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.
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.
Where else can you see a President’s signature (Abraham Lincoln), a Queen’s signature (Victoria R), rare books and etchings, and a seventy-year-old gardenia in one place – but in the USA Gallery of the museum!
These are just a few of the objects from the multi-million dollar collection of paintings, models and artefacts we’ve compiled from the museum’s American collection to represent more than 200 years of the close maritime connection between the seafaring nations of the USA and Australia.
Throughout my internship I have been investigating various diaries and logs to gain access into the lives of the authors, quite literally. Who were these people? Where did they live? In what country? Did they have any relatives? Children? A spouse? When was their birthday? Do they talk about their occupation? These are just a few questions running through my mind as I read and research. But while this process is important to conducting a thorough search into the object to understand provenance and historical background, there is another increasingly overlooked reason to conduct this research – copyright.
Gervais Purcell’s photographs depicting tests for an underwater camera by Amalgamated Wireless Australasia in Sydney have an interesting association with the discovery of the sunken HMS Affray on 14 June 1951 near Hurds Deep in the English Channel.
The first week of September sees the Blu-ray release of The Monuments Men. Imbued with an all-star cast, including George Clooney, Cate Blanchett & Matt Damon, this isn’t just another wartime drama, but the true story of the greatest art heist in history.
Julian Bickersteth of International Conservation Services tells part of that story here.
It is not often that a conservator appears in a movie – we are one of those professions that tend to operate under the radar, hidden away in the back of museums. But when we do hit the limelight we like to do it in style, so it is great to see a conservator taking a lead role in The Monuments Men, played by none other than George Clooney.
George plays the central character of George Stout (called Frank Stokes in the film) who was a key player in the Monuments Men, or to give them their full title, the Monuments, Fine Art and Archives (MFA&A) section. Set up by the Allied Forces in World War II, they were entrusted with the mission of locating and protecting works taken by the Nazi Regime. The film is based on the book of the same name by Robert Esdel, and tells their remarkable story, based around a simple job description: to save as much of the culture of Europe as they could during combat.
I’m pleased to announce the first winner of the museum’s #HoodsHarbour People’s Choice competition for the month of April. Myleah Bailey from Victoria has chosen this photograph from the museum’s Samuel J Hood collection via our Flickr Commons photostream. It depicts crowds at Circular Quay, Sydney welcoming home the crew of HMAS Sydney II on 10 February 1941. The ship had left Australia 10 months previously for battle in the Mediterranean and relatives were keen to see their fathers, uncles, cousins, brothers, husbands, fiancées, boyfriends and friends again. Myleah told us why this was her favourite from the Hood collection, which now forms the basis for the photograph’s exhibition label:
The faces and fashions change, but be it 1941 or 2014 the heartfelt message, and title, of this image remains the same – ‘Welcome Home’.
Our winner told me she ‘was very surprised to receive it! I really enjoyed seeing the pictures in the exhibition and there were many beautiful ones displayed.’ Congratulations Myleah!
Every now and then, a story comes forward from within the museum’s collection that astounds us. For a long time the identity of the young woman depicted in this World War II propaganda poster was a mystery. Staggeringly, just two months ago, the woman on the poster came forward. This is a snippet from Weslee D’Audney’s story which has featured in the museum’s latest issue of Signals. The exhibition Persuasion: US propaganda posters from WWII closes on 20 March 2014.
“I HAVE NEVER BEEN FAMOUS, though my face adorns a famous poster that blanketed America during World War II – and even now pops up almost weekly in a new form. I’m probably the only person alive who remembers its creation.
This humble fishing trawler led a double life during World War II. In 1941, in Singapore, it evacuated people to Sumatra during the Japanese advance. Renamed MV Krait (after a deadly Indian snake), the boat was fitted out in Australia for Operation Jaywick in 1943. Perfectly disguised as a local fishing vessel, Krait sailed boldly into Japanese-occupied waters with a team of Z Special Unit commandos whose mines blew up and severely damaged seven enemy ships in Singapore harbour.
After the war, Krait worked in the Borneo timber trade, until it was recognised by two Australians on a business trip in 1962. Krait returned to Australia to a hero’s welcome, a testament to Australian sacrifice during war. Krait is on loan from the Australian War Memorial.
The vessel was recently moved to Noakes shipyard on Monday 9th December 2013 for its annual slipping. The work package for this preservation was agreed by the Australian War Memorial and the Australian National Maritime Museum. MV Krait ex-WWII veteran under the care of the ANMM has been slipped for a preservation period of 2 weeks.
In 1938, on an uninhabited island somewhere between America and New Zealand, a German nobleman anchored his schooner. He had a mission. Twenty-one years previously, he’d buried treasure, or as he told the American press, ‘a chest with gold and German banknotes’. He told The Australian Women’s Weekly that a ‘plan of the hidden treasure was tattooed on his knee’ and he was finally making the journey from his country to retrieve it. There have been many labels used to describe Count Felix Graf von Luckner – war raider, Nazi spy, gentleman pirate, ‘rollicking buccaneer’, and the list goes on. Some of them are unfounded, yet some of them contain elements of the truth. So when he finally arrived, Samuel J Hood was on hand to photograph the man famed for sinking 28 Allied merchant vessels in 1917. Hood’s photographs display a glimmer of the controversy and suspicion aroused that day back in May 1938 as tensions brewed in Europe and a German war raider known as Der Seeteufel (the Sea Devil) sailed into Sydney waters in the dead of the night. Continue reading
The year is drawing to a close and we have enjoyed investigating, researching and sharing parts of the museum’s collection with you. We have come across the weird and wacky, but we have also made discoveries that have stopped us in our tracks and demonstrated the enormous depth of the collection.
She had a lovely voice. I wanted that voice. She was leaving to go to her house and I did not want her to go. I grabbed her by the throat. I choked her; I choked her. (Edward Leonski, quoted from trial transcript, National Archives of Australia Barcode 101035 p364)
In early 1942 two very different American soldiers arrived in Australia as part of a surge of United States troops based in Australia to fight the war in the Pacific. Hayford Octavius Enwall was a lawyer who was working as the Chief Legal Officer of the US Army Services of Supply and Edward Joseph Leonski was a problematic, troubled soldier with the US 52nd Signal Battalion. By the end of the war Enwall left Australia a married man, having fallen in love with Jean Kennett – a poster girl for Australian army recruitment. Leonski on the other hand did not leave Australia alive, and was executed at Pentridge Prison in 1943 for the murders of three Melbourne women. Continue reading
Arriving in Australia in 1892, as the Australian towing industry was coming into its own, HERO remained a feature on (and at the bottom of) Sydney Harbour for nearly 70 years. Continue reading
An Estonian woman remembers what it was like being 13. In 1991, Mall Juske described what she saw 42 years earlier on board SS Cyrenia, rolling into the harbour at Fremantle. It was a bright and sunny Sunday as she ‘took a stroll in the town’. She saw a wedding celebration at a church and recalled ‘all those fruits’, milk bars and shops full of handbags. All this must have stood in stark contrast to the young girl and her family’s previous experiences and four-year wait to come to Australia. Continue reading
In what situation do you think you would find yourself reflecting on the importance of the humble door? In the collection of the Australian National Maritime Museum is a handwritten poem titled ‘Doors’that begins with these lines:
Some doors have hearts it seems to me, they open so invitingly;
You feel they are quite kind – akin, to all the warmth you find within
Some doors so weather-beaten, gray. swing open in a listless way
As if they wish you had not come, their stony silence leaves you dumb.
In 1938 in Vienna, Austria, the poem’s author can see the world darkening with war. Arthur Lederer, a Jewish tailor and owner of a business that created ‘gala uniforms’ for European royalty and high society, makes the difficult decision to uproot his family and leave their home as anti-Jewish sentiment continues to rise.
In November 1938 Arthur, his wife Valerie and their son Walter made an attempt to flee the escalating Jewish persecution in Nazi-occupied Austria. However on the border with Czechoslovakia the family was stopped by the German Gestapo and were thrown into jail. Upon their release three days later, the Lederers returned to Vienna.
Four weeks later the family left their home and again attempted to escape Austria. This time they successfully travelled to Prague where the League of Nations issued them with Nansen passports, internationally recognised identity cards that were provided to stateless refugees.
In Prague, their fate in suspension, Arthur Lederer wrote letter after letter to many of his influential and well-connected former clients. He wrote to kings, princes, diplomats and aristocrats appealing for assistance. Despite writing several letters a day, none of his contacts were willing or able to help him find exile in another country. The ANMM holds several examples of this correspondence, which makes for interesting reading. A letter written from a diplomat in Paraguay expresses disappointment at not being able to assist, while a postcard from family in Prague contains a request that the Lederers cease contact out of fears for their safety.
With all of these doors closing, one finally opened. Help came in the form of Countess Sehern-Thoss, a wealthy former client who placed Arthur in contact with English aristocrat Lady Max Muller. Through the Quaker relief organisation Germany Emergency Committee, Lady Muller arranged to pay the family’s fare to Australia as well as the £300 arrival money required by the Australian Government. In June 1939, the family began their journey to their new home, Australia.
Oh may mine be a friendly door, may all who cross the threshold o’er,
Within find sweet content and rest, and know each was a welcomed guest.
Arthur Lederer wrote his poem ‘Doors’ on board SS Orama as the liner wound its way to Australia. The long hours of the voyage, with his wife and son by his side, provided him with ample time for reflection. In this family’s experience doors were significant; the door of an abandoned home, the impenetrable door of a gaol cell and all the doors that had coldly closed in response to their pleas for assistance.
The poem contains the agony of the exiled, of those who have been turned away. In light of his experience Arthur Lederer’s wish is simple; a door, a home in which no one would feel cast out or unwelcome.
On leaving Austria, the Lederers had left almost all their belongings behind, taking with them only the slightest personal possessions. Interestingly, Valerie Lederer chose to take with her a very simple item. The front door key to their home in Vienna, an object she kept with her as she built her new life in Australia, as a reminder of the home that had been.
For more information and to view other objects relating to the Lederers, please head over to our eMuseum site.
Penny Hyde, Curatorial assistant