Warships, storyworlds and the story so far

I’ve walked through our Oberon-class submarine many times. Before the visitors arrive, it’s quiet. You can hear the creaking of the ropes that secure the sub to the wharf, and sometimes the far away voices of people in Darling Harbour. Remnants of life onboard remain – the boardgames in the mess, the roster on the wall and the ingredients in the kitchen – settled and silent. I’ve also been onboard the patrol boat Advance and climbed up and down from the bridge to the kitchen, avoiding its sharp corners and examining the menacing-looking Bofors guns on deck. I’ve walked onboard our destroyer HMAS Vampire many times before too. It smells like the 70s. There’s linoleum throughout, a faint scent of oil and what might be the remaining tendrils of thousands of cooked dinners served in the mess. There’s a sense of chasing someone else’s long-forgotten memories down the lengthy corridors and through the maze of tunnels and ladders.

In the past nine months, in the course of researching these three vessels, I’ve also spent many hours speaking with naval personnel about their time serving on HMAS Onslow, Advance and Vampire. Through their stories, photographs and records, I got glimpses of three very alive, very dangerous and very exciting worlds. One submariner described to me the sounds that the ocean makes when it wakes in the morning, how you can hear the animals stir and react to the sun the same way that birds do at dawn. Another described the feeling, through your feet, of the submarine dashing away from the surface and diving beneath the waves. It sounded to me like the feeling of taking off in a small airplane – just going in the other direction. One ex-submarine commander talked sparingly of his involvement in covert operations onboard Oberon submarines, responding to our questions with silence and a smile.

HMAS VAMPIRE at sea, image courtesy of the Sea Power Centre Australia

HMAS VAMPIRE at sea, image courtesy of the Sea Power Centre Australia

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The ‘oldest yachtsman’ in Sydney and his love for ATHENE

David Carment in Sydney Harbour
Reproduced courtesy of Professor David Sulman Carment

Every week I come across new discoveries being made on our Flickr Commons stream. One of my aims in writing about the historic watercraft that graced Australian waters is to try and find the people behind the vessels. I want to discover the families who made these vessels their own and developed a close connection with them. One such story yet again sprung out of a Samuel J Hood photograph from our collection, depicting a bearded man in front of the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron headquarters in Kirribilli, Sydney. One of our Flickr followers suggested a name and once I had that name, a connection was formed and then, a story was born. Continue reading

Up close and personal with MV KRAIT

I have been a student of history for many years now, and I know the profound feeling of standing in a landscape, an ancient temple, or in front of an object that you have only ever read about. Seeking that visceral connection to a place, time or person confined to a moment in history is where museums and their objects can be so important – to bring reality to the text on the page or the unmoving photograph.

Yesterday morning I experienced something of that feeling when I had the honour of accompanying the Australian National Maritime Museum’s fleet services crew during a maintenance voyage of the historic vessel MV Krait.

MV Krait passing Garden Island during a maintenance voyage, March 2013. ANMM Photo

MV Krait passing Garden Island during a maintenance voyage, March 2013. ANMM Photo

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Hood’s Harbour – Tales from ‘100 Stories’

In the 1890s, young photographer Samuel (Sam) John Hood developed an excellent strategy for a lucrative business in ship and crew portraits. He would hitch a ride on a tugboat to photograph sailing vessels ready to enter Sydney Harbour and, with his portfolio under his arm, would then board the ship and convince the captain to let him sell photographs to the crew – with the promise of a similar oil painting for the captain or a free portrait. With the captain’s assent, Hood’s bill for photographs was deducted from the crew’s wages, so they didn’t have to ‘pay’ a penny upfront.

Black and white photograph of Queen Mary troopship with tug boat alongside

Samuel J Hood Studio Queen Mary as Troopship, May 1940 Nitrate negative, 8 x 10.5cm

He would then rush back to his city studio or his home studios in Balmain and, using a trick of the trade, paint the sails (based on the particular ship’s rigging plan) onto the photograph of the vessel, which he would then rephotograph and present to the crew as postcards. Apparently, few sailors saw though his retouching techniques (often also applied by skilled marine artists such as Walter Barratt, Reginald Arthur Borstel, George Frederick Gregory and John Allcot).

The turn of the 20th century marked the end of the sailing ship era and the growing dominance of steam vessels. This had implications for Hood’s business, as steamship crews were less inclined to request photographs of their vessels.

… By the 1920s, Hood had moved from ship postcards to the newspapers’ social and sport pages. With an excellent eye for everyday subjects, he was a leader in the early development of photojournalism.

The entire collection of the Samuel J Hood studio is enormous – of about 33,000 images, the museum holds more than 9,000, primarily related to maritime scenes. The industry around, and activity on, Sydney Harbour during the busy early to mid-20th century remained some of Hood’s favourite subjects. His iconic photograph of the troopship Queen Mary in 1940 (pictured) captures the drama of manoeuvring a large vessel on the harbour.

Stephen Gapps
Curator, Environment, Industry and Shipping

An excerpt from 100 Stories from the Australian National Maritime Museum. Available as a free eBook for iPad from the iBookstore or hard copy versions available for purchase through our museum store.

Restoring hope and a fishing boat called ‘Freedom’

With all the rain in Sydney recently, you could be forgiven for forgetting what blue sky looks like. But for the Lu family, who arrived in Australia in 1977 on the Vietnamese refugee boat Tu Do, the colour sky blue is forever etched in their memories as the colour of freedom.

After the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, South Vietnamese businessman Tan Thanh Lu pooled resources with friends and built a fishing boat, Tu Do (meaning Freedom), to escape Communist Vietnam. Mr Lu painted the boat sky blue to blend into the ocean and to evade authorities and the notorious Thai pirates who preyed on boat people. Continue reading

Photography competition winners announced!

To celebrate the museum’s 20th anniversary on 29 November 2011, we launched a photographic competition inviting visitors to share their museum moments from the past 20 years.

We received some fantastic entries from visitors across Australia, including a number of photos from Endeavour‘s  current circumnavigation voyage. Below we feature the winning entries. Congratulations to Jacob, Sophie and Mitchell!

If you would like to view more of the entries, check out our Flickr page.

The winning photographs, along with a selection of other entries will feature in an upcoming issue of Australian Photography magazine and the next issue of Signals, the museum’s quarterly publication.

What’s your favourite photo? Tell us in the comments below or on Flickr, we’d love to know!

Winning entries

Overall best photograph and category winner of From your archives – photographs from 1991 – 1999

200 degree view of ANMM from Batavia by Jacob R NSW

Jacob R. (NSW) Taken: December 1999
200 Degrees Darling Harbour from Batavia’s Mainmast.

Category winner of New memories – Photographs from 2000 – 2012

Endeavour at full sail by Sophie M WA

Sophie M. (WA) Taken: 13 October 2011
This photo is of HMB Endeavour firing its canon in respect as it circled the Leeuwin on its ways into Fremantle Harbour.

Category winner of Kids only! – Photographs taken by children 16 years and younger

HMAS Vampire artillery by Mitchell K NSW

Mitchell K. (NSW) Taken: July 2011
A view of the artillery on HMAS Vampire.

Bark canoe workshop, Ulladulla – Part 2

Sunday, 22 January

The day started with bright sunshine, another fire, renewed energy and good ideas. One idea included thinning down the middle of the third bark sheet, as this was the area that was hardest to fold. Another idea was to dismantle canoe number one, reduce its width, cut off the daggy end and start it again.  While we waited for the fire to heat up and then settle down, Tom went down the road to cut some blueberry ash branches for the beams we would need later on.

Heating up the bark with potatoes in fire

Sheet number three went on the fire and started to heat up, while Paul started lunch preparations by popping foil wrapped potatoes underneath the sheet of bark! The folds went well this time as we reheated and folded the ends of the first sheet again. We were now getting the results we wanted – tight vertical sets of folds, neatly pegged and bound, with longer strips of bark making the binding easier. The process was working.

The physical nature of the work builds a healthy appetite and plenty of potatoes were cooked, and then consumed as the morning went into lunch.

Left: folding corners Right: completed canoe 

The last thing to do was to secure and strengthen the middle of the canoes with cross branches and bark ties, pulling it all together.  The re-formed canoe number one looked a bit thin on the sides, so we decided to add branches that would form gunwales, a feature not widely reported on this type of canoe. Most records suggest they had some cross beams or frames only, but at least one or two reports observed canoes where the sides had been strengthened in this way.

We cut down the blueberry ash branches that had been de-barked by Tom, and tied them into place with smaller bark strips. We tried different ways of sewing the bark through the bark sides and tying the various parts into place. Two hulls were completed over the afternoon before it was time to tidy up, take a group photo and call it a day. 

Group photo of canoe builders 

The desired outcomes were achieved. First and foremost we had learnt and improved with every step we took. We had also gained invaluable experience with the material. We began to recognise its qualities and how to take advantage of them.  There was great satisfaction all round by being part of this process, and realising how much had been learnt and could be passed on.

Finally we had three boats, one for each of the three groups who participated. Three boats that we hope will encourage more and help re-establish a vital piece of Indigenous culture that has been missing for a number of generations. 

David Payne
Curator, Historic Vessel Register

Read: Bark canoe workshop, Ulladulla – Part 2

Work experience with the fleet team

My name is Joel and I’m a 16 year old from Picnic Point High School. Over the past week I have been doing some work experience at the Australian National Maritime Museum as a way to learn more about my hopeful career in the Navy. For the past week I have been observing and helping, where I can, the fleet crew and numerous volunteers. The people have been so helpful, welcoming and willing to share their vast knowledge with me.

Joel onboard Advance

Joel onboard patrol vessel Advance

I spent my first day working on a World War II raider ship cleaning, learning different knots and rope techniques, as well as getting to know everyone there. There’s a really interesting history to the ship and the guys were very welcoming and a lot of fun.

The next day I spent most of my time on HMAS Onslow submarine and HMAS Vampire destroyer with the guys that keep it running and the volunteers that run the tours and share their knowledge with visitors and me, as some of them are themselves ex-Navy.

Joel helping place the gangway to RV Whale Song

Joel helping place the gangway to RV Whale Song

I have spent some time learning the unique and interesting history behind the vessels I have been working on. I have experienced how dockyards work when observing the mast of Thistle, a ship from the 1900’s, being unstepped and craned up to the docks for further restoration. Later that day the fleet manager Phil took me around the harbour on a RHIB (rigid-hulled inflatable boat) to see some of the Naval ports and stations. As this was one of my first real maritime experience, it was a lot of fun. I will also be accompanying an old Navy patrol vessel across the harbour, which will be a memorable experience.

I also got to have a look around the museum and the other Navy patrol boats learning all the maritime rules and little techniques from the shipwrights and workers. It has been a great and rewarding experience and I would like to say thank you to everyone that helped me: Phillip McKendrick, Jim, Jeff, Michael, Peter, Lee, Ben, Joe, Warrick, all the volunteers, and Gemma who made it possible for me to spend time here.

Joel.