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Portrait of Michel François (Frank) Albert 
Photographer: William J Hall
ANMM Collection Reproduced courtesy of Australian National Maritime Museum

Portrait of Frank Albert of the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron

Date: 1900-1910
Medium: Emulsion on glass
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Transfer from the Mitchell Library
Classification:Photographs
Object Name: Glass plate negative
Object No: 00012817
Place Manufactured:Sydney
Related Place:UNKNOWN,

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    Description
    This image depicts Michel François (Frank) Albert. Frank Albert was the son of Jacques Albert, who established one of Australia's oldest independent music publishing companies, J Albert and Son, in Sydney in 1885. Frank Albert was a yachting enthusiast and participated in many races in Sydney Harbour. He was elected to the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron in 1920 and won many of the opening yacht season honours, racing in RAWHITI. His son Alexis also participated, racing in NORN.
    SignificanceThe Hall photographic collection provides an important pictorial record of recreational boating in Sydney Harbour from the 1890s to the 1930s. The collection documents the lively sailing scene in Sydney during this period and features images of vessels ranging from large racing and cruising yachts to the great array of skiffs and the emerging technologies of motorboats. Images of many of Sydney Harbour's historic sailing clubs and prominent identities are also included in this photographic collection.
    HistoryMichel François (Frank) Albert was born on 26 March 1874 in Kharkov, Russia to parents Jacques and Sophie Albert. On 10 December 1884 Jacques Albert, a Swiss watchmaker, violinist and author, and his family stepped ashore at Farm Cove in Sydney to start a new life. Jacques and Sophie and their children Frank and Pauline, had just spent a six-week voyage on board SS DUKE OF WESTMINSTER from Port Said, Egypt to Brisbane, Queensland. Jacques spent much of the voyage learning English from a 24-year-old Welsh umbrella-maker he befriended, one William Morris Hughes, who later became Australia’s seventh Prime Minister. From Brisbane, SS EURIMBLA took the family to Sydney where Jacques set up a watchmaking shop in Newtown.

    After his wife Sophie died in 1890, Jacques established Albert’s Music Stores in Sydney’s CBD at 118 King Street. By 1894, Frank had become a partner in his father’s business which had changed to J Albert and Son. He had developed the business further in 1890, by releasing the first of the 'Boomerang Songsters', a music compilation which sold in its millions for the next 80 years. By May 1894, Frank had begun the process of trademarking the word “boomerang” and its symbol as J Albert and Son’s unique brand. One of his most famous moves, in keeping with the new brand, was to create an affordable, portable and simple form of musical entertainment for consumers in the form of the Boomerang mouth organ. Frank also named his Elizabeth Bay Spanish-style home ‘Boomerang’, which is now heritage listed.

    Unlike his father, Frank developed a passion for boating, a passion he was to hand down the generations. He became interested in the sport as early as 1900 when he obtained his first boat, a motor launch called GROMOBOI. Shortly following his first purchase, he exchanged GROMOBOI for a 25-footer of the same name. In 1905, Frank was a founding member and rear commodore of the Motor Boat Club (later Royal Motor Yacht Club) and served as its commodore from 1912 to 1920, which, according to the 'Australian Motor Boat and Yachting Monthly' (AMBYM) of May 1925, was a record for the club. Frank donated various cups to the sport including the Albert Cup and Rawhiti Cup; however, it was for his yachts that he became known throughout the boating community.

    Though Frank purchased numerous motor boats and vessels, including the 30-foot launch FEDORA, he turned his sights completely to sailing when he purchased the New Zealand cutter RAWHITI in December 1909. The yacht was designed and built in Auckland in 1905 by New Zealand’s leading yacht builders, the Logan Bros. It was owned by New Zealander, A T Pittar, and was then sold to C T Brockhoff, a champion skipper. It then passed to Frank along with his associate E E Sayer, whom he met in 1902. Together, they skippered the craft interchangeably over the next 16 years.

    Shortly after they purchased it, the pair commissioned the well-known marine architect Walter Reeks to ‘take her lines off and do what he thought best to bring her up to the highest standard of perfection’ ('Sydney Morning Herald', 13 Sep 1910). According to the report in 'The Sydney Morning Herald', the ‘lead keel was remoulded’ and a ‘complete set of new spars and iron work’ was fitted. The green topsides were retained and the underbody was painted a distinctive pink, a colour it has retained to this day. Interestingly, Frank had a penchant for the colour green, even signing his letters with green ink, so it is no surprise that he chose to retain the ‘Eau de Nile’ shade of green for his prize yacht (Albert, 'House of Hits', p 56). Her owners were confident; RAWHITI would ‘be a hard nut to crack’.

    Not long after RAWHITI hit the water on 10 September 1910, she won the championship for the Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club and the Blue Ribbon the following year. Frank and Sayer went on to win numerous trophies and titles over the years, including the Basin Cup of 1912 and the Gascoyne and Revonah Cups and Marshall Plate of 1925. A film depicting Frank and his crew on board RAWHITI was shot in 1925 after they won the Rawson Cup outright. The film is now held in the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia and is an invaluable historical artefact, documenting not just RAWHITI itself, but the crew rigging and manoeuvring the craft around the harbour.

    An article published in the May 1926 edition of 'AMBYM' provides a fascinating insight into RAWHITI's success and Frank’s competitive nature. Dubbed the ‘big green yacht’, the article relays Frank’s consternation over the handicapping of RAWHITI during the Port Jackson Championship season, after they had won the Blue Ribbon for the fifth year in a row:

    'How do you account for gathering the honor again if the handicapping was against you? … The only reasons I can give … were that my boat was always right up to concert pitch; my crew sailed every race right out to the bitter end; and it was the seconds and thirds that I gathered in that made up the points that brought the championship.'

    Despite his disparaging remarks, Frank also highlighted an issue that seems to dominate yachting even today:

    'Handicappers in every sport have a thankless task to perform, but when one particular boat seems to be singled out for harsh treatment, is it any wonder that questions are asked? In practically every race she has sailed, Rawhiti has had no chance whatsoever of winning, yet she was on the mark each Saturday, prepared to take the gruelling skipper and crew knew was inevitable.'

    After the season, Sayer stepped down as skipper due to ill health. As RAWHITI neared the end of her stellar run, further complications arose after she was rerigged in 1927. One story notes that the new Bermudian rig designed by William Fife and Sons was disastrous as, during its first outing, RAWHITI collided with another yacht and the rigging and mast were destroyed (Albert, 'House of Hits', p 50).

    Throughout the 1930s RAWHITI did not retain her earlier dominance, despite Frank’s best efforts to induce his son Alexis to take the helm after Sayer. Toward the end of World War II, the vessel was sold to new owners from New Zealand.

    On 16 September 1929, Frank applied to the Board of Trade to have the name of his newly purchased the auxiliary schooner BONA changed to BOOMERANG. BOOMERANG is considered to be one of the most beautiful vessels ever designed by renowned marine architect Walter Reeks. It was launched in 1903 and was purchased by Charles Lloyd Jones, the owner of department store chain David Jones, in 1927 before it passed to the Albert family. BOOMERANG is just over 22 metres long and from the 1930s, it operated under motor only and was used by the Alberts to entertain distinguished guests. Nicknamed the ‘Gentleman’s schooner’, it stayed with the Albert family until they donated it to the Sydney Heritage Fleet in 1988. It remains one of the few surviving craft designed by Reeks.

    Frank continued his passion for sailing and music until he died on 19 January 1962.

    [Taken from Nicole Cama, 'Frank Albert: Boomerangs, yachting and the colour green', ANMM Blog, 23 May 2013 accessed June 2013].

    Sources:

    Jane Albert, House of Hits: The great untold story of Australia’s first family of music, Melbourne: Hardie Grant Books, 2010.
    Additional Titles

    Primary title: PORTRAIT - MARINE OFFICER : UNKNOWN : HALL?

    Web title: Portrait of Frank Albert of the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron

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