‘Race to the Pole – Captain Scott successful’ claimed The Age’s headline writer on 8 March 1912, the day after Norwegian adventurer Captain Roald Amundsen slipped quietly into Hobart in his polar ship Fram. The headline was in hindsight tragically way off the mark but it was not a deliberate ‘alternative fact’ of its day splashed across the established masthead. It was more an excited assumption based on expectation in the former British colonies of Australia and a misreading of Amundsen’s Nordic reserve on his arrival there after 16 months in Antarctica in his well-publicised contest with British naval Captain Robert Falcon Scott.
It’s Lunar New Year and time to present the colour and excitement of ancient Chinese culture from the museum’s collections. Dragons feature heavily. And so does racing. (I know that it’s the Year of the Rooster, but they don’t usually like water …)
Dragons have been a potent symbol of Chinese culture for thousands of years – people believed they lived in rivers and lakes and controlled the rains and crops. They were mostly protective, yet when angered created havoc with floods and drought. Chinese communities honoured the dragons with festivals and sacrifices to keep the river dragon happy.
Imagine being thrown about in your small yacht surfing down a 20-metre wave. You’re in the Southern Indian Ocean, it’s freezing, you’re exhausted and soaked through. You’re days or weeks from land. You have no GPS. You’re alone.
‘No tribute could be too high or too glowing for this great lover and promoter of art and photography in Australia.’— Max Dupain writing about Harold Cazneaux’s legacy in 19781.
If you weave your way through the imagery and beautiful photographs in Through a different lens – Cazneaux by the water, you’ll notice that 1937 was a big year for Australian photographer Harold Cazneaux: the culmination of a forty-year career that corresponded with the dawning of the Australian nation, and an emerging national consciousness.
Whatever pictures are made of our great Sydney today will in future years have some historical interest and value. As time marches on there will always be a ‘Sydney of yesterday’.
This is not a blog about the current Federal election … this is about something much more enduring and exciting – a bold new art installation that plays with the idea of animus, memory, the machinery of war, and to a degree geopolitics. It will be launched in the coming months on the forecourt at the Australian National Maritime Museum, and today, International Museums Day with its focus on cultural landscapes, seems an appropriate time to reveal something of the art work.
Last week saw a Christo-like wrapping of silky black satin on the wharf at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney’s Pyrmont. Intriguing and mysterious the form it enveloped was unreadable…
What could be under the silk? Well it’s an amazingly beautiful material, bronze. Used for millennia for public statuary, it is here applied to fuse old and new in an incredibly detailed and exacting process. This has produced a sculpture that explores something of the history of the site as a mercantile and maritime centre. Continue reading
“The sight of land scarcely raised our spirits at all, for it is generally reckoned impossible for us to reach it… Hunger is now our lot, not starvation but real hunger all day long. For breakfast we have a seal steak and half a mug of very weak milk…”, Thomas Orde-Lees Endurance storekeeper, near the Antarctic peninsula 24 March 1916 (from John Thomson Elephant Island and beyond 2003).
The next day a blizzard set in, icebergs jostled and floes swirled rapidly around the fragile floating camp of 28 men as it drifted slowly north-west past the islands off the northern Antarctic Peninsula. Expedition leader Sir Ernest Shackleton kept a watchful eye on the danger, with the three lifeboats poised for launch should the ice break up beneath them.
By end of March 1916, a hundred years ago, in the Weddell Sea Antarctic adventurer Sir Ernest Shackleton and his men had been trapped in ice for 14 months. In January 1915 his expedition ship Endurance was beset in Vahsel Bay, en route to Antarctica in his attempt to make the first crossing of the continent, by foot, with dogs and sledges, nonetheless.
‘Grog and cigarettes are mostly out…milkshakes and tins of baby food are generally in, birds are acceptable provided they never ride a surfboard and keep always in the background, except on those special occasions…’ reported photojournalist Jeff Carter in his Surf Beaches of Australia’s East Coast in 1968.
Well it was a special occasion when the museum opened its Australian beach photography exhibition at the Noosa Regional Gallery recently, in the same week as International Women’s Day, and with seven times world champion Layne Beachley on the podium. She was in company with other surfing luminaries Phil Jarrett, Bob McTavish and Pete Townend, and me but the ironies and the passage of time brought pause for reflection.
Yesterday I visited a sculpture being made at a fine art casting foundry on Sydney’s North Head at Manly. The work is being crafted using the lost wax technique, a traditional, ages-old method that will result in a timeless bronze. Each visit and each stage of the moulding and casting process brings surprises, most recently forms and colours that evoke the strangeness of a cast of characters from B-grade 1960s schlock-horror monster films such as Godzilla and even, in spirit, the hyper-real gigantic 50-foot woman.
On 14 September 1914 the 55 metre submarine HMAS AE1 disappeared with all hands, 35 Australian and British sailors, while patrolling German waters off Duke of York Island in present day Papua New Guinea.
On 14 September this year, 101 years on, a major art installation will be unveiled at the Australian National Maritime Museum to commemorate the loss in a work entitled ‘…the ocean bed their tomb’. The work is currently under construction at the workshop of the artist Warren Langley where descendants of those officers and crew, submariners and naval historians gathered recently to view it.
On 24 April 1916, 99 years ago, Antarctic expedition leader Sir Ernest Shackleton, his Endurance skipper Frank Worsley and four of his crew loaded into the seven-metre lifeboat James Caird and set sail from the rocky spit of the sub-Antarctic Elephant Island to reach help across the treacherous southern oceans, leaving 22 men behind on the barren outcrop.
As the XXII Olympic Winter Games begin tomorrow in Sochi, Russia, the museum will celebrate Australia’s success at last year’s summer Games in London by featuring one of Australia’s gold medal boats, the International 470 class dinghy Practical Magic.
With Olympic insignia blazing on its mainsail and hull, the dinghy will be on display in the museum foyer, along with a special showcase for the gold medals and apparel from its team – skipper Mathew Belcher and crew Malcolm Page.
Seminar on Western Australia’s maritime industries
Think of Western Australia and red earth, big skies and endless, timeless landscapes come to mind. That and the monumentalism of the mining boom, its huge trucks, open cut mines and mind boggling economics.
That industry is only as old as living memory. There is another story to tell about the economics of Western Australia and it’s one that looks towards the sea – to the maritime world – to a time before World War II when pearl shell and fish were sought after bounty.
Fishing, pearling, sailing or trading: stories of Western Australia’s seagoers and their craft is a seminar exploring these industries, and the economics and communities which shaped and sustained them.
Who knew that pearl shell, valued by Indigenous people for thousands of years, became such an important commodity in Western Australian and European markets that the major port Broome, on Roebuck Bay, was granted exemption from the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901 to maintain its predominantly Asian Japanese labour force?
What about the critical role of Indigenous workers in the pearling and fishing industries? In the early years of commercial diving in the 1860s Aboriginal women along with men free-dived to 15—20 metres. After regulations prohibited women diving, Timorese and Javanese skin divers were brought to the area.
And there are intriguing stories to uncover about Western Australia’s Aboriginal watercraft culture. How did Aboriginal people make and use their craft to sustain their communities? How did they navigate those huge tides and coastal seas for fishing, travelling or trading?
And the broader fishing industry? What are other stories to uncover? From an industry that was largely small in scale, in competition with the massive cattle industry for Australian dinner plates, it was the agency of southern European migrants who fished and created markets for high-value seafood such as scallops and lobster. More personally, what was life like for those working in these industries on fishing craft and pearling luggers?
To be held on 15 November in Fremantle, this event is being held during the visit to Fremantle by the national council of the Australian Register of Historic Vessels (ARHV). The ARHV promotes surviving historic craft, viewing them as artefacts created and shaped by the people, communities and their industries and leisure practices. Here historic craft are used to unlock the stories of those communities and industries.
The Australian Register of Historic Vessels is a collaborative program which has a website at its heart (see HERE) but relies on boat-owning communities to evoke their often rich histories. This seminar is an important part of the Australian National Maritime Museum’s strategy to reach communities around Australia and involve them in telling their stories and, like pieces of a jigsaw, how they contribute to the national picture.
This unique seminar journeys back through living history and pairs first-hand accounts from sailors and workers with historical presentations on fishing, pearling, Indigenous coastal culture and sailing – from Bardi rafts to Australia II.
Come along to hear special guest John Longley AM, CitWA, reflect on the thirtieth anniversary of Australia’s historic America’s cup win, and the future of the America’s Cup race. The evening also includes the presentation of the Australian Association for Maritime History Awards, the presentation of certificates to Western Australian owners of historic craft on the Australian Register of Historic vessels and the Vaughan Evans Memorial Lecture, and much more.
Held in association with the Western Australian Museum and the Australian Association for Maritime History.
For more information and bookings see HERE
RSVP essential – by Wednesday 13 November
Imagine a sailor, navigator or tactician and you don’t picture them in a blazer. Blazers are part of a formal uniform which need to be viewed alongside other artefacts to reveal their character and meaning. Most of the jackets and blazers in the sporting collections at museum have been collected as part of a selection of material related to sporting personalities, but here I’ll detail a few of them in isolation, to chart some of the key campaigns during Australia’s participation in the America’s cup.
In the years leading up to 1983 Australia had won the right to challenge every three years bar one since 1962. Then Sydney media baron and sailor Sir Frank Packer bankrolled the Alan Payne designed Gretel to scare the Americans a little with its efficient winch system, deck layout and speed to windward. With six further challenges moving from the east to the west coast of Australia the two countries had enjoyed a twenty year rivalry. Continue reading