The day has finally arrived for the opening of our #HoodsHarbour exhibition! Showcasing a small selection from our Samuel (Sam) J Hood collection, #HoodsHarbour pays homage to the work of a group of individuals we call our ‘super sleuths’. Thanks to their efforts on our Flickr Commons page, we were able to solve the mystery behind the image that formed the inspiration for this exhibition – the lovely Hera Roberts. The story of this discovery symbolises the way that our followers have enriched our collection, unearthing its secrets and finding its hidden stories. Hood’s photograph of Hera remains the highest viewed and most favourited on the museum’s Flickr Commons photostream to date. More than 80 years after it was taken, Hera continues to captivate and inspire our audiences. Continue reading
Over the past few weeks I have been working my way through a wonderful collection of textiles, handcrafts, photographs and family heirlooms donated by Anu Mihkelson, who as a toddler migrated from Sweden to Australia with her Estonian parents Oskar and Magda in 1948.
The Mihkelson collection is one of the museum’s richest collections relating to Australia’s post-World War II immigration history. Some of the material will go on display later this year in our Passengers Gallery but in the meantime I thought I would show you a few pieces from the collection that combine two of my favourite things – history and knitting!
Anu’s mother Magda Mihkelson was an accomplished knitter who used her needlework skills to help contribute to the family income. She knitted traditional Estonian Haapsalu lace scarves and intricately-patterned cardigans to order, both while part of the vibrant Estonian refugee community in Sweden in the 1940s, and later amongst the rural migrant cane-cutting and mining hubs of northern Queensland, where Oskar Mihkelson worked.
Magda was such a prolific knitter that she even knitted up all her leftover wool as the family travelled by train from Sweden to Genoa, Italy, to board the Lloyd Triestino liner Toscana for the six-week voyage to Australia.
Anu has written a poem about her mother’s knitting that speaks volumes about women’s work, war and displacement, the industriousness of migrants, and the adaptation of European cultural traditions to the Australian context. She has kindly allowed me to reproduce the poem here and I hope you enjoy it.
She knitted when the house was asleep
Occasionally at the child in the cot she would peep
Peace around her to concentrate
With each item a little more money to make.
Jacquard, chevron, cable,
Samples set out on the table
Haapsalu scarves to slip through a wedding ring
Others to wear by those who sing
At an Estonian Song Festival.
Colourful gloves, bonnets, socks,
Patterns counted off graph-paper blocks,
Traditional snowflakes respecting the trust
Of Estonia left behind, in war’s dust.
In Sweden she did this in earnest
For she was a refugee
And her work was done for a fee.
In Estonia it was a woman’s art
To knit, crochet and dress smart
But then in 1944 with her life she fled
Knitting needles now clicked the feelings not said.
The nickel plated needles are worn
Paper ends to hold the stitches, now torn;
Small double-pointed needles
For socks and mittens and cable sweaters.
Crochet hooks in different sizes –
Later the handkerchiefs won prizes.
All the pieces tell a story
Of migration, and someone else’s war glory
My pink jacket and blue skirt with straps
Other cultures fused
The Christening shawl not used
Since I grew and needed a skirt.
All packed in a trunk
I close the lid,
On all she did.
Life was not to be a failure –
Off again, this time to Australia.
At Tully and Mission Beach
For her family safety was within reach
Swim trunks of merino
White angora bolero
Jacket with cherry bunches
Many hours she hunches
The pattern was wrong
It took so long
The client’s payment seemed a song.
Then off to Mount Isa we went
There eight years were spent.
Days were hot and dry
Still, there was wool –
And the winter nights were cool
She knitted, ready for a southern clime,
Sydney … it was time.
You can read more about the Mihkelson family’s incredible journey from Estonia to Australia via Sweden in Anu’s books Three Suitcases and a Three-Year-Old (Kangaroo Press 1999) and The View from Here (self-published 2011).
Curator, Post-Federation Immigration
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.Continue reading
Ever since the museum joined Flickr Commons in 2008, we have gleaned a wealth of invaluable information related to photographic items from the collection. Flickr users have scanned images noticing the tiniest details, such as barely discernible ship names and locations. With their generous help we have been able to attach names to faces, found their stories and retold them with the aid of stunning photography particularly from the Samuel J Hood and William J Hall collections. One such example of the power of the Flickr Commons community was in the investigation of the Hall photographs of the lower Hawkesbury River region taken around 1900. A simple comment left by a Flickr user lead to correspondence with a historical society in an effort to learn more about the photographs. This was followed by a personal quest to explore Hall’s Hawkesbury and imagine what travelling the area may have been like for the man with the glass plate camera. Continue reading
In a sea of faces, some worried, some jubilant, Private John Michael Hassett poses for a picture. It is October 1916, Melbourne, and Hassett and other members of his battalion are just about to board the troopship Nestor to leave for war. Hassett kneels in the front row, his hat turned to the side and his kit bag rolled forward to expose his name and service number. Perhaps he intended his name to be recorded when posing for the camera – perhaps not – however this is exactly what happened.