Shoes in the exhibition explore a range of themes.

Out of the Box: the Joseph Box collection

The world famous Joseph Box collection is among the Museum’s most important acquisitions. Purchased in 1942, the collection spans more than 300 pairs of historic shoes from around the world made or collected by the Box family, as well as shoe buckles, spurs and company archives. Joseph Box Ltd (today owned by John Lobb Bootmaker Ltd) was a London-based shoe company, which had its origins in a business making women’s shoes founded by James Sly in 1808. Joseph Box, who was the son of Sly’s apprentice, Robert Dixon Box, took over the company in 1862.

He maintained the company’s reputation for making the finest handmade shoes, many of which were made by appointment to the British and German royal families. The Museum was fortunate enough to have purchased the Joseph Box collection after then Director, Arthur Penfold, travelled to London in search of exhibits ‘of interest to Australians’. This purchase was presumably made possible given the pressures of World War II and the urgency to find a safe home for the collection.

Wear in the world?

Travel the globe by foot discovering everything from Chinese shoes for bound feet, Palestinian bath clogs and a Norwegian man’s shoe made of hemp to Japanese geta shoes, Turkish slippers and Indian toe peg sandals.

Heel appeal

This section celebrates the heel from the late 19th century to now with a focus on high-end designer names and contemporary shoes, including the personal collection of costume designer and film producer, Catherine Martin, as well as a sweeping look at the heel decade by decade.

Dudes and dandies

Explore the many different designs and materials used in men’s shoes, from suede slippers and shark skin Oxfords to embroidered men’s leather platforms.


‘Shake your bootie!’. This section includes everything from historic lace ups and ankle boots to fetish boots, men’s designer boots, occupational boots and boots for Antarctic exploration. Highlights include the first pair of elastic sided boots in the world made in 1837 for Queen Victoria and aviation boots worn by Lores Bonney.

Fleet feet

Spanning Speedo scuffs, early 20th century ice skates, sneakers, bowling and ballet shoes, this section highlights Australia’s passion for sport. See a pair of 1930s cricket boots signed by Don Bradman and Marc Newson’s Russian cosmonaut-inspired sneakers for Nike.

Centre stage

This section showcases a range of heels and boots designed for theatre, film and other types of performance, including the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games Opening and Closing Ceremonies and the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. Highlights include Michael Caton’s Ugg boots from ‘The Castle’, Nicole Kidman’s high heels worn in ‘Moulin Rouge’, Hugh Jackman’s outback riding boots worn in ‘Australia’, Johnny O’Keefe’s 1950s Rock n’ Roll shoes and Kylie Minogue’s thongs from the closing ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.

Tools of the trade

This display showcases some of the tools used to make bespoke (made-to-measure) shoes. Highlights include an early 20th century clicking press used to cut the various shapes of leather used to make a shoe, such as the sole and uppers, shoe lasts, moon knives and pincers and a 1950s fluoroscopic x-ray machine for measuring foot size.

Teeny toes

‘Teeny toes’ provides a delicate insight into the pitter patter of tiny feet from the 18th century to now, including knitted booties, leather lace ups, patent sandals, clogs, slippers and moccasins.

New shoes

See the Museum’s recent acquisitions of shoes for the permanent collection, including a spectacular pair of ‘Nova’ shoes designed by famous Iraqi-British architect, Zaha Hadid for United Nude, as well as shoes designed and made by contemporary Australian shoemakers.

Old soles

Comprises archaeological footwear and the earliest examples of shoes dated to the 1500s in the Museum’s collection.

CSI shoes

This display looks at the treatment and preservation of shoes from the point of view of the Museum’s conservation department, including the use of mercuric chloride as a pesticide and the way synthetic shoes disintegrate.