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.
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.
It’s been a busy few days here in Houston with museum’s Guardians of Sunda Strait exhibition. 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!
‘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.
On a dark and stormy day in Houston, Texas, museum’s latest international travelling exhibition starts to take shape.
The Australian National Maritime Museum is proud to host award winning children’s author and artist Jeannie Baker for an exclusive chat. Join us as we talk to Jeannie about her new picture Circle. Find out about Jeannie, her background, her inspirations and what it like creating a picture book.
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.
The Pirates are coming! HORRIBLE HISTORIES® – PIRATES: THE EXHIBITION will be arriving on our shores Wednesday 16 December.
For the first time in Australia comes an interactive, hands-on exhibition based on the bestselling HORRIBLE HISTORIES® series.
Teachers, we have a special offer for you. Contact us before Tuesday 1 March 2016 to make a booking for Term 1 2016 and receive a 50% discount. Normally $7.00 per student, we can offer teachers a special price of $3.50 per student.
In HORRIBLE HISTORIES® – PIRATES: THE EXHIBITION you can
- take command of a pirate ship
- design and project your own pirate flag
- try out different weapons from cutlasses to cannons
- find your fate on the wheel of misfortune
- discover the best loot to steal and splat rats in the quayside tavern.
Along the way, discover why the pirate women were just as wicked as the men and learn to talk the patter of a pirate. Learn about the ships they sailed on, the punishments they suffered and the rules they lived by.
Full of lively illustrations, foul facts and gruesome games, HORRIBLE HISTORIES® – PIRATES: THE EXHIBITION is a rollicking ride back in time to the days when putrid pirates ruled the water and gave merchant sailors jelly-legs!
Author Terry Deary and illustrator Martin Brown’s unique approach to storytelling comes to life in this blockbuster family exhibition especially for children 6–12 years of age.
The day has finally arrived for the opening of our #HoodsHarbour exhibition! Showcasing a small selection from our Samuel (Sam) J Hood collection, #HoodsHarbour pays homage to the work of a group of individuals we call our ‘super sleuths’. Thanks to their efforts on our Flickr Commons page, we were able to solve the mystery behind the image that formed the inspiration for this exhibition – the lovely Hera Roberts. The story of this discovery symbolises the way that our followers have enriched our collection, unearthing its secrets and finding its hidden stories. Hood’s photograph of Hera remains the highest viewed and most favourited on the museum’s Flickr Commons photostream to date. More than 80 years after it was taken, Hera continues to captivate and inspire our audiences. Continue reading
Last week I was invited to speak about the museum’s work at the Suitcases, boats and bridges: telling migrant stories in Australian museums workshop, organised by Dr Nina Parish from the University of Bath and Dr Chiara O’Reilly from the University of Sydney. The workshop brought together academics, museum professionals and museum studies students to discuss how migrant stories have been collected and articulated in a number of Australian museums, ranging from large government-funded institutions such as ours, to smaller regional, suburban or volunteer-run museums.
If you read my previous blog, you might know that we’re currently treating the Sirius anchor while it’s on display inside the Australian National Maritime Museum.
Sometimes, actions taken to protect objects change their appearance. When the Sirius anchor was prepared for its original conservation treatment in 1986, a thick layer of marine concretion and organic growth acquired during nearly 200 years underwater was removed with hammer, chisel and a descaling gun. This exposed the corroded metal of the anchor and allowed it to be treated by electrolysis – this process converts corroded iron to black metal and removes salts. When treatment was completed the Sirius anchor was painted with an anticorrosive coating. The thick, black, glossy paint flowed into the crevices and channels throughout the anchor, rounding off the anchor’s surface and filling in some of its texture.
Now that the coating has reached the end of its life and we are removing it, the Sirius anchor is slowly being re-revealed. The exposed surface has the characteristic ‘eroded wood’ appearance of corroded wrought iron. We can now see the complex texture of the anchor, with its chains of islands, undulating channels, serrated points and small hollows. We have also found the holes drilled into the anchor to take the cathode rods used in the electrolysis process.
The anchor was created by hammering together a series of iron bars under intense heat. The direction of channels and ridges in the anchor’s surface show the meeting and fusing of these bars. The construction of the anchor, disguised for 25 years, is now becoming visible again.
The Sirius anchor has been on display in the museum since 1991. Despite its monumental size, there is a tendency for visitors to hurry past the anchor to temporary exhibitions and perhaps not really see it. Yet now, as we work on the anchor, visitors are stopping by for a chat and they have lots of questions about what we’re doing.
Some visitors are surprised to discover that there is such a day-job as conservation. Indeed, one visitor asked us if we were real! Perhaps they had never seen anything other than a manikin in a display environment.
Usually – in order not to disrupt the visitor experience – we undertake the maintenance of permanent displays before opening hours, almost secretively. But this means that the public have little opportunity to appreciate what goes into putting and keeping objects on display.
While working on the anchor we’ve met a First Fleet descendent whose ancestor came to Australia on Sirius, chemistry students studying aspects of maritime archaeology, and children fascinated by the tools and muck which are all part of large object conservation. We’re loving meeting visitors while giving the anchor the conservation care it needs.
We’ll be working on the anchor on weekdays until July 5, so be sure to stop by and meet this significant piece of Australian history and the people who look after it.
‘“Make us laugh or you starve—Give us fresh fun; we have eaten up the old and are hungry”’
~ William Makepeace Thackeray, 1840
In his work, An essay on the genius of George Cruikshank, the English novelist William Makepeace Thackeray wrote in admiration for one of the most famous illustrators of his day. Thackeray was trying to convey how a ‘greedy public’ has ‘bought, borrowed or stole’ a ‘heap of personal kindnesses from George Cruikshank’ and therefore owed a great deal to the caricaturist. In a way, one of Cruikshank’s ‘kindnesses’, an engraving from the museum’s collection, portrays the essence of what Thackeray was trying to say. The themes of greed, fickleness and arrogance highlighted by Thackeray, are illustrated brilliantly in Cruikshank’s caricature which is currently on display in the museum’s latest exhibition, East of India – Forgotten trade with Australia. Continue reading
Antarctica, a place I dream of exploring, but like so many of us, it seems so out of reach. That’s why I can’t wait to for the exhibition Elysium Antarctic Visual Epic to open at the museum this Saturday.
The exhibition follows a team of 57 explorers from 18 countries that set out on a unique scientific and artistic expedition to Antarctica in 2010 to document the environment and record any evidence of climate change. Continue reading
Last week I went to Albury to install our travelling exhibition On their own – Britain’s child migrants at Albury LibraryMuseum. This lively venue is the only regional stop in our national tour, which has so far taken in Adelaide, Melbourne, Fremantle and Canberra.
While Albury was not a major destination for British child migrants, it does have strong links with Australia’s immigration history because of its proximity to the Bonegilla Migrant Reception and Training Centre near Wodonga. Bonegilla (1947–71) was Australia’s largest and longest-operating migrant reception centre and many of the post-war migrants who passed through it later settled in the Albury-Wodonga region.
I was fascinated to discover that a small group of British children was sent to St John’s Orphanage in Thurgoona, in the outer suburbs of Albury, in 1950. The 22 girls sailed on Asturias and their arrival was reported in the Border Mail under the misguided headline ‘Orphans arrive here to start their life afresh.’ One of the youngest in the group, five-year-old Pam Wright, was told she was an orphan, even though both her parents were alive. She says, ‘The day before I was shipped, I was with my father.’
Pam’s father tracked her down in Australia and tried to claim her but was told she had been declared a ward of the state. After pleading his case to politicians, Pam was eventually released into her father’s care. In 1990, 40 years after being sent from England, she was finally reunited with her mother. You can hear more about Pam’s story in her interview with ABC Radio.
Pam spoke eloquently about her experiences and their enduring impact on her life at the official opening of the exhibition on 23 February. I spoke of how stories like Pam’s reveal Albury’s connections to broader national and international narratives of child migration. I also mentioned how the exhibition has created opportunities for many former child migrants to reunite with family, friends and the material culture relating to their migration. But I never expected the drama that would soon unfold!
As I led visitors on a tour of On their own, I could hear the commotion at the back of the group when a visitor, Connie – who by chance was visiting from WA – rounded the corner and saw her younger sister Beryl in a photograph in the exhibition. Once her shock and excitement subsided, Connie realised that she too was in the photograph, along with her three brothers. All five siblings were sent to the Fairbridge Farm School at Pinjarra, south of Perth, and this photograph captured them on the very day they arrived in Fremantle on Ormonde in 1950, the same year as Pam Wright.
I had been intrigued by this photograph since I first saw it in the State Library of WA back in 2009. It was part of a collection of well-constructed arrival photographs, surely designed to encourage continued government and public support for the child migration schemes that were once considered generous philanthropy but are now widely condemned as flawed social policy. I was interested in the subjects of this well-composed photograph – the boys in their distinctive striped Fairbridge ties; the girl on the left, who we now know is Connie, with her Orient Line suitcase – but I never expected them to be a family group.
This latest encounter during the national tour of On their own once again reinforces the value of telling personal stories and presenting living history in museums. It also demonstrates the wonderful role museums play in collecting this history, making it accessible and reconnecting people with their heritage and material culture. Here’s to Connie, Beryl and chance encounters.
Curator, Post-Federation Immigration
On their own – Britain’s child migrants is showing at Albury LibraryMuseum from 23 February to 28 April 2013.
Has the Australian National Maritime Museum fetishised fish? and is fetishised even a word?
This weekend is your last chance to find out, and to view what I think is one of our most inventive readings of Australian art from a maritime perspective.
Fish in Australian art is an exhibition of watercolours, prints, publications, drawings, paintings, multimedia, artefacts, and artifice… all of which feature Australian stories of fish or fishing. Through artist’s eyes you see the wonders of fish, fish as characters in dreaming or creation stories, as objects of European curiosity, science, charm, fantasy, nature, and the sublime. You see fish as decorative or design elements, and you see fishing as a way to while away the hours, for musing, sport or industry, and above all for cooking, eating, or serving at the table.
The exhibition includes works from important Indigenous artists like Yvonne Koolmatrie, Arthur Koo’ekka Pambegan, Micky of Ulladulla and Roy Wiggan, and many household names of European Australian art like Arthur Boyd, William Buelow Gould, Conrad Martens, John Olsen, Margaret Preston and Anne Zahalka, in an exhibition which is both thematic and broadly chronological. I especially like the luminous drawings from the natural history painters who worked with pencil and brush to document all they saw around them – here, the fish and the fishing techniques of Indigenous Australians, and their watercraft.
There are a number of works by the Port Jackson painter, Ferdinand Bauer and Thomas Watling on loan from the British Museum of Natural History which are truely sensational and here in Australia just for this exhibition.
These works show Indigenous people fishing from their nawi and cooking their catch. They are beautifully drawn. There are so many nuanced details, like the moon rays floating to the water in the ink and watercolour sketch A N. South Wales native strikg fish by moonlight while his wife paddles him along with a fire in the Canoe ready to broil the fish as caught attributed to the Port Jackson Painter, 1788-97. These details remind you that these painters were not just about picturing science and are worth a really good look.
The exhibition blends media and artefacts, and in this early colonial section you see a canoe of bark with tied ends, made by Albert Woodlands from the west Kempsey region, built before 1938, and on loan from the Australian Museum. This Indigenous canoe is used to interpret the fishing drawings and to add texture and meaning – together they become a delicious viewing experience for those interested in Aboriginal watercraft. The canoe – similar in style to the nawi used by Sydney Aboriginal people – forms such a refined shape that it is almost sculptural.
There is much to see in this exhibition and I can only suggest you make it to the museum this weekend to catch it before it goes…