Five minutes with Sally Watts

Western Australian artist Sally Watts’ paper mache dog sculptures and 2D collages feature in our current exhibition Reigning Cats & Dogs.  

We spent five minutes with Sally and discovered the passion and process behind her work as as an artist and illustrator. Here’s what she had to say…


Puppies under construction produced as part of Sally Watts workshop held at State Library of Western Australia, 2015.

Pets, particularly dogs are the subject of your paper mache sculptures. What inspired you to create the Paper Puppies series?  

Dogs in particular have always been dear to me but because of a life of postings, first though my father and then my husband, it was quite impossible to have a pet. When we were finally able to stay in Australia we welcomed a tiny, energetic bundle of fur into our family of three: a long-legged Jack Russell named Myrmidon Jack Irish Beau.  Beau for short and that was the only thing small about him. He was larger than life and gave us all much affection and amusement with his antics as well as a few heart stopping moments when he climbed a tree and escaped over the garden fence as a young pup.  Jackies are notorious for wanting to know what is around the corner…and the next one too.  I spent a couple of frantic hours calling his name and waving a chicken wing about until he spotted it across the park and claimed his prize (in his eyes anyway).  He was quick to learn “party tricks” and loved to perform to an adoring audience.  As a youngster he would enjoy basking in the sun and keeping a sharp eye out on proceedings in his garden.  This was done sitting on the roof of his kennel-just like Snoopy the cartoon dog . Walks were high on his To-Do-List and socialising with the neighbourhood dogs in the park was a morning occurrence.  He was a patient model when I wanted to draw him and he even found his way into some of my book illustrations. We were fortunate to share such a long time-17 years-with our little doggie dynamo.  We love him still.


Sally Watts, puppy preliminary drawing, pen on paper,2015

Many of us have attempted some form of paper mache sculpture, often with mixed results.Your Paper Puppies are smooth sculptures, they almost look like they are made out of clay. How do you achieve this affect?  

The construction of the paper and plaster dogs is unusual in that an internal wire armature is not used. at all. The strength comes from binding tape and the many layers of paper and gesso (containing a high percentage of plaster).  The whole process of producing a dog can take  up to two weeks depending on drying time and the number of layers of paper and plaster.

Recycling and sustainability are key themes in your works.  Why do you feel this is important?

My dog series has grown from a strong desire to contribute to sustainability but in a quirky way.  A way that others may adopt and utilize in their art practice. Using re-purposed materials (newspaper, cardboard, envelopes, scrap paper and junk mail) to form a lively characterisation of man’s best friend, shares the important message of the versatility and re-usability of materials which are normally discarded.  My eco-friendly sculptures start as disregarded rubbish-household paper waste and then take on a new life.

I like to think by encouraging others to make their own “Man’s Best Friend” I am, in a small way, helping to spotlight the great need to reuse and recycle one of our world’s precious commodities.

Your life of travel has influenced your ‘Letter From Home’ series.  How do you determine which items are included in the collages?  What meaning do these works hold for you?

For my collages I have been collecting text, tickets, maps, illustrations and more from my many homes over many years in many countries. I have always been fascinated and inspired by the mundane printed materials of everyday life in our throw-away society.  Each collage in the series Letters from Home begins with long accumulated found items from “home”, wherever that was, and become a part of a personal jig-saw and a journey down Memory Lane.  I take these pieces of memory and layer them.  This layering and patching of words, letters and colours create their own tensions and harmonies within abstract compositions.  From this manipulation emerges a pattern of recalled personal memory. Some text can be read easily, some is intentionally obscured.  Just as a memory is sometimes sharp and intense and at other times only a fragment will surface to tease.  The items themselves are commonplace and trigger a particular thought for me but the same piece, because of it familiarity, will most certainly evoke a completely different, yet no less powerful, memory for others. I use this imagery to evoke memory, both for myself, of a time and place left behind, and for the viewer.  At the same time these words, pictures and patterns are also an integral part of the overall visual design.  My collages are made with original source material.

Reigning Cats and Dogs is on in The Place at the State Library until 20 July.
Explore artwork of pets from the Peter Williams Collection of Illustrations, including artworks by Julie Vivas, Leigh Hobbs, Shaun Tan, Jane Tanner, Ron Brooks and more. 
For more information visit: State Library Website

GovHack 2015


2015 marks the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli campaign in the early period of World War 1.  Archives, libraries and memorials from across Australia and New Zealand (Including SLWA)  have collaborated to release WWI data for GovHack 2015

SLWA has prepared 3 new datasets for use by those practising their data hacking skills.

These datasets along with some previously published sets are all available from the website
In addition to this, SLWA has added a dataset information page to our website

We’d love to see what can be made from these sets – leave a comment here to share with us or email

Nadj Nidj Maaya – What’s that sound?: Old songs and Noongar language

Using the archives of the JS Battye Library of West Australian history, 2014 Battye Fellow Clint Bracknell has identified over 50 songs in Noongar language.

Public Talk: Monday 6 July 2015: 12:00 – 1:00 
State Library of Western Australia Theatre
Book now to secure your seat

Listen to Clint discuss how old Noongar songs may be plugged back into a resilient network of intersecting knowledge, geography, story and relationships, and sung back at the archive in a way that challenges its authority, its truths and its silences.

Presented as part of NAIDOC 2015 We All Stand on Sacred Ground: Learn, Respect & Celebrate.

All venues at the State Library are wheelchair accessible 
For more information visit: 

Thank you WAGS!

WAGS volunteer Brian Stent assists a client

WAGS volunteer Brian Stent assists a client

In 1985 the State Library entered a partnership with the Western Australian Genealogical Society (Inc.) – affectionately known as WAGS – to provide ongoing assistance to family history researchers within the Library.

30 years later, the partnership is still going strong, with WAGS volunteers providing research assistance in the Genealogy Centre three days a week.

These dedicated, enthusiastic and knowledgeable volunteers have worked quietly, efficiently, and patiently through all of the many changes the organisation has undergone over the years. They have put up with noise, disruption, changes in location of materials, staff restructures, all manner of clients and, sometimes, grumpy Subject Specialists. They have handled all with efficiency, humour and grace.

Each year The State Library and WAGS have also partnered in presenting talks tours and workshops for National Family History Month.

We have joined in hosting several successful family history fairs with support from other government agencies such as the National Archives and State Records Office, Local Studies Centres, and historical and family history societies.

Western Australian Genealogical Society volunteers have made a considerable contribution to the public of Western Australia through their commitment to providing information and research assistance to family historians.

WAGS volunteer Elizabeth Rummins in action

WAGS volunteer Elizabeth Rummins in action

On behalf of staff and patrons of the State Library of Western Australia we would like to congratulate and express our thanks to the volunteers of the Western Australian Genealogical Society (Inc.) for 30 years of volunteering in the Genealogy Centre.

Genealogy Centre

Genealogy Centre

WAGS volunteers continue to be available to assist you in the Genealogy Centre on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 9:30am – 1:00pm.

Captions from Weird and Wonderful WA

There were some amusing captions created for the Weird and Wonderful WA photos.

Lawnmower race

Lawnmower race in the carpark of Boans, Morley, 1968

Mow down, hoe down!
Mow down the opposition.

Father Christmas and the three bears

Father Christmas and the three bears

Baby bear asks Santa for a new chair…
Papa bear asks Santa for some new door locks…
and Muma bear explains to Santa why Goldilocks should be on the “naughty” list.

Weird and Wonderful WA

To celebrate WA Day on Monday 1 June, we selected a set of photographs of Western Australia to remind people of stories to share with their families, provoke some amusement and interest, and highlight a place, event or activity that people might be unaware of. It was also a way to remind people that our photographic collection is vast and much of it is available to view through our catalogue. You can type a keyword into the search box, and limit the search to State Library Pictures, and click on each of the records to view our digitised photographs.

We had a visit from the family of the man who is on the right hand side of the giant karri tree photo – they were thrilled to see the photograph and told us that they still had the saw that is shown. Some of the other popular photos were the skull from Adventure World, and the Perth Airport swans brought back many memories. You can see a slide-show of the photographs here:

A logging team in the karri forest., 1915

A logging team in the karri forest., 1915

Missing Lives lunchtime talk: 27 May 12.30

In conjunction with the current Missing Lives exhibition, Claire Lawson from the Australian Red Cross will present a lunchtime talk.

Under what circumstances do people go missing?
What is the impact left on those waiting for answers?

The Red Cross International Tracing/Restoring Family Links is a unique free service that helps families by war, migration or disaster re-establish contact. Red Cross and Red Crescent societies work alongside the International Committee Red Cross in 189 countries around the globe to trace lost loved ones, exchange family news and clarify the fate of the missing.

 Wednesday 27 May 12.30pm  (30 mins)
Where: The Nook , State Library of Western Australia
(The Nook is located on the ground floor at the Cultural Centre entrance to the library)

Missing Lives documents the plight of fifteen, of the thousands of families still waiting to learn the fate of their loved ones, classified as missing. Almost 20 years after the wars in Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia, and 13 years after the end of conflict in Kosovo, thousands remain unaccounted for.

Based on a book of the same name, this exhibition highlights the tragic consequences of what happens when the rules of war are not followed, but also illustrates the strength and resilience of survivors still searching for their missing friends and relatives.

For more information visit the State Library website 

Imagine the possibilities..Library and Information Week at the State Library 25-31 May 2015

Behind the Scenes Tours711A 49
Visit the State Library on Tuesday or Thursday next week and find out just a little about the fascinating preservation and conservation work that is so essential to the care of our most precious heritage items. Sessions are free but bookings are essential. 

Your Library Online
Come along on Friday 29th May and learn how to be an effective online researcher to find what you need when looking at the Library catalogue and our online databases and journals. Session is free but bookings are essential.

National Simultaneous Storytime
Join us on Wednesday 27th May to listen to The Brothers Quibble by Aaron Blabey read
at the same time to children around Australia.  All children (with carers) welcome. Storytime is held in the children’s area The Place on the mezzanine level. No Bookings are required.

The Place

The Place


Missing Lives

The tragedy of war and separation are powerful realities revealed in a photographic exhibition by award winning British photojournalist, Nick Danziger.

Taken in the aftermath of the conflicts in former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, Missing Lives documents the plight of a handful of families waiting to learn the fate of their loved ones, classified as missing.

Photograph: copyright Nick Danziger. No unathorised use or copying without permission

Photograph: Reproduced with permission. Copyright Nick Danziger. No unauthorised use or copying without permission.

Under international humanitarian law, authorities on all sides of a conflict have a legal duty to take every step to determine the fate of those who are missing and to pass this information on to their families. Almost 20 years after the wars in Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia, and 13 years after the end of conflict in Kosovo, thousands remain unaccounted for.

Based on a book of the same name, this exhibition highlights the tragic consequences of what happens when the rules of war are not followed, but also illustrates the strength and resilience of survivors still searching for their missing friends and relatives.

Photograph: Reproduced with permission. Copyright Nick Danziger. No unauthorised use or copying without permission.

Photograph: Reproduced with permission. Copyright Nick Danziger. No unauthorised use or copying without permission.

Two lunchtime talks will be presented in conjunction with the Missing Lives exhibit.

Missing during war
What happens when people go missing in war? Claire Lawson from the Australian Red Cross reveals the impact left on those waiting for answers, why so many people remain unaccounted for, and how the Red Cross can assist.

Wednesday 27 May, 12.30 – 1:00 (30 mins)
Wednesday 17 June, 12.30 – 1:00 (30 mins)

Missing Lives in on display at the State Library from 20 May – 30 June. For more information visit our website. Missing lives is presented by The Australian Red Cross and is supported by the International Committee of the Red Cross and Lotterywest.  


Forget Me Not: Western Australians and WWI

BA718/4 From Basil (Herbert Basil) Abraham to his sister Olive from France 1915.

BA718/4 From Basil (Herbert Basil) Abraham to his sister Olive from France 1915.

This month, many thousands of Western Australians took part in dawn services and parades to mark not just Anzac Day, but the centenary of  Anzac and the Gallipoli landing.   “Mum do we have any Anzacs in our family?” my eight year old daughter asked expectantly in the lead up to Anzac Day.  “Sorry, no Anzacs” I answered.  The fact that her Canadian grandfather flew bombers in WWII, and her Italian grandfather fought Austrians in the Dolomites in WWI was of no consolation.  “How come all the other kids at school have a Gallipoli hero in their families.”

I think I may have asked my own mother the same question decades ago when I was a kid. I don’t remember Anzac Day being as big a deal when I was young, but I do understand my daughter’s disappointment at feeling somehow left out of this important and sacred occasion as others proudly parade their family stories, photos and medals.  Decades on, and many millions of non-British migrants later, I wonder how many  other Australians with no family link to Anzac wonder about their place in a nation that holds the Anzac legend so dear.

Historians, journalists, film makers and writers have long argued over what ANZAC means and has meant to Australians.  Debates rage hotter than ever between those who see WWI as the crucible of nationhood fought for a high and noble purpose, and those who argue our nation was forged in peacetime, not on the battlefield of a dreadful, futile war.   History is never cut and dried, and understanding that there are different perspectives on our involvement in WWI doesn’t denigrate Anzac or diminish respect for those who have served Australia.    Now, with the 100th anniversary of Gallipoli behind us, and with three more years of the Centenary of WWI ahead, it’s a good time for a deeper contemplation of what Gallipoli means to Australians. We owe it to our servicemen and women to reflect on why and how they fought, and to understand the impact of their service on civilian life in Western Australia during and after the Great War.

If you want to read what others have written about Australia’s involvement in the Great War, a good place to start is our WWI subject guide to materials held in the State Library of Western Australia.

A quick overview of what some call the Anzac ‘history wars’ is also available online:

Anzac Day to VP: arguments and interpretations, Joan Beaumont.

Political Rhetoric Makes a Parody of Remembrance, Bruce Scates.

The Past is Not Sacred, Peter Cochrane.

Assault on Anzac, Mervyn Bendle

Letting go of Anzac  Henry Reynolds and Marilyn Lake.

If you’re looking for a more personal and immediate perspective on the Great War, the State Library holds a wealth of soldier letters, diaries, postcards and photographs.  Whatever your opinion on the justness or futility of the war, you can’t help but be moved by the first-hand accounts of bravery and fear, drudgery and humour, longing and loss.

These letters, diaries and photographs are so vital to understanding the human perspective of war.  For those of us with no personal connection to the Anzacs, we are grateful to those people who have generously shared their family’s WWI stories with the wider Western Australian public by depositing their treasured diaries, letters or photographs with the State Library of Western Australia.

Among the more recent WWI treasures to come into the State Library’s collections is the diary of Beresford Everett Bardwell.  Born in Melbourne about 1890, Bardwell moved to Western Australia with his family and grew up in Geraldton working as a Solicitor’s Clerk before enlisting.  He started out as a private in the 11th Battalion, and was among the 704 soldiers pictured in the well known photograph of the Battalion taken at the Great Pyramid of Giza at Cheops in January 1915.  He took part in the Gallipoli landings and fought in the trenches until August 1915 when a shrapnel wound to the thigh saw him evacuated and sent back to Egypt.  After convalescing, he was promoted to Captain and returned to active service in 1916 as part of the 51st Battalion in France, where he fought until the end of the War in 1919.

SLWA BA 780/37 Captain Bardwell seated on ground , 1917

SLWA BA 780/37 Captain Bardwell seated on ground , 1917

After the War, Bardwell returned to Western Australia and worked with his brother, Bernard, in the pearling industry and went on to become the Broome Harbour Master.  He married in 1921 and had two children and six grandchildren before he died in 1961, aged 71.

His diary was loaned to the State Library for copying by grandson John Bardwell. Spurred by the WA Genealogical Society’s wonderful project to identify the soldiers in the famous photograph of the 11th Battalion at Giza, John came forward to identify his grandfather.  He thought we might also be interested in a copy of his grandfather’s war diary.  The generosity of individuals and families like the Bardwell’s means that future generations of Western Australians can share this first-hand account of Gallipoli.

Bardwell’s diary doesn’t cover his entire war service, just the period from 11 April to 16 September 1915 after his wounding at Gallipoli and recuperation in an army hospital in Egypt.  Before you even begin reading the 66 pages of diary entries, the script itself gives clues as to how war can change men. At the start, the diary entries are legible and dated neatly.  After months of fighting in the hills and trenches of Gallipoli, the calligraphy is scratchier, reflecting the hardship and chaos around him.   The script also mirrors the tone of the diary, which begins in a relatively light hearted fashion prior to the landings, and then quickly darkens.


You can read the whole diary in Bardwell’s original script via our State Library Catalogue here.

We will also be a adding an easier to read copy transcribed by volunteers from the WA Genealogical Society.   Here are just a few snippets from the diary transcript…

Sunday 11 April 1915….Great amusement was caused today when one of the boats came back from the shore with some of our men aboard among whom were two who had got hold of some Koniak and got rather drunk.  While coming alongside one of them first threw his hat overboard and then picked up his rifle and before anyone could stop him threw it after the hat, of course it was lost.  Of course they could not come up the rope ladders, so when the Colonel heard about it he ordered them to be securely bound and hauled up by the winch. As horses were being loaded at the time a horse sling was made use of. The first man, the worst of the two, was swung up into the air where he looked quite happy and caused a lot of amusement among the onlookers, then was lowered onto the deck and taken charge of to await his trial.

17 April 1915…The harbour is now very full and we hear there are any amount of others outside. It is also said that we are going to be here a week or so yet. One has to develop a great deal of patience these days on account of our long waits. Some of the fellows wonder why we don’t rush right into things. They don’t seem to realize that we have been waiting for a concentration of very large forces here and that the heads have to await favourable times to begin operations…Once they are into it I reckon there will be a very large percentage who would rather be back on board ship again.

20th April 1915…Went ashore today and took part in a rather severe but short route march over the hills down onto the beach on the other side where we had lunch. Everywhere one can now notice the arrival of spring.  One crop we passed over was simply beautiful, although only a foot high it was a beautiful shade of green and all through it bright red poppies thrust their heads above the carpet of green.

25th April 1915….We got close to shore near daybreak + soon after heard Turks open fire on first half of Brigade as they were landing + then we heard our men cheering as they charged up hill + took a trench. We landed immediately after in life boats amid a perfect hail of lead, a great many of our men being hit in boats  + on shore. As soon as we got ashore we flung off our packs and lay down on the beach. There seemed to be a hopeless mixture of Coys and Battalion’s boats from different ships landing at same place. Several boats landed further round to the left upon which machine guns played cutting up the men dreadfully. In the meantime the  ½ B’gde had driven the enemy immediately in front well back over the hills, and what hills! rising very steeply up from the shore to a height of some 300 feet.

28th April…Got word 3rd B’gde reorganising on beach, boiled my first dixy of tea, alongside a dead fellow this morning, since Saturday night. Then went onto beach where I joined what were there of Batn.

2 May… Heard on Friday there were 176 killed 900 odd wounded + 700 odd missing of whom many will yet turn up + remainder may be put down as dead or prisoners…

9 May…Went out in front of trenches one day while some of our men buried dead Turks, they were not pleasant sights, especially one Australian who was wholly unrecognizable  and was an awful sight.  Puckle had previously taken a piece of poetry from his pocket written most likely by his sweetheart, but as his identity disk had been removed he could not be recognised. The stench was awful…

 13 May…  Tuesday morning Reg Clark of Geraldton, a really fine chap who was boiling tea for trenches when a shrapnel burst , a pellet of which went through his brain from which he soon died. The same shell also hit Greenwood passing through thigh and then through foot, all three of “D” Coy, 2 former of own Platoon and my section. Later in day, we of Geraldton, his friends held his burial service which was read by Louch.

If you are interested in reading more of Bardwell’s diary, or other WWI diaries and letters, including the papers of the Geraldton soldier Thomas Louch mentioned in Bardwell’s diary entry, please visit the WWI collection highlights page on our website.

We’re seeking your support to digitise more WWI material like Bardwell’s diary through our ‘On the Homefront’ appeal.