Threads: Quilts & waggas
Quilting is often thought of as a pastime more than an art form.
A domestic craft practiced mainly by women, we think of quilt-makers working individually or in intimate circles, sharing stitches and scraps of fabric along with gossip and hushed conversation. In truth, quilts are complex objects.
Both utilitarian and artistic, quilts not only testify to the industriousness and ambition of their makers, but they also enclose generations of economic, cultural and social change.
Quilts tell stories and are objects of inference, through which multiple histories can be glimpsed, imagined, covered over: threads gathered and dropped. Few objects are as riven with the small and large shocks, fears, desires and dreams of everyday life.
Open House Melbourne
Modern Melbourne is a series of filmed interviews and rich archival material that documents the extraordinary lives and careers of some of our most important architects and designers including Peter McIntyre, Mary Featherston, Daryl Jackson, Graeme Gunn, Phyllis Murphy, Allan Powell and Peter Elliott.
Melbourne’s modernist architects and designers are moving into the later stages of their careers. Their influence on the city is strong and the public appreciation of their early work is growing – they have made an indelible mark on Melbourne. Much of their mid-century modernist work and latter projects are now represented on the Victorian Heritage Register.
Many of the Modern Melbourne subjects enjoyed a working relationship and a friendship with Robin Boyd, the influential architect who championed the international modernist movement in Melbourne.
The Dreamer & the Cheerful Thing
Some months after my grandfather Bob Snape’s death in 1977 I collected two old trunks full of memorabilia from his last home, in Sandringham.
What a treasure it turned out to be: jammed full of papers, comprising correspondence, diaries, short stories, a poem or two, much of it typed, some of it hand-written, some official-looking documents and some music scores roughly sorted into manila folders, and a variety of souvenirs and ephemera. There were also half a dozen ordnance maps, aerial photographs of some Western Front battlefields and some battered old albums containing postcards, of WW1 France and Belgium, but also of England and Wales. These have since been catalogued on the Warrnambool RSL Victorian Collections page.
Bob’s treasure trove tells the story of his experiences during the war, and that of his younger brother Harold who also fought. Bob was a prolific correspondent and diarist, whilst Harold’s own tiny pocket diary alone ran to approximately 40,000 words. Near the end of his life, Bob told me, “You can burn the lot for all I care. You decide when I’m gone....”
Walter J.R. Barber
Portable Justice: The old Bacchus Marsh police lock-up
Scratched into the timber wall of the old Bacchus Marsh police lock–up, these crudely formed words might be a prisoner’s repentance before finally going straight. Or perhaps their regret was short-lived, soon returning to a life of crime.
We will never know if they remained faithful to their promise, but the pledge gives life to the bitter solitude of this place, and others like it.
Prior to the widespread construction of police lock-ups, suspected criminals were subject to primitive forms of detention. In some towns, alleged culprits were tied to trees while awaiting trial, and were often subject to threats of lynching.
Stories of Support
The 2016 Museums Australia (Victoria) Conference held at Phillip Island in October, was the inspiration for this story. A drive around the Island on arrival unearthed a surprise in Newhaven - the former Boys Home standing silent and abandoned, looming over the ocean.
Care homes were once an essential part of Victorian life. The gold rush and population increase in Victoria created a need for charitable organisations to provide care to those who could not care for themselves, most notably children. Providers of care have also included societies for people with special needs including the 'Deaf and Dumb', and the asylums and hospitals of Victoria. This continued until the late 20th century when reform was prompted by revelations of abuse in the institutional system. The care model has since shifted towards kinship and foster services.
Victoria’s former institutions of care are an important part of our history. Whilst many of the buildings—often architecturally brilliant— no longer exist, they are remembered through the photographs and artefacts held by collecting organisations across the state and catalogued here on Victorian Collections.
History Teachers Association Victoria / Heide Museum of Modern Art
Yingabeal: Indigenous geography at Heide
Yingabeal is the name of a scarred tree in the grounds of Heide Museum of Modern Art in the suburb of Bulleen, Victoria.
Before Heide became an art gallery, it was the home of John and Sunday Reed. They were patrons of the arts who arrived at the property in 1934 and created a place where artists could come to work. After they died, their house became the Heide Museum of Modern Art, a gallery that displays Australian art, including the collection that the Reeds built up in their lifetime.
But for thousands of years before the arrival of the Reeds, the land belonged to the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. Scarred trees are those that have been permanently marked by Indigenous communities using their bark to make tools or equipment.
Lighting fades away when a lamp is blown out, or when a switch is clicked off, but the history of lighting has left traces in Victorian cultural collections.
This story looks at items and images relating to the history of lighting in Victoria and considers the various lightscapes created by different types of lighting. This story is inspired by the book Black Kettle and Full Moon by Geoffrey Blainey.
After thousands of years of Aboriginal firelight, European households spent their evenings in dim smoky rooms huddled around a spluttering pool of light. Bright lighting was a luxury. As new energy sources and lighting technology became available nights became brighter, extending the day and changing the night time.
The Main Line Starter Clock: Keeper of public time
An authoritative presence on Platform One at Spencer Street Station for almost one hundred years, the Main Line Starter Clock stood over the people of Victoria from its installation in 1871 until 1960, when the station was re-developed and the clock was gifted by Victorian Railways to the Melbourne Museum.
This majestic artifact is now cleverly housed in a model ‘Museum Station’ in the new Pauline Gandel Children’s Gallery.
Built by watchmaker Thomas Gaunt at his premises in Bourke Street’s Royal Arcade in consultation with Government Astronomer Robert Ellery, the clock weighs some 150kg and stands – as you can gauge from this image of Conservator Sarah Babister as she repaired paint loss and removed decades of accumulated grime from the face – an imposing 1820mm high by 1190mm wide.
At the Going Down of the Sun
One hundred years on, evidence of the impact of the First World War can be plainly seen across Victoria.
Built heritage including cenotaphs, statues, plaques and obelisks are peppered across the state’s public spaces, each dedicated to the commemoration of the war service of the thousands of Victorians who served between 1914 and 1918.
Many of these men and women died in active service and were buried overseas, so locally built monuments served as important places to mourn and remember them. They were places for private and collective mourning, commemoration and remembrance.
These memorials were truly local, often built through community fundraising and supported by communities who shared a sense of loss. Most are inscribed with the names of those who died from the region, while others list the names of all those who served.
Across Victoria, cenotaphs and built memorials remain central to ANZAC Day services, but the way we commemorate has changed with each generation and so has the way we remember and mourn the servicemen of the First World War. Photographic and material culture collections from across the state, catalogued here on Victorian Collections, capture some of the tangible and intangible heritage associated with the shifting ways we commemorate the First World War. They provide meaningful insight in to our society and how we make sense of war and loss.
Way Back When Consulting Historians
Daylesford is a picturesque town, quietly nestled at the foot of Victoria's Great Dividing Range. It is green, lush and magical and its soils are rich with minerals and mineral springs. Indeed it was an early centre of mining activity in post-European settlement Victoria after gold was first found in 1851.
Daylesford has long been both a popular tourist destination and often seen a place of calm and healing. Guest houses flourished alongside mining activity, farming and industry.
Slowly, but surely, in the late 1970s and 1980s, Daylesford and the surrounding areas began to become home to individuals who identified as gay or lesbian. Today it is seen as a gay and lesbian friendly town, indeed a LGBTIQ hub, no doubt helped by the reality that it is home to ChillOut, the largest rural gay and lesbian festival in Australia.
Daylesford Stories explores ideas of community, identity and belonging as it focuses on individual experiences of Daylesford and surrounds and why it is that they call Daylesford home. In doing this, we begin to see a story of how and why this region has become a place of meaning and significance for lesbians and gays and for those who identify as part of the LGBTIQ community.
Through short films, individual profiles and image galleries, we start to explore how identity shapes us and how support and understanding can build community. But, it is important to note that represented here are just some stories of Daylesford. We need to talk to more people, gather additional stories and in so doing, look at more perspectives on why and how it is that Daylesford has become such an important rainbow community. Daylesford Stories is just the beginning.
The Palais Theatre
It’s impossible for Melburnians to think about the St Kilda Esplanade without visualising the Palais Theatre standing majestically against Port Phillip Bay. Its grand Art Deco façade is as iconic to St Kilda as the Pavilion on the nearby pier, Acland Street or the theatre’s "just for fun" neighbour, Luna Park.
It’s surprising to discover, then, that the Palais wasn’t always regarded with such affection. When the original building – a dance hall called the Palais de Danse – was being constructed in 1913, over 800 locals attended a public meeting to protest it being given a license. They voiced fears that it would lower the tone of St Kilda, “have a demoralising effect on young people", and be "common with a big C”. The battle was won by the building owners, the three Phillips brothers (American immigrants who also built Luna Park), and an entertainment venue has stood on the site ever since.
The Palais Theatre is a magical place for Melburnians. It’s where generations of us have danced cheek to cheek, watched movies in the darkness, screamed lustily at the Rolling Stones, thrown roses at the feet of Margot Fonteyn and Rudolph Nureyev, and given standing ovations to Dame Joan Hammond’s awe-inspiring soprano. Your grandparents probably had their first date there. Ask them about the Palais and watch them smile.
The theatre is underwent restoration in 2016-17, which preserved the heritage value of the site and ensured the Palais remains a live performance venue and cultural icon in St Kilda for many generations to come. The restoration was funded by the State Government of Victoria and the City of Port Phillip.
Stories of Women on the Land
From the grinding stones of Australia’s first farmers, Wagga quilts, butter pats and recipe books to family photographs, garden tools and agricultural equipment – women’s farm work is frequently found in museums. The contribution of women to Australian agriculture has a rich and very deep history. Yet these stories have been unacknowledged and continue to be undervalued.
The nature of women’s farm work is often rendered invisible because much of it is intangible and ephemeral, is characterised by relationships and oral tradition, and dismissed as just ‘domestic’ work when in fact this work is what has often sustained families, farms and communities. The layers of invisibility are even deeper for migrant and Indigenous women.
There has also been a long history of official barriers to recognising women’s work on the land. Farm women were deliberately omitted from the 1891 Victorian Census. Women were excluded from agriculture courses up into the early 1970s. It wasn’t until 1994 that women were legally recognised as farmers, prior to this they were defined as ‘non-productive "sleeping" partners’. And, It is only in recent years that scholars have finally acknowledged the 40-50,000 years of Indigenous knowledge and practice in complex systems of agriculture and aquaculture.
Victorian museums are a treasure trove of untold stories about the extraordinary lives of farm women and how they have shaped our land and rural communities.
Martin Hallett: In celebration of a career
Victoria is privileged to have a robust GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums) sector. The capacity of our sector is the result of work undertaken by many dedicated people. We would like to take a moment to acknowledge and celebrate a colleague who has played a particularly significant role in ensuring the strength of the Victorian scene.
In April 2016, Martin Hallett retired from his role as Senior Manager of Victorian Cultural Network, part of the Agencies and Infrastructure unit of Creative Victoria. Martin was subsequently awarded with a Victorian Public Service Medal and a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Victorian Museum Awards for his four decades of work in the Victorian collections sector.
The steamship SS Casino served the Western District of Victoria for almost fifty years during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
A popular cargo ship, the Casino was a regular sight on the Moyne river and along the coast. The ship was an integral part of coastal life until she was shipwrecked in the 1930's, and objects from the Casino can now be found in collections from across the region and gathered here on Victorian Collections for the first time.
Transporting large quantities of wool, potatoes, onions, grain, sheep, cattle and other produce provided a great economic opportunity to business men in Port Fairy and in March, 1882, the Belfast & Koroit Steamship Company was formed with a capital of £20,000 in 10,000 shares. The SS Casino on her delivery voyage from England was due in Warrnambool to load potatoes for Sydney and the Directors inspected and purchased her there.
She arrived in Port Fairy on 29th July, 1882, steaming triumphantly up the Moyne River, and was greeted with cheers by a large crowd, many of whom had come from the surrounding countryside. She operated alone for almost all of the next 49 years. She was much loved by the whole Port Fairy community and the coastal ports that she serviced, bringing news and goods from far away and transporting passengers.
A celebration for the Casino's fiftieth anniversary was planned for the 29th July, 1932. Unfortunately soon after 9 o'clock on the morning of Sunday 10th July, 1932, disaster struck when the Casino was lost at Apollo Bay together with the lives of the Captain and 9 crew members.
Symbols of Survival
The internment of civilian and military populations was widespread during the twentieth century.
The Australian experience of imprisonment is complex: Captured Australian soldiers faced years in Asian and European camps, often returning home traumatised or suffering physically. Australia also interned enemy soldiers and civilian residents with ties to enemy nations.
The physical objects created by internees and by the societies that imprisoned them can tell stories not found in archives. Prisoners expressed themselves through art, doctors built tools and internees made furniture to fill sparse barracks. Similarly, authorities used the internee experience to tell stories, and the image of the prisoner could be used to communicate power or compassion depending on the audience.
These objects are comparatively rare in military collections, as internees faced obstacles when producing physical objects. Lack of access to materials, hostile guards and strict rules, low morale and poor health all contributed to their scarcity.
Victorian Collections provides a window into the story of internment. This story uses objects drawn from Victoria’s collecting organisations to explore the internee and prisoner experience.
Time Flies in Museum Collections: Ornithology in Victoria
Natural science collections are vast treasure troves of biological data which inform current research and conservation.
Alongside bird skins, nests, eggs and DNA samples sits a magnificent collection of rare books, illustrations and images which charts the history of amateur and professional ornithology in Victoria.
Whilst the big names such as John Gould (1804–1881), are represented, the very local, independent bird observers such as John Cotton (1801-1849) and Archibald James Campbell (1853–1929) made some of the most enduring contributions.
The collections also document the bird observers themselves; their work in the field, building collections, their efforts to publish and the growth of their ornithological networks. Captured within records are changes in ornithological methods, particularly the way data is captured and published.
However the data itself remains as relevant today as it did when first recorded, 160 years of collecting gives us a long-term picture of birdlife in Victoria through space and time.
History Teachers' Association of Victoria / Royal Historical Society of Victoria
MacRobertson's Confectionery Factory
MacRobertson Steam Confectionery Works was a confectionery company founded in 1880 by Macpherson Robertson and operated by his family in Fitzroy, Melbourne until 1967 when it was sold to Cadbury.
This story accompanies the 'Nail Can to Knighthood: the life of Sir Macpherson Robertson KBE' exhibition which took place at the Royal Historical Society of Victoria in 2015.
Conserving an 1889 Wedding Dress
This finely tailored cream wool wedding dress with Liberty silk satin trim was worn by Ethel Florence Francis on the occasion of her marriage to Councillor David Phillips at the Brunswick Wesleyan Church on Wednesday 30th January 1889.
On the evening of the wedding guests were entertained at the Brunswick Town Hall, an imposing Victorian building constructed in the 'Second Empire' style.
The three-dimensional aspect requires a different approach that encompasses numerous angles and mannequin positions as well as complex lighting techniques.
The photographic treatment is informed by the garment’s condition, history, fabric and construction techniques. As such, this kind of photography is a team effort between myself, the textiles conservator and the curator.
Hamilton Gallery / Public Galleries Association of Victoria
From Watercolours to Decorative Arts
Bequests have been critical to Victoria’s regional galleries, with the wealth generated from farming and the discovery of gold in leading to the establishment and the continuous expansion from colonial times through to today.
Hamilton Art Gallery was established through a bequest from a local grazier, Herbert Buchanan Shaw. The Shaw Bequest consisted of paintings and prints, European silver and glass as well as English, Chinese and Japanese ceramics dating from the 18th century.
Ten years after it was established, Hamilton Art Gallery acquired a group of watercolours by 18th century painter Paul Sandby through a grant from the state government. An upper floor was added to the gallery to accommodate these works.
The collection has continued to grow through gifts, grants and bequests. The original bequest of 870 items has expanded to 8,500 items, making Hamilton Art Gallery one of the largest and most diverse regional gallery collections in Australia, spanning watercolours to decorative arts.
Today, the gallery is divided into six spaces – upstairs you will find the Sandby collection, Asian art, the Print room and Australian art, while on the ground floor you will discover the Shaw Gallery of decorative arts and the Ashworth Gallery for travelling exhibitions.
Featured here is a selection of works from the gallery’s collection – from watercolours by Paul Sandy to world class examples of decorative arts together with work by Australian artists dating from the 19th century to contemporary times. Watch a video to learn about the initial Shaw Bequest and experience the richness and diversity of Hamilton Art Gallery’s collection acquired through the generosity of benefactors and governments over the past fifty years.
A Snappy, Collapsible Hat
On the outside it appears to be an ordinary top hat, but hidden on the inside is a technological innovation at least forty years in the making...
Getting it Right
There is a great deal of effort that goes into preparing a museum garment for display which the public never sees. This is especially true for historical items.
Most obviously, there is the core work that our textile conservators do examining and treating works so that they are safe to exhibit. Equally vital is the task of creating the appropriate underpinnings and padded supports which ensure a garment has a historically accurate silhouette, and that the fragile fabrics are supported during display.
During the nineteenth century a lot went on beneath women’s gowns. Victorian fashion relied on a variety of contrivances to generate form; corsets compressed the waist, petticoats, crinolines and later cage-crinolines made skirts wider and fuller, while bustles produced a cantilevered behind. Working in tandem with the garment, these structures performed both functional and aesthetic roles.
The Last Yarn
The Last Yarn, a digitisation project, has supported the photography of key nineteenth-century works in the NGV’s Australian fashion and textiles collection for access through our online collection database.
Giving the garments a life beyond the archive, the project acknowledged the appeal of recent exhibitions such as Australian Made (2010) and Fashion Detective (2014) which investigated aspects of historical dress.
Now over 50 additional works have been catalogued, given new underpinnings, photographed and uploaded so that audiences elsewhere in the world can discover the local dressmakers, tailors and retailers who defined early Australian style.
School Days: Education in Victoria
The exhibition, School Days, developed by Public Record Office Victoria and launched at Old Treasury Building in March 2015, is a history of more than 150 years of schooling in Victoria.
It is a history of the 1872 Education Act - the most significant education reform in Victoria, and a world first! It is a history of early schooling, migrant schooling, Aboriginal schools, women in education, rural education and, of course, education during war time (1914-1918).
This online exhibition is based on the physical exhibition School Days originally displayed at Old Treasury Building, 20 Spring Street, Melbourne, www.oldtreasurybuilding.org.au and curated by Kate Luciano in collaboration with Public Record Office Victoria.
History Teachers Association of Victoria / Chinese Museum
When World War One was declared, Australia issued a call to arms.
The Chinese-Australian community rallied behind the war efforts. Over two hundred Australians of Chinese descent enlisted. One hundred and seven of these were from Victoria. Of those Chinese Australians who fought, forty-one died. No Chinese-Australian nurses who served in the War have been identified to date.
The story of the Chinese Anzacs is often overlooked in the greater narratives of World War One. Their experiences during and after the war were the subject of the 'Chinese Anzacs' exhibition on display at the Chinese Museum in 2014.
Koorie Heritage Trust / NGV Australia / State Library Victoria
Koorie Art and Artefacts
Koorie makers of art and artefacts draw upon rich and ancient cultural traditions. There are 38 Aboriginal Language Groups in Victoria, each with unique traditions and stories. These unique traditions include the use of geometric line or free flowing curving lines in designs.
This selection of artworks and objects has been chosen from artworks made across the range of pre-contact, mission era and contemporary times and reflects the richness and diverse voices of Koorie Communities. It showcases prehistoric stone tools, works by 19th century artists William Barak and Tommy McRae right through to artworks made in the last few years by leading and emerging Aboriginal artists in Victoria.
The majority of the items here have been selected from the extensive and significant collections at the Koorie Heritage Trust in Melbourne. The Trust’s collections are unique as they concentrate solely on the Aboriginal culture of south-eastern Australia (primarily Victoria). Over 100,000 items are held in trust for current and future generations of Koorie people and provide a tangible link, connecting Community to the past.
Within the vibrant Koorie Community, artists choose their own ways of expressing identity, cultural knowledge and inspiration. In a number of short films Uncle Wally Cooper, Aunty Linda Turner and Aunty Connie Hart practice a range of traditional techniques and skills. These short documentaries show the strength of Koorie culture today and the connection with past traditions experienced by contemporary Koorie artists.
Taungurung artist Mick Harding draws upon knowledge from his Country about deberer, the bogong moth: "The long zigzag lines represent the wind currents that deberer fly on and the gentle wavy lines inside deberer demonstrate their ability to use those winds to fly hundreds of kilometres to our country every year."
Koorie artists today also draw inspiration from the complex and changing society we are all part of. Commenting on his artwork End of Innocence, Wiradjuri/Ngarigo artist Peter Waples-Crowe explains: "I went on a trip to Asia early in the year and as I wandered around Thailand and Hong Kong I started to think about Aboriginality in a global perspective. This series of works are a response to feeling overwhelmed by globalisation, consumerism and celebrity."
Koorie culture is strong, alive and continues to grow.
CULTURAL WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander users are warned that this material may contain images and voices of deceased persons, and images of places that could cause sorrow.
Jane Routley and Elizabeth Downes
Reading about Flinders Street Station can give you the impression this grand old building is past its useful life. Not so. This is a hardworking station – Melbourne’s public transport hub.
Over 100,000 commuters pass through the station every day, well up from the daily total of around 30,000 in the 1930s. In my childhood the concourse was smaller with iron pillars and a galvanized iron roof. I remember it being full of wooden shops, brown panelling and a floor that used to contain bottle top lids, pen caps, paper clips, broken chains and other intriguing items fossilized into the black asphalt.
Mark S. Holsworth
Art at Flinders Street Station
The average commuter passing through Flinders Street Station could remain blissfully unaware for their entire lives of anything more artistic in the station than the endless advertising images.
However, as befitting any major public building, there is some commissioned art at Flinders Street Station.
Jane Routley and Elizabeth Downes
Degraves Street Subway & Campbell Arcade: The underground artspace
When you first come down the stairs, the Degraves Street Subway seems a bit daunting.
The long, pale pink tiled corridor with its blocked-off doorways and blotched asphalt, seems the perfect place for a mugging. A mysterious blind alley, which used to be an opening into the Mutual Store (and the earliest bowling alley in the CBD), leads off to your right. But stick with this corridor. It’s safe and is actually the route into the Campbell Arcade - a little slice of indie fringe artist-land which I think is a fine place to be.
Jane Routley and Elizabeth Downes
Flinders Street Station
The current Flinders Street Station building has been part of the lives of Melbournians for over 100 years.
Inspired by the launch of the latest competition to put forward proposals for its restoration and reinvigoration, and to highlight some of the amazing Flinders Street-related material in Victoria's cultural collections, I will be celebrating the past, present and future of my favorite station.
Over the next few months, I will be recording impressions and stories found whilst exploring the station as it exists today, trawling the internet for related sounds and images (such as this timelapse) and featuring some of the wonderful images of the station that are held in Victoria's cultural collections. As a taster for my future posts, here's a selection of images that I've found.