In February 2015 I visited Beaudesert, Queensland to look at a large collection of clothing – pretty much everything owned by one lady her whole life. I saw crimplene trousers, printed frocks, tartan acrylics, nylon dresses and all manner of homemade and shop bought clothing from the 1940s to today. There were six or more wardrobes of clothing. The family kindly let me borrow a selection of the garments to show the students.

Over the course of 2015, the Beaudesert collection evolved and inspired a number of initiatives. Kay McMahon and I worked together to curate the project, with students and staff involved in various ways. Hannah Dalglish and Jonathan Rae developed a short video and photo catalogue, Felicia Baltasgui created a contemporary fashion shoot using the garments, and designer Mark Neighbour adapted one of the garments into a contemporary design, sold at The Fleet Store. Finally, Kat Walsh and Lucy-Belle Raynor staged an exhibition of the garments at the State Library of Queensland in August 2015.


Yet the monetary worth of the collection is debatable. It is doubtful that collectors or museums would look twice at many of the pieces, although some of the older pieces may have their appeal. Rather, the worth of the collection lay in the storytelling and discussion of ways of wearing and consuming clothing, and seeing trends of past years play out in the wardrobe of a country Queensland woman. Examples include the first use of polyesters and nylons and how they revolutionised our wardrobes,  and how commonplace mending and home dressmaking once was compared with today.

Kay and I are pulling together the various strands of the project to present the collection via an online archive. More to come.

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  1. These items belonged to my mother and in going through them I remembered the fun of making our own clothes to our own designs and choosing the fabric to make them with. I remembered the discussion we had about necklines, collars, types of sleeves, pockets and finally the choosing of the fabric to make a unique garment that no one else had. Today’s experience of walking into a store and walking out with a garment feels soulless. Buying a dress for a special occasion, like the immediate postwar wedding dress above (now purple but originally pale blue) included an all day trip from the country to Brisbane, with lunch and afternoon tea taken in cafes and a slow saunter through the department stores in Queen Street. I am continuing the tradition by introducing my grandchildren to the fun of sewing and designing things to meet what you want – we have a brilliant 110 year old hand sewing machine as well as a more modern electric one and we have my mothers fabric collection to play with.

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