The museum is undergoing an exciting change to its permanent galleries. After more than 15 years, on 29 February the Watermarks Gallery set its sails for the last time (pardon the pun). The gallery first opened in 2001 and told the story of how water and the ocean plays a vital role in the lives of all Australians and how the coast has inspired our recreational lives.
Our new permanent gallery exhibition, ULTIMATE DEPTH: James Cameron’s Deepsea Challenge, will open in late 2016.
As we bid farewell to Watermarks let’s take a look at some of the wonderful objects that made it an important part of the museums core gallery offerings. One of the most interesting has to be the beer can boat. This boat made entirely from beer cans (XXXX, VB and Melbourne Bitter to be precise) and was designed by Lutz Frankenfeld founder of the first Beer Can Regatta in Darwin in 1974.
Suspended from the 34 meter high roof of the Watermarks Gallery, was the famous 18 foot racing skiff BRITANNIA built by Balmain football champion be Wee George Robinson. This skiff typical of the era, was built of cedar and features a batten carvel hull construction with copper nail fastenings. In the 18 footer heyday of the 1920s and ’30s, BRITANNIA was famed for its tremendous sail carrying capacity. By 1936, the skiff had been racing on the Harbour for over 15 years and was well established as one of the champion racing skiffs in its class. The vessel was acquired by the museum in 1995 and in 2006 it was included on the Museum’s Australian Register of Historical Vessels.
The 7.29 meter surf patrol boat KURRANULLA was built in 1964 by Roy Phillips and Sons of Balmain, NSW for the Cronulla Surf Life Saving Club. The stability of its traditional double-ended design made it suitable for rescue work and excellent in surfboat races at surf carnivals. KURRANULLA patrolled Sydney’s Cronulla beach for 20 years, rescuing swimmers, setting buoys for lifesaving carnivals and competing in club races. The boat was purchased by Cronulla SLSC for £500 with funds raised by the Club’s Ladies Committee. KURRANULLA was the last double-ender to be built for the club. The boat was later restored by the Club with the assistance of the New South Wales Department of Corrective Services. In 1987 it was donated to the museum and in 2006 it too was listed on the Museum’s Australian Register of Historical Vessels.
Also suspended from the northern end of the gallery were a collection of historic racing sculls and oars, some acquired by the museum such as the double oars commemorating the Sydney University Boat Club victories in the 1894 and 1895 Inter-University Boat Races and the quadruple rowing shell used by the Oarsome Foursome™ to win the gold medal in the 2000 metres coxless fours event at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Others on loan to the exhibition such as the Sydney Rowing Club’s oar from the Inter-State Eight Oar Race 1911 with the names of the winning New South Wales team.
One of the most beautiful and unusual objects that is returning to museum storage is the epergne (decorative table centre-piece for those not in the know) celebrating the centenary of the founding of the colony of New South Wales Centennial Regatta held on Sydney Harbour on 27 January 1888. This trophy is a rededicated greyhound racing trophy engraved with the winning crew’s names.
One of my personal favourites is part of our swimwear collection, it’s a beautiful women’s halter neck swimsuit. This navy blue one piece bathing suit was designed by Peter O’Sullivan for Black Lance in Melbourne, and was ideal for sunbathing not necessarily swimming.
One iconic feature of the Watermarks Gallery that will remain is BLACKMORES FIRST LADY. The Cavalier 37 yacht was sailed by Australian yachtswoman Kay Cottee, on her successful ocean voyage as the first woman to sail solo, non-stop and unassisted around the world. Kay sailed over 189 days from 29 November 1987 to 5 June 1988 to break the record. The yacht includes all fixed and essential equipment for the external and internal fitout, rigging and sail wardrobe in the configuration in which it arrived after the completion of the voyage in 1988. Tours of BLACKMORES will resume 2 April 2016.
For safety the vessel was wrapped during the gallery demount to protect it from any dust created during the removal of the showcases.
With the close of the gallery marking the end of an era, and with nod to those who’ve worked on the many stores featured in the gallery, past curators Penny Cuthbert, Megan Treharne, Mariko Smith as well as our own senior curator Daina Fletcher. Although these objects will be resting in storage, they will be available on the museum’s collection website to be launched later this year.
-Rhondda Orchard, Managing Registrar
What to see more treasures of the collection? Head on over to our Google Cultural Institute portal.