border Mail article, 1950

Border Mail article, 1950. Pam Wright is front row, second from right

I was fascinated to discover that a small group of British children was sent to St John’s Orphanage in Thurgoona, in the outer suburbs of Albury, in 1950. The 22 girls sailed on Asturias and their arrival was reported in the Border Mail under the misguided headline ‘Orphans arrive here to start their life afresh.’ One of the youngest in the group, five-year-old Pam Wright, was told she was an orphan, even though both her parents were alive. She says, ‘The day before I was shipped, I was with my father.’

Pam’s father tracked her down in Australia and tried to claim her but was told she had been declared a ward of the state. After pleading his case to politicians, Pam was eventually released into her father’s care. In 1990, 40 years after being sent from England, she was finally reunited with her mother. You can hear more about Pam’s story in her interview with ABC Radio.

Curator Kim Tao and Pam Wright at the exhibition

Curator Kim Tao and Pam Wright at the exhibition, 2013. Photographer Jules Boag/Albury LibraryMuseum

Pam spoke eloquently about her experiences and their enduring impact on her life at the official opening of the exhibition on 23 February. I spoke of how stories like Pam’s reveal Albury’s connections to broader national and international narratives of child migration. I also mentioned how the exhibition has created opportunities for many former child migrants to reunite with family, friends and the material culture relating to their migration. But I never expected the drama that would soon unfold!

As I led visitors on a tour of On their own, I could hear the commotion at the back of the group when a visitor, Connie – who by chance was visiting from WA – rounded the corner and saw her younger sister Beryl in a photograph in the exhibition. Once her shock and excitement subsided, Connie realised that she too was in the photograph, along with her three brothers. All five siblings were sent to the Fairbridge Farm School at Pinjarra, south of Perth, and this photograph captured them on the very day they arrived in Fremantle on Ormonde in 1950, the same year as Pam Wright.

Children with belongings, 1950. Connie (L) and Beryl (R) with their three brothers

Children with belongings, 1950. Connie (L) and Beryl (R) with their three brothers. State Library of WA 005080D

I had been intrigued by this photograph since I first saw it in the State Library of WA back in 2009. It was part of a collection of well-constructed arrival photographs, surely designed to encourage continued government and public support for the child migration schemes that were once considered generous philanthropy but are now widely condemned as flawed social policy. I was interested in the subjects of this well-composed photograph – the boys in their distinctive striped Fairbridge ties; the girl on the left, who we now know is Connie, with her Orient Line suitcase – but I never expected them to be a family group.

Connie and Beryl with their photo in the exhibition

Connie and Beryl with their photo in the exhibition, 2013. Photographer Kim Tao/ANMM

This latest encounter during the national tour of On their own once again reinforces the value of telling personal stories and presenting living history in museums. It also demonstrates the wonderful role museums play in collecting this history, making it accessible and reconnecting people with their heritage and material culture. Here’s to Connie, Beryl and chance encounters.

Kim Tao
Curator, Post-Federation Immigration

On their own – Britain’s child migrants is showing at Albury LibraryMuseum from 23 February to 28 April 2013.

Meet Kieran Hosty, manager of maritime archaeology

Our education team recently caught up with Kieran Hosty, the museum’s manager of maritime archaeology, to find out more about his job and upcoming expedition to Ferguson Reef, off the coast Queensland.

Kieran wearing scuba gear sitting on boat at sea

Kieran Hosty, manager of maritime archaeology

What does your role at the museum involve?

Over the last 12 months my position at the museum has changed from that of a curator with a primary responsibility of managing a collection to that of full time manager of the museum’s expanding maritime archaeology program. When I was a curator I was responsible for immigration, ship technologies and marine archaeology. My work includes research, documentation, site survey and assessment of underwater cultural heritage, along with museum exhibition concept, design and installation. Continue reading

MB 172 returns to the museum

This week, MB 172 returned to the museum after its annual slipping. Looking great with a new colour scheme, the vessel can now be viewed from the museum wharves.

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MB 172 on display at the museum wharves

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Cooktown: The museum heads north for a week

It’s hot. And humid. But what else can you expect for far north Queensland in December? And it could have been worse – however, the southest trades were blowing across the hills on the coast, providing a margin of comfort across the town.

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Cooktown from Grassy Hill, looking to the south west in the evening

Everyone drives a 4WD, but I was on foot, and in Cooktown to undertake a museum outreach project funded through a grant from the Maritime Museums of Australia Project Support Scheme (MMAPSS). My goal was to document and write a management plan for May-Belle, an iron flood boat and ferry from the gold-rush era of the late 1800s, and part of the James Cook Museum collection, expertly managed by Melanie Piddocke.

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May Belle being measured

The real heat was on the Tuesday – with six hours spent in the tin shed annexe where the boat was stored, often down on hands and knees, or lying under the vessel. It was dusty, dirty and over 30 degrees even with the shutter doors open. Plenty of fluids kept things under control and by early afternoon, after an 8 am start, I had enough data recorded to retire to an air-conditioned room and draw out the elements from the dimensions taken, then give it a check. All good at the end the day, and dinner that night with Melanie and former council administrator Darcy Gallop, who retrieved the vessel in 1973, brought out some stories about the social side of the craft, which is now on the Australian Register of Historic Vessels, along with its close sisters up in Coen, even further north.

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Cherry Tree Bay at 6 am

On Wednesday I began writing the report, putting together a comprehensive management plan about the vessel’s history, construction, current condition and how best to conserve, interpret and display the vessel. At lunch Melanie and I met Ian McRae from the regional council, who had overseen putting the Coen boat up for nomination. Ian is a keen supporter of heritage in the area and was about to let the Coen people know their craft had been recognised.

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An indigenous outrigger canoe made in 2010

For Thursday Melanie had kindly organised a meeting with the Indigenous community in Hope Vale, 45 minutes inland. This is the successor to Hope Valley, formerly on Cape Bedford, which had been forcibly abandoned during World War 2. This incident is not well recognised and is one of a series of sad events that have overrun the Guugu Yimithirr community since the goldrush of the 1870s ‒ the event that brought the flood boats into being.

At Hope Vale I discussed the museum’s work and the experience of the conference Nawi – exploring Australia’s Indigenous watercraft, plus my own particular involvement with building nawi, and heard from them what they knew of their own outriggers. These are hollowed-out logs with a hunting platform at one end, and a single outrigger. Willie Gordon, a well-respected community member and acclaimed leader of tours into his country, was particularly interested. Later in the day renowned local artist Roy McIvor and his wife, Thelma, came by the museum to meet us, hear about the ANMM work and talk about their story too. It was a wonderful exchange, and if the ANMM can host another conference in the future we look forward to inviting more representatives from the Cooktown and Hope Vale area.

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Endeavour river Cooktown, the site where Endeavour was beached for repairs.

As well as the work side there was time early in the mornings and late evenings to walk the coastline bush track, or take in the view from Grassy Hill, where James Cook had stood assessing his situation as Endeavour was being repaired on the shoreline below him in 1770. The James Cook Museum display talks about the community’s stories about this event, too; by 1770 they were accustomed to foreign ships, as Macassan traders been coming for trochus and beche-de-mer for probably 100 years or more before. The Macassans came and went, however, but this visitor in his big canoe did not just come and go in a short time, he stayed for a long time, but did manage to make contact. Both sides of the community, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, recognise the importance of this event. Two key artefacts reside in the museum, the anchor Endeavour lost and one of the cannon jettisoned to make the ship lighter. Through the dry season many tourists come to Cooktown to see these and learn more about the event that dramatically affected this community.

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Endeavour anchor and cannon on display at James Cook Museum

Vivienne T

Vivienne T in the conservation lab

The Commerce gallery, one of our oldest galleries at the museum, is currently being dismantled to make way for a new temporary exhibition space. Installed before the museum opened to the public in 1991, all of the objects that were on display are being lovingly taken out of their showcases and moved to collection stores. As part of the process, conservation staff will now check and photograph each object over the coming months. Even museum objects change as they age and we expect that some objects will look a little different from when they were originally put on display.

One of Vivienne T’s tyres dripping yellow fluid. The fluid is probably stabilisers which have migrated out of the rubber tyre.

Vivienne T was among the first objects to be removed from the gallery. Vivienne T is a remote controlled scale model of the 1940s Tasmanian lobster fishing craft of the same name. The model has changed a little since collection. The tiny tyres strung along her side as fenders have begun to deteriorate and have sticky surfaces. This is a characteristic way in which plastics and similar materials change over time. Now that the deterioration process has begun, it can’t be reversed. Unfortunately, the change to the tyres has stained the side of model and is damaging the paint.

After some thought, and discussion with the curator of this object, we’ve decided to cast one of the original tyres and replace them all. There are some problems with this idea. The tyres are original to the model, and we prefer to keep and repair original material where we can. But, the tyres have started to change. We expect that the tyres will only get worse from now on and may continue to damage Vivienne T. In the end, we felt that this was the right approach. The tyres will be cast from a stable material like plaster to make sure this doesn’t happen again in the future. In a couple of weeks, with a little help from our conservators and preparators, Vivienne T will look just like she did when she came to us in 1991.

Vivienne T at acquisition