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Australian Home Beautiful

As part of a ‘capstone’ subject to complete my University of Melbourne Master of Art Curatorship, I have been an Intern at the National Gallery of Victoria assisting the curator Kirsty Grant with Mid-Century Modern: Australian Furniture Design.

Much of my research for the exhibition was at the State Library of Victoria and the RMIT Design Archives, primarily with editions of Australian Home Beautiful. The magazine’s mid-century editions reveal a changing Melbourne climate as post-war restrictions released their hold on resources for home use. It also indirectly speaks about changing consumerism, attitudes to women and the altered status of ‘craft’ past-times through advertisements, articles and images selected for illustration throughout the editions.

An initial revelation in my paper-based, archaeological dig was how journalists wrote articles in a bold language with no shy attitude toward clearly stating their opinion and making disparaging remarks about that which they considered poor taste. They wrote with such confidence and seemed to feel no need to disguise any lack of tact. It was entertaining and fascinating, as the style seems a significant contrast to contemporary reporting.

The compressed nature of my research enabled me to see a clear, rich arc of changing attitudes. Early in the era, articles seemed to be about sharing fundamentals, i.e. how to bake a scone like nana used to make. Somewhere about the middle Australia was finding a sophistication of expression, i.e. recipes now had pieces of fruit suspended in jelly. While closer to the end of the exhibition’s timeframe, Australia appears to be reaching out around the globe, i.e. recipes included curries and stir-fry.

Crossing between sources and collections helped develop a solid understanding of the era, its main designers, modes of representation, and social controls and conventions. It was fascinating to be part of the exhibition and a wonderful privilege to work with Kirsty Grant and the National Gallery of Victoria.