Author Archives: Dr Jo Wills
Last week, Jo Wills and Melanie Piddocke traveled to Townsville to assist groups affected by the recent severe flooding. Although most collections have emerged unscathed from days of torrential rain, the Family History Association of North Queensland and the Townsville RSL were both inundated, sustaining damage to their collections, assets and infrastructure.
Our first port of call was the RSL premises. Ewen McPhee met us on site with RSL Library Officer, Brenda Connoly, and we made our way through the damp, unlit ground floor to assess the damage. The collection is housed in three main locations but a collection storage room was particularly compromised – the door was so swollen that we had to get workmen to remove it from its hinges.
The salvage process involved removing all items and sorting them by type, condition and treatment required. We set up a bagging station for items that required freezing, a washing station for items that needed mud and debris washed from them, an area for drying textiles and leather, and an area for assessing all of the framed images that were damaged. We tried to focus on significant materials, particularly some of the First and Second World War items, and welcomed hands on advice from MTQ conservator, Sue Valis for fragile items.
While Melanie, Ewen, Sue and Brenda continued to work on the RSL, Jo visited the Family History Association of North Queensland at their Hermit Park premises. Volunteers had been working on the mammoth task of cleaning since the previous weekend. They had been working with Annette Burns and Katie Pittock from Townsville City Libraries, who had been liaising with Jo and with Lydia Egunikke via phone for advice on how to manage items. After checking with MTQ staff, we managed to identify space in the MTQ freezer, which was a great relief to the organisation. In addition to the damage to the collection, the group also sustained damage to computers and equipment and had to start working through the process of insurance claims.
Jo also headed to Townsville CityLibraries local history collection where roof leaks from the unprecedented downpour, the excessively damp conditions and fluctuating climate had caused an outbreak of mould. Staff were involved in packing the collection items and finding temporary storage so that the space can be repaired.
Another MDO trip to Townsville will be organised later this year to work through the process of taking items out of the freezer with all groups. Material can stay in the freezers indefinitely so the trip can be made when volunteers and staff have had a chance to recover from the stressful salvage phase and get their own lives back to normal.
Preparing a response is always a hectic time for the MDOs, and a stressful time for the communities involved. This time it was rather hot as well! But it is always worth it. There is also a lot of behind the scenes work by staff and we are appreciative of Lydia Egunnike for her media performances, to Andrea Hughes for arranging them, and to Sue Valis for working on site with us to support the RSL and find space in MTQ’s freezer.
Mulgrave Settlers Museum, which is part of the Mulgrave Shire Historical Society, has been awarded the 2018 Gallery and Museum Achievement Awards (GAMAA) in the category of Engagement for Volunteer-run Organisations for its program “Visiting the Ancestors”. As MDO in Far North Queensland, it’s great to see this group recognised for all their hard work. Read on to find out about the three parts that made up this project:
Volunteers photographed all graves in the Gordonvale Cemetery and added basic information to “Find a Grave”. When searching for information the group realised many of the residents had interesting stories that formed the history of Gordonvale.
‘Streets Ahead’ newspaper column in the Pyramid Views
Many of Gordonvale’s streets had been named after early settlers and those now buried in the Gordonvale Cemetery. Locally produced magazine, Pyramid Views, approached the Mulgrave Shire Historical Society to write a regular column capturing this history of the family or person the street was named after. Each month one of the volunteers organised for the family members of several generations to be photographed at the street sign.
Since its inception, the project has grown. The paper now dedicated a whole page to the section due to the response from families wanting to share their heritages and the response from readers. Information is also available via their Facebook page.
Public programs: Ghosts of Gordonvale Cemetery & Ghosts of Babinda Cemetery
Inspired by similar cemetery tours developed both other organisations, volunteers at the Mulgrave Settlers Museum decided to conduct a similar program. They identified 12 individuals from the cemetery, researched their history using a range of local, reference and online resources.
Volunteers then approached Gordonvale State High School to see if any students were interested in portraying the chosen individuals. Students memorised the scripts and then, on the day of the performance, dressed in period costumes whilst standing next to the gave of their character.
Success at Gordonvale inspired a similar program in Babinda – the other cemetery in the original Mulgrave Shire. This time, 10 identified were chosen and students from Babinda State School and St Rita’s Catholic School participated in the project.
The Society also produced an associated booklet of for each cemetery that included the script, a photo of the student and an image of the person. Background information about the township and surrounding geography was also included.
For the last few months I’ve been working on a number of projects that represent the regions diverse geography, history and communities. Rather than present a series of finished stories, this time I thought I’d showcase work that is underway. For each of the projects, the groups or organisations are undertaking something they’ve not attempted previously. None of them would be possible without the energy and enthusiasm of the various volunteers and community advocates – it’s the lifeblood of our industry.
A museum for Babinda
When Babinda Mill closed down in 2011, many people thought this small town would struggle to survive. They were sorely mistaken. In August last year, I was approached to provide Babinda Taskforce with advice about how to set up a museum. Motivated by the redeveloped Cairns Museum, and a desire to stimulate tourism and preserve history, this group aimed to set up displays in one of the shops on the town’s main street. But we had to start from scratch.
After running some introductory training, I then developed a strategic plan to get the project underway. Meanwhile, the Taskforce sought support from interested locals and created a museum subcommittee which began identifying objects and stories they wished to include. Funding was received funding through local council to develop curatorial and design concepts. We began an Indigenous liaison process to make sure cultural issues are respected and considered during the projects development. And, we have recently secured some of Queensland Museum’s recycled showcases to help realize the project. (Now all we have to do is get them up here!)
As the curatorial and design work has been developing, the Taskforce has been applying for grants and funding to support the building and fit out work. Local builders have been approached to be involved in renovating the space. While it’s been busy, the energy and enthusiasm of those involved in this project is inspiring. All of this is mixed in with a lot of good humour and local ingenuity – essential ingredients for a project like this!
Queensland Rail Movable Cultural Heritage & Normanton Railway Station Museum
Located on the edge of Normanton in the north west gulf country, the heritage listed Normanton Railway Station has a long and somewhat unusual history. Now one of the jewels in the town’s tourism crown, most visitors enjoy the small railway museum located at the station before boarding the historic Gulflander and heading out to Critters Camp or going onto Croydon.
The museum collection is eclectic – it reflects the region’s pastoral and social history as well as the story of rail. Station’s Officer in Charge, Ken Fairbairn, has been keen to get assistance with the museum’s collection management for a number of years. Now, through the assistance of Queensland Rail, the MDO program is about to start a project that aims to provide cataloging and policy advice for Queensland Rails movable heritage collections, and that involves practical work and training at Normanton Railway Station Museum.
Developing a keeping place for Napranum
In September I traveled up to Napranum, Mapoon and Weipa with historian Geoff Wharton to get an insight into the cultural heritage of the Western Cape. The main purpose of our trip was to begin discussions about developing a keeping place at Napranum in conjunction with the Shire Council. Geoff, who has a long association with Weipa and Napranum, a thorough knowledge of the region’s culture and connections with relevant community representatives, was the perfect person with whom to travel to there for the first time.
Since my visit, Napranum Shire Council staff have visited a couple of different museums in the Cairns CBD with me to give them an understanding of the different types of infrastructure and displays that can be set up. We have also undertaken research into funding opportunities, and are investigating ways to integrate relevant training in community.
Whilst in Weipa, Geoff also took me to the Cape York Collection, held at the Hibberd Library where he works as honorary curator. What a treat! And, what an amazing collection of cultural, technical and scientific material that provides an insight into the region’s diversity and history.
“Dressed to Impress” – a collaborative exhibition for Cairns Museum
As noted in my previous post, Michael Marendy’s textile training in June inspired everyone and got us focused on fashion. Apart from groups having a better understanding of how to manage, store and display textiles , one of the outcomes from his visit will be a small textile display, due to go on display early 2019. Representatives of Cairns Museum, Cairns and District Chinese Association, Mulgrave Settlers Museum and Babinda Museum have come together to start discussing which items they want to include, undertake some research and create an interpretation approach.
Since opening in 2017, Cairns Museum has been working tirelessly to produce a suite of exhibitions for their temporary gallery. This textile display, with a working title of “Dressed to Impress”, will be the first time the small museums of the Cairns region come together to produce a group show. Cairns Museum Manager, Suzanne Gibson, and I are also seeking to include works of some contemporary local designers including Grace Lillian Lee and Vivienne Francine to ensure there is some contrast between old and new. Stay tuned for more details.
MDO life in FNQ has again been busy over the last three months. I’ve travelled what feels like 1000s of kilometres and been privileged to see north Queensland’s diverse landscapes and intriguing cultural history. Great, too, has been the opportunity to work closely for the first time with communities in Burketown, Babinda and Millaa Millaa, and reconnect with colleagues and friends in Cairns’ museums and Torres Strait. Here are just a few details of projects I have been lucky enough to work on recently:
The Wild Irish Girl Display, Cooktown History Centre
I’ve always been impressed at the self sufficiency of the volunteers at the Cooktown History Centre. So when they asked me to help out with cataloguing training for the John Hay/Sam Elliot collection, which was donated to them just before John died, I was only too pleased to assist. As we worked our way through we discovered a fabulous collection of material from the Palmer River Goldfields. Handmade tools, Chinese pots, gold scales and opium pipes… these are just a few of the items that tell the story of the Wild Irish Girl Mine, a unique place in FNQ’s mining and social history. Follow this Wild Irish Girl Mine link for more information.
We also discussed displaying the material in the available space and how the group might set up the new area. Six months later, I received pictures of the new display. After purchasing some new cases and developing panels using their in-house style, the group have produced a fabulous display that mirrors and succeeds their intentions. Congratulations to a very dedicated group of people.
Burketown Visitor Centre CHG project
At the end of May, Ewen McPhee and I drove out to Burketown on the Albert River in far northwest Queensland to help out the local Shire Council and the Carpentaria Land Council with their collection as part of a CHG grant. Designed to help understand the collection and make it more accessible, the grant enabled us to spend a week with the group and help redevelop their displays and get them ready for opening. Along the way we got to spend time getting to know the community in more depth, learn about the Aboriginal and settler history, and become acquainted with the cultural artefacts and paintings that make up their collection. We made sure to enjoy the surrounding landscape and evening skies as well.
Cairns’ Museums Textile Training with Dr Michael Marendy
Museum volunteers in Cairns attended a week long textile preservation workshop in June, thanks to funding from Cairns Regional Council. Run with great care and passion by Dr Michael Marendy, participants were treated to his wealth of knowledge, attention to detail and ready humour as he ran applied training sessions. I was amazed at the sewing skills out there among the community, and painfully aware of my own needlework limitations! But Michael’s enthusiasm is infectious and, by the end of the week, I could see how beneficial site visits Mulgrave Settler Museum and CADCAI had been, and how inspiring it is to have access to a material specialist. Michael also delivered a delightful public lecture, leaving guests crying out for more stories from his experiences with textile treasures. The groups in Cairns are now working towards developing a small textile exhibition in Cairns Museum’s temporary gallery.
Gab Titui Cultural Centre: Butal Inu Ngapa Boey and the 2018 Art Awards
Ewen and I travelled up to Thursday Island in July to help the team at Gab Titui install two new exhibitions. The 2018 art awards were opened on Thursday 26 of July and we were honoured to work with a vast array of wonderful pieces. The new cultural exhibition, Butal Inu Ngapa Boey translates as ‘our luggers’ and examines the familial connections to the Torres Strait’s pearling history. Ewen has been advising on this project for the past year. Important to this project was the video recordings with different island representatives. The display also included commissioned artworks that celebrated the region’s pearling traditions and history. As usual, an exhibition opening at Gab Titui is accompanied by extraordinary dancing, this time from the Badu Island Dancers who performed lugger dances.
The Kjellberg Story: Millaa Millaa Museum’s first temporary exhibition
Last, but by no means least, Eacham Historical Society’s Millaa Millaa Museum developed and opened a new temporary exhibition to commemorate 100 years of noted Swedish migrant Ernst Kjellberg’s arrival in the district. Initially, Kjellberg worked closely with Mamu men to clear their land, and run a dairy farm. Then, between 1930 and the 1945 he and his family ran a health clinic on their property Beachview on the outskirts of Millaa Millaa. As knowledge of his abilities grew, people flocked to his clinic and lived in tents while they received holistic and manipulative therapy.
The production of this exhibition was no mean feat for this group of volunteers who live in this small town on the Atherton Tablelands. At least two of them are over 90 and many have been experiencing health complications. Nonetheless they were keen to participate and were gently guided by new volunteer curator, Stacee Hillyard who did a fantastic job. I was very fortunate to be able to enjoy their support and goodwill as I came in and made changes, and believe the process was as important as the outcome. Community enthusiasm for this story was strong, and became increasingly evident as we worked toward the opening. We had people offering to lend small collections of material. Volunteers partially reassembled the electric light bath for the display – perhaps one of the most unusual items I’ve come across for a while.
The exhibition was officially opened on July 28th by Councillor Anthony Ball. For a small town, it was a big event. Am amazing morning tea was provided by the CWA, and more than 50 people took part in what was the museums first temporary exhibition. Among the guests I even happened to meet a man who had worked with the light bath we had on display! Congratulations to the Millaa Millaa Museum group for their hard work and enthusiasm.
We might only be in March, but 2018 has already been busy up here in the Far North. Apart from attending a new exhibition opening in the temporary gallery at Cairns Museum, helping groups submit grant applications and planning for textile conservation workshops, here’s a quick overview of some of the FNQ MDO museum work since January:
Loudoun House Museum, Irvinebank
I visited Loudoun House Museum in Irvinebank in January and was overwhelmed by the work and changes instigated by the volunteers at the museum. They have done a fantastic job at implementing and adapting recommendations I made in an interpretation plan. The museum now has a dedicated John Moffat display in the original office and refreshed and exhibition spaces.
Plus, the group also found time to pull out some railway artefacts for the railway display in the Old Post Office Gallery in Atherton. Special mention, and farewell, to Ellen Barnes.
Railway Ready – War Ready and the Railways 1914-1918 travelling exhibition, Atherton
At the end of 2017, I started working with groups from the Atherton Tablelands to create a local component for the QM Railways 1914-1918 travelling exhibition. Apart from curating the project, I also stretched my graphic design skills to create text panels to accompany the photographs and objects.
Big thanks to Eacham Historical Society, Herberton Mining Museum, Loudoun House Museum, Mareeba Heritage Centre, Ravenshoe Visitor Information Centre and Queensland Railways for helping with image, information and objects. The exhibition opened in February and has since moved onto Douglas Shire Council offices in Mossman.
Collection gold: Croydon Miner 1887
At the end of last year, a Cairns resident requested help finding a suitable repository for an early newspaper from the goldfields which he thought might be important. After some research we discovered just how special it was – a first edition copy of the Croydon Miner 1887 printed on silk. No other institution has a copy of this newspaper, so it’s quite a treasure and its research value and historical importance is exceptional. A quick glance at the advertisements and articles reveal a window into 1880s Croydon and its goldfields during its heyday.
As the item is fragile and needs conservation, I wanted to find a place with the capacity and resources to ensure its longevity. I also needed to heed the donor’s wish that the item be kept in north Queensland, so I approached James Cook University’s Special Collection Librarian, Bronwyn McBurnie. Needless to say, Bronwyn was delighted to work with the donor and the newspaper has now been acquired into JCU’s collection. It will be preserved in memory of the donor’s late son. We hope to work with Croydon Shire Council to recreate a copy of the item that can go on display in Croydon’s heritage buildings later in the year.
75th anniversary of the Torres Strait Islander Light Infantry Battalion exhibition
Finally, I’ve just come back from Thursday Island where, with Ewen McPhee and the team at Gab Titui, we installed two exhibitions to mark the 75th anniversary of the Torres Strait Islander Light Infantry Battalion. One was a travelling photographic exhibition called Indigenous Australians at War by the Shrine of Remembrance in Victoria. It includes remarkable and candid images and stories that are an important part of our military history.
The other exhibition was curated by Gab Titui’s Exhibitions and Public Programmes Manager, Leitha Assan, with help from Vanessa Seekee OAM, curator at the Torres Strait Heritage Museum on Horn Island. Stories from the Torres Strait Light Infantry Battalion, the only Indigenous battalion in the Australian Army, remind us that at the time of their enlistment, these men did not receive equal pay, were not able to vote, nor were they recognised as Australian citizens. Despite this, 873 men enlisted – 36 were killed or died on active service.
As MDOs we have been liaising with Leitha over the last few months regarding the preparation of exhibition content and materials and then travelled up to help them install and prepare the spaces. This continues the strong link between the MDO program and Gab Titui. We were privileged to attend the opening, which featured traditional dancing – the Aeroplane Dancers and Charlie Company Sarpeye Dancers – and attend the dawn service, the anniversary march along the main street and listen to the speeches.
For those of you haven’t heard, Cairns Museum and has reopened. And it is FABULOUS!
I’m not going to pepper this post with a hundred pictures (why not visit or check the website to see it in all it’s glory), but I can’t resist sharing just a few.
Cairns School of Arts building, built in 1907, has been refurbished and modernised. You can’t help but notice the refreshed façade that now graces the corners of Lake and Shield Streets. The new annex provides space for additional galleries and a significant collections storage room, while the veranda encourages visitors to gaze out over the town and enjoy the Coral Sea breeze. Researchers can now visit the Cairns Historical Society during the wet season without sweating, and enjoy contemporary research facilities!
Inside the museum you’ll find four permanent galleries and a temporary space filled with objects and stories about people and place and living in the tropics. Take the lift to the top floor and work your way down the stairs. Explore old and contemporary Cairns, or find out about the old School of Arts collection. Interactives and multimedia bring some of the displays to life. And the shop in the entrance foyer entices with clever merchandising inspired by the collection – perfect for tourists and locals alike.
That’s not all that’s new. During the redevelopment process, the historical society and museum rebranded and worked tirelessly to create a suite of add ons like education, websites, Facebook and a heritage walk. In a win for Cairns, there are now four paid jobs at the museum (some part time) – a major achievement for a town that previously had only one. New volunteers are welcome and there are a sea of new faces taking advantage of their well managed volunteer program.
I might be a little bit biased, of course… but it really is worth a visit to see how a labour of love (and sweat and tears) has evolved to become a contemporary, dynamic and thoughtful museum. Congratulations to all at the Cairns Museum and Historical Society team – it’s great to see you open again!
Railways 1914-1918 is the latest travelling exhibition from The Workshops Rail Museum, Queensland Museum Network. It explores the role of railways at home and on the front and the pivotal role of rail in moving Australia’s military. It has been adapted from the original exhibition and includes nine large pull up banners and a purpose built crate/show case for travelling and displaying replica artefacts and ephemera.
Plans to display it in regional Queensland began in March this year when south east Queensland MDO Josh Tarrant undertook to develop a travelling schedule. FNQ’s MDO Jo Wills was keen to give far north Queensland’s communities the opportunity to host a QM travelling exhibition and agreed to help out.
Last week, Josh and Jo travelled west to Normanton to install the exhibition in it’s first venue – the sensational heritage listed Burns Philp Building which was constructed in 1884. Now used as the Visitor Information Centre, Library and for community markets and events, it was the perfect place to kick off the tour. The MDOs used this western journey as an opportunity to catch up with communities in Georgetown and Croydon along the way. They also spent some time at the small museum at Normanton Railway Station, home to the iconic Gulflander.
It’s rather fitting that the Gulflander will contribute to the exhibition’s journey east. After being on display for a month, the exhibition will travel to Croydon on the Gulflander, thanks to the generous support from the Officer in Charge, Ken Fairbairn. It will then travel onto Georgetown by road. Etheridge Shire’s TerrEstrial Centre at Georgetown will host the exhibition in September. From there the exhibition heads east to the Mareeba Heritage Centre in October before heading down to Cairns Botanic Gardens Visitor Information Centre in November. After a short break over the Christmas period, it will be on display in Atherton’s Post Office Gallery in February before making one last journey to Port Douglas in March.
Yesterday, Mulgrave Settlers Museum in Gordonvale opened a new exhibition called ‘Beetles, Grubs and other Bugs’. Developed to commemorate the 100th year of sugar research at nearby Meringa Research Station (part of the Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations) and highlight the importance of cane to the region’s identity, it featured the work of the station’s entomologists as they battled to help cane farmers overcome pests and diseases in the early 20th century.
Central to the exhibition are the display cases created by Edmund Jarvis between 1922 and 1932. A science communicator pioneer, Jarvis created educational cases to help farmers better understand and manage issues affecting their crops. He crafted the displays using specimens, hand drawn diagrams, typed labels and early black and white images and held information days at the station.
You might recall an earlier post from May 2015 outlining details of the cases at the time I was approached by staff at Meringa seeking advice on preservation and storage. Since then I contacted the Mulgrave Settlers Museum about acquiring the cases – there is a strong link between Gordonvale and Meringa, with the first research station being located on Thumm Street just near the present day museum. Thanks to a Regional Arts Development Grant (RADF) from Cairns Regional Council, the cases have also undergone conservation treatment and made ready for this new exhibition. Thanks to conservator Sue Valis at MTQ for her meticulous cleaning and attention to detail.
The RADF grant allowed the museum to purchase a large format scanner to digitise hundreds of images and glass plate negatives that were also part of the donation. These images also feature in the new exhibition, as do a number of other significant artefacts including a lantern used in breeding programs, injectors and sugar refractors (which help to measure sugar content in cane) as well as a microscope belonging to James Buzzacott (on loan from the Australian Industry Sugar Museum in Mourilyan).
Council support also meant that the museum could work with the MDO to create a new exhibition, install a new hanging system, reline cases and rearrange the displays to showcase the research they had undertaken into the cases and the work of Meringa. An exhibition development workshop was held early in the year to set out the parameters. Lead by Travis Teske, the volunteers collaborated with Meringa Station staff and each other to pull the project together. One built timber easels to display the cases, and all hands were on deck for the installation and rearrangement.
The exhibition is open for 6 months. The museum is located near the Mulgrave Mill at 60 Gordon Street, Gordonvale
Today, volunteers at Proserpine Museum opened the doors for business for the first time since Cyclone Debbie. With many local businesses still closed and undergoing repairs, this reopening is great news for Proserpine.
Volunteers report that the building held strong during the cyclone. Although a small of amount of water got into one of the displays, there was very little damage – most of their collection was raised off the floor and this helped it to stay safe. Volunteers held a working bee to remove wet carpet and received assistance from the army to clean up the front of the building.
This means that the museum can now focus on preparing for it’s annual book bonanza in May, an event that has been running for over 20 years. Money raised goes towards the cost of maintaining the museum.
Visit the Proserpine Museum website for more information.
As many museum followers know, Cairns is home to a nationally significant collection of Chinese artefacts known as the Lit Sung Goong temple collection. Cared for by the Heritage Group at Cairns and District Chinese Association Inc. (CADCAI), this collection tells the story of early migration and settlement, of business connections and acumen, religious practices and artistic skill and craftsmanship.
What many do not know, however, is that CADCAI is seeking support to build a new Chinese Cultural Centre. A new facility would support CADCAI’s vast array of activities, and be a place to preserve and display the Lit Sung Goong collection and explore Chinese-Australian history. Development plans and concepts are already underway, but there is still much to do before their vision can be realised.
Over the past two months, CADCAI volunteers have been working with Dr Jo Wills, MDO in Cairns, to develop display panels and banners that can be used in both temporary exhibitions and to promote CADCAI’s activities throughout the year. Following a successful RADF application to Cairns Regional Council, the group has undertaken exhibition concept development training with the MDO, text writing activities and worked with a local graphic designer. They are grateful to Cairns Historical Society and Museum for lending them showcases to display some of the collection.
Using the history of the temple, the Chinese history of Cairns and the preservation of the collection as a starting point, the banners, panels and object cases illustrate the exquisite beauty of this collection, and highlight the role played by Chinese settlers to the region. They also highlight the work that has already gone into preserving these items, and the passion of those involved. This background research and work with the collection has been so important for developing these exhibition materials. Follow this link to see a few of CADCAI’s short videos that feature the collection and volunteers.
For those based in Cairns, make sure you visit the updated CADCAI display on Grafton Street this Saturday as part of the Chinese New Year street festival and visit the festival website to find out what else is on. 恭喜發財 – Gong Xi Fa Cai – Happy Chinese New Year. 2017 is the Year of the Rooster!