The Battle of Bantam

Dutch news map

This rare and important Dutch news map reports on a battle fought between the Dutch and Portuguese in December 1601. The Portuguese dominated trade to the Far East in the sixteenth century, and the battle—in which the Dutch overpowered the Portuguese—proved a key turning point. Just above the inset map is the earliest depiction of the coat of arms of the Dutch United East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie or VOC). It also features the Duyfken, the first known European ship to visit Australia.

The First Fleet

The Voyage of Governor Phillip to Botany Bay is the first official account of European settlement in New South Wales. It covers the voyage of the First Fleet (13 May 1787 – January 1788) and the initial months setting up the penal colony at Port Jackson (Sydney Harbour), including interaction with local Indigenous people. Publisher John Stockwell assembled the ambitious book in London from a variety of accounts, including those of Captain Arthur Phillip, Lieutenants John Shortland, John Watts, Henry Lidgbird Ball, and Captain John Marshall, as well as six mapmakers.

Explorer, squatter, author

William Charles Wentworth (1790–1872) was one of the most prominent figures in the early days of New South Wales. In 1813 he, with Gregory Blaxland and William Lawson, led an expedition of the first Europeans to cross the Blue Mountains. The Great Western Highway, being constructed in this watercolour by Charles Rodius, followed their route. Wentworth was also the first native-born Australian to publish a book, A Statistical, Historical, and Political Description of the Colony of New South Wales (1819) which is on display.

The Don

Sir Donald Bradman was the greatest batsman to play test cricket, by some margin. He has been called aloof, conservative and obstinate, not the characteristics of a great folk hero, but his exploits helped Australia see itself as a country of significance, one capable of producing world-beaters, not just a colonial outpost. On display are a signed photograph, a letter where he describes one his greatest innings and rare programs from the notorious Bodyline series. 

The Nation’s Birth Certificate

In order for the Australian constitution to come into effect, it needed to be passed by the British Parliament. An Australian delegation travelled to London in early 1900 to submit the bill for approval. The bill passed the House of Commons on 5 July 1900. Edmund Barton, a leading member of the delegation, kept a copy of the bill as a souvenir of this momentous occasion. Barton went on to become Australia’s first prime minister.

Queen of the World?

As the nineteenth century drew to a close, Queen Victoria of Great Britain and Ireland, Empress of India, was arguably the most powerful person in the world. Her Golden and Diamond Jubilees, in 1887 and 1897 respectively, provided opportunities for public celebration across her vast empire. Through portraits, such as this bust, Australians got a glimpse of the Queen who never visited their shores.

Two hundred years after her birth in 1819, her legacy remains visible through the numerous places named in her honour, including the states of Queensland and Victoria.

Errol Flynn

Tasmanian-born actor Errol Flynn was one of the most famous film stars of the 1930s. He made the part of swashbuckling hero his own in highly popular films such as Captain Blood (1935) and The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938). On display is a rare photograph of Flynn and his father Theodore Thomson Flynn, a noted Australian zoologist, as well as a personal letter he wrote to his family after finishing Captain Blood

Nolan’s Drought Pictures

Sidney Nolan is one of Australia’s greatest modernist artists. He is best known for highly expressive paintings that deal with legendary Australian figures such as outlaw Ned Kelly, castaway Eliza Fraser and explorers Robert O’Hara Burke and William Wills. In 1952 the Courier-Mail newspaper commissioned Nolan to document the drought-ravaged pastoral areas of north Queensland. He produced a series of harrowing paintings, sketches and photographs showing contorted and emaciated livestock carcasses. 

Cutty Sark

The Cutty Sark was one of the last of the great British clipper ships. Built in 1869 to transport tea back from China, it became the fastest ship transporting wool from Australia to Britain in the 1880s. In the 1890s steamships began to dominate the wool trade, and Cutty Sark did its last wool run from Australia in 1895. It is now preserved as a museum ship and is part of the Royal Museums Greenwich in London. This image of the famous clipper was allegedly painted by one of the crew on a piece of sailcloth from the ship. 

Explorer’s Map

This map of Australia shows the routes of the major European expeditions of exploration up to 1861, as well as another statistical information about the colonies. It was made by James McKain Mee, an eccentric illustrator and artist. He immigrated to the colonies in 1838, possibly as a tutor, was a miner on the goldfields, ran a sly grog store, worked as a librarian and a fisherman, and was a published writer and poet. He was also allegedly described by Queen Victoria as ‘the best penman in Australia’. 

Building the nation

The Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme was an important project in Australian economic and cultural development. This enormous system of power stations, dams and tunnels spreads across the high country to harvest the Snowy River for electricity generation and irrigation. More than 100,000 men and women worked on the project, mostly newly arrived migrants from over 30 different countries. This electrically illuminated model of the entire scheme was commissioned for the commencement of works in 1949.

Sir Thomas Mitchell’s Sextant

These surveying instruments belonged to Thomas Livingstone Mitchell (1792–1855) who was appointed Surveyor-General for New South Wales in 1828. At the time, the expansion of settlement had been hampered by the Survey Department’s inadequate equipment and by its failure to coordinate small surveys. Mitchell argued for importing better equipment and conducting a general survey of the colony. He also oversaw the creation of the colony’s first road network. Mitchell’s explorations led to the discovery of rich pastoral land, dubbed ‘Australia Felix’ (Latin for ‘Happy Australia’), in central and western Victoria.

Handover of Uluru

On 26 October 1985 the Governor-General, Sir Ninian Stephen, handed the tittle of Uluru (Ayers Rock) and Kata Tjuta (the Olgas) back to the traditional owners, the Anangu. This poster by Chips Mackinolty celebrates that milestone event in the history of Australian Indigenous land rights. The land was leased back to the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service for 99 years. A Board of Management, a majority of whose members were Anangu, was established. The Chair of the Board was Yami Lester, and an anti-nuclear and Indigenous rights campaigner.

Henry Lawson's fobwatch

Henry Lawson's watch

Henry Lawson (1867–1922) was one of Australia’s most influential poets and short story writers of the late nineteenth century. Angus and Robertson published a number of collections of his works, including While the Billy Boils (1896) and In the Days When the World Was Wide and Other Verses (1896). Lawson purchased this watch in 1896 as a memento, using a payment from Angus and Robertson for the publication of his first book.

Fanny Durack's Olympic medal

Gold medal on white background

The 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden was the first Olympics to feature women's swimming. Fanny Durack and her close friend and competitor Mina Wylie were initially refused permission to compete, but were eventually allowed so long as they paid their own way. Durack went on to win the final of the 100-metre freestyle, setting a new world record and becoming the first Australian woman to win an Olympic gold medal for swimming.