We had an amazing day yesterday. The National Museum in Canberra opened a new exhibition to celebrate the contribution of the Irish to Australia. Of course, it was opened on St. Patrick’s Day.
The main reason for our visit was to see the Rajah quilt. I wrote a song about this quilt when we lived in Darwin in 1999, and it has always been the most important history song of them all. I saw the quilt in Darwin a month or so after we arrived, and I hadn’t seen it since. It is still the only known surviving convict ship quilt in existence.
It was made in 1841 by female convicts on their way to 7 years’ Transportation in Hobart. I had a hazy memory of the real quilt, although I have seen many pictures and have told the story hundreds of times since. I’ve just written it up to include in the new Singing Quilter Songbook, so the story is very fresh.
The reason the quilt was in the exhibit is because there were 37 Irish women aboard the Rajah when the quilt was made. Their names were listed beside the quilt, in memorium. We have no idea how many of them actually contributed their stitches to the work.
I had forgotten how vivid the colours still are in this quilt. From 1841 to now is a long time, and I didn’t expect to see such sharp reds and lack of fading. The quilt is shown under limited light conditions, so further fading doesn’t happen. The pictures I took were without flash, so the quilt appears a bit yellower than it really is.
It is so rare to see this quilt in person. It is owned by the National Gallery of Australia, and only comes out of storage once a year, perhaps for an hour or two a day. We have never been able to see it there. We also missed seeing it when it made the trip back to England last year as part of the Victoria and Albert Museum big quilt show. So we were very excited to see it yesterday.
In our travels we have met the quilt historian who found the quilt in Edinburgh and descendants of Elizabeth Fry, who taught the convicts how to quilt. This story has rippled back to me many, many times.
The exhibit goes till July 13th at the National Museum.
We also saw the actual armour worn by the Ned Kelly gang. These fellows were infamous in Australia, having fought against oppression and robbed a few banks along the way. The story is much more involved than this, and I encourage you to do your own research on it.
We finished the day at The Rock, visiting our friends Judy and John Hall. Judy runs Punch With Judy, a very popular patchwork supplier here. They go to all the quilt shows in the country (we have caught them between one in Sydney and one in Brisbane next weekend), and they also raise emus! I took a LOT of pictures of these amazing birds. Here are a few:
Judy tells me these are the only double quill feathers in the bird world. Each single feather is joined at the base to another. The emus rub up against the fence (or are pushed there, by other birds!) and lose feathers. They are really, really neat to watch! They can run very quickly and are quite aggressive with other emus, especially this time of year, when they are pairing up.
Today, we continue into the mountains.