Pacific objects in focus #3: New Zealand hei-tiki

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Hei-tiki, pounamu (nephrite jade) / paua shell / gum, New Zealand, c.1810. A5324. Collection: Powerhouse Museum.

Hei-tiki, pounamu (nephrite jade) / paua shell / gum, New Zealand, c.1810. A5324. Collection: Powerhouse Museum.

The hei-tiki is the most famous of all Maori jewellery items. Humanoid in shape, they are typically characterised by a tilting head, huge, gaping open mouth, large, bulbous eyes, splayed hips with arms akimbo and a pronounced and often dilated vulval area (Starzeka 1996: p.43)*. It has been speculated whether or not this expression is illustrative of a woman giving birth (more specifically, the birthing goddess Hine-te-Iwaiwa), but the figures are also often shown to be quite sexless; leading others to suggest the hei-tiki may, in fact, be an appearance of ‘Tiki, the First Man’ in Maori mythology.
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Farewell Gough Whitlam (1916- 2014)

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Photograph, 'Gough Whitlam pouring soil into the hands of traditional owner Vincent Lingiari', by Mervyn Bishop, Northern Territory, Australia, 1975

Photograph, ‘Gough Whitlam pouring soil into the hands of traditional owner Vincent Lingiari’, by Mervyn Bishop, Northern Territory, Australia, 1975. Collection: MAAS

Former Prime Minister of Australia, Gough Whitlam led Australia through a period of massive social change from 1972 to 1975 before his ousting by governor-general Sir John Kerr. The photograph above was taken in 1975 at a land hand back ceremony for the Gurindji people in the Northern Territory. The then Prime Minister Gough Whitlam pours soil into the hands of traditional land owner Vincent Lingiari as a symbolic gesture of the return of land. This photograph signifies the Australian Government giving back land to Indigenous people after Vincent Lingiari and four other traditional owners petitioned the Governor-General in 1967 in Australia’s first Aboriginal land rights claim.
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History repeats itself with the new rail link at Castle Hill

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A8461, Candlestick with removable insert, commemorative, ‘Baulkham Hills to Parramatta tramway’,  made by Walker and Hall, Shefield, England, 1890-1900

Candlestick with removable insert, commemorative, ‘Baulkham Hills to Parramatta tramway’, made by Walker and Hall, Shefield, England, 1890-1900

When people from the Hills District catch the new North West Rail Link in 2019 it will not be the first time a railway has come through the area. In 1901 construction began on a tramline that ran between Parramatta and Baulkham Hills with the primary purpose of carrying fruit and goods, as the Hills District was well-known for its plentiful orchards. The purpose of the tramway was to change after an embarrassing mistake that prevented goods being carried through the township of Parramatta, the man who turner the first sod, Minster for Public Works, Mr. E. W. O’Sullivan, tried to rectify the situation to no avail, this resulted in the tramway being used to carry passengers.

In the collection is a commemorative table candlestick that marks the first sod turned at the Baulkham Hills to Parramatta portion of the line gifted to the Minister for Public Works, Mr. E. W. O’ Sullivan, on March 19th, 1901
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A snapshot of installing ‘A fine possession: jewellery and identity’ exhibition

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Conservator Rebecca Ellis working on the Susan Cohen piece for display. Image Marinco Kojdanovski Powerhouse Museum

Conservator Rebecca Ellis working on Safe no. 7 neckpiece, by Susan Cohn,1995. Lent by the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra: Image Marinco Kojdanovski, Powerhouse Museum

Pictured on-site, amidst the installation of A Fine Possession, Rebecca Ellis is seen positioning the mount for the neckpiece by Susan Cohn. Once the mount had been positioned and fixed into place on the fabric covered PET panel, the neckpiece was secured onto the mount. The panel was then attached vertically to the back of the showcase using split battens to complete the display.

It’s good to give conservators a challenge and there were a few in the jewellery exhibition  A fine Possession. With over 700 beautiful pieces of jewellery on display there is a diversity of materials to be managed. The jewellers used paper to plastic (recycled and 3D printed), metals including gold, ceramics, gems, glass, bone, feathers, cotton, insects, hair and nylon. Much thought and planning has gone into the management, care and display of these objects, drawn both from the Museum’s own collection and institutional and individual lenders.
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Conserving the fabulous gouache collection of post WWII textile designer, Shirley de Vocht

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Floral design, gouache on paper by Shirley de Vocht 2002/88/1-5/2 Floral design, gouache on paper by Shirley de Vocht

Shirley de Vocht (nee Martin) studied art at East Sydney Technical College and worked in a number of post-WWII Australian design and manufacturing industries. She became a well known designer, primarily of textiles and created the official towel for the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games. During her career, Shirley focused on Australian flora and later fauna, creating colourful, intricate designs.
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A Fine Possession and solving the mystery of a French pendant

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H5025 Pendant, set with gouache miniature on cardboard depicting a hot-air balloon flight of the Montgolfier Brothers, gilt metal cannetille, paste (glass), maker unknown, France, about 1783-1815

H5025 Pendant, set with gouache miniature on cardboard depicting a hot-air balloon flight of the Montgolfier Brothers, gilt metal cannetille, paste (glass), maker unknown, France, about 1783-1815. Collection Powerhouse Museum.

Every now and again when working with a Museum’s collection, you will come across an object that was acquired so long ago that little is known about its provenance. There are a few meagre clues to help uncover what you hope will turn out to be an enriching and surprising story, something that shows that this piece is special. And once and a while, the story exceeds your expectations.
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Mechanisation of road building – 1920 steam tip wagon

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Type FGR steam tip wagon made by Aveling and Porter, of Rochester in Kent, England, 1920. Powerhouse Museum Collection. Gift of W. Duguid, 1962. B1509.

Type FGR steam tip wagon made by Aveling and Porter, of Rochester in Kent, England, 1920. Powerhouse Museum Collection. Gift of W. Duguid, 1962. B1509.

In the early decades of the twentieth century steam-powered vehicles including traction engines, steam wagons, road locomotives, road rollers and steam fire engines were a common sight on Australian roads. Up to the 1930s steam-powered wagons or trucks were much more powerful than petrol ones and were ideal for road building.
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Pacific objects in focus #2: Admiralty Islands ceremonial regalia

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Ceremonial regalia and shell money (nine pieces), designed and made in Manus Island, Admiralty Islands, 1900-1925. 94/21/1. Collection: Powerhouse Museum.

Ceremonial regalia and shell money (nine pieces), designed and made in Manus Island, Admiralty Islands, 1900-1925. 94/21/1. Collection: Powerhouse Museum.

This ceremonial regalia from the Admiralty Islands (early 20th century) is one of the Museum’s most prized Pacific pieces. While individual components of the regalia (like the armbands or apron) can often be found in public and private collections, a near or complete set, like this, is very rare. It is also in remarkably good condition and demonstrates the exquisite quality and workmanship that went into Admiralty Islands weaving and beading.

The regalia consists of nine pieces, including: (-1) a fringed and beaded rectangular apron with traces of colourful parrot feathers along the top; (-2) a narrow beaded waist band worked in red, white, blue and black glass beads; (-3 and -4) a pair of wide, rectangular ‘mats’ (worn as leg bands) worked in red, white, blue and black glass beads fastened with plaited vegetable fibre ties; (-5 and -6) a pair of arm bands, one of which has two surviving fibre ties and; (-7 to -9) three cuffs of different sizes worked in red, white and blue glass beads and backed onto rigid, circular bark strips. It’s likely that the largest cuff is a later addition and is not, in fact, contemporary with the set.

Detail of apron showing remains of colourful parrot feathers, designed and made in Manus Island, Admiralty Islands, 1900-1925. 94/21/1. Collection: Powerhouse Museum.

Detail of apron showing remains of colourful parrot feathers, designed and made in Manus Island, Admiralty Islands, 1900-1925. 94/21/1. Collection: Powerhouse Museum.

One of the most intriguing questions raised by this ceremonial regalia is – how was it worn? No images or written records survive as primary evidence, which means that any inferences we make are drawn from oral traditions recorded in secondary sources and from looking at other comparable types of Melanesian dress.

Based on Sylvia Ohnemus’s comprehensive publication “An Ethnology of the Admiralty Islanders – The Alfred Bühler Collection, Museum der Kulturen, Basel”, along with a combination of other sources, we can surmise that the apron was probably worn full frontal, possibly with a grass skirt underneath or with a second longer apron positioned at the back, which was held into place by a waistband. Hans Nevermann in his publication “Admiralty Islands”, suggests the smaller beaded bands with tassels were worn just above the elbow, while the matching pair of cuffs were worn on the forearms.  A headband, typically adorned with dog’s teeth, might have also accessorised the outfit – although we do not have one in this assemblage.

Detail of apron showing beaded shell money, designed and made in Manus Island, Admiralty Islands, 1900-1925. 94/21/1. Collection: Powerhouse Museum.

Detail of apron showing beaded shell money, designed and made in Manus Island, Admiralty Islands, 1900-1925. 94/21/1. Collection: Powerhouse Museum.

The type of ceremony this regalia would have been worn at is a marriage, dance/festival or initiation ceremony; the type requiring an impressive display of wealth. Thought to have been predominantly worn by men, women may have also worn the outfit as part of their wedding dowry.

The display of shell money, as well as dog teeth, in costume and dress was restricted to ceremonies. Shell money comprises the upper section of small conus shells sourced from either Ponam or Sori (islands off the north coast of Manus) and was traded throughout the rest of the Admiralties. They were drilled in the centre and woven onto a pandanus or bark backing.

Detail of armband showing the geometric motifs, designed and made in Manus Island, Admiralty Islands, 1900-1925. 94/21/1. Collection: Powerhouse Museum.

Detail of armband showing the geometric motifs, designed and made in Manus Island, Admiralty Islands, 1900-1925. 94/21/1. Collection: Powerhouse Museum.

Each of the pieces forming this ceremonial regalia are decorated with geometric motifs formed through threading and knotting white shell discs and red, white and blue beads onto vegetable fibre yarns. The glass beads were probably imported.

The Museum fortuitously acquired this particular regalia assemblage at a Sotheby’s auction in 1993 (ex collection Peter Hallinan). Before this, it was in the collection of Daniel Leighton Patterson, who was sent with the Expropriation Board of Australia to New Guinea to take over from the German administration following the annexation of the territory by Australia.

The regalia will be on display in the ‘Ornamented Men’ section of A fine possession: jewellery and identity opening at the Powerhouse Museum from September 2014.

Melanie Pitkin, Assistant Curator, Design and Society

The Story of Australia’s First Airmail-Part 10

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Maurice Guillaux sitting in his Blériot aircraft before a performance. Image courtesy of the State Library of South Australia

Maurice Guillaux sitting in his Blériot aircraft before a performance. Image courtesy of the State Library of South Australia

As Maurice Guillaux recovered from the August 1 crash of his aircraft (see Part 9 of this story), war broke out in Europe, plunging that continent into the conflict that would become known as The Great War. Guillaux recovered from his injuries within a few weeks, and his Blériot aircraft was repaired, but the French aviator began to realise that the time for aerial displays was over: crowds were beginning to wane and the public’s attention was occupied by news of the war. Guillaux began to talk of returning to France, to help defend his homeland, and a newspaper article in the Perth Sunday Times on August 30 reported prematurely that he had already gone back to Europe. This erroneous report may have resulted from confusion between Guillaux and his translator/manager Lucien Maistre, who seems to have embarked for France some time in August.

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Ghanaian baboon ring, from the jewellery exhibition ‘A fine possession’

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Baboon ring, cast gold, Ghana, West Africa, 20th century  Collection Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

Baboon ring, cast gold, Ghana, West Africa, 1860. Collection Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

This ring shares characteristics with other magnificent gold object for which the Asante goldsmiths are fanmous. From the records we are almost certain this glorious golden ring from Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) collection originated in Ghana. The Asante considered gold to embody sunlight and life’s vital forces and it was fashioned into elaborate royal regalia for the Asante kings.

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