Saturday, April 16, 2011

Mapping Memory

I've been silent not because I had nothing to say, but because I've been busy, preparing for my exhibition Mapping Memory which opened at the State Library of Western Australia on April 8th.

pressed tin

This pressed tin was photographed in an old building at Gwalia, now a ghost town but a thriving community when my father started school there in 1920. It is very typical of the patterned tin found in early twentieth century goldfields homes, sometimes in combination with whitewashed hessian walls.

A column of this pressed tin is included in the exhibition didactic panel design. I will have a lot more to say about the exhibition in the next few days, when I have had time to catch my breath after eight frantically busy months.

Thursday, August 6, 2009


My Aunt, Vi Taylor, spent much of her childhood in the Eastern Goldfields, where she developed a great love for Western Australian wildflowers. As an adult, she depicted them in paint and stitch on a veriety of surfaces.
This jarrah fire screen was painted as a wedding gift for my parents.
Here is a detail.

Vi also embroidered table linen.
Violet Taylor wildflower embroidered  table cloth
I inherited this tablecloth
Violet Taylor wildflower embroidery
along with the notebook my aunt took out into the bush with her to record the plants.
Violet Taylor wildflower painting

Costume Curator Jo Pearson's interest in my aunt's work led to a joint display of Vi's wildflowers alongside items from the Historical Society collection. Jo brought out a wonderful nineteenth century dress thought to have been made locally in Guilford for Miss Ethel Marion Gull or perhaps even made some years earlier for her mother Annie. This delicate dress is thought to be possibly Western Australia's earliest garment featuring local embroidered flora.
RWAHS wildflower dress detail 1

RWAHS wildflower dress detail 2

RWAHS wildflower dress detail 3
Here is a close detail of the embroidery, stitched on the finest of cotton cloth.
RWAHS wildflower dress detail 4

Jo also put on display part of a collection of pressed wildflowers gathered and mounted by Alfred Hillman in 1832, when the colony still was very young.
Hillman Collection pressed flowers 1

This flower, seemingly an orchid of some sort, has long since fallen away from its mount, but its memory has been captured in surface of the paper.
Hilman Collection pressed flowers 2

This spider orchid was collected and pressed my my aunt Vi over a century later, around sixty years ago.
Violet Taylor pressed spider orchid

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Ora Banda

My father was born in Western Australia's Eastern Goldfields in 1915, in the town of of Ora Banda where his father was postmaster.
Ora Banda map

I didn't get back to Ora Banda on my most recent trip to Kalgoorlie, but the town DID play a part in my visit nonetheless. Eileen Moroney, a member of the Eastern Goldfields Historical Society which hosted my visit, grew up in Ora Banda. Eileen kindly shared with me information she has gathered about Ora Banda's history. Her own story actually links to my father's.
Ora Banda PO mail bag seal arrangement
With the town's population diminished and most of its buildings gone, the local post office and telephone exchange was run by her family from their home. Eileen still has the tags, twine and sealing wax used to seal the post bags sent between Perth and Ora Banda.

Eileen also gave me tangible memories to bring home in the form of precious gifts.
She grew up with this old eiderdown, which had worn out and was put in the shed to await recovering. However, the moths found it and when she went to retrieve it a month ago, only two squares retained their feathers, as the moths had eaten all the others away. Hearing that I collect and treasure old damaged fabric, Eileen valiantly cleaned it and presented it to me, and I suspect her washing machine will never be the same again.

There were some great holes with wonderful edges. Eileen was somewhat flabergasted when I declared my intention to use a some cloth from her eiderdown in the artwork I'm making for an upcoming Kalgoorlie Museum exhibition.

She was even more flabergasted when I declared my desire to take home her other gift, which I think she had brought along only to tease me.
Eileen's potato sack
This old potato sack had been hanging on a hook in the chook yard for a year or so. The combination of goldfields dust and rain had stiffened it like a board.

potato sack 1
I had to repack my bags to fit it in, but now it lives in my courtyard, along with other goldfields memorabilia.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Odd couple

This odd couple occupy a corner of the costume storage room at Stirling House.
Costume room odd couple
There they stand, patiently waiting, until they are deemed the best fit for a garment about to be put on display in the Society's museum.

costume room
In this tiny space dwell many treasures. Packed to the rafters, in large storage boxes, are garments relevant to Western Australia's history.

The museum display is changed periodically, and this process is currently underway. It is a busy time in the costume room as boxes are shifted so that items removed from display can be repacked and stored and fresh items selected by Hon Costume Curator Jo Pearson are unpacked and prepared for display.

Historical Society dress
This is an exciting time to be around, as Jo offers me the chance to see inside these boxes as garments are removed or replaced. I was very happy to be reacquainted with this beaded dress which first drew me to the Society's doorstep a year ago whilst it was on display. Its beauty and careful conservation had been described to me so enthusiastically that I simply had to see it for myself.

Historical Society dress detail
Here is a highly magnified detail of the tiny stitches used to support the damaged areas of the dress on a fabric carefully dyed to match. Conservation is not meant to hide the marks left by time. So the missing areas of the original fabric are still clearly visible, telling the story of many hours of strenuous exertion on the dance floor.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Kalgoorlie and the Eastern Goldfields

This week I pay my second residency visit to the goldfields, when I return to Kalgoorlie for several days of activities. My previous trip, just over a month ago, was shared with my husband.

out back
Carrying our bedroom on our roof, we slept at secluded spots such as Rowles Lagoon, north of Coolgardie, where we shared the dawn with abundant birds, a lone kangaroo, and the echoing presence of the many generations of indigneous Australians for whom it provided succour prior to European settlement.

Scattered all over the goldfields there is evidence of fleeting European settlement. Sunlight glistens brightly on patches of broken glass and china scattered incongrously amidst the red dirt.

Removed from this environment, do these artefacts become something different?
goldfields glass 1

This is an idea to explore, I think.

Spreading the word

The first week of June was Heritage Week here in WA - a time for the state's many local heritage organisations to highlight local history. I was pleased to be invited to be part of the festivities.

Last Sunday I gave a talk as part of the Historical Society of Cockburn's heritage week celebration at Azelia Ley Homestead Museum.

This historic homestead holds a wonderful collection telling the story of life as it was in the early days of settlement. Museum curator Carolyn Mutzig is supported by a dedicated band of people who give their time to ensure local history is not lost to future generations. I urge you to pay them a visit if you get the chance.

The homestead has some lovely examples of quilts and everyday clothing. These inspired my talk, in which I shared quilts and clothes from my own collection drawn from many different cultures.

Emma Knight, seen here taking a closer look at the careful mending in a Japanese under-kimono, was one of my most attentive audience members. I heard from Carolyn that Emma and her sister Aimee make a valuable contribution to the life of the museum. It's great to see younger members of the community getting involved in caring for and sharing our history.

Two days prior to my visit to Azelia Ley Homestead, I participated in the Fremantle Heritage Festival as guest of the Fremantle History Society and the Fremantle Local History Group. I spoke about the port's significance for me as the point of arrival and departure for three generations of my family, and recounted personal and family memories of these comings and goings. I shared some of my textiles whose working class origins connect them to Fremantle, and also talked about my residency.

At 2pm this Saturday, June 20, I will be showing some of my old textiles at the Mundaring Arts Centre and all are welcome.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

quilts made for travelling rough

Since I wrote about the waggas I found at the museum in Rockingham, another one has turned up much closer to home. The Royal WA Historical Society's curator of costume, Jo Pearson, has recently accessioned a wagga into the collection.

The wagga is made from two layers of suiting samples. It is quilted by machine around the edges,
wagga detail
but a large portion of the centre of remains unquilted and forms an envelope which could be filled with newspapers, hay, grass or whatever else could be found to add some extra warmth.

Jo put the wagga on display in time for the Society's May 19 Open Day. The donor, Fr Ted Doncaster, accepted Jo's invitation to attend and I was pleased to meet him and hear the wagga's story.
inpsecting the wagga

The wagga was apparently made for the Reverend John Frewer by a kindly parishioner, during his time as a Bush Brother in the 1920s. He would have been grateful for its warmth on cold nights camping out in the Great Southern, as he travelled around by horseback or horse and buggy, then later in a car called Lizzie. He was not likely to have needed it so much on his subsequent appointment as Bishop of North West Australia. Yet the wagga was one of few possessions which he retained all his life, so it must have been special to him.

I also brought along some quilts to display at the open day. These came from diverse cultures, but all had the common purpose of making do with available materials to create something useful. One of these quilts bears a strong resemblance to the wagga, and is from the same era.
Handyman quilt
This American handman's quilt is one of my precious possessions, a gift from US friend and colleague Rosemary Claus-Gray. It would have been used by a handyman travelling the highways and byways looking for odd jobs, and would have kept him warm at night as he slept in the barn or by the roadside. The quilt is made from recycled suiting and furnishing fabrics, and is lined with old shirt fabrics.

inspecting the handyman quilt
Open Day visitor Rosemary Fitzgerald, from Museums Australia WA, was intrigued by the one edge of the quilt (the blue one on the left) which was made of soft cotton flannel cloth instead of wool, so that the rough woollen cloth would not scratch the handyman's neck as he slept.