Earlier this year I was contacted by a woman who was wondering whether a cloth that had belonged to her husband’s grandmother held any interest to the collecting organisations in far north Queensland. The description of the item reminded me at once of the autographed signature cloths that we have featured previously on this blog from Croydon and Cloncurry so I quickly asked for some details. She replied:
My Grandmother-in-law, Clementine Manning, gave me an Autograph Cloth. In the centre of the cloth it says: “KINGSBOROUGH AUTOGRAPH CLOTH – IN AID OF BELGIANS – OCTOBER 9th 1915” It is surrounded by appliqued signatures of the children at the school in 1915. One of them, Vincent Manning, is my husband’s great uncle.
To say I was interested was an understatement! What a treasure! And so the process of research and object analysis begins.
Of course, it was Germany’s invasion of Belgium on 4 August 1914 that prompted Britain to declare war on the Germans and, thus triggered Australia’s involvement. Historian Peter Stanely noted:
Reports of atrocities committed against Belgian civilians—actual, exaggerated and invented by British propaganda—flooded newspapers around the world.
Australians responded powerfully to reports of ‘poor little Belgium’. Its own soldiers saw almost no action until April 1915. In the meantime, many Australians devoted themselves to supporting war charities that were directing relief supplies and money to Belgian refugees in Britain and France. Until their own troops entered battle, Belgium became the focus of many Australian civilians’ patriotic fundraising…
I found specific postcards were generated to support this, particularly in Britain. I also found a number of collections with specific material about the Belgian Relief Fund, in the State Library of New South Wales, the State Library of South Australian and the National Library of Australia.
But what of Kingsborough, and Queensland? In 1915, Kingsborough was a small mining town on the Hodgkinson goldfield in the hills behind Cairns and Port Douglas. Pugh’s Almanac reports it had a baker, blacksmith, butcher, aerated water manufacturer and two hotels – the Federal and the Kingsborough. Children were taught at Kingsborough State School No 359 by the teacher Ms Amelia Boyns.
It is through Amelia Boyns that we start to uncover more about the story and fundraising in the region. In January 15, The Telegraph reported that Amelia donated the proceeds of an autograph cloth (1 16 shillings) to the Belgian fund which were disposed of by the art union. It also notes she ran a guessing competition for a doll, raising 16 shillings and putting that towards wounded soldiers. In September 1915 the Cairns Post reports that she sold a boy’s hat for 1 eight shillings and six pence and put that towards the Belgian Fund as well.
I’d love to spend more time researching Amelia’s history. She appears to have been a motivated and passionate supporter of the war effort, and another example of the type of activities that women undertook on the home front. She left Kingsborough in 1916 and moved to Edge Hill in Cairns to teach. Unfortunately, however, that is as much time as I could sneak away from other projects and indulge in a bit of research. I can report, however, that the cloth will be donated to the Historical Society of Mareeba.
As summer rapidly approaches, the risk of damaging storms and bush fires greatly increase. So now is the time to ensure your organisation is disaster ready.
Check your buildings for any potential problems externally such as blocked gutters, damaged drains and roofing. Also check for possible risks internally such sources of moisture including damaged air conditioning and water pipes, areas of poor air circulation, crowded, poorly packed shelves etc. A large mould outbreak or insect infestation are also disasters !
Do you have a disaster preparedness plan?
If you don’t, now is the time to develop one. If you are unsure how to proceed, you can receive assistance from your local Museum Development Officer or contact the Australian Institute of Conservation of Cultural Materials (AICCM) https://aiccm.org.au/disaster
The following websites may also be helpful:
- Be Prepared: Guidelines for Small Museums for writing a disaster preparedness plan (an oldie but a goody): https://aiccm.org.au/sites/default/files/docs/CAN_resources2014/beprepared.pdf
- Museums & Galleries of NSW: How to develop a disaster plan: http://mgnsw.org.au/media/uploads/files/How_to_develop_a_disaster_plan.pdf
- State Library of Queensland: Salvaging damaged collections (includes a disaster plan template): http://www.slq.qld.gov.au/resources/preserving-collections/salvage_damaged_collections
- Q-Dis: The Queensland Disaster Information Network (Q-DIS) is a group for sharing information on disaster preparedness and planning for heritage and cultural collections in Queensland: http://manexus.ning.com/group/qdis
- Queensland State Archives – Disaster planning and recovery: http://www.archives.qld.gov.au/Recordkeeping/Disaster/Pages/Default.aspx
If you already have a disaster preparedness plan make sure it is current.
It is important to review your plan on an annual basis and update it as needed. Listed below are some areas that require regular review:
- Significant items:
- Check the list of high priority collection items. These are the objects that will be retrieved first in a disaster situation. These normally include unique and/or historically significant items.
- Have there been any new acquisitions or donations that need to be added? Have you deaccessioned any items currently on the list ?
- Are collection items still in the same locations or have they been moved? Update location details and floor plans. It is very important to be able to quickly locate significant collections for quick retrieval. Many organisations mark the shelving where high priority objects are located to assist in the location process.
- The disaster team:
- Check phone numbers for the disaster team are current.
- Are people still willing and able to participate? If not, it is time to recruit new volunteers.
- Who will lead the team?
- Ensure all team members are familiar with the Disaster Plan and the salvage procedures for the collections.
- Extra assistance:
- If you require external assistance and have made arrangements in the past (e.g. priority access to the local cold storage facility to freeze water damaged collections), check that these arrangements are still possible. A written agreement may be helpful.
- Organise new arrangements if needed.
- Disaster kits:
- Carry out an inventory on your disaster kits and restock if necessary. Ensure the kits are stocked with materials and equipment appropriate to your greatest disaster risks (e.g. flooding or water leaks).
- Disaster training
- Organise training on use of the disaster plan and salvage procedures for members of the disaster team. Ideally this should be done annually.
- If you require assistance with training, please contact your local Museum Development Officer or AICCM.
So as the old saying goes “forewarned is forearmed”. Fingers crossed this summer will be disaster free and your disaster plans remain untested!
Earlier this month I was lucky enough to travel to Muttaburra to deliver some workshops. Although a (very) small town, Muttaburra boasts two museums – the Dr Arratta Memorial Museum and Cassimatis Store and Cottage – which are managed by a small but dedicated team of volunteers. Keen to learn about how best to care for and interpret their collections, we devised a series of four workshops covering collection policies, interpretation panels, cataloguing, and object labelling.
While we all may know what is exciting and unusual about our own collections, it is worth giving some thought to how we share this with our visitors to make sure we’re providing the best possible experience of what our collections have to offer. During our workshop on interpretation panels, the Muttaburra volunteers thought and talked about how to plan exhibitions and displays (and what’s the difference between the two!), how best to interpret objects to make them accessible and interesting for visitors, and the nuts and bolts of what makes good interpretation panels. Thinking and talking is good, but doing is even better, so the volunteers soon got stuck into making their own interpretation panels. Now armed with the tools of the trade, I’m looking forward to seeing what they do with their new skills!
Writing a Collection Policy may not sound like the most exciting aspect of museum life, but it is really the most important document in helping you manage your collection well. It helps you clearly define all the main aspects of managing your collection, including how you will collect objects, how you will document them, how you will care for them, as well as tackling some of the more tricky issues of deaccessioning and ethical considerations. With two very different collections to manage, some thought had to be given to how to structure the collection policy to best suit their situation, but very quickly the volunteers worked together to painlessly produce a document which will be their first port of call in all important decision making processes.
Another hallmark of a well managed collection is good documentation, but with backlogs common to all museums, it often gets put in the too hard basket. We spent some time in Muttaburra looking at the processes for accessioning items into the collection, followed by the more detailed work of cataloguing. While some useful work has been done in the past at the Hospital Museum, we had to spend some time trying to establish if previous location systems were still practical, and devising new ones for the Cassimatis Store and Cottage. As always, practice makes perfect so getting their own electronic catalogue started was an important component to the workshop.
A good catalogue is of little use if you can’t identify your objects, so applying accession labels to objects was our last topic. Good object labelling, combined with good documentation, is also another weapon in the museum arsenal when confronted with a disaster. There are several options for doing this safely and unobtrusively dependent on the materials of each object, so the volunteers were introduced to a range of techniques. I expect that soon everything that isn’t nailed down will have a number attached to it!
The workshops were funded by the Regional Arts Development Fund through Barcaldine Regional Council. Thanks to the volunteers for being such wonderful hosts and willing students, and also to the volunteers from the Aramac Tramway Museum who made the trip to Muttaburra to take part. It’s great to see small museums and communities working together. I’m looking forward to seeing more of your new skills in action.
North Queensland Museum Development Officer, Ewen McPhee, has continued to work with the Norfolk Island Museum on a project detailing the material culture from Pitcairn Island.
With the permanent population on Pitcairn Island decreasing, the Norfolk Island Museum decided to start documenting the material culture that is held in the Pitcairn Island communities on Norfolk Island and in New Zealand (Auckland and Wellington). The Norfolk Island Museum was also interested in looking at collections that were held in other museums to ensure their own collection policy, research and interpretation planning was well informed and appropriate.
Janelle Blucher,Team Leader of Heritage Management, at the Norfolk Island Museum applied to the Pacific Development and Conservation Trust for funding to undertake this project. This funding was successful and in February 2016, Ewen joined Janelle on Norfolk Island to start the project.
Initially the aim was to try and identify objects that arrived on Norfolk Island in 1856 when the entire population of Pitcairn Island moved to Norfolk Island. This trip was undertaken on the vessel Morayshire and has been well documented in historical accounts. Janelle and Ewen were particularly interested to find out which objects the Pitcairn Islanders deemed important enough to bring with them on this initial voyage from Pitcairn Island.
Community recording days were held at the Norfolk Island Museum where people were encouraged to bring in their objects and retell their family histories and stories. Janelle and Ewen developed a standard recording sheet that in time will inform a database of community collections that will be maintained by the museum.
The response on Norfolk Island was very positive with Pitcairn Island descendants and other members of the community, including collectors, bringing in their objects to the Museum. Janelle and Ewen were able to photograph, record and document information about the families and the objects over a number of days. They were also invited into private homes where they viewed many larger items such as Boston whalers rocking chairs, photograph albums, paintings and souvenirs. Objects that Norfolk Island community members brought into the museum included yollo stones, baskets, hats, wooden carvings, a signed cricket bat, painted Hatti leaves, photographs, letters, bibles, turtle shell hair combs, and dolls.
Ewen and Janelle then traveled to New Zealand to the cities of Auckland and Wellington where they continued the community recording. In Auckland they were shown contemporary weaving of baskets, hats and mobile phone covers, along with tapa and print making items. More yollo stones appeared, along with a whalebone picker used to thatch house roofs with, wooden souvenir boxes, Hattie leaves, painted coconuts, woven fans, baskets and a top hat. Ewen and Janelle also visited the Auckland Museum where they were shown the collection of over 11000 stone tools that were acquired by the Museum. All of these items, held in the archaeology collection, pre date the arrival of the HMS Bounty on Pitcairn Island but nevertheless add to the body of knowledge surrounding the occupation of Pitcairn Island. In Wellington, Janelle and Ewen made contact with Pitcairn Islanders and their descendants as well as visiting the Alexander Turnbull Library and Te Papa Museum to view their Pitcairn Island collections.
Possibly one of the most prized objects brought out from Pitcairn since 1856 is made from stone, a vesicular or aerated basalt stone, fashioned into a functional Polynesian style domestic item known as a ‘yollo’ stone or a food grater. Measuring approximately thirty by twenty centimetres this rectangular shaped stone is scored across its surface and used to grate or ‘yollo’ breadfruit, banana and yams. This food preparation tool made from Pitcairn Island’s basalt is still used by some, and is highly valued by island families on Norfolk and also by Pitcairn families now living in New Zealand.
The Te Papa collection revealed an exquisite whalebone tapa beater, a wooden candle holder with an inscription of the Bounty story, painted clam shells, a wooden magic box, contemporary tapa, and other souvenir trade items.
Also in Wellington, Janelle and Ewen met with the donor of a collection of glass plate negatives taken in 1928 and now in the Alexander Turnbull library. These photographs clearly show what life was like on Pitcairn Island in 1928 and are an important snapshot in time for further family history and documentary work. The Library also contained an 1814 account by Royal Navy Lieutenant Willis on approaching Pitcairn Island complete with a narrative and paintings. Other objects included newspaper cuttings, photographs, and souvenirs.
Janelle and her team at the Norfolk Island Museum are continuing to collect information and developing the database. The Norfolk Island Museum facebook page has been used to connect with the Pitcairn community and shows more photographs from the project.
The early hours of Saturday July 18th will mark the first anniversary of the fire which claimed the Waltzing Matilda Centre in Winton. It has been a long hard road for the volunteers of the Winton District Historical Society so it is timely to reflect on the enormous amount they have achieved since the devastating impact of the fire. Previous blogs have detailed the remarkable results achieved by conservators on a number of significant objects (Winton Fire response – Waltzing Matilda Centre, Winton Fire Response – the next phase of recovery, Phoenix objects from Winton, The conservation of a fire damaged print), but the work hasn’t stopped there.
Since March 21st the volunteers have opened those areas of the complex unaffected by the fire on a daily basis, and have welcomed over 1800 visitors. Although displays in the main Waltzing Matilda Centre were impacted by the fire, there’s still plenty for visitors to see in the museum complex with a fascinating range of cultural and natural history objects from the region on display. Visitors can also see objects salvaged from the fire and the ongoing work of volunteers in conserving them.
The Waltzing Matilda Story, which previously formed part of the Billabong Show in the Centre, was saved from the fire and can be viewed in the Sarah Riley Theatre, which has also played host to a variety of community activities since the fire, including Waltzing Matilda Day, a famil tour and smoko for interstate journalists, and a free talk on overshots in Western Queensland by historian Sandi Robb.
In amongst all this activity, the volunteers have continued to work steadily through the objects still requiring attention. Locals and visitors have also donated their time and expertise in the ongoing cleaning process, and the Winton Creative Arts Group have achieved stunning results with some of the collection, reading room, and storage furniture, with 11 large items and 12 chairs restored.
With all these achievements it’s easy for outsiders to forget the physical and emotional toll a disaster such as this takes on those who face loss and damage of their treasured collections. But the images below demonstrate just what a huge accomplishment the successes of the past year have been. The Winton District Historical Society are collaborating with Council, architects and the curatorial team on plans for the new Waltzing Matilda Centre, incorporating the museum precinct, and we can’t wait to see what they’ll do next.
Follow the new Centre’s progress at Waltzing Matilda Centre
At the recent Q ANZAC 100 Heritage Leaders Workshop held at the State Library in Brisbane, I was asked to participate in a forum about community involvement in First World War Projects with three other speakers. This gave me the opportunity to discuss a few of the projects I have worked on as the MDO for far north Queensland:
Portraits of the North (Mareeba Historical Society)
Cooktown at War (James Cook Museum, Cooktown)
HistoryPin Project (Australian Sugar Industry Museum, Mourilyan)
Re-Honouring Cardwell (Cardwell and District Historical Society)
But as we sat and discussed the projects and their merits, I wish, in hindsight, that I had reflected a little more on what aspects of the projects didn’t go to plan or experienced hiccups. I am the first confess that the delivery of some of my projects encountered speed humps and that we had to make changes and deviations along the way. It’s rare that we speak publically about mistakes or hiccups – but I find these are the very things that provide invaluable learning. If we shared these experiences more readily with some of the other groups undertaking projects we might help them avoid some of the issues we have encountered.
I was also aware that the projects I discussed are but a few of those that have been produced locally, and that one of the legacies of this extraordinarily busy period of history making was the skills and contributions of museum and historical society volunteers. In far north Queensland, Cairns Historical Society, Mareeba Historical Society, Mareeba Shire Council, Cairns Regional Council, Douglas Shire Historical Society, Loudoun House Museum, Mount Garnet Visitor Information centre, Cooktown History Centre, to name just a few, have all delivered a range of exhibitions and events that provide a distinctive far north Queensland take on the First World War and involved people in undertaking historical and museum based work.
Fortunately, the Heritage Leaders Workshop gave participants an opportunity to see projects from across the region, and also appreciate the different sort of people involved. Far north Queensland was represented by volunteers from Mareeba Heritage Centre, Douglas Shire Historical Society, Atherton Library and Mulgrave Settlers Museum. Ken Keith spoke about the Douglas Shire Historical Society’s Douglas Diggers WWI Project. During one of the workshops, Don Lawrie from the Mulgrave Settlers Museum took the stage and entertained the audience with his storytelling and object based remembrances. I think it is this personal involvement, and the satisfaction that people glean from it, that lies at the heart of these projects’ success.
After months of research and preparation, the exhibition on the Fryer brothers and the medical history of the war opened at the Springsure Hospital Museum on April 24th. Two of my previous posts, The Legacy of War and Dear Mother… dealt with the experiences of four of the Fryer brothers of Springsure during the First World War and the impact this had on their lives, and that of their family, following the war.
While researching the exhibition I had found, despite the terrible tragedies which had befallen the family during and after the war, the Fryer brothers were still survived by children, grand children, great grandchildren, nieces and nephews. The family have contributed to the research and followed the journey of discovery, and to have so many attend the exhibition opening to remember the lives of these young men made the event thoroughly unforgettable. Family had travelled from as far afield as Darwin and Tasmania to be at the event, and the opening was attended by around 80 family members and invited guests.
Another special guest at the opening was the Manager of the Fryer Library, Simon Farley. Simon and his team have been extraordinarily generous in allowing me access to the Fryer material and providing images for the exhibition. As the custodian of so much of significance to the family and researchers, Simon’s presence was greatly appreciated by everyone. The Fryer Library have honoured their namesake with their own online exhibition JD Fryer: Student and Soldier Also attending the opening were local veterans from WWII and Afghanistan, which gave the content of the exhibition added relevance.
The heritage listed 1868 Springsure Hospital Museum provided a beautifully intimate setting, given added weight by the Fryer family’s connection to the building. The exhibition was funded by the Central Highlands Regional Council Regional Arts Development Fund. Cr Kerry Hayes, Central Highlands Regional Council Mayor opened the event and other Council representatives attended, with many having worked behind the scenes to help make the day a success.
This blog will outline the conservation treatment I carried out on a print that was damaged in the fire last June at the Waltzing Matilda Centre in Winton. The print was on loan to the Winton and District Historical Society for their ANZAC exhibition “More than a name” when the fire struck. The print suffered water damage, weakening of the paper support and isolated areas of charring.
The print is a duplicate of the iconic oil painting “Menin Gate at Midnight” painted in 1927 by Australian artist William Longstaff. The painting depicts the shadowy ghosts of fallen soldiers marching past the Menin Gate Memorial in Belgium. The image gained iconic status in Australia as the nation mourned the thousands lost in World War One.
The treatment process took approximately 4 days to complete and involved the following steps:
Step 1: Surface cleaned front of the print
- The surface of the print was cleaned using a soft brush and air compression avoiding the charred areas.
Step 2: Consolidating the charred areas – part 1:
- The weak charred areas on the front of the print (see right) were consolidated with a thin Japanese Tissue (Bib Tengujo) and wheat starch paste to prevent any loss of the damaged paper. The tissue was then carefully toned using pastel pencils to reduce the visible impact of the charred areas.
Step 3: Removal of the window mats:
- The window mat was mechanically removed.
- Under the mat board was a thick layer of adhesive tape residue which had to be removed from the surface of the print (see image below right). As the paper support was very porous, it was necessary to use methyl cellulose poultices to soften the adhesive as direct applications of water would have caused staining of the paper.
Step 4: Backing board removal:
- Once the window mat was removed the acidic and charred backing boards, which the print had been directly adhered to, were removed.
- The first layer of mat board was very thick strawboard which had swollen significantly on exposure to water (see image above right). Most mat boards are a composite of a number of layers of paper glued together which can be carefully removed layer by layer. Straw board is made by compressing straw pulp in one thick layer. If the board gets wet, the pulp forms dense clumps of fibres which make removal very difficult and time consuming. The removal of the board had to be carried out without water and took more than two days.
- Under the strawboard was another thinner mat board layer that was also removed. The bulk of the mat board layers were removed dry. Fortunately the second backing board was layered in structure making removal much easier than the strawboard layer.
Step 5: Consolidation of charred areas – part 2:
- The charred areas of the print were consolidated on the back of the print using Lens Tissue and wheat starch paste.
- Areas where the paper was weak but not charred were also consolidated.
Step 6: Reduction of water staining:
- The water solubility of the printing inks was tested and found to be stable so the print was blotter washed in deionised water to reduce the heavy staining. Blotter washing uses capillary action to gently remove any soluble staining and discolouration without the need to apply water directly to the paper surface. The treatment was successful and reduced the staining making it much less visibly intrusive to the image.
Step 7: Cleaning the brass plaque:
- The brass plaque was cleaned by firstly brushing off any loose dirt and then very gently cleaned with a jewellers’cleaning cloth. This did not change the appearance of the plaque but further treatment was not carried out to prevent damaging the surface.
Step 6: Rematting and reframing:
- A new window mat package was created matching the original mat configuration including the brass plaque. Canson 100% cotton cellulose mat board was used for the mat and backing board.
- The print was then placed in its original cleaned frame. New glazing and an archival quality backing board were used to seal the frame package.
Early on Wednesday 1st December, a fire broke out at the Hervey Bay Historical Village and Museum. The fire started in the rear building adjacent to the Workshop. The fire has caused major damage to a number of historic vehicles, stationary engines and machinery. The Museum’s tools were also destroyed in the blaze.
Thankfully the fire was contained to the Workshop area and the rest of the village was left unscathed and the Museum will be open as normal.
Since the fire, the Museum has been overwhelmed by offers of help and donations of tools. They are confident that the future is bright and the fire has made them more determined than ever to keep improving the Museum for their visitors.
For more information and to see images of the damage, please go to the Museum’s website: http://herveybaymuseum.com.au/stop-press/
If you are interested in donating to the Museum’s recovery fund, please contact the Museum’s Secretary:
Phone: 07 4128 4804 (Opening hours)
Post: 13 Zephyr St, Scarness, QLD
You can also show your support by visiting the Museum!