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The Australian National University

'My Favourite Slide'

'The Cup that Cheers' - Discussed by Gael Newton, formerly Senior Curator of Photographs at the National Gallery of Australia

Originating in Thomas Cowper's 1785 poem The Task 'The cup that cheers [but not inebriates]’, refers to the value of tea drinking, a practice enthusiastically endorsed by the temperance movement in the nineteenth century. The quote became an often used automatic expression whenever tea drinking was mentioned in newspapers.

Tea arrived with the First Fleet and Australians evidently were the highest consumers of tea in the world by 1900. Drinking strong Indian black tea, made in a billy can over the camp fire, became a symbol of the bush and masculinity in rural Australia. The first Australian tea company, Bushells was formed in Queensland in 1883, and Billy Tea Co. used a design of a swagman and a kangaroo enjoying billy tea. Visiting commentators noted how much tea was drunk in Australia, where it was universally popular and a social leveller.

This slide comes from a Winsor & Newton set of rather nicely coloured lantern slide. Where the numbering '105' came we don't know, nor from whose specific lecture this ‘no 31’ slide belonged. What struck me, as I looked at the slide, was that it brought to mind all the nineteenth and turn of the century ‘boiling the billy ‘ associations the scene is from the 1920s. We see a well-dressed lady in a comfortable drop-waisted shift dress and decorative hat. Although she is possibly wearing sensible shoes, she appears overdressed for a casual drop-in for a cuppa in the field. She shares the billy tea in rather dainty cups, not enamel mugs; and with two blokes seemingly clearing off an additional paddock of their already established selection, as seen in the huts and sheds in the rear. Ring-barked trees are framed against the sunset as they make steady progress on land clearing and farming. Was the tea made with the traditional technique of swinging the billy can around the body to settle tea leaves to the bottom? Did she bring scones or milk? In the nineteenth century, few real 'bushies' would have had milk, but later condensed milk became popular, and is actually still unforgettable on cold camp nights.

Is the ladylike visitor’s motorcar just around the corner? Maybe she is a relative from town, or a friendly neighbour from a nearby pastoral property visiting the scrub-clearing selectors. Possibly these are WWI soldier-settlers. Was the slide a completely orchestrated tableaux intended to encourage the continuance of the national myth of the bush settler that, by 1920, was largely gone and, for soldier-settler men, doomed to failure. If that is the case, the implication for this slide is that these yeomen of the bush will ascend upwards in Australia to the comforts represented by their refined visitor.

It is probably Billy Tea the three are drinking.  In 1903 the founders of the Billy Tea had even modified the words of Australia’s most iconic song to imprint their brand on Australia. The first verse and chorus of Banjo Paterson's Waltzing Matilda was originally: "And he sang as he looked at the old billy boiling", but in 1903 it was modified to: "And he sang as he watched and waited 'til his billy boiled...", to sound like it was Billy Tea being drunk.

Recently I noticed an ad by the online Australian company Tealeaves. It advertises ‘billy tea’, which it describes as: ‘A blend inspired by the Australian bush, combining smokey and tropical Australian - grown teas from northern Queensland with eucalyptus leaves. An authentic bush beverage!’ So the appeal of ‘the cup that cheers’ continues to this very day.

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The Exhumation of James Smithson - Discussed by one of our project's Chief Investigators, Associate Professor Martin Thomas

A man – or the remnants of one – stares from his coffin. The cranium with its cavernous eye sockets is all you see of him. The ribs, vertebrae and long bones are hidden by earth or mulch. It’s a photographic slide, a monochrome, and it provides a view of the cemetery from which the coffin was disinterred. A path between rows of graves cuts through the composition, extending to infinity, as if to suggest that this man, though dead, has a journey ahead of him – which was in fact the case.

Image ID 09986.tif: Smithson’s bones from the lantern slide series ‘Alexander Graham Bell’s visit to the San Benigno cemetery to retrieve the tomb of James Smithson, Geona, Italy, 1904.’ Gilbert H. Grosvenor Collection, Library of Congress Lot 11533-26 (J).

The skeleton was James Smithson, an English scientist and fellow of the Royal Society. A creature of the Enlightenment, he investigated such mysteries as the chemistry of snake venom and teardrops. He was also extremely rich. A mineral ore, Smithsonite, is named after him and, more famously, a rather large complex of museums and research facilities. When Smithson died in Italy in 1829 aged sixty-four, he had never set foot in the United States. But he willed his fortune ‘to found in Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men.’

Smithson rested in peace on the outskirts of Genoa until the early twentieth century, at which time quarrying beneath the cemetery threatened its stability. News of this reached the regents of the Smithsonian and one of them, the fame of whom surpasses Smithson, was especially alarmed. He was Alexander Graham Bell, a long-term Washingtonian, and he led a campaign to have Smithson’s bones transported to the US and interred on Institution premises. To this end, Bell travelled to Genoa in 1903 to bring home the benefactor. Whether he took, or merely commissioned, this lantern slide is unknown. It is part of a series of more than thirty slides, documenting the removal and opening of the coffin and its ceremonial removal to the port where the voyage to America began. There is a close-up view of the skull, being held by the American consul in Genoa, and various slides depicting Bell, bearded, venerable, and himself somewhat ghost-like in his mourning attire, superintending these momentous affairs.

Image ID 09987.tif: The American Consul William Bishop holds Smithson’s skull. Gilbert H. Grosvenor Collection, Library of Congress Lot 11533-26 (J).

Whether Bell publicly exhibited the slides is one of many unanswered questions raised by the image. Perhaps he shared them only with friends and family. The slides and a set of matching photographic prints are held in Library of Congress, donated by Dr Gilbert Grosvenor, Bell’s son-in-law, another passionate advocate for the rescue of Smithson’s remains. Grosvenor was the longstanding president of the National Geographic Society who, as editor of the Magazine, transformed it into the international phenomenon we know today. Powerful forces coalesce around this projected image of a box of bones, preserved in memory by the ‘father’ of the telephone and the man who is sometimes described as the ‘father of photojournalism’.

Image ID 11533_26 No. 29.tif: Alexander Graham Bell (facing camera) in Genoa. Gilbert H. Grosvenor Collection, Library of Congress Lot 11533-26 (J).

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Cyclo-Creatia Ethnographica – Discussed by Bruno Jordanoff

Elisa deCourcy and Martyn Jolly had a fascinating conversation with Bruno Jordanoff, and the following is based on that conversation

I was born and spent a fantastic portion of my life growing up in the Kimberley, so I have always found myself drawn to collecting many forms of physical, visual and aural artifacts relating to the region. Early in 2013 I procured a lantern slide which, based on other examples I had seen, I believed would have been in circulation around the 1920-30s. The slide was labeled 'Y33'. I guessed from the types of artifacts in the scene that the image came from the Kimberley region. I forwarded a digital copy of the slide to my friend Kim Akerman. I asked Kim about the headdress worn by the character shown kneeling in the composition. I wondered if it was connected to the pelican headdress I knew to have been worn by Butcher Joe Nangan in the Kimberly right up until the 1980s. Kim replied that he had previously come across another version of the same image in a book from 1928. The caption to the book’s illustration ‘Moth, Bugong and Caterpillar Totem-Men’ suggested that the image was from Eastern Australia, but Kim told me he had shown the illustration to ‘Butcher’ Joe who confirmed it was of himself, Joe, as a young man, and was taken close to the time that 'Pelican Dance’ was created.

Kim wanted a high-resolution image of the slide for his records, but I only had a domestic grade scanner. My father, who incidentally as chief librarian of the Broome Public Library and Art Gallery had helped organize an exhibition of Joe’s works back in the 1980s put me in touch with Patrick Baker from the WA Maritime Museum who was able to produce a high quality copy of the slide. Patrick, in-turn, had plenty of anecdotes for me from his time on the Kimberley coast some 35 odd years earlier. A short time after I asked Kim if he would like the slide. I thought it would be more useful in the hands of someone who knew what they were doing. He traded me a hard-to-find book on Kimberley rock art for it, one article born of the Kimberley for another. When I was asked by Heritage in the Limelight to write on ‘My Favourite Slide’ I asked Kim Akerman to confirm the details we had initially discussed in 2013. He confirmed that the photograph from 1928 showed Joe as a young man dressed in the pelican headdress which had been shown to him by Kintimayi (see further reading). He is accompanied by two other dancers dressed as balangan, spirits of the dead. Joe performed the mayata nula that recreated the original visitation until 1985, with the distinctive niwalki thread-cross pelican headdress becoming a local icon of Aboriginal culture. Kim told me he had shown the 1928 book to Joe and Paddy Roe at their home at Mamabulandja in Broome and they identified Joe in his pelican headgear. In my mind, this slide, along with its mysterious label ‘Y33’ is important to illustrate the point that even though we are presented with seemingly small and obscure images, which are often initially offered up with large helpings of ‘red herring’, the perseverance of more oral and physical traditions still continually help us to grow a bigger picture from them, even after ninety years.

Picture of Joseph ('Butcher Joe') speaking about the Pelican Headdress. Image Supplied courtesy of Bruno Jordanoff. 

Further reading:

Kim Akerman, ‘Joseph (‘Butcher’ Joe) Nangan’ 1900-1989, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre for Biography, Australian National University. Accessed online, 22 February 2017. http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/nangan-joseph-butcher-joe-14981

‘Butcher Joe Nangan: An Introduction’, Desert, River, Sea Project, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth. 
http://desertriversea.com.au/the-people/research-and-commentary-/butcher...

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Archive

Cyclo-Creatia Ethnographica – Discussed by Bruno Jordanoff

Cyclo-Creatia Ethnographica – Discussed by Bruno Jordanoff Elisa deCourcy and Martyn Jolly had a fascinating conversation with Bruno Jordanoff, and the following is based on that conversation I was born and spent a fantastic portion of my life growing up in the Kimberley, so I have always found myself drawn to collecting many...

The Exhumation of James Smithson - Discussed by one of our project's Chief Investigators, Associate Professor Martin Thomas

The Exhumation of James Smithson - Discussed by one of our project's Chief Investigators, Associate Professor Martin Thomas A man – or the remnants of one – stares from his coffin. The cranium with its cavernous eye sockets is all you see of him. The ribs, vertebrae and long bones are hidden by earth or mulch. It...

Circular Quay Sydney - Discussed by Elizabeth Hartrick

Circular Quay Sydney - Discussed by Elizabeth Hartrick The Customs House clock shows 10 minutes to 2 in the afternoon. But, when was the photograph in this slide taken? Is it a Saturday? Who are those people disembarking at the Quay and where are they going in such a hurry? The Penny Ferry’s just arrived, men in neat suits and...

Franco-American Statue of Liberty - Discussed by Partner Investigator, Joe Kember

Franco-American Statue of Liberty - Discussed by Partner Investigator, Joe Kember Having spent quite a bit of the last two years investigating slide series in museums throughout the UK, I have come to the conclusion that, by and large, my favourite slide sets are life model series. I especially love the staging of the models,...

Daisy Bates - Discussed by Nicolas Peterson

Daisy Bates - Discussed by Nicolas Peterson The red border first drew my attention to this slide that was housed with a large collection of others.  The slides apparently belonged to an academic at the University of Adelaide and a number of them were labelled as from the west coast of South Australia.  So the...

Won't You Buy My Pretty Flowers - Discussed by Martyn Jolly

Won't You Buy My Pretty Flowers - Discussed by Martyn Jolly Here is a new set of life model magic lantern slides I have just acquired. I love the twin perspectival vanishing points of the first painted backdrop, the photogrammed snow flurries in slide two, and the weirdly frozen Beckettian choreography of the passers-by in the...

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