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Downer family exhibition shows a snapshot of 1960s suburban life

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Mark Sawa

Curator Emma Williams with artefacts from the Downer family which are being exhibited.

Curator Emma Williams with artefacts from the Downer family which are being exhibited. Photo: Elesa Kurtz

Someone once said nostalgia was like a grammar lesson with the present tense and the past perfect.

Growing up in Downer, an exhibition set to open about the Ault family, may strike such a sentiment for those who grew up in 1960s suburban Canberra.

Curator Emma Williams said the exhibition was mainly about the childhood, adolescence and early adulthood of Christina Ault – and there was an exceptional breadth of material.

The items had been kept safe in a tea chest and a cabin trunk for many years. They were uncovered as a kind of time capsule of suburban life, providing a rich insight into a family, a suburb, and the growing city of Canberra.

“The family kept everything. They were meticulous in looking after and keeping things of significance,’’ Ms Williams said.

“It really does give you a wonderful understanding of what it was like to be a child in suburban Canberra.

“There are lots of things in this exhibition that will resonate with people, even if they’re not from Downer. It will definitely have an appeal to those in the north of Canberra, but wider as well, I hope.’’

There were many special items from that era, but one of note was a James-Bond-style plastic attache case for a spy game to be used outdoors.

There was also a toy gun, binoculars and Christina’s own handwritten spy notes.

Ms Ault said she loved adventure and mystery and recalled playing the spy game when The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was televised in the mid 60s.

The exhibition, in her view, is a story about growing up in that part of the world at that time.

Growing up in Downer opens Saturday, June 7, until October 19 at the Canberra Museum and Gallery.

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