Man in the machine: submarines, ships, sailors and national memory

Johnnie and Mehmet concept drawing detail. Image: Alexander Knox 2015.

Johnnie and Mehmet concept drawing detail. Image: Alexander Knox 2015.

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.

Continue reading

‘Good housekeeping, you know. Economy, common-sense.’

View of McMahons Point, from 1937, showing the boat building yards including Holmes yard on the far left. Image: ANMM Collection 00037893.

View of McMahons Point, from 1937, showing the boat building yards including Holmes yard on the far left. Image: ANMM Collection 00037893.

On 2 June 1949 a small advertisement appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald. It was for the sale of Hegarty’s Ferries, a family-owned service which at that time operated between Circular Quay, McMahons Point and Kirribilli. The whole enterprise was now up for sale, including the ‘diesel-engined boats, its wharves, offices, and equipment’. The owners, the well-known Hegarty family from Drummoyne, were heading south to Victoria.

A surprising purchaser stepped forward to take on the business – three women, headed up by Maud Barber. Maud, although no stranger to the Sydney harbour scene, bought the business along with her daughter and Miss Jean Porter. Maud was married to the boatbuilder and naval architect Arthur Barber, best known for his design of Rani, the first ever winner of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race, in 1945.

Continue reading

It’s a Wrap: The Windjammer Sailors

What's wrapped up under the silk? Image: Andrew Frolows / ANMM.

What’s wrapped up under the silk? Image: Andrew Frolows / ANMM.

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

Cook and the ‘Swan of Litchfield’

Death announcement of Captain Cook in the London Gazette, 18 January, 1780 (source – British Library)

Death announcement of Captain Cook in the London Gazette, 18 January, 1780 (source – British Library)

When the news of Cook’s death reached London in 1780, it did not make front page news, but rather, was merely noted with a small announcement of a single paragraph. But public expressions of grief came, one being ‘Elegy on Captain Cook’ written by Anna Seward in 1780.

Continue reading

Penguins, dogs and onesies: A day in the life of a Conservator

One of our conservators, suited up for work. Image: Kate Pentecost / ANMM.

One of our conservators, suited up for work. Image: Kate Pentecost / ANMM.

When you tell people that you work at the museum, most will assume that you are a curator. Little do they realise that there are many other career paths in the cultural sector. Indeed, few teenagers would be advised by their guidance counsellor to study materials science at university. But those unfortunate souls will never get the chance to wear a onesie at work.

Object conservators specialise in the preservation, treatment and care of three-dimensional and mixed-media objects. In the collection, our conservators work on a wide range of objects including cannons, boats, model ships, swimsuits, canoes, glass-plate negatives, ethnographic items, marine archaeological objects and paintings. The diverse nature of the collection means our conservators often have to employ a range of preventative measures and treatment methodologies to look after a single collection item.

Dismantling Shackleton: Escape from Antarctica was a normal day for our object conservators. The objects were on loan from Museum Victoria and they were wonderful additions to bring the story of Shackleton’s epic Antarctic escape to life. Several of the taxidermy specimens required the team to don filtered masks and hazmat suits. As one conservator called it, ‘the science onesie: which is the only acceptable type of onesie’.

These specimens were over fifty years old and had been created with a series of treatments to keep insects away. Such treatments used hazardous chemicals including lead, arsenic, mercury and bromine. Decades later, these treatments are still rather effective at keeping the bugs away – and can still be harmful to humans if the proper safety precautions aren’t followed.

Hence the need for a science onesie.

After condition reporting the objects, our conservators suited up. Their Tyvek coveralls are made from a flash-spun, high-density polyethylene which provides a barrier against hazardous dry particles, aerosols and light liquid splashes. The outfits were completed by half-face respirators with particle filters.

Removing the objects from display was a delicate and time-consuming job. Each step required planning and consideration of how best to move the objects from their plinths and sliding the objects into their specialised packing crates.

Team work, coordination and communication are key qualities of an object conservator on jobs such as this, especially when you and your co-worker are handling a 100-year-old albatross while wearing a suit that doesn’t breathe, a mask which muffles your voice and cumbersome oversized gloves protecting your hands.

But our conservators are talented professionals with great passion for their jobs. They ensured that the operation ran smoothly. The objects are now safely in their crates ahead of their return to Museum Victoria.

Object conservation is a vital skill for the care of our collection. Materials science is an intriguing field of study with unique job opportunities. Suiting up to move a taxidermy penguin is certainly a fascinating day on the job.

– Kate Pentecost, Digital Curator

If you wish to get up close to our collection but want to wear an onesie, head over to our Google Cultural Institute page.

Celebrations of Easter: From our collection 

Easter in our collection

Easter in our collection

How did you spend your Easter Sunday? Hopefully you won the Easter egg hunt, had a delicious family barbeque or attended an Easter service. Today, we’re looking at several objects in the museum’s collection which explore the variety of ways Australians have celebrated Easter (and the long weekend).

Continue reading

Buckets of fun

Child’s toy sand bucket, manufactured by Chad Valley Toys and featuring the boat ‘Saucy Sal’, circa 1930. ANMM Collection 00001533.

Child’s toy sand bucket, manufactured by Chad Valley Toys and featuring the boat ‘Saucy Sal’, circa 1930. ANMM Collection 00001533.

Where does Australians’ love of the sea first start if not at the beach as children? Absorbed for hours by the sand, ignoring the heat and discomfort of constantly wet swimmers, they diligently build and rebuild imagined cities and swimming holes, filled up by countless trips down to the water’s edge to return with slopping buckets of seawater.

In the big scheme of the museum’s collection, they are not your standout items. Overshadowed by bigger and bolder objects jostling for gallery space, the collection of beach buckets sits in storage protected from the rigours of the outside world. But they are very much part of the fabric of Australian maritime history.

Continue reading

The Little Guys: Puppets and Creating Harmony

Lois Carrington and her Little Guys. Image: Graham Tidy / Canberra Times.

Lois Carrington and her Little Guys. Image: Graham Tidy / Canberra Times.

“The more meetings there are, the more exchanges that take place between nations, the better individual relations are : collaboration, solidarity and comradeship are no longer empty words, but the foundations for a better understanding of human problems and a bringing together of nations.”

Dr. Vesely, 1932. Cited by Margareta Niculescu, “Once again… UNIMA”, in UNIMA 2000, UNion Internationale de la MArionnette (UNIMA), Charleville-Mézières, 2000, p.9

Lois Carrington (nee Griffiths) was a lover of language, she studied Russian, French and Latin at university, her other passion was teaching. It was a natural fit for her to answer the Australian government’s call for teachers to help smooth the transition to Australian life for the influx of post World War II migrants. So in 1949, fresh out of university, passionate and with few resources, Lois began her career to teach English “on the way”, aboard migrant ships and at reception centers across Australia.

Continue reading

Captain Cook, whisky and smallpox

crop of whole

‘The nips are getting bigger / I’d better go and get somethin’ harder’ by Karla Dickens.

In late 2015 the museum acquired an important artwork by Indigenous artist Karla Dickens.Titled ‘The nips are getting bigger / I’d better go and get somethin’ harder’, this collection of Captain-Cook-shaped whisky bottles has been usurped and turned into a commentary on the devastating influences of alcohol and disease on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples since the arrival of Europeans in Australia.

Continue reading

The End of a Watermark: Changes to our Permanent Gallery

Watermarks exhibition gallery, when it opened. Image: ANMM.

Watermarks exhibition gallery, when it opened. Image: ANMM.

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. Continue reading