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21 June 2005

21 June 2005

An exhibition featuring the previously unseen works of a young English artist who travelled the Birdsville Track more than 50 years ago opens at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra this Thursday, 23 June.

In Search of the Birdsville Track showcases the sketches of Noelle Sandwith, an affluent English woman who was lured by the legend of the track and travelled the 500 dusty kilometres from Birdsville to Marree in 1952.

'Sandwith gives us a rare glimpse into a fascinating era,' said National Museum director Craddock Morton. 'Her adventure reminds us of the danger, drama, resourcefulness and romance which make the Birdsville Track such an important part of our outback mythology.'

Sandwith completed her journey just before the international release of The Back of Beyond and her sketches capture many of the people and places seen in the iconic film.

Sandwith's travel manuscript and photographs - also on show in the exhibition - provide an insight into contemporary attitudes towards Aboriginal people, women and migrants. She also documented the role of organisations including the Royal Flying Doctor Service, the Country Women's Association and the Australian Inland Mission.

In Search of the Birdsville Track was curated by Sophie Jensen and Johanna Parker, who met Sandwith when she travelled to Canberra for the National Museum's opening in 2001.

'Noelle was driven to capture what she saw as the track's essence before it changed forever with the advent of improved transport and communication,' Ms Parker said.

'Noelle treasured her journey along the Birdsville Track and her continuing love of the inland country was one of the reasons she gave for donating her works to the National Historical Collection in 1993.'

Sandwith's studies of indigenous people from across the Pacific also feature in the British Museum collection. She now lives in an English nursing home.

In Search of the Birdsville Track will be opened by journalist and travel writer Bruce Elder at 11am on 23 June and is on show in the National Museum's Nation Focus Gallery until 9 October. The NMA Press is releasing a book of Sandwith's sketches and extracts from her travelling manuscript, in conjunction with the exhibition.

For interviews, images or more information please contact Leanda Coleman on 02 6208 5338, 0438 620 710; Sandy Forbes on 02 6208 5351, 0409 916 481 or email

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