History Week 2012 – Showcasing Australian Society & Change

Maggie Tabberer by Helmut Newton

Societal and cultural history is becoming big business in Australia, helping us to unpick the meaning or to trace the threads of our society. From Cold War Couture to Taking a Frock to Market, the Consumer Culture of American Vogue and the Swinging Sixties, History Week in NSW from the 8th – 16 September is packed full of interesting events, many seen through the lens of a modern camera from photographic plates to film and on to digital cameras in phones. At the NSW State Library an exhibition tells the glamorous story of Australian fashion photography Flashback: 160 years of fashion in Photography is running until ‘late December’. “Fashion photography wasn’t always about the business of ‘selling’ clothes or showcasing celebrity style, as it is today,” says Margot Riley, curator and State Library fashion expert. “Once, it was a private endeavour with the wealthy posing for photographic portraits wearing their finest clothes to share with family and friends.” The idea of a capturing an image we should not be surprised to know is ancient. While we are perhaps masters of technological invention in this age what we find out, when we delve into history, is that throughout the story of man on earth there has always been imagination and simply amazing creative, innovative minds. And there is always so much more to know.

While early portraits of the well-to-do were meant for private use, images of royalty and visiting performers could be bought at local stationers for swapping and collecting, and helped to influence local fashion and glamour. According to Ms Riley, fashion photography began to expand and pick up pace as photographic processes advanced, becoming faster and cheaper, and mass print media exploded in the late 19th century. “Prior to the mid 1920s there were no professional fashion models in Australia so pretty society girls were used but by the 1930s local advertising and women’s magazine publishing industries were in full swing using images of fashionably- dressed upper class women, models and screen stars to promote the latest styles,” Ms Riley says. “Each image represents a significant chapter in Australian fashion photography history, featuring key moments such as the 1950s appearance for David Jones by American Carmen Dell’Orefice who, now at 81, is the world’s oldest working supermodel.”

An early modelling shot of June Dally-Watkins in the mid 1940s. Image courtesy of June Dally-Watkins.

The show features some of the all time greats of Australian ‘catwalk’ pioneers, including landmark ladies June Dally Watkins and Maggie Tabberer. June Dally Watkins was a huge favourite with parents in the 50’s and 60’s in Australia in refining manners, deportment and dress for their offspring. She had been Australia’s 1949’s ‘Model of the Year’ and the idea was to turn out a well ordered female, who would have a better chance of achieving a successful outcome on the marriage market. Today June Dally-Watkins is a school of personal and professional development for those who wish to ‘Be the Best they can Be’. Over the years it has proved a starting place for many a successful life and career.

Maggie Tabberer was an enormous help to young progressive thinking mothers, especially when she was involved in the all-day seminars the Women’s Weekly magazine ran. They took place at The Hilton Hotel in Sydney during the 70’s, and were designed to assist young mothers with parenting for the modern age. Maggie was the most stylish woman on the Australian scene for decades, with a captivating presence, a great sense of timing and a genuine interest in helping others to achieve. She was amazing mentor via her show on television, guiding young people in both life and fashion, giving hope that career wise, the future would be better and that women would eventually achieve equality. Her clothing range Maggie T,  recognized that the average Australian woman was really a size 14, not the small size 6 or 8 every girl today seems to be striving to achieve.

Nicole Kidman looking fabulous

It had to do with body shapes inherited in our gene pool, which did not fit the skinny ‘Twiggy’ super model status of the time. Well-rounded renaissance ladies, who conformed to the Rubenesque ‘nine laws of beauty‘ proportions, loved her. Nicole Kidman and Jennifer Hawkins will also be featured in the NSW State Library show.

Today they are busy providing celebrity status fashion conscious role models for their own generation, for whom life is very different and conducted on a world stage and in the media. They have both made it on the international scene, shored up by a confidence enabled by their mothers, who championed societal change and the new status for women in the workforce, helping to make them far more career savvy.

Photographers featured will range from amateurs through to well- known shooters like Helmut Newton and Lewis Morley. Entry, fantastically, is free.

In Victoria ‘History Week’ takes place from 21 – 28 October. Its focus is very different. ‘Traveling back in Time’ to discover this state where I now live’s ‘wide and wonderful past’ offers an opportunity for people to put forward an extraordinary range of events.

From its cultural and culinary history to grand design, taking a tour through the law and headstones in a cemetery to name but a few, they are currently being added to constantly. As this goes to press quite a few look interesting, others amusing, others inspiring.

During ‘history week’ in Melbourne and throughout Victoria so far you can

Jeannie Goodeve-Docker and Carolyn McDowall, going motoring in The Netherlands in 1978

Who does not love the look and romance of an old car and so it is wonderful to discover the Gippsland Vehicle Collection is hosting the picnic event entitled: The ‘Federation Picnic at Maffra’.  The event is a get together for motor vehicle clubs of Victoria and for their members to meet and bring their historic motor vehicles for a superb display, exchanging thoughts and histories of their vehicles.

The blurb says ‘Come & picnic in the grounds of the Motor Museum, which is housed in the historic Maffra Dehydration Factory, built in the early 1940’s. Plus local arts, crafts and heritage displays. Visitors and spectators most welcome’. Hard to resist.

Getting there in a vintage car definitely appeals.

Fabulous Comedic Duo Kay Kendall and Kenneth More in Genevieve 1953

The favourite British movie of 1953, the year of the Queen’s coronation was Genevieve, starring that daffy darling Kay Kendall and the erudite Kenneth More, a man struggling to know what fair ladies were all about, especially Genevieve his car. It’s comedic tone was enhanced by the following wonderful disclaimer at the end of the credits. “For their patient co-operation the makers of this film express their thanks to the officers and members of the Veteran Car Club of Great Britain. Any resemblance between the deportment of our characters and any club members is emphatically denied—by the Club.”


It is FREE entry to picnic in grounds and The Picnic takes place at the Maffra Shed – 1a Sale Road, Maffra, Sunday 28 October, 10am – 3pm.

Detail from Jean Bowring, Cake icing and decorating, Melbourne, Colourgravure Publications, Herald and Weekly Times, 1950, Beverley Wood collection - courtesy State Library of Victoria

Gusto is another show sure to attract big crowds at the State Library of Victoria. It runs from 3rd August until 28th April 2013. It is FREE and being held in the Keith Murdoch Gallery.

From Anzac biscuits to Stephanie Alexander, the show is complimented by a full program of events and activities. A collection of seven Gusto! videos will be available featuring interviews with Guy Grossi, Rita Erlich and other Victorian food identities. Melbourne people are mad about their foodies, so a huge following should happen.

During the fifties cake decorating was all the rage and up to the cupcake craze of today, this show explores Victoria’s historic and contemporary culinary landscape, covering subjects such as the history of viticulture, Indigenous foods, sustainable food practices, fine dining and food rationing.

From being concerned about good health to embracing the fast food culture, there should be something for everybody. It will trace the culinary delights history of Victorian life. There is programs for adults, as well as secondary and primary school programs that feed into the whole idea of lifelong learning.

Rumpole, a master barrister at the Old Bailey

At the Supreme Court building in Melbourne you will be able to hear stories about justice and view old robes and wigs. Rumpole of the Bailey (British TV Series 1975 – 1992 with Rumpole played by Australian actor Leo McKern) would be pleased. Seems a great subject, one that you could easily get lost in.

In South Australia ‘history week’ was all about Time, although it is over for 2012, held back in May so we missed their events.

Google couldn’t find a Queensland History Council, let alone a celebration of ‘history week’ in ‘can do’ territory. It seems it’s a case of they definitely can’t, although I am happy to be corrected.

The History Council of W.A has the most impressive website, although it appears they don’t have a history week. However the society exists and you can become a member and go along to events all the time. There was one major event listed, which many would approved of after a hard day’s work.

A ‘History in the Pub’ was a promotion for a new book on the subject, which was held in late July. Sounded like a whole lot of fun too. You have to hand it to the people of the west, they base their history on commerce and honesty and I must say I admired the suggested event entrance fee of $5, that was to be placed in the Honesty Jar.

How wonderfully Australian is that!

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept 2012.

1 Comment

  • Doc Doherty says:

    Good choice of photo’s in relation to our ‘Picnic at Maffra’ Oct. 28th. Maffra & District Historical Society will be putting on a display, at the ‘Picnic’, & also releasing a new book – ‘Maffra Milk Trucks and Milk Tankers’, a photographic record going back to the early 1900’s. Regards: Doc Doherty, President: Gippsland Vehicle Collection

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