Author Archives: Ewen McPhee
Update 03/4/2017 – Proserpine Museum. All volunteers safe. Minor water damage – but mostly ok. Will update as needed.
– Collinsville Coalface. All ok.
The MDO team will be contacting museums across the weather affected areas in central and south east Queensland over the coming days to assess damage and issues arising from the cyclone and associated flooding. Please get in touch with us if you have any information or if your museums and collections have been affected.
Update 30/3/2017 – Bowen Museum and Historical Society are ok. No structural damage to building, collections and volunteers are all intact!
The Queensland Museum, Museum Development Officer Program is waiting to hear from groups that are located within the region where Cyclone Debbie has caused damage.
This information may take a few days or even up to a week to come through as volunteers and staff stay safe within their own homes and look after families and friends.
As ex Cyclone Debbie follows its path, other risks including flooding may also cause concern for collections throughout Queensland.
Please see a past blog here for some useful information on disaster preparedness.
The Museum Development Officer Program will do a further blog post to let people know of any progress and is working closely with Museums and Galleries Queensland to gather information.
Please take the time to leave a comment if you have heard any news regarding groups in this area or contact Joanna.Wills@qm.qld.gov.au
Ewen McPhee and Dr Jo Wills recently worked at the Cardwell Bush Telegraph Museum to assist with the rehanging of their cyclone flag. The red cyclone flag, also called a cyclone pennant, has been displayed at the Bush Telegraph Museum since it opened in 2003.
The museum is housed in the old Cardwell Telegraph and Post Office which was built in 1870 and is one of the oldest buildings in North Queensland. It is on the Queensland Heritage Register, the Register of the National Trust and the Register of the National Estate of the Australian Heritage Commission.
The building itself was prefabricated in Brisbane and shipped to Cardwell where it was erected on the present site. It is considered to be one of the earliest examples of prefabricated post office buildings, reflecting the need to erect substantial Government buildings in remote settlements where structures were otherwise relatively unsophisticated.
Cyclone flags were used to warn about approaching cyclones. Murray Massey a member of the Cardwell and District Historical Society, and long time Cardwell resident spoke to Denise Raleigh who worked on the Telephone Exchange from 1955 to 1959.
Denise said there was a yellow ‘alert’ flag and a red ‘warning’ flag flown at the Post Office when cyclones approached Cardwell. The decision on when to raise the flags was made locally by the Postmaster, Mr Collins, who was guided by the barograph that measured the changes in atmospheric pressure that can be sudden and dramatic when a cyclone nears.
Murray recalls the face of the barograph was always on public display through a glass panel on the Post Office verandah, and people visited the Post Office to check the barograph to assess the weather outlook. Like Murray, Denise recalls that the alert and warning flags were flown from a flag pole on Victoria Street in the front yard of the Post Office.
Murray believes the need to fly a warning flag publicly in the mid-20th century, is highlighted by the fact that few people had landline telephones in that era, long before mobile phones were invented. Denise recalls that there were only 30 lines available on the Cardwell Telephone Exchange switchboard, and only about 22 of them were connected, when she worked there. This means only 22 homes or businesses in Cardwell had a telephone. There was a public phone at the Post Office. Denise says there were lines from the Cardwell exchange through which customers could be connected with exchanges at Carruchan, Tully, Ingham and Townsville, and that calls to Brisbane and beyond had to be routed through Townsville.
Denise recalls the following occurrences during cyclone Agnes which, unusually, moved northwards along the east coast, buffeting Proserpine, Bowen and the Burdekin before its eye passed over Townsville around 2.00pm on March 6 1956 and continued northwards, swinging inland near Ingham before weakening.
“Mr Collins (Percy Collins) was the Postmaster then and he never called the Telephone Exchange girls by their names: we were all ‘Girlie’ to Mr Collins.
During one cyclone I rode my bicycle to work to begin the morning shift on the exchange at 7.00 am. The wind was blowing very strongly from the direction of Greenwood Hill (inland to the north west) so Mr Collins already had the yellow alert flag flying to warn people of the danger of a cyclone approaching, and he said: ‘Girlie, I’m surprised to see you this morning.’
‘I didn’t have to pedal Mr Collins, because the wind pushed me along Victoria Street,’ I replied.
I remember though, having to be careful while riding my bicycle, to dodge the metal garbage bins which were flying all around.
By midday Mr Collins had hoisted the red cyclone warning flag. It was unusual to have cyclonic winds coming from the inland. Some homes – I think a couple of the Railway Fettler’s cottages in Bowen Street and Mr’s Bird’s Garage business on the corner of Bowen and Brasenose Streets, were among those that lost roofing.”
With guidance from Queensland Museum conservators and the support of Helen Pedley from the Cassowary Coast Regional Council the cyclone flag was removed and rehung to ensure its continued conservation. As with many of the museum development officer jobs, there is a priority to purchase materials locally and to work within a tight budget.
The cyclone flag was carefully measured by Helen and the Perspex was pre-ordered from Townsville. Ewen and Jo then purchased all of the rest of the requirements from the local hardware store in Cardwell.
Marine ply was chosen as the base for the backing board because of its more stable properties. The ply was then covered with unbleached calico and ironed.
A display system was then made using Velcro. Firstly half of the Velcro was machine sewn on to a strip of unbleached calico. This strip was then carefully hand sewn directly onto the flag with the Velcro facing out. The other half of the Velcro was attached to the backing board using a staple gun. This strong yet detachable system allows for good object support and easy removal for cleaning or in case of an approaching cyclone!
A simple yet effective spacer was then made up using stainless steel bolts, washers and a electrical conduit joiner. This spacer allows the Perspex to sit away from the cyclone flag and yet still have the protective properties.
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.
With the first low developing in the Coral Sea it is a good time to enact your cyclone preparedness plans.
Usually this should involve:
- checking that all volunteers and local council staff are aware and have read the cyclone preparedness plan, and understand what need to be done if a cyclone watch is declared;
- checking your disaster response bin and ensuring that it is up to date with the list enclosed in the bin (see below for list);
- ensuring a recent backup of all computer files has been carried out, or check that routine automatic backup systems are working and up to date;
- ensuring the museum curator and office holders have updated personal contact details for each other stored in their personal mobile phones;
- checking the list of phone contacts for volunteers, local council contacts and emergency services;
- checking local council cyclone plans;
- checking that any procedures dealing with post disaster event are located in a safe place and that volunteers and staff are aware of these;
- locating all keys to display cabinets, testing that all locks work and access is available to remove objects. Storing the keys in the key safe and ensuring volunteers and staff know how to access;
- ensuring collection items and display images have been updated and that volunteers and staff are aware;
- ensuring any loaned objects are assessed and that they are returned if practical. Contacting lenders and make them aware that cyclone season is approaching;
- cleaning all gutters, down pipes and removing overhead branches
Your disaster bin should be located in an area that is readily accessible and should have a list, kept with the bin, stating what the contents are. It is important to replace things like batteries and review its contents on a regular basis.
THIS DISASTER BIN SHOULD CONTAIN:
- 1 torch
- 1 head torch
- 1 spare battery
- 10 metres plastic sheeting
- 2 rolls waterproof tape
- 1 pair scissors
- 1 stanley knife
- 4 packets paper towelling
- 40 Chucks wipes
- 1 sponge mop
- 1 spare mop sponge
- 1 hand sponge
- 1 plastic bucket
- 1 brush & pan
- 8 garbage bags
- 2 boxes nitrile gloves
- 1 large & 1 medium rubber gloves
- 2 dust masks
- 2 waterproof pens
- 30 tyvek labels & ties
- 1 roll cotton tape
- 1 notebook
- 2 pens
- 30 ziplock bags
For more information about cyclone and disasters preparation, visit some of the Museum Development Officer previous blog posts or contact us.
Recently Queensland Museum staff Ewen McPhee, Dr Melanie Piddocke and Sue Valis visited Bowen Museum and Historical Society to work with the volunteers on their First World War display. As with many community museums the First World War objects and stories that are held within the Bowen collection are significant on a National, State and Local level. This trip was undertaken to install some display furniture and to train the volunteers in object mounting, display planning and basic conservation practices. Research was also done for the next phase of exhibition development which includes text panels and object labels.
Ewen McPhee recently undertook a significance assessment for the Norfolk Island Museum. The Norfolk Island Museum holds collections and provides historical interpretation from four distinct periods of Norfolk Island History:
- Polynesian Settlement – 700 – 1500
- First Settlement (penal) – 1788 – 1814
- Second Settlement (penal) – 1825 – 1855
- Third Settlement (Bounty mutineer descendants from Pitcairn Island) – 1856 to present.
The Norfolk Island Museum displays and stores collections in the following locations:
- The HMS Sirius Museum
- The Commissariat Store
- No 10 Quality Row
- Pitcairn Norfolk Gallery (Pier Store)
- Guard House (research centre, paper, photographs and books)
- Anson Bay Offsite Storage Facility
Consultation was undertaken with key stakeholders on Norfolk Island regarding the issue of national significance. This resulted in replacing the more commonly used National Significance level with Pacific Significance. This was done in order to reflect the importance of Norfolk Island’s location and its relationship to other Pacific nations. The level of Pacific Significance is seen as the same as National Significance if the assessment was undertaken within Australia.
Norfolk Island is part of the Australian Convict Sites listing that was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2010. This means many of the collection items were assessed as having International Significance as well.
Key significance findings included:
The HMS Sirius Museum
The archaeological collection from the HMS Sirius displayed in the HMS Sirius Gallery is of International Significance for its ability to document the purpose of the First Fleet coming to Australia, the role that it played as the sole defence vessel for the New South Wales Colony and through the role that it played in the development both physically and psychologically on the early settlement of Sydney Cove. The collection is also of international significance for its ability to document the story of survival and resilience on Norfolk Island and in Australia before, during and after the wrecking event as well as documenting the early phase of European Pacific Island occupation and exploitation. Finally, the HMS Sirius collection is Internationally Significant as it adds to historical research, archives, and museum collections by providing additional and complimentary data to inform collections, research and exhibitions. This is particularly the case for research into the development of the First Settlement at Norfolk Island and the subsequent Second Settlement.
The Commissariat Store
The KAVHA Collection associated with the Kingston and Arthur’s Vale Historic Area (KAVHA) held in the Commissariat Store is of International Significance for its ability to provide archaeological evidence for both the Polynesian settlement and the site of the earliest European settlement from Australia to the south west Pacific. It is Internationally Significant through its ability to provide archaeological evidence on the role that the KAHVA site played in the evolution of the colony of New South Wales and later Australia. The KAVHA collection also details the convict settlement, living and working conditions at the beginning of European occupation of Australia (the First Settlement), and the planning and operation of a nineteenth century penal settlement (the Second Settlement). The collection is Internationally Significant through its documentation of the initial flax industry and its subsequent failure including the kidnap of Tuki and Huru. It also provides archaeological evidence of remote island survival and subsistence and the natural history through the fauna remains. The Third Settlement is also represented through the evidence of the arrival of the Pitcairn islanders and their material culture.No 10 Quality Row
No 10 Quality Row
The objects associated with the collection at No 10 Quality Row are primarily of Local Significance with a number of key objects being of International Significance. The International Significance objects include examples of early convict furniture making and indicate style, method and timbers used. Ceramics from the KAVHA collection on display are also of International Significance. The period furniture on display within No. 10 Quality Row is of Local Significance documenting the furniture styles and uses on the Island during the Third Settlement period. Domestic items and agricultural processing objects such as the spinning wheel, arrowroot grinder and corn husker are all of Local Significance and tell the important story of living and domesticity on a remote island.
Pitcairn Norfolk Gallery (Pier Store)
The Norfolk Island Museum Trust (NIMT) collection objects associated with the HMAV Bounty and those from Pitcairn Island, housed in the Pitcairn Gallery within the Pier Store are of International and Pacific Significance. The internationally significant objects document shipboard technology and life aboard HMAV Bounty and objects that were actively salvaged from the wreck of the HMAV Bounty for use on Pitcairn Island by the mutineers. In some cases these objects were prioritised and deemed important enough to the community to bring with them to Norfolk Island like the Codex of Laws. The objects with personalised marks are of particular interest, particularly the ones where the practice was carried forward into the Third Settlement. The objects of Pacific Significance include the contemporary souvenirs from Pitcairn Island and the ability to document the start, scope and history of the Norf’k language from the arrival of the Pitcairn Islanders on Norfolk Island. The Third Settlement objects housed within the Norfolk Gallery in the Pier Store are primarily of Pacific and Local Significance. The Pacific Significance objects document the reasons for the departure from Pitcairn Island and the arrival on Norfolk Island. They detail the use of the KAHVA site during the Third Settlement along with the expansion to other areas of Norfolk Island. They demonstrate the participation in industries such as whaling, fish factory operation and other maritime related activities such as lighterage and the import and export of goods to the Island. The objects tell the story of the locating and influence of the Melanesian Mission, early Pacific tourism and the military usage of the Island during the Second World War. The Locally Significance objects document the spread of the agriculture industry, education, religion, Island democracy and the annual commemoration days.
The collections housed within the Guardhouse are of International, Pacific and Local Significance through their associations with the First, Second and Third Settlement phases. This collection contains photographs, oral histories, maps, diaries, letters, records, books, newspapers, subject and biographical files and has outstanding research significance, is in good condition and is both rare and representative.
To find out more about the museum, visit their website: http://norfolkislandmuseum.com.au/
Queensland Museum staff Ewen McPhee and Sue Valis have returned from their initial response to the salvage work at the Waltzing Matilda Centre in Winton. Ewen and Sue worked side by side volunteers from the Winton and District Historical Society and Winton Shire Council workers to salvage the objects and start the conservation process.
Once the building was cleared for entry, objects were removed from the Centre with the assistance of Council workers, many of whom also had a strong attachment to the collection through their own family history. Objects were then brought outside and checked off a list, recorded and transported by car, truck and ute to a clean work area. Under the guidance of Sue, Winton and District Historical Society volunteers then prioritised objects and started laying them out and undertaking preventative conservation. Other makeshift drying areas and cleaning zones were utilised to ensure the large volume of objects were processed quickly to allow every possible chance of long term conservation.
Credit must go to the Winton and District Historical Society for their policies, procedures and facilities before, during and post disaster. The Society had excellent records, training, facilities and community spirit that allowed the initial response to go smoothly. A report on the condition of the collection will be provided at an appropriate time by the Society.
Please see the galleries below for images of the building and response. If you click on the images this will enlarge them and allow you to scroll through each gallery.
The entire Museum Development Officer team will return to Winton in mid July to again work alongside the volunteers from the Winton and District Historical Society.
The objects in situ and display area
The recovery area
Lately mould had been very much on my mind. Everywhere I go; there it is on leather objects, paper documents, photographic material, textiles, wooden furniture… I am haunted. So I am compelled to use my blog turn to encourage you all to be vigilant and regularly check your collections especially after periods of heavy rain and high humidity. Ideally this should be part of a wider Integrated Pest Management program. A small isolated outbreak is much easier to deal with than a large one.
Mould (the common term for fungal growth) can cause major, irreparable damage to a wide range of organic materials found in heritage collections. Staining and structural weakness is the most common form of damage.
When fungal spores are in a conducive environment, they will germinate and spread. What constitutes a suitable environment varies for each species. Many of the species affecting cultural heritage materials require moisture (e.g. water damage and/or high humidity above 65%), stagnant air pockets and surface dirt. It is very important to minimise the risk by maintaining relative humidity around 50-55%, ensuring good air movement and keeping collections and storage and display areas scrupulously clean. This will also reduce the risk of insect activity.
If you find fungal activity in your collection, take care. Some species can cause major health problems particularly for people who suffer from respiratory conditions and allergies. Avoid the area if you think you’re at risk.
For small outbreaks, wear appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). At a minimum, you will need a P2 respirator mask (the kind with the filter valve on the front of the mask), nitrile gloves and enclosed safety googles. Listed below are a number of websites providing advice on how to deal with outbreaks. If you are unsure what to do, seek advice from a conservator or your MDO.
If the outbreak is large, I would strongly recommend quarantining the room and collections and seek assistance from a mycologist.
A few useful links:
National Park Service: http://www.nps.gov/Museum/publications/conserveogram/03-04.pdf
State Library of Queensland: http://www.slq.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/128982/Caring-for-your-collections-Dealing-with-mould.pdf
Canadian Conservation Institute: http://www.cci-icc.gc.ca/resources-ressources/carepreventivecons-soinsconspreventive/mould-moisissures-eng.aspx
Conservation Centre for Art and Historic Artifacts: http://www.museumtextiles.com/uploads/7/8/9/0/7890082/managing_a_mold_invasion.pdf
Lydia Egunnike, Museum Development Officer, Southern Inland Queensland.
As a part of Anzac commemorations, an extended version of the Defending the Pacific exhibition was recently donated to the Rabaul Museum. This Exhibition was developed by North Queensland MDO Ewen McPhee and far North Queensland MDO Dr Jo Wills. Lieutenant Colonel Ian Ford, of the Australian Defence Force, recently presented the exhibition to Ms Susie McGrade, Secretary of the Rabaul Historical Society, in Rabaul. The exhibition traces the story of volunteers from North and Far North Queensland who joined the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force at the beginning of the First World War. A fifth banner was developed by Ewen and Jo to add to the exhibition. On 11 September 1914, troops from the Force landed in Rabaul to search for and destroy German radio stations. A patrol of 25 Australians encountered a composite force of German reservists and New Guinean police at Bita Paka. Six Australians, one German and 30 New Guinean police died in this action. The Australians who fell at Bita Paka were the first of more than 60,000 Australians killed in the Great War. The fifth banner can be viewed here – Battle for Bitapaka
Museum Development Officer Ewen McPhee and Queensland Museum Conservator Sue Valis recently made an interesting discovery when working on the First World War bound socks held in the Zara Clark Museum in Charters Towers.
Ewen and Sue had prioritised the rehousing of the socks, knitting needles, calico bag and letter when working as part of a Queensland Anzac Centenary grants program exhibition at the Museum. When they were approached by National Trust Queensland to assist with upcoming media, showcasing further research into the First World War Soldier who was to receive the socks, it was a good opportunity to remove them from their original frame and condition report them.
The media and personal interest generated by the socks also means that they will be viewed, photographed, filmed and documented by various media and family members in the coming months. Therefore once the socks were removed it was decided to temporarily rehouse them in archival storage materials, allowing for best practice handling, storage and ease of access.
The initial opening of the frame revealed some evidence of insect activity although this did not appear to be currently active. Dust had also penetrated the display case and removing the items showed presence of black mould at the base of the frame. The socks and the balls of wool were brush vacuumed to remove dust and the underside of the calico bag, which was most affected by the black mould, was carefully brush-vacuumed under a fume hood. Luckily the mould was dry and was successfully removed.
An interesting discovery was made when the socks were removed from the frame. What we first thought were khaki green socks, turned out to be in fact made of brown wool. As seen in the images, all the exposed areas of the wool had faded and turned a khaki green colour, while the unexposed parts of the wool were the original brown colour. This fading was due to the combination of exposure to light levels, in particular the ultra-violet component, as well as the wool being dyed by natural, as opposed to synthetic dyes. This is most evident in the images below, particularly on the ball of wool on the top left hand side.
Even though the socks were framed and housed inside the museum, in a relatively dark area, it is a good example of damage caused by exposure to high light levels. It also shows how care should be taken when describing objects for research, collection databases and for the media.