On 15 October 1904, a ‘young skipper’ with a ‘bright future’ brimming with promise was born. Alexis François Albert took to sailing as if it was in his blood. In conjunction with the success his father Frank enjoyed with Rawhiti, Alexis skippered the 21-foot yacht Boomerang. However, it was with the eight-metre yacht Norn that he truly shone. Combined with his success on the water, J Albert and Son also flourished as he assumed the mantle of managing director in 1931, aged 27. As J Albert and Son progressed and Alexis pursued his passion for sailing, the advent of television in 1956 and the rock n’ roll era of the 1960s and 70s changed the face of the entertainment industry. One man stepped forward with the creative vision that would harvest a string of chart-topping hits and dramatically shape Australia’s cultural landscape for years to come. This is the next instalment of the Albert family story. Continue reading
It was a clear and crisp autumn afternoon in 1925 when ‘one of Sydney’s show yachts’ sailed up to the Man-o’-war steps in Farm Cove, Sydney. Father and son, Frank and Alexis Albert, were about to host an afternoon with the Governor and his daughter on board their 54-foot cutter, Rawhiti. This was a long way from 41 years previously when, again in Farm Cove, Frank was just 10 years old and first set foot on Sydney’s unfamiliar shores. This tale started for me when one of our Flickr Commons investigators recognised Frank and Alexis in a Samuel J Hood photograph. As I delved deeper into the Albert family history, I became more and more fascinated by their remarkable story. It tells of a journey to the unknown, of new beginnings and innovation. In many ways, the Alberts sailed through Australia’s “golden years”, not just on Sydney Harbour but through that other “golden age” – of rock n’ roll. This is part one of their story. Continue reading
The small village of Rockley, 35km south of Bathurst in NSW, has a heritage that echoes of both England and India. The three locations are linked by the adventurous life of one man; soldier settler Watson Augustus Steel, whose life I began to look into in the lead up to the museum’s East of India exhibition.
Steel was born in 1789 in Wiltshire, England, the son of Colonel Thomas Steel of the 117th Regiment and the youngest of four sons – all of whom were soldiers. Following in the family tradition of military careers, Watson Augustus Steel was one of the original foundation cadets of the Royal Military College Marlow (Sandhurst) when it was inaugurated by the Duke of York on 17 May, 1802. Upon his graduation in 1806, Steel was posted to the 89th Regiment of Foot where he remained for most of his army service.
This is something I discovered recently during the process of registering part of the large collection of photographic negatives, taken by photographer Gervaise Purcell, and acquired by the Australian National Maritime Museum.
It seems that some skills take more than a lifetime to gain – they have to be inherited, in the blood. This is certainly the case with many boat builders and none more so than Bill Barnett, one of Sydney Harbour’s finest wooden boat builders and the man who designed, built and raced his 18-footer Myra Too to glory in 1951.
The Australian National Maritime Museum has recently been assisting with a project to build a replica of Barnett’s Myra Too, however the success of this yacht in Barnett’s expert hands forms only a small chapter in a life full of achievement on and off the water.
We will remember them
Amidst ANZAC day commemorations, Samuel J Hood's photographs stand as a poignant pictorial record of those who served and lost their lives in World War I. There are many photographs in the collection, however, here are some highlights depicting Australian soldiers marching the streets of Sydney. Macquarie Street, Garden Island and Central Station are featured in their former early 20th century glory, as crowds of people gather to catch a glimpse of the brave men about to set sail for war.
In 2008 while researching and developing the museum’s travelling exhibition Exposed! The story of Swimwear, I was contacted by Leigh Purcell, the son of respected Australian commercial photographer Gervaise Purcell (1919 – 1999). His work from the late 1940s covered a variety of fashion and maritime related subjects for clients including retailing giants David Jones and Hordern Bros, radio technology manufacturer Amalgamated Wireless Australasia (AWA), swimwear manufacturer Jantzen, tourism operator Ansett Airways, and cruise ship operators P&O.
Leigh told me he still had his father’s Graflex Crown Graphic camera, camera accessories and a box of negatives including some from swimwear fashion shoots in the 1950s. I jumped at the chance to see his father’s commercial work and so we met at the museum’s photography studio to view the negatives. Leigh kindly allowed our photographer Andrew Frolows to digitally scan a selection of the negatives into positives. This process revealed arresting fashion images that were clearly perfect for inclusion in the museum’s swimwear exhibition. I was hooked.
Discussions were soon underway to borrow Gervaise Purcell’s photographic equipment and a selection of images for display.
At the time I hoped that the museum would eventually acquire this rich and diverse photographic archive as much of Purcell’s commercial photographs had not been seen publically for decades and were a valuable record of Australian maritime related business ventures in the second half of the twentieth century.
In the intervening years I kept in touch with Leigh and to my delight in 2012 he offered his father’s photographic negatives and equipment to the museum. I wrote a proposal to acquire this material into the National Maritime Collection which was thankfully approved. First hurdle leapt.
Now the substantial and exacting task of documenting and scanning the collection of 3,000 negatives is underway. Our registrar Tennille Noach is bringing the collection to light so you can enjoy these evocative photographs as much as we both do. Look out for Tennile’s upcoming blog post about this fabulous photographic collection.
Curator Sport and Leisure History
A recent conservation treatment on some wet weather gear uncovers the history of another America’s Cup challenger, Dame Pattie a purpose-built 12m class racing yacht, named after the wife of Sir Robert Gordon Menzies who served two terms as Australian Prime Minister from 1939-1941 and then 1949-1966. In 1967, although winning the trials easily, Dame Pattie skippered by Jock Sturruck, lost the series (4-0) to the American yacht Intrepid skippered by Bus Mosbacher in a a series raced in unseasonally stronger winds when Dame Pattie was better suited to lighter breezes.
Dame Pattie , christened in 1966 was designed by Warwick Hood and built by WH Barnett using a combination of Australian, Danish and Canadian timber. The main-frame was constructed using laminated Queensland maple. Edge-grain Douglas fir planking was fastened to the intermediate frame constructed using Danish ash, using silicon bronze screws.
During that particular America’s Cup race in 1967, hurricane Doria was generating off-shore northeasterly winds making wet weather gear an essential article of clothing for the contest. The Dame Pattie crew wore wet weather gear made by Plastalon. The jacket features a hood with a small peak brim, white nylon drawstring and plastic toggles and large pockets either side of the centre front opening. The jacket is fastened using black, press studs. The yacht Dame Pattie logo is printed on the left chest. The trousers feature two side pockets, an elasticised waist adjusted to fit the wearer using press studs.
Australia is not short of beautiful waterways and in the 1920s, around Christmas time, scores of boats would begin heading north from Sydney Harbour to visit one such spectacular site and to take part in one of the most important events on the New South Wales yachting calendar – the Pittwater Regatta.
A few Saturdays ago my colleague Penny Hyde and I packed our sunscreen and hats and set off for Sydney’s oldest sailing club, the Sydney Flying Squadron in Milsons Point. In our own attempt to recreate history, our aim was to walk in photographer William J Hall’s footsteps yet again and see the world the way he did. We wanted to see Hall’s harbour and explore the part of his photographic portfolio we’ve come to love in the museum’s collection. Armed with a camera, we boarded the ferry Regal II, just like people would have done back in Hall’s day, and watched as the historic 18-foot skiffs raced across Sydney Harbour, in all its sparkling splendour. Continue reading