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Women of Empire Exhibition Canberra: Not all WWI Heroes Wore Khaki

By Nina Gbor 7 January 2018 22

Women of Empire Exhibition. Photo: Supplied.

Seldom are we told stories of WWI heroes who stayed behind and replaced the menfolk by keeping businesses, households, farms, banks and the economy afloat. The Women of Empire Exhibition 1914 – 1919 brings us the stories of over thirty Australian and New Zealand women whose experiences of the First World War transformed their lives forever.

To mark the Centenary of World War One, Dressing Australia Museum of Costume is telling the stories of these women through this unique costume exhibition, Women of Empire, at the National Film and Sound Archive from January 6th – 14th. This is the only exhibition in the world dedicated solely to the Women of the First World War and has already been seen by an estimated half a million people in ANZ, in venues ranging from small town halls to Sir Peter Jackson’s Great War Museum in Wellington.

Women of Empire Exhibition. Photo: Supplied.

The exhibition features original costumes bringing to life the incredible stories of these women. The costumes are from Dressing Australia Museum of Costume Collection which has a range of everything from Jane Austen to World War I era. The costumes display ranges from women who did voluntary work raising money for women and children displaced by war, to women who made comforts and clothing for the troops. Some of the costumes are of women in uniform, women campaigning against women in conscription and even women in mourning.

Fiona Baversock is the Exhibition Curator. Fiona and her husband Keith Baverstock, founded Seams Old about twenty years ago. They sell antique and vintage (really old stuff) that they have been collecting for two decades at fairs in Canberra and around the country. Their love for social history stems from forty plus years of involvement in teaching, writing and lecturing in the industry. For exhibition visitors who want a costume souvenir or anyone who likes vintage, the old NFSA shop will host the Vintage Fashion Rumble, selling antique, vintage and retro costumes, clothes and accessories from Seams Old all week and other similar vintage sellers on Sunday the 14th.

Women of Empire costume. Photo: Supplied.

Regarding his overall experiences with the exhibitions, Mr. Baverstock says it’s “wonderful to tell the women’s stories in WWI and to see people moved by them.”

Mr. Baverstock can recount so many characters and stories but a particular favorite of his is that of Jane Sam.

“Jane Sam was a child prostitute on the streets of Grendel on NSW Goldfields. Sent to multiple correctional institutions, she escaped abuse by marrying a Chinese immigrant twenty years her senior. (They) went on to have 16 children and five of her sons and two grandsons went on to fight for Australia returning as heroes.”

The Women of Empire Exhibition and Vintage Fashion Rumble sale is on at the National Film and Sound Archive on:

6 – 7 January: 1 pm – 5 pm
8 – 12 January: 9 am – 5 pm
13 – 14 January: 10 am – 5 pm.

Will you be visiting the ‘Women of Empire’ exhibition? Let us know by commenting below.

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19 Responses to
Women of Empire Exhibition Canberra: Not all WWI Heroes Wore Khaki
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Fiona Hampton 8:34 pm 07 Jan 18

Such a short time frame for the exhibition which is a shame. But I plan on seeing it this week.

Lizzy Cheah 7:58 pm 07 Jan 18

Linda we should go!

Danielle Edwards 6:41 pm 07 Jan 18

John Hurston, you've got to be kidding me! Talk about rotten timing.

Sayward Brest 4:19 pm 07 Jan 18

This looks awesome!

Maya123 4:06 pm 07 Jan 18

My grandmother joined the women’s army in the UK and was in Rouen, France for two years. Not all women were nurses. There was a general section that would undertake non-medical work, such as cooking, cleaning and administrative roles. My grandmother worked in an officer’s club. Waitress likely. I have photographs of her in her uniform, and she had service medals.

Madelaine Brosnan 4:02 pm 07 Jan 18

Rebecca, Meagan, Kelly Can someone pleeeeease go and tell me all about it?!

Flick Andison 3:48 pm 07 Jan 18

Persephone date?

Janene Brown 3:37 pm 07 Jan 18

Wish it was for longer and that there was one like this at the Australian War Memorial. Maybe AWM can pick up the ball once the National Film and Sound Archives have shown them the way.

Amanda Caldwell 3:10 pm 07 Jan 18

It's only on for a week?

Anna Leonie 2:38 pm 07 Jan 18

I remember going to the war memorial in canberra and asking an attendant where the women's section was. They said on the lower ground floor. I found it eventually. Behind a filing cabinet.

Wasnt too impressed with the invalidation of women the military services apparently thought of with women.

Good on you, national film and sound archive!

Kristen Skinner 2:18 pm 07 Jan 18

Looks great....it is telling that this exhibit is not being shown at the War Memorial. Is it because it is showcasing women's wartime achievements?

    Iaian Ross 4:46 pm 07 Jan 18

    I think it's because these are "Costumes". That is, created outfits for the purposes of entertainment that were inspired by the fashion of the period. Recreations, rather than historical archive material that would see a place in the AWM. A display of "Costumes" would be a disservice to the purpose of the AWM if they were displayed there.

    Anna Nimitee 6:00 pm 09 Jan 18

    There are often exhibitions of non-historical non-archive material. There has been (and is) contemporary art displayed there, so I doubt that is the reason.

Tenille May 2:13 pm 07 Jan 18

Rhiannon Marie should go

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