This week I visited the exhibition ‘Velvet, Iron, Ashes’ at the State Library of Victoria.
The ‘velvet’ part of the title refers to an extraordinary gown worn by Jesse Clarke at the Pageant of Nations to celebrate Victoria’s centenary in 1934. The silver head-dress is modelled on seven electricity pylons; the cloak is green with the waterways of the Murray-Darling Irrigation Scheme depicted in silver glitter; and the dress is hand painted showing several prominent Victorian buildings.
The ‘iron’ part of the title refers to Ned Kelly’s armour and the ‘ashes’ to the Ashes urn that is the trophy when England and Australia play test cricket. Both are among the most well-known and iconic objects from Australian history. Would it be possible to successfully use symbols as well-known and impersonal as the Kelly’s armour or the Ashes in a poem as delicate as a haiku? I’m not sure …
Other elements of the exhibition include:
- White City, the MacRobertson’s Chocolate Factory and home of the ‘Freddo’ Chocolate Frog
- The 1934 London to Melbourne Air Race
- The Coranderrk Aboriginal reserve
- Portraits of Ukrainian immigrants to Gippsland
The part of the exhibition which resonated the most with me was the photos and objects from Yallourn. Yallourn was a “company town” for the State Electricity Commission (S.E.C.) in Gippsland. It was demolished in the early 1980s to make way for an open cut coal mine. My Grandfather worked for the S.E.C. and my mother’s high school years were spent in Yallourn, a town that no longer exists.
The Australian Women’s Register, https://www.womenaustralia.info/biogs /AWE0623b.htm
‘I was the State of Victoria’ Jessie Clarke’s 1934 Pageant of Nations costume, Annette Soumilas, The La Trobe Journal 102, 2018.
Public Record Office Victoria, https://prov.vic.gov.au/about-us/our-blog/town-was-yallourn
Velvet, Iron, Ashes at the State Library Victoria, 24 Oct 2019 – 12 Jul 2020.