At the beginning of the 20th Century, the world seemed unbearably young. It had yet to experience a World War or the Great Depression. Fossil fuels were the future and any new technology was seen as a good thing. It became known as the Gilded Age and it must have been heady times for those who had the cash to enjoy it. And there were plenty of those. One, in particular, was Thomas W Lawson. At one time Lawson was thought to be one of the wealthiest men in America with a fortune estimated at over USD $50 million (over $1 billion in today’s money).
My mother has often told me this story of the evening of Sunday 31st May 1942:
‘It had been a normal Sunday: Church, followed by lunch, a visit to my grandparents, some radio and then suddenly, while I was taking a bath, sirens split the air, Dad turned off the lights, and I shivered in the dark.’
Moustaches were big in the late 19th century. Really big.
As the wielder of a reasonably large moustache, I thought I might look into the museum’s collection of photographs and see how many and what sorts of moustaches are there. My hunch was correct – there are hundreds and hundreds of them. From nice thick ‘chevrons’, to the simple ‘English style’, to the classic ‘handlebar’ and even a few ‘walrus’ and ‘toothbrushes’.
Flags are everywhere. We see them flying from government and corporate buildings, from ships and cars, at sporting events, and during festivals. They all mean something whether it be identifying a country or business, or marking the end of a marathon. This month marked the anniversary of one of Australia’s most significant flags – the Australian White Ensign (AWE), first flown on 1 March 1967.
On 28th March 1942 the troopship RMS Queen Mary arrived in Sydney with 8,398 Americans on board, destined for the Pacific War. These first American troops to be transported on the ‘Grey Ghost’ (the nickname for the camouflaged giant, yet fast, former liner) had embarked in Boston on the 18th February on what became known as their ’40 days and 40 nights’ voyage.
What a museum without its collection? The stories we tell are imbued in the objects the museum collects and the conservation department is tasked with caring for these objects. Our conservation team look after a range of artefacts, from paper to paintings, ceramics, textiles and even archaeological material recovered from the seabed. From small coins to the HMB Endeavour replica, every object is condition reported, treated and conserved. The team monitor the environmental conditions our objects are either stored or displayed in, checking light levels, relative humidity and maintaining a stable temperature.
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.
SS Mariposa was launched in 1931 by the Matson Line to carry 700 passengers in luxury across the Pacific from San Francisco to Sydney. Stripped down to carry up to 5000 personnel, Mariposa was one of the minor ‘monsters’ of the Allied troopship fleet during World War II. The world’s biggest ocean liners, nicknamed ‘the monsters’ were requisitioned to transport troops and materiel because they could outrun most enemy ships and submarines and therefore needed fewer naval escorts as they sailed around the world.
It was bound to happen. There was only one this year: a lone Christmas card arriving in my mailbox, stoically spreading Christmas cheer and best wishes for the season. Likely, next year there will be none and although we may discover new ways to spread cheer, via emails or seasonal emojis, but for me, the demise of the Christmas card is cause for some lament.
The 9th of December 2016 is the 75th anniversary of the lifting of the siege of Tobruk, the port on the north coast of Libya that proved such a thorn in the side of German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel during the eight months that the siege lasted. The Australian War Memorial describes it as one of the longest sieges in British military history.
Whenever the siege of Tobruk is remembered, the Australian soldiers, who formed the greater part of the garrison for most of the time, are quite rightly afforded pride of place.
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.
The Australian National Maritime Museum has been Google Cultural Institute Partner since early 2015 and this week we launched our next exciting round of features on the platform.