With midwinter upon us and an ever-so-slight chill in the air, my thoughts go straight to the land of ice, where the darkest day of a four-month twilight darkness means so much – the coming of the sun. Today expeditioners on Antarctica’s scientific bases jump into the icy seas, feast and celebrate with all the ritual and high-jinks befitting the occasion.
Equally so for their forebears 100 years ago. Bold explorers and adventurers – among them Norwegian Roald Amundsen and his team, who sledged into the interior across uncharted ice to claim the South Pole for Norway in 1911.
20 June 2017 marked 100 years since the famous polar vessel Aurora left Newcastle, Australia with a cargo of coal, never to be seen again.
The museum recently accepted the gift of the ship’s lifebuoy, recovered from the seas six months later.
A powerful emblem, with the ghost lettering of its famous Antarctic expeditions on its rim, it acts as a lifeline to all the sailors, whalers, scientists, workers, expeditioners and sealers whose lives, toils and achievements were entwined with it.
Importantly, the lifebuoy connects all of us to the tragic loss of its captain and 20 officers and crew in 1917. This is the incredible story of a powerful wooden ship and its men.
During the opening of our new exhibition Wildlife Photographer of the Year we had the opportunity to welcome a special guest: Scott Portelli, an Australian photographer living in Sydney has already travelled the world extensively and took pictures in some of the most remote destinations like The Arctic, Antarctica, Galapagos, etc. He spent hundreds of days in pursuit of different wildlife. Due to his experience, he is privileged to be up close and personal with many creatures. Scott has already won multiple awards, this year he got selected by Wildlife Photographer of the year and his picture can be seen in the exhibition.
船員と犬 A watercolour of a foreign sailor and his dog by Japanese Samurai artist Makita Hamaguchi in 1830. Image courtesy of Tokushima prefectural archive
In the early 19th century Japan had closed its doors to foreign ships in an effort to resist colonisation. One day in January 1830, a British flagged ship appeared off the coast of Mugi, in Shikoku, southern Japan. A low-ranking Samurai official duly recorded information about the ship and its crew before being ordered to send it away by firing cannon at the vessel. The ship, the brig Cyprus, was in fact a pirated vessel with a crew of escaped convicts from Tasmania under the command of the self-styled ‘Captain William Swallow’. Until now, this wonderful record of Australian pirates in Japan has been sitting, unrecognised in a Japanese archive.
The rostrum in Escape from Pompeii. Image: Andrew Frolows / ANMM.
One of the most amazing objects in Escape from Pompeii: The Untold Roman Rescue is a rostrum from a Roman warship. A rostrum is a bronze ram attached to the bow of an ancient warship. It was used to punch holes into the hull of enemy ships to disable or sink them. The Roman historian Livy gives a description of their use at the Battle of Side in 190 BC:
Whenever a ship encountered an enemy vessel head on, it either shattered its prow, or sheared off its oars; or else it sailed through the open space in the line and rammed it in the stern
Textile artist Melinda Piesse with her Batavia tapestry. Photographer Kristina Kingston, reproduced courtesy Melinda Piesse
Last week we unveiled a new large-scale embroidered work by Melbourne textile artist Melinda Piesse at the museum. Known as the Batavia tapestry (2017), it illustrates the tragic story of the wreck of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) flagship Batavia in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of Western Australia, on 4 June 1629 and the sorry fate of the ship’s company.
Dirk Hartog plate, 1600–1616. Tin alloy (metal), 36.5 cm (diameter). Reproduced courtesy Rijksmuseum
This week a very special piece of pewter is coming to the museum … the Hartog plate, on loan from the Rijksmuseum to mark 400 years since Dutch mariner Dirk Hartog made the first recorded European landing on the west coast of Australia in October 1616. As a testimony of his visit, Hartog left behind an inscribed pewter plate that is recognised as the oldest European artefact found on Australian soil.
The reproduction of the garden fresco from the Villa of Livia just north of Rome, 30–20BC. Fresco image courtesy National Roman Museum – Palazzo Massimo alle Terme is installed in the exhibition. Image: ANMM.
The Roman artist who painted the beautiful wall fresco in the Villa of Livia could never have dreamt that 2,000 years later it would be reproduced at actual size and on display in an exhibition on the other side of the world.
Misenum in miniature. An up close look at the diorama created by Geoff Barnes and Roger Scott for Escape from Pompeii. Image: Andrew Frolows / ANMM.
In 79 AD Mount Vesuvius erupted, sealing nearby Pompeii and Herculaneum into time capsules that would not be reopened for many centuries, and which have been incredibly rich historical and romantic resources for today’s world.
The eruption was clearly visible from the Roman navy’s major port-city of Misenum, along the coast at the northern end of the Gulf of Naples. In response, the admiral of the fleet, Pliny the Elder, ordered his ships to go to the rescue. It is one of the first recorded attempted rescues of civilians by sea by a military force.
Casts, copies, the real and the replica. Image: Annalice creighton / ANMM.
Casting and mould making are simultaneously the stuff of specialised artistic and scientific endeavours and the backbone of mass production. From fountain heads and amulets to the haunting plaster figures that are now synonymous with this ill-fated city, this month’s craft spot is inspired by the use of casting and moulds in ancient times to create the artefacts featured in our new exhibition Escape from Pompeii.
Speeches at the opening reception for Guardians of Sunda Strait. Image: Ashley Patranella.
It’s been a busy few days here in Houston with museum’s Guardians of Sunda Straitexhibition. All the objects and their labels have been successfully and safely installed in their showcases or on display panels and all the graphics have been applied to the walls. The final graphic caused a few headaches though! Firstly, the paper didn’t arrive at the factory, then the wrong graphic was accidentally printed, then the colours were wrong. But we have it now and it looks great. Exhibition installation always has a contingency of a few days built in just for this kind of last minute problem!
Roald Amundsen with his dog Pan and ship Fram near his home at Svartskog, Norway in the days before leaving for the secret expedition to attempt the South Pole near his home at Svartskog, Norway. Image: Photographer Anders Beer Wilse, June 1910, courtesy Fram Museum.
‘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.
Indonesian sailors in Sydney in 1945 listening to the proclamation of Indonesian independence, recreated for the 1946 film Indonesia Calling by Joris Ivens. National Film and Sound Archive, Australia
This weekend (25-26th February 2017) the President of Indonesia will visit Australia for the first time since being elected in 2014. President Joko Widodo will be talking with the Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Much of the discussion – typical of Australia’s long relationship with its northern neighbour – will undoubtedly be about maritime related affairs. As Indonesia furthers its policy of focusing on maritime development as one of fundamental importance in an archaepeligo of around 18,000 islands, the historical maritime links between the two countries should not be forgotten.
In honour of the President’s visit to Sydney over the weekend, the museum will display an exhibition that explores one of the most significant – and largely forgotten – periods of strong bonds based on maritime links in the two nations histories. The display Black Armada – Australia’s support for Indonesian Independence 1945-1949was developed for the 75th anniversary of independence in August 2015. The exhibition has been on display at the Museum Benteng Vredeburg in Jogjakarta, the ARMA museum in Bali, as well as here in Darling Harbour.
You can read more about this fascinating and important period of Australian links with Indonesia in the museum’s Feature Story.
The museum visitor app, available for iOS and Android. Image: ANMM.
Enrich your visit to the museum with our new Visitor App. Built for iOS and Android, the App features seven themed self-guided audio tours, six highlight tours as well as great photos, event and exhibition info, maps and amenities.