Collected: about the exhibition

A family trinket holding wishbones, a designer dish rack and thought-provoking contemporary art are some of the items featured in a new exhibition of collection acquisitions. 

Sydney Living Museums’ collections help us to understand, reimagine and reflect on our shared and individual identity – in the past, the present and into the future. They bring new perspectives and add texture to SLM’s heritage places and their stories. 

Collected: Sydney Living Museums acquisitions brings together in one exhibition an intriguing selection of objects and creative works acquired for our museums and research collections. Each new item has found its way into these collections by different and carefully considered pathways involving curatorial research and assessment to ensure that what we collect is of enduring significance to the story of NSW. Some have been generously funded or gifted by donors and benefactors, some of whom are descendants of people who lived in places now under SLM’s care; others were purchased or specially commissioned to add new layers of meaning and understanding to our existing histories.

Man standing in front of the ocean

Photograph from Cast in cast out installation by Dennis Golding, 2020. Sydney Living Museums. Photo and artwork © Dennis Golding

A rich tapestry 

The exhibition showcases both the vernacular and the spectacular with an eclectic display of items, from the colonial to the contemporary. Through these items we discover a diversity of voices and views, from people across a range of social classes, generations and geographic regions, as well as perspectives from queer communities and First Nations people. Power and memory weave through Kamilaroi/Gamilaraay artist Dennis Golding’s work Cast in cast out, which explores dispossession and colonial occupation and is inspired by his childhood on The Block, Redfern. Artist Todd Fuller’s hand-drawn animation honours the love story of the notorious Captain Moonlite and fellow bushranger James Nesbitt. 

A surprisingly elegant cistern pull-chain from a now-demolished early-1900s home in Paddington suggests a sense of refinement in the most functional of household spaces, while a late-19th-century silver tea and coffee service engraved with the Wentworth family crest indicates the importance of heraldry associated with the colonial history of Vaucluse House. It stands in stark contrast to an assortment of pocket-sized ornaments collected by Ellen Marshall – who lived for 28 years at Susannah Place in The Rocks – expressing the personal taste and interests of her family. Striking curtains and soft-furnishing fabrics from the 1940s by Russell Drysdale, George Korody and Nance Mackenzie demonstrate the interest in Australian flora, fauna and landscapes as themes for home decorating by artists and designers in the mid-20th century. 

Collected illustrates the breadth of SLM’s dynamic acquisitions program. Each collection piece adds to the rich tapestry that is the story of Sydney and NSW. 

Ceramic kangaroo salt shaker with chicken wishbones in the pouch

Ceramic salt shaker with chicken wishbones, owned by Ellen Marshall of Susannah Place. Gift of Jenni Whitford & family, 2020. Photo © Joshua Morris for Sydney Living Museums

About the author

Jacqui Newling wearing a red top and glasses

Dr Jacqui Newling

Assistant curator

Jacqui brings over ten years of ‘visitor first’ interpretation experience to her role as a curator at SLM. She specialises in place-based social history and heritage, bringing meaningful stories from our past to contemporary audiences through various forms of media, from exhibitions to interactive opportunities for visitors in our museums. 


Penny Edwell, Assistant Curator



This article originally appeared in Unlocked: The Sydney Living Museums Gazette, our Members’ magazine.

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