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 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Sunday July 12, 2020 

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A spectacular costume from the Hollywood biopic, Million Dollar Mermaid, in which Esther Williams portrays Australia’s amazing Annette Kellerman, is part of an exhibition at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum (from August 10, 2016), which also includes footage from the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia’s collection, showing Kellerman performing an underwater adagio ballet in 1939.

Multimedia artist collective 66b/cell has developed a visual installation with projection mapping where visitors experience the beauty and artistry of Kellerman’s underwater performances in an immersive, sensory environment.

Annette Kellerman pioneered competitive swimming for women, starred in American silent films, published books and inspired generations of women. Born in Sydney in 1886, Kellerman took up swimming as a young child. She became a teenage champion, excelled at diving and set world records in swimming. Having outgrown the pools of Sydney and Melbourne, Kellerman relocated to London aged 18.

She made headlines for her marathon swims in the Thames, Seine and Danube rivers and was the first woman to attempt to swim the English Channel. At a time when female swimmers were expected to wear cumbersome garments, she defied convention with her practical self-styled one-piece swimsuits, one of which she created by sewing stockings onto a men’s bathing suit.

As her star rose, Kellerman developed a vaudeville act which she performed in England and the United States. It combined diving, swimming and graceful underwater ballet with the elaborate staging of tanks, waterfalls and slides, supported by a large cast of water nymphs performing routines that foreshadowed synchronised swimming.

Kellerman starred as a mermaid character in a series of feature films and performed her own dangerous stunts. She wrote self-help books titled How to Swim and Physical Beauty: How to Keep It, and began a health food business after retiring from performing.

Published August 11, 2016

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Million Dollar Mermaid: Annette Kellerman
From August 10, 2016
Powerhouse Museum, 500 Harris Street, Ultimo, Sydney

Bookings: (02) 9217 0111

Opening hours: 10am – 5pm
 Admission: free with general admission:
$15 adult, $8 concession, kids under 16 years free

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