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.
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
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.
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.
Interchangeable Pendant System series 3, prototype 2 (2013):
One of the striking things I have discovered while researching Australian and international jewellery in preparation for the exhibition A fine possession: jewellery and identity, is the way in which the contemporary Australian jewellery scene has been shaped by European tradition. Beginning my research as a complete novice on the subject of jewellery, I came in with the big (and unconscious) assumption that contemporary jewellery generally, and contemporary Australian jewellery in particular, is a craft far removed from traditional concepts and practices of jewellery making. To my surprise and fascination I found that contemporary Australian jewellery has been influenced by a number of innovative Europeans who visited and lectured in Australia and who immigrated to here in late 20th century, bringing with them ideas and skills. My assumptions were completely blown out of the water when I discovered more about jeweller Johannes Kuhnen’s and his piece, the Interchangeable Pendant System 3.2.
A9762, jacket, mens, convict period, felted wool, maker unknown (war department, made in Great Britain, worn in Australia, 1855-1880
This coarse wool jacket is a reminder of the harsh life experienced by convicts in colonial times. Conspicuous, two- coloured uniforms were made to differentiate troublesome convicts and humiliate them, and ensured it was difficult to escape undetected.
For convicts transported to the colonies of Australia, inadequate clothing was one of the many hardships to be endured. Although many thousands of convicts were transported to New South Wales between 1788 and 1840, few articles of convict clothing have survived. They were not considered prized items to be preserved. The Australian Dress Register documents a few convict items.
85/1286-509 Glass negative, full plate, ‘Sir Henry Parkes’, unattributed studio, Sydney, Australia, c. 1880-1923. Coolection: Powerhouse Museum
Many Australians associate Federation with Sir Henry Parkes and his significant contribution in bringing Australia together in 1901, but he was much more than that. Parkes arrived in Sydney in 1839 with his wife and young child (Sir Henry would eventually father 17 children), finding work as a laborer and later in a foundry. He was also a bone and ivory turner and manufacturer, journalist, publisher, writer and politician.
90/58-111 Sculptural form, face, glass/metal/insulating wire, Douglas Annand, Sydney, 1950
Wire has been a material used in a variety of areas from the domestic sphere to agricultural, medical and applied arts areas. The Museum’s collection has wire products from cake cooling racks to electrical components and to sculptures like the one above made by designer Douglas Annand. The sculpture is a collage of various materials to create an outline of a human face. The central feature is a cylindrical clear glass form containing a blue liquid, with a number of circular indents, creating glass feet, and a nose. Green insulating wire is wound around glass and extends out either side with a green button for each eye.
Grossmann House (on the right) and its neighbour Brough House. Image Alan Todd, Grossmann House.
Whether frock, gown, robe or shift, regalia or rags, our clothes are and have always been culturally significant. We dress ourselves because it is custom, but also for acceptance, for status and out of caprice.
Humans have invented distinctive costume for every condition and occasion, and a well-provenanced garment can reveal a great deal about a person and or place; a narrative, as it were.
The same can be said of Australian clothing, and that within the collections of the Australian Museum of Clothing and Textiles and Grossmann House.
Tin, fly killer, rectangular tin with sloping edges, transfer print on upper side of white daisies with cork centres, marked “Daisy Fly Killer contents posionous”, with instructions for use, Harold Somers, New York, USA, c. 1888-1929. Collection: Powerhouse Museum
There are 30,00 types of flies, one of the most familiar and widely distributed is the house fly. Besides being annoying it can also carry diseases.like typhus, dysentery, and tuberculosis,
The introduction of cattle to Australia in 1788 gave the fly increased access to one of it’s food sources, animal dung.
Australian have battled flies n the home and in the paddocks.and the Museum holds a wide variety of approaches to combat flies from poisons like the oddly named and decorated Daisy killer pictured above to fly swats, fly paper and glass flay traps.