Hand-tinted photograph of Annette Kellerman swimming underwater wearing an elaborate costume including ballet slippers and head-dress.

Be inspired by Australia’s Fearless Mermaid with NFSA’s new Annette Kellerman online exhibition


24 September 2018

Be inspired by Australia’s Fearless Mermaid with NFSA’s new Annette Kellerman online exhibition

The National Film and Sound Archive of Australia (NFSA) is celebrating the achievements of Annette Kellerman with a new online exhibition titled Australia's Fearless Mermaid, including rare clips of Kellerman's famous underwater performances as well as one of her last ever interviews.

This online exhibition is available permanently on the NFSA website, https:///www.NFSA.gov.au/mermaid

The list of Annette Kellerman's (1886-1975) achievements is extraordinary: champion swimmer and diver, underwater ballerina, vaudeville performer, international silent film star, stunt performer, author and entrepreneur.

Born in Sydney, by 16 she held all the world records for women's swimming. Moving to England in 1905, she embarked on a vaudeville career and defied convention by wearing a one-piece swimming costume, starting a worldwide trend.

Her vaudeville shows became legendary and showcased her skills in underwater ballet, wire walking, dance and music. Ahead of her time, Kellerman even included a drag act.

She moved to New York and starred in blockbuster silent films such as Neptune’s Daughter, which grossed an unprecedented US$1 million. Her physical prowess meant she performed all of her own stunt dives and underwater tricks.

Annette was also labelled ‘the perfectly formed woman’ by Dr Sargent, Director of the Harvard University Gymnasium. The label stuck, but she thought it was ‘the most ghastly thing in the world’.  Kellerman is also credited with being the first woman to appear nude in a film, 1916’s A Daughter of the Gods.

Highlights available in the exhibition include:

  • Surviving scenes from the 1914 film Neptune’s Daughter; a major hit which earned Kellerman the nickname ‘Million Dollar Mermaid’.
  • A 1912 newsreel announcing Kellerman as ‘The Perfectly Formed Woman’, comparing her to the Venus de Milo.
  • An underwater ballet shot in 1939.
  • A home movie shot in 1956, showing her athleticism at 70 years of age.
  • Clips from an oral history interview with Kellerman, recorded one year before her passing. She recalls the time she was thrown into a crocodile pit!

Clips and still images available for download. Interviews with online exhibition curator Beth Taylor also available; please contact Miguel Gonzalez, 0404 281 632 or miguel.gonzalez@nfsa.gov.au