Thursday, April 25, 2002

Women in Australian History

Yesterday was Anzac Day, so Adam had the day off, and he and I went to the National Maritime Museum for a few hours.

One exhibit we went through tracked the passage of water sports and the way people were involved with them throughout history. This is where I encountered the persona of Annette Kellerman. The symbol/ idea/ archetype of the mermaid in her many guises has been sort of a personal one for me, having lived near or on the ocean for almost my entire life, so Kellerman really attracted my attention because she's often dressed up as one.

First an athlete and vaudeville performer, then later a beauty queen and actress (I believe I read that she won the first beauty pageant ever), Kellerman was interested in health and body image. Defying restrictive Victorian custom, she devised a type of female swimsuit that was easier to move in and wear, but was considered scandalous at the time. I find it interesting in these days that women often find the modern swimsuit oppressive, because it is revealing and we are insecure of our bodies' shape and appearance. In Kellerman's day, her new revealing swimming costume was actually freeing. There's a brief online article about her here.

Another exhibit told the story of Matthew and Ann Flinders. Matthew was the explorer to first call the Australian continent "Australia" and led the first European expedition to circumnavigate the continent. On his way back home, he was imprisoned on the Isle of France (Mauritius) as a spy. He and his wife, Ann, were married for thirteen years, and were only able to spend less than five together in person. Their letters to each other were moving, especially to a girl who knows what it's like to be vastly separated for long amounts of time from the one she loves. ;-) Here's an excerpt from a draft of a letter from Matthew to Ann while he was imprisoned:
The arrival of thy letters forms the greatest epochs in my present monotonous life, and I sigh for them as for the most desired of blessings; next to the liberation which should permit me to fly to thy arms, they afford me the greatest happiness I can receive. The improvement in thy health, the constancy of thy affection, and the continued kindness of our friends to thee, are the subjects which I call to my aid, to keep off that depression of spirits which so many causes are ever ready to excite, and I receive consolation from them. Cease not then, my best beloved, to write often if thou wouldst preserve me from distraction.

[Added Later...]
The museum's blurb on Matthew and Ann Flinders, and the blurb on Annette Kellerman, along with some memorabilia, from my pictures yesterday.

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