Make your own narwhal softie

finished narwhal softie

I am grey and mottled and a little bit mysterious. I have the largest canines of any animal. Vikings used to trade my big tooth for gold. My tusk was also mistaken for the horn of the mythical unicorn and believed to have magical healing properties. I live in the arctic.  I am actually a medium sized whale.

I am…the narwhal.

For this month’s craft spot inspired by our new temporary exhibition- Amazing Whales, we couldn’t resist the adorable, fascinating and wackiest of all the whale species– the narwhal as the subject for our huggable, loveable, bedazzled and up-cycled fabric softie.

materials needed


  • Sharp scissors
  • Upholstery thread in grey/black/white
  • Large darning needle
  • A few dressmakers pins
  • Some grey/white/black sequins, beads or buttons
  • Pillow stuffing/ polyfill
  • Unwanted socks/ t-shirt or tights in grey tones
  • Extra felt or iron-on interfacing for lining your softie panels
  • Small scraps of white, blue, black felt or fabric for the eyes
  • Small scrap of white felt for the tusk
  • Print outs of our narwhal softie pattern  ( A3 version or page 1 A4 and page 2 A4)

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Australian-Chinese junks and sampans

Trinity Bay junks

Chinese junks, made in Australia. This photograph, suggested as being taken around 1907, shows three junks on Trinity Bay, Cairns, in Queensland. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg: 16203

Every Sunday and Wednesday mornings we would watch for the sails of the Chinese junks to come sailing up the river one behind the other. Red, white & black beacons guided them. Some sails were snowy white, some had …huge patches on and some were old and yellow.

D.E. Griffith ‘A Little history [of Cairns]’ 1959

When we think of the history of ship building in Australia, Chinese junks probably don’t spring to mind. Yet for a period from the 1870s to the early 1900s a fleet of junks operated in northern Queensland. At least some, if not all of the estimated ten to fifteen known junks, were made locally, in places such as Cooktown.

And in terms of smaller boats, it may surprise many maritime historians that hundreds if not thousands of sampans – smaller, often poled, barge-like vessels – were made across the north of Australia, particularly around Cairns and in Darwin.

My interest in these vessels began when I came across reference to a ‘Water Picnic’ that was held at Innisfail (then known as Geraldton) for Federation celebrations in 1901. News reports mention that the centre-piece of the water picnic was to be a flotilla of ‘around 400 sampans’. That’s a lot of sampans gathered together for one small north Queensland country town festival.

With further research it became clear that junks and sampans (often mislabelled by European observers who sometimes used ‘junk’ and ‘sampan’ as a catch-all for any Chinese vessel) were not just a common sight on northern Australian coastal waters and rivers, but were in fact critical to the development of the north. But why were they there? Who were these Chinese shipwrights? How and why did they make junks and sampans in Australia?

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Apologies, anniversaries and hidden histories

This week marks the fourth anniversary of the British Government’s apology to former child migrants who were sent to Commonwealth countries through government-sponsored child migration schemes.  It also marks the return of our travelling exhibition On their own – Britain’s child migrants for a final showing at the museum before it begins a UK tour later this year.

On their own - Britain's child migrants

On their own – Britain’s child migrants

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A mystery solved – Photographs from the Australia Station

A Pacific island scene from a photograph album of images by a Royal Navy officer on the Australia Station around 1910

Possibly Trinity Bay, Cairns, from a photograph album of images by a Royal Navy officer on the Australia Station around 1910. Photograph album : Australia Station Volume 1, Compiled by [George Herbert Cockey] ca. 1894-1908, Vaughan Evans Library

Jennifer McLaren is a Masters of Research student at Macquarie University who has been working as a museum volunteer assisting with research for the upcoming Test of War – Royal Australian Navy in WWI exhibition. Here she recounts a search to find the people behind a set of early 20th century photograph albums in the museum’s library collection.

The upcoming Test of War exhibition will showcase some photographs from the personal collection of a British Royal Navy officer posted to the Australia Station in the years before World War I. When the Australian National Maritime Museum Vaughan Evans Library acquired the photograph albums from an antique bookseller, they came with no record as to who had owned them or taken the photographs – their origin was a mystery.

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Our Emden – Contesting public memory through film

Raider Emden Poster

Cinema poster for the 1928 USA release of Ken G Hall’s silent film ‘Exploits of the Emden’ ANMM Collection 00046579

The sinking of the German Cruiser SMS Emden by HMAS Sydney in November 1914 was a siginficant moment in Australia’s experience of the First World War.

This was the first great naval engagement of Australia’s navy that had just been formed in 1913. The cruiser Sydney ended the amazing exploits of the Emden that had been raiding the Indian Ocean seemingly at will, capturing the imagination of publics around the world. The battle was celebrated with great gusto by Australians as their first victory in the war - and a victory that was on the international stage. Continue reading

Desperate asylum-seeker voyage recorded by brave journalists

Leading image for article ‘The Dream  Boat’ by by Luke Mogelson and Joel van Houdt, New York Times Magazine of 15 November 2013

Leading image for article ‘The Dream Boat’ by by Luke Mogelson and Joel van Houdt, ‘New York Times Magazine’ of 15 November 2013

Playing across the Australian National Maritime Museum’s dramatic roofline every night during this year’s late summer is a vibrant tableau of images called Waves of Migration. This eight-minute projected animation paints the museum roof with stories of those who’ve come across the seas to make Australia their home. It runs daily from 9.30 pm–11 pm until 13 February.

Among its themes are glimpses of ‘boat people’ who have fled regional conflicts in recent decades, hoping to reach our shores to find security for themselves and their families. Waves of Migration depicts voyages made in small, overcrowded wooden boats, in 1977 and 2009.
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HMAS Voyager – tragedy and courage

HMAS VOYAGER pennant flag. ANMM Collection gift from M Hampson

HMAS VOYAGER pennant flag. ANMM Collection gift from M Hampson

Manoeuvring ships at sea is an exacting task, one that requires skill, experience and concentration and undertaking such exercises in night time conditions adds to the risk. Fifty years ago, on the night of 10 February 1964 one such exercise went horribly wrong. Continue reading

Sailing away into Sydney Harbour’s past with Britannia

Hi! My name is Geneviève Bourgon or ‘Gwen’ and I’m a museum studies student at the University of Sydney. I am currently interning in the Registration department of the Australian National Maritime Museum.

My project is to digitise an archival collection of photographs, postcards and sailing programs associated with Britannia, an 18ft sailing vessel and its builder, owner and skipper  ‘Wee’ Georgie Robinson. Digitising a collection makes all the information about the objects more accessible, 22,000 collection objects have been release on the museum’s collection website for everyone to access.

The collection I am cataloguing dates from the 1920s through to the 1960s. The majority are sailing programs of weekly sailing competitions on Sydney Harbour, special championships and anniversary regattas. They begin as a single page and double sided program and evolve into massive 100 page booklets filled with interesting events surrounding the regatta and advertising.

Flat bed scanner

Flat bed scanner

First, I scanned the items using a flatbed scanner, and then I created an image and a PDF of pages scanning them as an optical character recognition (OCR) file to enable searching through the text on individual pages which are combined to form a single PDF document. Information is added to the collection management database where all 140,000 objects in the museum’s collection, are catalogued.

Second, I update any missing cataloguing data from the records such as: the object measurements, update its title, what it’s made of, and what it looks like. Continue reading

Australian Olympic Sailing

PRACTICAL MAGIC in the entrance foyer of the museum. Photo : Janine Flew

PRACTICAL MAGIC in the entrance foyer of the museum. Photo : Janine Flew

Australian Olympic sailing reached an amazing peak at the 2012 Olympics, with the team of sailors claiming three gold medals and one silver medal, making Australia the most successful nation in the sailing events, and rescuing what was at that point becoming a poor overall Australian Olympic team performance. One of the gold medal winning boats will be on display at the museum from early February until late April 2014, it’s the 470 class dinghy Practical Magic – sailed by Mathew Belcher and crew Malcolm Page OAM.



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Waves of migration returns on Australia Day

The museum’s award-winning digital projection Waves of migration returns this Sunday, Australia Day, to once again illuminate the museum’s iconic roofline with a rich tapestry of migration stories drawn from our collection.

Waves of migration illuminates the roof of the museum in Darling Harbour

Waves of migration illuminates the roof of the museum in Darling Harbour

Waves of migration explores the history of migration to Australia and the compelling stories of those who’ve come across the seas – from British convicts and early settlers, to Jewish refugees and displaced persons; from post-war European migrants and Ten Pound Poms, to Indochinese boat people and seaborne asylum seekers from Afghanistan. Continue reading