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Preserving the Stories Behind the Garments

on September 8, 2011 – 3:56 am

Daryl Maguire MP, the local member for Wagga Wagga, launches the Australian Dress Register – a new, collaborative, online database recording historic clothing and the precious, personal stories behind the garments.

The Australian Dress Register, developed by the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, documents significant and well provenanced men’s, women’s and children’s clothes and accessories. The register offers museums, private collectors and owners across the country, a resource to share information about dress with the wider community.

Planned as a national project, the register’s first phase is focused on recording clothes relating to New South Wales prior to 1945. From the fashionable black dress from Griffith worn in 1914 by Hilda Smith, grandmother of racing royalty Gai Waterhouse; to a young boy’s smock from 1891, kept by the Edwards family of the Dungog region after his death from diphtheria, which also reveals thestory of a small community devastated by the disease; these clothes give an insight into life and times of Australia in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The 1945 cut off date has been initially chosen by the Powerhouse Museum in an effort to focus on registering 19th century garments that are rare or in poor condition, before it is too late.

“Clothes are an intimate, personal part of our lives, which are becoming increasingly fragile and difficult to display,” said Dr Dawn Casey, Director, Powerhouse Museum. “The development of the register as a truly collaborative project brings together forthefirst time public, community and private clothing collectors to present a valuable resource of Australian history.”

The Powerhouse Museum is as interested in everyday clothing as special occasion outfits.  “Wedding dresses are well documented and preserved asthey are often only worn once.  Everyday clothes however are harder to find because we tend to recycle them or throw them out, but they tell more diverse stories of life,” said Dr Dawn Casey.

“We encourage anyone interested in contributing to the register to consider the broader context of their garments and share the photographs and stories about what their community was like at the time the clothes were worn,” said Rebecca Pinchin, Regional Services Manager, Powerhouse Museum.

“This  is the first time we have been able to compare material across small and diverse collections and in private hands. The register will provide a valuable forum for discussion within museums and the broader community,” said Rebecca Pinchin.

There are currently around 80 garments on the register from New South Wales museums and collectors.  As this number grows, the register will become a rich resource for academics and historians, students and teachers as well as families and the general community.

The Museum of the Riverina’s Director, Madeleine Scully, said: “The Australian Dress Register is a great asset to our nation.  On a regional level, it has several benefits, including opening up communication between volunteer-run community museums, and professionally-staffed regional museums and city institutions.

“The comparative research that the register will facilitate through online access will be of great value. It will allow those working in sometimes isolated rural and regional communities to access each other’s collections.

“For our region, it will also encourage and inspire all Riverina-based museum workers to assess the importance of costume within their collections to safeguard them for the future,” said Madeleine Scully.

Organisations and individuals can register their interest in the Australian Dress Register at the site -www.australiandressregister.org

[Photo: The Pastega family, Luigia (Gina) and Angelo with their three sons, Roy, Ori and Leo. Courtesy Griffith Pioneer Park Museum]