Women of Empire 1914-1919 comes to the National Film and Sound Archive
Advertisement

Women of Empire 1914-1919 comes to the National Film and Sound Archive

Fiona Baverstock, the curator of Women of Empire 1914-1919, was very clear about its purpose.

"It's a tribute to the women of the First World War," she said, "telling her history, not his history because so often history is just that - his-story."

Curator Fiona Baverstock installs items from the Women of Empire Exhibition 1914-1919 at the Natioanl film and sound archive.

Curator Fiona Baverstock installs items from the Women of Empire Exhibition 1914-1919 at the Natioanl film and sound archive.Credit:karleen minney

She and her husband Keith, both longtime workers in education, came up with the idea for the touring exhibition in 2005 during the 90th anniversary of the Gallipoli campaign.

"We listened to all the wonderful speeches about the brave and tragic stories of the men," she said.

Advertisement

And, they wondered, what about the other half of the population - the mothers, sisters, wives, and sweethearts of these men?

"We decided then and there for the centenary it would be her-story."

There are 32 outfits in the exhibition from the 134 amassed by the couple over the years. They have been sourced from Australia, Britain, France and the US through specialist dealers and auctions.

Among the treasures are a rare Australian nurse's uniform circa 1917, which was assembled from two different sources - the dress from one family, the cape, veil and gown from another. Asked how much it cost, Baverstock said it was "name your price". It has a bloodstain on it.

Another nurse, whose uniform is one of two represented by a reproduction, was Marion Leane Smith, "the only known nurse of Indigenous descent to have served in World War I".

A Cabrogal woman born in NSW, she was raised in Canada and served that country and Britain as a war nurse. During World War II she brought the Red Cross to Trinidad.

Other authentic and rare items are an original 19th century Mackintosh cape of the kind a volunteer nurse would have worn and a stick belonging to Australian music hall performer Florrie Forde, "the Kylie Minogue of her day".

Forde would bang on the floor with the stick to keep time and popularised such songs as It's a Long Way To Tipperary and Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag.

The Baverstocks have an Edwardian dress of the kind she would have worn, sourced from Castle Howard in Yorkshire.

Baverstock said another exhibition focusing on New Zealand women and clothing was touring in that country and a new exhibition, Women of Empire: The Homecoming, with clothes from the postwar period, was going to tour in May. Whether it comes to Canberra will depend, in part, on the response to the current exhibition.

Women of Empire 1914-1919 is on at the National Film and Sound Archive on January 6 and 7 from 1pm to 5pm, January 8 to 12 from 9am to 5pm and January 13 and 14 from 10am to 5pm. Tickets $12 full, $10 concession, $7 at nfsa.gov.au. The Vintage Fashion Rumble is on from 2 to 3pm from January 6 to 14 in the front room and the special vintage sale is in the courtyard on January 14 from 1pm to 4pm (free entry). nfsa.gov.au.

Ron Cerabona is an arts reporter for The Canberra Times.

Most Viewed in National

Loading
Advertisement