Category Archives: Holidays

The Wirth brothers — from band to circus

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Illustration of George Wirth performing as a clown, from his scrapbook. He was a talented tumbler, clown and horseman. Gift of the Wirth family, 2012. Collection: Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences.

Illustration of George Wirth performing as a clown, from his scrapbook. He was a talented tumbler, clown and horseman. Gift of the Wirth family, 2012. Collection: Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences.

After leaving Ridge’s Royal Tycoon Circus in 1880 the Wirth brothers established themselves as the Star Troupe of Varieties. With just six artists, including Japanese acrobats and a German comedian, they assembled a program of acrobatics, clowning, contortion, spinning hats, boxing and comic songs. They padded the evening out with a few polkas and cornet solos. Audiences responded with repeated encores. The Star Troupe of Varieties developed into Wirth Brothers Circus.
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Fibro coast

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'Seaside Cottages', Wunderlich Limited, 1937. Powerhouse Museum collection.

‘Seaside Cottages’, Wunderlich Limited, 1937. Powerhouse Museum collection.

The Gold Coast City Gallery has been displaying the exhibition Fibro Coast; it will soon be at the University of the Sunshine Coast Gallery. Fibro Coast is about the holiday architecture that is still a feature of the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast.

When I was writing the Fibro frontier during the 90s I went on a research trip to  Brisbane, the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast. I hadn’t been to any of these places since I was a child so it was a revelatory sort of trip, especially the amount of fibro on view which I eagerly recorded on film. So I was pleased to be asked by the Gold Coast gallery to write for the exhibition catalogue and give a gallery talk.

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Sailor suits and the Sydney Naval Review

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Boy's two-piece sailor suit, wool gabardine, with reproduction necktie and hat, probably made in England, 1915-1925. Powerhouse Museum collection, A7722.

Boy’s two-piece sailor suit, wool gabardine, with reproduction necktie and hat, probably made in England, 1915-1925. Powerhouse Museum collection, A7722.

With thousands of sailors in Sydney this week for the International Fleet Review, celebrating 100 years since the Australian Navy sailed into Sydney Harbour in 1913, I thought I’d write about children’s sailor suits. Australian children visiting the fleet ships in 1913 wouldn’t have been wearing shorts and tee shirts like their counter parts in 2013 but most probably sailor suits.
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Holiday activities – Sinclair car kettle

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Car kettle made by Sinclair Australia, Strathfield, New South Wales, 1950-1960,collection of the Powerhouse Museum, gift of George Hamill, 2002, 2004/34/1.

Car kettle made by Sinclair Australia, Strathfield, New South Wales, 1950-1960,collection of the Powerhouse Museum, gift of George Hamill, 2002, 2004/34/1.

With the Australian summer holidays in full swing and many families on the road it’s interesting to think about the changes in road trip catering. Since the early days of motoring car picnic sets have been available. The early sets were often impressive, boasting cups, plates, cutlery, containers and a small burner. During the 1950s, when car ownership took off, simple electric car kettles, like the Sinclair, came on the market so tea and other hot drinks could be prepared by the roadside. This kettle was powered by 12-volt direct current from the car battery. How did it work? Well, the small round flat terminal was screwed onto a live terminal point such as a switch, junction or light behind the dashboard and the alligator clip was attached to any metal surface in the car. The black plug could then be pushed into the socket in the kettle to boil the water. This took a few minutes and provided enough water for three cups of tea. It must have been a boon compared to boiling water on a primus or making a fire to boil the billy.

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Dolls houses, old, new and making do

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93/1/1 Doll’s house, ‘A Perfect Little House’, with furniture, fittings and dolls, mixed media, made by Wilf Pownall and Alison Pownall, Gunnedah, NSW, c. 1940. Collection: Powerhouse Museum

Christmas is that time of year when thoughts of toys are unavoidable. Personally, I love dolls houses, the way the everyday boring world suddenly becomes special when replicated in miniature.

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The Bradbury motorcycle and sidecar – respectable transport

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B1174 Motor cycle and sidecar made by Bradbury & Co Ltd, Oldham,  England, 1914

B1174 – Motor cycle and sidecar made by Bradbury & Co Ltd, Oldham, England, 1914.

Motorcycles or motorbikes can have unsavoury connotations in current times with the phrase ‘outlaw motorcycle gang’ rarely out the headlines but in 1914 when the Bradbury motorcycle and sidecar were built they were the height of middle class respectability.
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Sydney Royal Easter Show

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Showbag and contents, A Team Collection, 1983: Powerhouse Museum

Going to an Easter show is almost a childhood rite of passage for Sydneysiders. Apart from looking at a variety of animals, agricultural pavilions, side shows and competitions like wood chopping there was always the draw of the Show Bag Pavilion. Selecting which show bag, the lolly or TV show based one (or if you were lucky a couple of show bags) was part of the day’s excitement.
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Chinese New Year 2012: Year of the Dragon

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97/92/15-11 Dragon or lion, ceramic, part of personal effects, Wong family, Australia, 1880-1930 Collection: Powerhouse Museum

Sydney holds the largest Lunar New Year festival outside Asia, where communities from Asia celebrate the first day of the first lunar month of the year. Lunar or Chinese New Year falls on 23 January this year, with celebration lasting 15 days, until the first full moon appears.

It’s a time for renewal, family gatherings, eating rich foods and paying respect to your ancestors and elders. Sydneysiders have become familiar with the festival of the new year celebrated with dragon boats races, lions dances and night markets, creating a festival atmosphere, particularly in Chinatown and Ultimo communities.

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Chinese new year celebrations, Chinatown in haymarket, Sydney, Image: Sotha Bourn, Powerhouse Museum

The Year of 2012 is the Year of the Dragon, the fifth sign of the Chinese Zodiac, which consists of 12 Animal signs. More specifically it is the year of the water dragon a creature of myth and legend and in ancient China, the celestial Dragon represented an emperor and power. Today, it is the ultimate symbol for success and happiness.

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A4034-4 Snuff bottle, famille-rose enamelled porcelain, maker unknown, China, Qianlong reign (1736-1795) of Qing dynasty. Collection: Powerhouse Museum

The origin of the Chinese dragon is not certain. The presence of dragon in Chinese culture can dates back several thousands of years with the discovery of a dragon statue dating back to the fifth millennium BC from the Yangshao culture in Henan in 1987, and jade badges of rank in coiled form have been excavated from the Hongshan culture circa 4700-2900 BC.
The dragon and other symbols of good luck are represented within the Museum’s collection.

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2010/75/1-6 Glass lantern slide, Jiulong Bi (Nine-Dragon-Screen) in Beihai Park, hand coloured glass / metal, made by Serge Vargassoff, Peking, China, 1920-1949. Collecton : Powerhouse Museum

Like this lantern slide taken by the Russian-born photographer Serge Vargassoff (1906-1965) who established himself as a professional photographer at the age of 20, in Peking (Beijing), China and became a long-term resident of the city. The slide shows a panel depicting a pair of dragons playing in the clouds. They are the two of the nine dragons on the Jiulong Bi (Nine-Dragon-Screen) in Beihai Park, Peking. This large glazed stone screen was built in 1756 and is one of three screens of the same kind in China. The screen is decorated on both sides with nine dragons playing in the clouds.
The Museum will hold activities to celebrate Chinese new year.

Rubber thong

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89/1346 Thongs, rubber, unknown maker, 1977-1979, Gift of A W Fuller: Collection Powerhouse Museum

Not what you were expecting – tricked you!

Have you bought shoes for 99 cents and got ten years international travel out of them?

Well a Mr Fuller bought these in 1978 and trudged them all around Europe. He mended one toe strap with wire and felt they had a good two more years’ wear left, when his family prized them from him out of sheer embarrassment and gave them to the Powerhouse Museum.

Rubber thongs were a recognised anti-establishment symbol in the 1960s and 1970s, known as bangers and double pluggers, they epitomised an unpretentious and egalitarian society and reached iconic status. Australians embraced them heart and sole! Some men were even seen in them at the Opera! The residue from those subversive days is evident in the banning of thongs from many clubs and restaurants. Provocative fashion statements soften with time and thong sandals have now evolved into a benign unthreatening style of footwear – now the most popular shoe style around the world for both men and women.

Surprisingly much engineering expertise and ingenuity went into the design of thongs – the right rubber formula – the plug must not pull out – harder than you might think. Engineer Jim Merser designed the plug in a cupped shape so that as the toe thong pulled up vertically the round disc holding it into the sole spread sideways, getting wider and it did not pull through. Dunlop patented this design as a ‘device by which central forces are diverted externally.’

Thongs gained ground from the 1950s and from the early 1960s Dunlop often sold over a million pairs a year. China has long overshadowed this, producing 800 million pairs in 2001 – no surprise then that 6 million thongs are floating on our oceans.

Marine biologist Gary Carlos has a theory that the thong’s innate asymmetry separates the right thong from the left on our oceans.

Left thongs veer to the right and end up in Indonesia and right thongs end up on remote Queensland beaches and Pacific Islands.

So get down to the beach and make sure you leave your thongs above the high water mark!

Further reading:
Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion, Vol 7
Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands
Joanne B. Eicher, Margaret Maynard, 2011.

Santa Claus, Kris Kringle, Pelz Nicol and Father Christmas

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Although many countries call Father Christmas by other names the tradition of making Christmas decorations have familiar characters and colours, often rotund male figures with long white beards dressed in red and white. I found these delightful and somewhat unusual representations in our collection. They are part of a larger donation from the Monica Piddington Memorial Trust and were a gift from the Jindera Pioneer Museum to the Powerhouse Museum in in 1970.

Monica Piddington (1899-1967 )was born at Narrandera, NSW, and became a kindergarten teacher. In the 1930s she went on to become the first director of the famous Sydney Playways educational toy shop which opened in Dalley Street, near Circular Quay, and was owned by the Kindergarten Union. Apparently Monica travelled around the world collecting toys of ‘superior design, craftsmanship and quality’ making them available to Australian teachers, parents and children. Many of her toys seem to mainly come from Scandinavian countries. In the 1960s the shop moved to Clarence Street. After the Kindergarten Union decided to sell the business, it was taken over by the staff, all Early Childhood graduates, and re-opened as the Play House Toy Shop which operated from 1989 until 2007.

Post by Anni Turnbull