Australia - USA

A centuries-long maritime bond

Mannequins in a boat on display in the USA Gallery at the Australian National Maritime Museum

Two countries linked by the ocean

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    In 1988 the people of the United State of America presented a Bicentennial Gift of money to the people of Australia to research, interpret and tell the story of the maritime links between their seafaring nations. The USA Gallery, its collection and program of exhibitions and events about science, technology, defence, history, art and nature continues to be funded by this gift.

    The coastal and riverine Indigenous cultures of both countries have strong parallels and perhaps yet to be revealed connections.

    Three Americans were crewmembers when James Cook's Endeavour visited Australia in 1770 marking a maritime relationship strengthened through trade, migration and defence to the present day.

    The first foreign trading vessel to arrive in the British settlement at Port Jackson was American. Governor Arthur Phillip bought its entire cargo of beef and rum to sustain its starving, struggling population.

    American whalers, sealers and traders frequented Australia over the next century. In the 1840s Australians sailed to the Californian gold rush and a decade later Americans came here for the same reason. A new century saw the Great White Fleet of the USA Navy arrive in Sydney Harbour in 1908 to a rapturous welcome, repeated in Melbourne and again in Albany.

    As allies in the darkest days of World War 2, our navies fought together, and in lighter moments while American sailors took shore leave here, Australians took leave in America, history repeating itself during the Vietnam War and subsequent conflicts.

    From the America's Cup to ship design, and research into climate change to the collaboration between James Cameron in California and Ron Allum in Sydney to design and build the DeepSea Challenger that explored the Mariana Trench in 2013, our maritime connections with the USA continue to strengthen.

    The USA Gallery was dedicated by President George Bush (senior) in 1992.

    Mission X – The Ragtag Fleet

    Closes 22 May 2016
    This story of Australians sailing under the US flag during the Second World War is one of daring and courage. The US Army Small Ships Section was made up of some 3000 requisitioned Australian vessels of every imaginable size and type. In their hastily refitted and sometimes armed boats, Australian merchant crews under contract to the US Army plied the dangerous waters between northern Queensland and New Guinea to establish a supply lifeline to allied forces fighting the Japanese.

    The small ships went where bigger vessels couldn't. Covered in palm fronds they hid by day in jungle estuaries and landed cargo as diverse as water, food, fuel, fresh troops and heavy equipment by night, bringing back the wounded and the dead.

    This little known story is told in the USA Gallery using objects and documents lent by the men of the Small Ships and their descendants.

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    Open daily, 9.30am–5pm

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    Model of the sloop-of-war USS VINCENNESAustralian war bride Audrey Capuano with the American 'stars and stripes' jumper that she knitted in 1945.Weslee Wootten D'Audney standing next to the WWII recruitment poster she posed for at age 17



    Where else can you see a president’s signature, a queen’s signature, rare books and paintings and a seventy-year-old gardenia in one place - but in our USA Gallery!

    These are just a few of the more than one hundred treasures we’ve assembled from the multi-million dollar American collection that celebrate 200 years of close maritime connection between the seafaring nations of the USA and Australia.

    Visit Treasures of the American Collection.

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