Saturday 25 May 2024

Canberra - a Century of Quilts

The main reason for our timing to visit Canberra was to see the quilt exhibition at the National Gallery, and in particular, the Rajah Quilt. The exhibition wasn’t all that large, but there were some lovely and varied quilts.

We start with a possum skin cloak, such as the aboriginals made.  This dates from the 2005, so a contemporary interpretation.

Early European settlers also made use of the warm possum skins.  This one from Tasmania has the pelts backed by a woollen fabric.  It is somewhat unusual with the tails still attached.

This quilt was made during the 1870s and 1880s, by a lady who was a dressmaker.  She entered it in the local show each year for 10 years, winning first prize every time.  You have to laugh.  It is edged with a braid and backed with a fabric commemorating Queen Victoria’s 1887 Golden Jubilee.

There were two crazy patchwork quilts, quite different in style.

This next quilt was interesting. Quite naive in style, it was made when the lady was in her 80s and she apparently made at least ten for her grandchildren.  It is unusual, as it features aboriginals in the design.

The log cabin caught my eye. Made between 1910 and 1928, the logs are only about a quarter of an inch wide.  The fabrics were all scraps from a drapery store.

This was an example of a Wagga quilt, made from scraps of woollen fabrics with a cotton backing.

There was a second, more utilitarian, Wagga quilt made from tailoring samples.

From a distance, this quilt is rather bland, but when you look closer, there are some gorgeous 1930s fabrics.  The sashings appear to be a rather fine machine embroidered fabric that would be more likely to be seen on an evening gown.  The maker had rheumatoid arthritis, and had one of the very early electric sewing machines, which made this type of work possible for her.

The next one was rather unusual, as it was made from agricultural show prize winning ribbons for their cattle. She had even made a bag from more ribbons to store it.  It has a lovely subtle colour wash to it.

There was a lovely hexy quilt, which uses fabrics similar to the Rajah quilt, so is dated from 1840 - 1860. Some are fussy cut, while others are random.  There seems to be a bit of a layout pattern, but not really consistent.  It has a gorgeous backing fabric.

There was a beautiful unfinished diamond quilt.  In 1899 the maker died at the age of 30 without completing it.

This beauty is a table cover made from silks, satins and other luxury fabrics.  The design and colour placement is stunning.

There was one other beautiful red and white quilt, but there was a large group of women in front of it and I forgot to go back, which is a pity.

And finally, the Rajah Quilt - just to prove that I saw it.

It was much larger than I expected. There is some rather detailed stitchery, suggesting that at least some of the women were proficient needle women.  There is quite a bit of broderie perse in the applique.  Apparently there was just one free woman on the voyage and at the age of 23, she was sent to coordinate the quilt.  What a task that must have been.  

The quilt was gifted to the Governor of Tasmania’s wife upon their arrival.  Somewhere along the line it was sent back to England.  It is unknown if Elizabeth Fry saw it or not.  Then it disappeared, only to be discovered in an attic in Scotland in the 1980s.  Having been stored away and not used has contributed to the fact it is is such wonderful condition for its age.

Anyway, I’ll let the photos do the talking.

I’m so pleased that we made the trip down to see the quilts, as it is rather rare that the Rajah quilt is brought out, due to its fragility.

If you are interested, there will be a one hour long live stream event by the curator and conservator, held on 29 May at 6.30pm eastern Australia time that will discuss the Rajah Quilt in depth.  Here is the link to register.


Sunday 19 May 2024

Canberra - Getting Political

We started our first day of playing the tourist in Canberra by driving up to Mount Ainslie Lookout, where you get a great view of the city.

In the foreground, where the cranes are located, is the Australian War Memorial, followed by Anzac Parade, Lake Burley Griffin, Old Parliament House (the low white building) and finally Parliament House on Capital Hill.

Despite the weather being grey, it was still quite colourful, as the autumn trees, for which Canberra is well known, were putting on a fabulous show.

Before I go any further, it is time for a brief potted history of Canberra…..

In 1901 all the states in Australia finally came together and formed the Federation of Australia.  Initially, the Federal Government met in Melbourne.  As there is always a rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne, it was decided to locate the capital city elsewhere.  After several submissions, the current site was selected.  At the time it was just farmland along the Molonglo River.

Next there was a competition to design the city.  This was won by an American, Walter Burley Griffin, who along with his wife, Marion Mahony Griffin, designed what is the basis for the current city.

The next stage was to design and build a Parliament House.  The design was executed by the Government Architect at the time, rather than putting out for submissions.  As Australia was still recovering financially after WWI, it was a rather austere design and was always intended to only be a provisional building.  When it was opened by the Duke of York (later to become King George VI) on 9 May 1927, it was designed to house 300 workers and parliamentarians.  By the time it was replaced, after several extensions and alternations, it housed 3,000!

In the early 1980s it was time to build a new Parliament House to be opened in time for the Bicentenary of European settlement of Australia in 1988.  This was via another design competition.  It was won by an American firm with Australian personnel.  The new Parliament House was opened on 9 May 1988, sixty one years to the day since the old Parliament House was opened.

Now back to our day out….

From Mount Ainslie, we ventured down onto the foreshore of Lake Burley Griffin.  Here you could see Blundell’s Cottage, a rustic stone cottage that predates Canberra.

Zoom in to read about it.

Time to get a wriggle on, as we had a tour booked.  Yes that is Parliament House.  It has a grass roof.

We were very happy to see this sign when looking for somewhere to park.  We applaud the person who actually catered for more than a small sedan.

The forecourt is rather lovely.

A feature is a mosaic based on an aboriginal dot painting.  

The original of hangs in Parliament House.

Inside, the foyer features beautiful marble columns, to represent gum trees.  It is a hive of activity.  Parliament was not sitting when we visited and at such times there are about 2,500 people working in the building.  When parliament is sitting, there are about 3,500.

Around the walls there a timber inlay panels to represent various native plants. 

It’s been a while since Mick and I have visited Parliament House.  When I looked back it was in October 1988, just a few months after it opened.  This time, by pure chance, it was on 9 May, which if you took notice of the dates above, is the 36th anniversary of the day it was officially opened.  We had no idea, but it was a happy coincidence.

Here is Mick back then.

And now.

A feature of the building is the Great Hall.  It is vast.  Here is me back then.  My foot isn’t on backwards, I had just turned around.

It is vast.  We couldn’t believe that we had it all to ourselves……for just a little while.  You can book it out for a function……..I’m guessing at quite a price.

You can just see me standing in front of the table. The tapestry behind was designed by Arthur Boyd, one of Australia’s leading artists and took four years to make.

You can just see in the centre of the above photo that they even included Haley’s Comet, which was seen at about that time.

We then joined guided tour of the building, which was really interesting.

The lower house of parliament is the House of Representatives.  The colours of green have taken their inspiration from the gum leaves. 

The upper house is the Senate.  The red colouring has taken its inspiration from the red tips of the new growth on gum trees.

Various courtyards are incorporated into the structure and the trees were putting on a wonderful show.

A feature in the centre of the building is a reflective pool.  The design is rather clever, as the water trickles over the edge of the black pool without making a ripple, but creating “white noise”.  So, this is a place you can conduct a private conversation without being overheard.

The portrait gallery shows most of the Prime Ministers. Shown here are, from left to right, Gough Whitlam (1972-1975), Malcolm Fraser (1975-1983) and Bob Hawke (1983-1991).

This one is Ben Chifley, Bathurst’s favourite son (PM from 1945-1949).

A fun feature is a lego model of the building, complete with the roof being mowed and parliament sitting.

We went out onto the roof and stood underneath that enourmous flag pole, which is a major design feature of the building.

It’s funny walking around on a lawn on the roof.  When we arrived there was a tractor mower driving around doing the mowing.

You get a great view across to Old Parliament House, along Anzac Parade and on to the Australian War Memorial.

By then it was time for lunch, which we had at Parliament House.  They do very good soup and coffee.

After lunch we headed down the hill to Old Parliament House, which now houses the Museum of Australian Democracy.

Firstly, we had a wander around the Old Parliament House Gardens.  They were planted in the 1930s and included rose gardens, tennis courts, and bowling green.  After the new Parliament House was opened they became neglected.  In recent years, the gardens have been redeveloped, while retaining much of the original character.

Just outside the gardens was this lovely statue of Dame Enid Lyons, the first female member of the House of Representative and Dame Dorothy Tangney, the first female member of the Senate.  I love how someone had added fresh flowers to their hats.

Old Parliament House is a lovely, low white building.

One of Australia’s most significant political speeches was made on these steps on 11 November 1975, by Gough Whitlam, who had just been dismissed as Prime Minister by the Governor General Sir John Kerr.  Most people of our generation can quote “Ladies and Gentlemen, well may we say ‘God save the Queen’, because nothing will save the Governor General”.

My little bit of trivia, is that I was actually sitting in the Senate Chamber while that was happening, as I was on my fifth class school excursion to Canberra.

Let’s go inside.  You can go on a free guided tour.  We were very fortunate, as we were the only ones on our tour.

The Great Hall in Old Parliament House is rather different to that of New Parliament House.  Although, built on a budget, it is still a rather stylish space.

The House of Reps and Senate Chambers are still as they were.  The colours are much richer than their new counterparts.

As I mentioned earlier, the building was designed for 300 people and ended up housing 3,000.  They were crammed in cheek by jowl. When the building was designed, not even the Cabinet Ministers had their own offices.

Some of the offices have been set up as they would have been when they left to move to the new building.  This space was home to five who were the support staff of the Speaker of the House.  

It was actually fun seeing the offices, as it reminded me so much of when I started work, complete with the ash trays full of cigarette butts and rather rudimentary office equipment.  How times have changed.

This was the Prime Minister’s office. Some trivia…. After the Hilton Hotel bombing it became apparent that the position of this office right at the front of the building, with a public road going straight past, was a bit of a security risk.  It was suggested that bullet proof glass could be installed in the windows.  Apparently, Malcolm Fraser, the PM at the time asked if he would still be able to open them?  No bullet proof glass was installed.

Another bit of trivia, which I enjoyed was about Ben Chifley, the PM from Bathurst who was in office just after WWII.  Apparently, his phone number was one digit different to a local butcher.  Quite often he would receive calls for the butcher.  He duly took down the order and then phoned the butcher to pass it on.  It was commented that he was a busy man and didn’t need to do that.  His reply was that the Australian housewife was also busy.  How good is that, but by all accounts, what the man was like.

After all that, we were about touristed out, so headed back to the van for a quiet evening.