Author Archives: Josh Tarrant

Schools out…surf’s up!

 

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From cult to culture: these early boards are a far cry from the mass produced polyurethane and resin versions of today.

For me, the bulk of the subject matter of Surf World is completely foreign. Having grown up in country NSW, I know little about the surf. Sharks concern me-  if I’m swimming at the beach, I know that I’m on their turf. Despite our home being girt by sea, I really haven’t made the most of this particular part of the Australian landscape. So  I didn’t know what I would make of the exhibition and objects at Surf World.

 

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Displays at Surf World.

As you might expect, surfboards visually dominate a lot of the space, brightening it with a range of glossy kaleidoscopic colours that would equally be at home in the Great Barrier Reef, or in a psychedelic flashback from the 60’s. For many of the surfing enthusiast visitors, the opportunity to see the boards used by a range of surfing pioneers and legends is the real drawcard. It’s an opportunity to see up close where surfing has come from, and the subtleties of design that make a board perform. I’m told that surfers just can’t help themselves and regularly touch the objects on display, gently tracing the rail lines with their fingers , sensing the curvature of the board with their palms and obtaining all sorts of new information about the objects through their tactile senses. And although signs at the entry to the exhibition space request that you refrain from touching, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the staff aren’t secretly pleased at just how engaged and appreciative of the collection the visitors to Surf World are.

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Not all boards: a temporary exhibition of ukuleles.

But it’s not all about the boards. The permanent exhibitions chronicle the growth of surfing culture in both Australia and on the Gold coast. It is largely arranged chronologically by period in rows that guide you back and forth across the space, almost like a piece of flotsam being moved on the shoreline by rolling waves. The exhibitions are complimented with interludes of other surf culture displays, such as filmmaking, music, fashion, photography, ephemera and art. You really don’t need to be a surfer to appreciate the history and material culture that have embedded this activity firmly in our national identity.

 

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One of a kind: a judges parka from the  first World Surfboard titles held in Sydney 1964. This one has been signed by the competitors.

Surfing has been described as being as much a lifestyle as it is a sport. It’s not until you see the way that the volunteer staff, largely surfers themselves, engage with both the museum and the visitors that you get a true sense of what that means. I listened with fascination to a spontaneous interchange between staff and a young tourist hailing from the Basque country. With surfing as their common ground, their conversation quickly snowballed into a series of anecdotes about their shared surfing fraternity, peppered with jargon and exotic sounding place names that won’t ever make it onto the common tourist maps (hopefully). I was treated to an interpretation of some of the highlights of the collection by a passionate ex board shaper, who pointed out the craftsmanship of board design, the physics of surfing, as well as the impacts of technology on the industry. It would be tempting to describe Surf World as a special interest museum, but I can see it embodies more community museum values than we might initially give it credit for.

 

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Surfing origins: the development of skateboards has been credited to surfers wanting to have the feeling of catching a wave when the surf was flat.

So, as I pointed out earlier, by the end of the visit I was swimming in the subject. My newfound guide friend’s enthusiastic accounts of the feeling of freedom found in the waves was so infectious that I found myself paused longingly in front of a board on the “for sale” rack in the gift shop as I left. Maybe there’s something in this surfing thing after all….

 

The only good typewriter is a provenanced typewriter…

It’s probably no secret that typewriters in museum collections generally aren’t my favourite kind of object. There are a few reasons for that, all based on principles of good museological practice. Let me explain…

As I travel the regions I come across many typewriters. They seem to be breeding in collection stores and back sheds. At first there is one and then another. And then another couple that turn up after that. Before you know it they have taken over, like the seagulls in Hitchcock’s movie “The Birds”. If sparrows or starlings are considered to be the rats of the sky, I wonder what this make the venerable museum typewriter?

A proliferance of typewriters in regional museums isn’t necessarily a reason not to include them in a collection. The problem is that many of the typewriters I come across in collections have little or no known provenance. We don’t know who donated them, if they are associated with any particular event, who used them, or even where they came from. As far as being able to use them to illustrate important or interesting local stories, often they aren’t great examples.

Typical typewriter breeding habitat. Note the typewriters lurking under the card index accompanied by their close relative, the adding machine

Typical typewriter breeding habitat. Note the typewriters lurking under the card index accompanied by their close relative, the adding machine

Aside from that, they are big and heavy. Even the “compact” versions are more than capable of wrenching a shoulder or breaking a toe should you decide to tangle with them. In terms of both storage and display, they occupy a significant amount of real estate that could be dedicated to more significant objects. If you have any more than two or three typewriters that you know nothing about, and are concerned about your storage space not having room left for the town survey plans or Mayoral chains, I’m sure you know what I would be putting up high on the deacessioning priority list.

There does seem to be a couple of standard justifications that I hear for having a glut of mystery typewriters in the collection. One is that there are plans afoot to develop a display on the development of typewriters through the ages, from past to present. However, few of the museums with such aspirations consider themselves museums of technology. They are museums that aim to tell the stories of their particular community, not a worldwide perspective on technological advances. Such stories are really out of the context and scope of the museum.

Another reason I hear is that children really enjoy using (read: playing with) them. The “a-ha” factor, where the child draws a connection between the typewriter and the computer, or an understanding the rationale behind the QWERTY keyboard layout* is often cited as being justification for their inclusion. I’m sure that there are children who make the connection and are enlightened by those facts, but I’m not quite convinced that these are the best lessons we have to offer.

We have been seduced by their quaint branding and maker’s marks, often with those nostalgic golden cursive scripts transferred onto a black wrinkle paint finish. Their open construction and visible mechanisms capture our imagination, and test our cognitive ability to predict what will happen inside when we press the button marked with the letter “a”. They are a far cry from our sleek, ergonomically designed smartphones or tablet computers, and we seem to love them for it. Perhaps a little more than is healthy.  Secretly I think there are more than a few others who think these intricate machines might look delightful parted out and turned into artworks, kitsch ornaments or steampunk jewellery. In either case, we seem to find it hard to let them go.

Now, before you lynch me for crucifying this poor, defenceless, much maligned device I need to state that it is possible for me to appreciate the typewriter in a museum context. In fact, it has been one of fantastic typewriter that prompted me to write this blog.

Oliver typewriter at Dayboro Historical Society Museum

Oliver typewriter at Dayboro Historical Society Museum

Recently I enjoyed a visit to the Dayboro Historical Society, and came across this little green beauty. It is an “Oliver” brand- possibly a model 3- that was manufactured in the USA between the 1890’s to late 1920’s. In this particular configuration, the u-shaped type bars that impress the letters onto paper swing down from above, rather than from the front of the machine to back. It’s certainly not like your average Remington.

But it isn’t just the unusual “down strike” format, the age, or the fact that it wasn’t black with pretty writing that I find this particular typewriter interesting and valuable. It was because it was used by David Edgar Evans, a local resident and newspaper correspondent, during the 1930s’. I’m told that Evans would type up his regional reports on this machine before forwarding it through to the Courier Mail for publishing. Unlike a multitude of unprovenanced typewriters sitting on shelves in our museums, its importance doesn’t necessarily lie in it’s ranking in the evolution of the printed word. The significance of this particular item lies in the way that it illustrates how the Dayboro community stayed connected with the rest of Queensland, and the importance of the region in Queensland daily life. It speaks of the means and importance of communication within our state. Through the documents it helped produce,  many years on we know about the issues and events of the time that Queenslanders of the time valued and found important.

This particular typewriter would have played a large part in the recording of many incidents, both great and small: social gatherings, sporting events, births, deaths and marriages. One Dayboro local recalled that “you could barely sneeze around here without it being written up in the paper”. This is one of many typewriters that would have been used to document the very articles that today we use in our research. The Dayboro Historical Society certainly understand the most important aspect of the history of this object.

So perhaps it’s not actually the typewriter that turns my gaze glassy when I encounter them. Maybe I just need to hear more about the unique stories and reasons our communities value them. Do you have a typewriter in your collection with a unique local story? I’d love to hear all about it!

*The QWERTY layout is said to have been designed in order to slow typists words per minute down count down enough so that the machine didn’t jam

Scenic Rim Story Skills

Remember the connection between a pencil and cassette tape? Chances are a younger audience won’t. Interpetation and labels share the important stories. “[you need to read what is on the cassette]” image courtesy RHiNO Neal (via Flickr)

Remember the connection between a pencil and cassette tape? Chances are a younger audience won’t. Interpretation and labels share the important stories. Image courtesy RHiNO Neal (via Flickr)

In this age one of the challenges many community museums face is attracting new visitors. A wide range of activities such as sports, theme parks, shopping or community service all compete for potential visitors’ time and attention. Compounding this effect, people’s understanding of our collections and their meaning is diminishing. The items which were once commonplace in everyday life are now seen by many as unknown “things”, with little relevance to their understanding of the world.
And to be fair to the visitor, sometimes we don’t do the best job of helping them to understand what they are seeing and why (we think) it matters. Sometimes we simply leave them alone with these unknown, uninterpreted objects to try to make sense of what it all means. Perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised when it becomes all too hard and they don’t bother to visit. With this situation at hand, the need to produce quality exhibitions with engaging stories to make sense of our collections has never been more important.

Volunteers from The Rathdowney Museum, Museum of Australian Military Intelligence, Templin Museum, Beaudesert Historical Society, Tamborine Mountain Historical Village with their finished interpretative panel exercise.

Volunteers from The Rathdowney Museum, Museum of Australian Military Intelligence, Templin Museum, Beaudesert Historical Society, Tamborine Mountain Historical Village with their finished interpretative panel exercise.

With these challenges in mind, volunteers from Scenic Rim museums gathered recently at Rathdowney for an exhibition development and label production workshop. During the day, the groups explored the topics of exhibition components, concept development, structuring narrative, writing, and production methods. The afternoon saw a practical session, focusing on making simple yet professional foam core labels using a number of different techniques. After an enthusiastic afternoon brandishing Stanley knives, steel rulers and spray adhesive, the participants were well equipped with the background knowledge and skills needed to produce their own exhibition panels in-house. I can’t wait to see how they will use these skills to tell the fascinating stories from their region!

The Workshop was funded by the Scenic Rim Regional Council and Arts Queensland RADF Fund. The Regional Arts Development Fund is a Queensland Government through Arts Queensland and Scenic Rim Regional Council partnership to support local arts and culture. If you would like to host a similar workshop for your museum, please contact the Museum Development Officer for your region.

“Black Diggers”: Scenic Rim Aboriginal Soldiers

Mary Geary in her Land Army uniform, c. 1943. Ruth James & Geary family collection

Mary Geary in her Land Army uniform, c. 1943. Ruth James & Geary family collection

The ANZAC Centenary has provided a stimulus to reflect on impact of war on communities. The emotional distance created by the passage of 100 years since the outbreak of the First World War has resulted in an interesting dynamic for the exploration of the past. Generationally, it has distanced many from the raw and deeply upsetting immediate personal impacts of the war. In turn, it also appears to have created an environment where the highly political, patriotic and emotionally charged rhetoric of yesterday has decayed, allowing the reconsideration of our current perspectives on the past. This setting has been conducive to the acknowledgement of previously untold or marginalized aspects of our war history.

The remembrance of Aboriginal Soldiers is one such “forgotten” story and the focus of the new exhibition “Black Diggers”. Produced by the Museum Development Office of South East Queensland for the Scenic Rim Council, it focuses on Aboriginal service people connected with the Scenic Rim region throughout a range of conflicts.

Trooper Les Yuke, c. 1943 Yugembah Museum Collection

Trooper Les Yuke, c. 1943
Yugembah Museum Collection

The exhibition takes the form of a compilation of stories and images shared by community members about serving family members and their own experiences at home during the war years. The decision by community members to share their stories with the broader community in remembrance of their soldiers has been a moving and humbling experience, and one that will be greatly appreciated by all.

The historical component of the exhibition shares the gallery space with a range of artworks inspired by the topic created by the Munanjali Artist group and Kim Williams.

As a whole, the evocative and powerful nature of these first person recollections, images and artworks certainly makes for interesting viewing. However it is hoped that the exhibition provides a conceptual space or starting point for future remembrance, storytelling and sharing within its communities that endures beyond July.

Private James Page, c.1943 Page Family Collection

Private James Page, c.1943
Page Family Collection

“Black Diggers” will be on display at The Centre, Beaudesert from the 5th of June to the 15th of July 2015.

 For more information, visit

http://www.liveatthecentre.com.au/War-Stories-and-our-Town-pg29598.html

http://www.liveatthecentre.com.au/Exhibitions-Black-Diggers-pg28330.html

ANZAC: a day in the life of…

With the Anzac Centenary Commemorations well under way, many organisations are working towards projects remembering their community’s contributions and experiences of the Great War. One such project

ANZAC: A day in the life of opening night

ANZAC: A day in the life of opening night

is the exhibition ANZAC: a day in the life of…The exhibition is a collaborative work by the Museum Development Office of South East Queensland, in partnership with the Scenic Rim Regional Council and Museums of the Scenic Rim Heritage Network. It is also part of a year-long program of exhibitions and activities focused on the War years in the Scenic Rim.

The exhibition aims to explore some of the stories of local identities associated with the Great War. With phenomenal enlistment and casualty figures for the region, it could only

Major Bertram Charles Bell DSO DSC display and uniform

Major Bertram Charles Bell DSO DSC display and uniform

ever examine a small cross section of some of the regions soldiers, pilots and nurses who served during the period. Amongst those featured were Corporal Bernard “Barney” Gordon VC MM, Corporal John “Jack” Evan Bartle MM DCM, Major Bertram Charles Bell DSO DSC, Private Charles Chesworth Burgess, Private Michael James Enright, Nurse Nita Selwyn-Smith, and Pastor Christian Seybold. It also provided a challenging look at some of the less prominent aspects and personalities of the regions WW1 history, such as

residents of German heritage, and those injured or incapacitated by their experiences at war.

Seybold’s Identification photograph from the Holdsworthy Internment camp, c. 1916. National Archives of Australia NAA: D3597, 4218

Seybold’s Identification photograph from the Holdsworthy Internment camp, c. 1916.
National Archives of Australia NAA: D3597, 4218

The Scenic Rim region has had a large population of German and Prussian settlers, with quite a number of Lutheran followers. With a rise in anti-German sentiment after the outbreak of war, there were a number of incidents involving those of German descent. One such story was that of the arrest of Dugandan Pastor Christian Seybold who was later interned at the Holdsworthy internment camp in NSW and deported back to Germany. Seybold was accused of preaching pro-German sympathies to his congregation, allegedly encouraging them to pray for the success of the German army and decorating his church in black after the success of an allied battle. It is unclear if these claims were ever substantiated officially, or were the effects of overzealous patriotism tinged with xenophobia.

Charles Chesworth Burgesses’ cave home and corn grinder. Unknown date. Bright family collection

Charles Chesworth Burgesses’ cave home and corn grinder. Unknown date.
Bright family collection

Another fascinating character affected by the war was returned soldier Private Charles Chesworth Burgess. Suffering from shellshock and other undefined physiological trauma caused by a severe gunshot wound to the head, Burgess returned home only to be denied assistance in resettling and treatment. He took up residence in a series of caves on his property, living a simple subsistence lifestyle and growing his own vegetarian food. He prescribed to principles of nonviolence as promoted by The House of David, an American religious movement, and grew his hair and beard long. His experiences at war and on return undoubtedly distanced him from his home community.

At the opening last Friday a fantastic evening of entertainment was held, with two-up games (for matchstick stakes, of course!) and good old fashioned sing song of period tunes, reminiscent of the patriotic balls of the day. Anzac: A day in the life of… will be on display at The Centre, Beaudesert, until the 27th of May 2015. An abbreviated satellite version will also be on display at the Boonah Cultural Centre.

A Golden Opportunity for Gold Coast Community Museums

Recently, members of the Gold Coast Heritage Voice network were treated to a behind the Scenes tour of both the John Oxley Library, and the Southbank campus of the Queensland Museum.

Heritage Voice members and Rachel Spano at the SLQ Conservation Lab

Heritage Voice members and Rachel Spano at the SLQ Conservation Lab

Brian Randall , Chrissi Theodosiou and the staff at SLQ were generous enough to retrieve a range of books, posters, maps, photographs, and ephemera all specifically related to the Gold Coast region from their collection stores for the group to view.

Later, Reuben Hillier showed the group through the library repository where the sheer magnitude of the collection and the challenges of providing for an ever-growing collection became apparent. The careful storage and order is undoubtedly a key factor in the JOL being able to respond so quickly to collection viewing requests- largely within the hour!

Rachel Spano greeted us at the SLQ conservation lab, where a number of specialist conservators were at work on fragile paper based objects. The lab has a range of specialist equipment at hand, including some fanciful looking gilding and embossing tools. There was an interesting conversation about the principles behind the appropriate choice of conservation or restoration in a library context, which provided some interesting perspectives compared to a museum standpoint.

At the Museum, Nicholas Hadnutt treated the group to an in-depth examination of the Social History collection stores and the treasures that it holds. While some elements of the collection elicited nostalgic reactions and others confirmed a long history of collecting, all asserted the important role of Queensland Museum as responsible custodians of significant Queensland histories.

Sue from the Kirra Hill Heritage Group get the all clear!

Sue from the Kirra Hill Heritage Group gets the all clear from conservation!

A visit to the conservation lab provided an eye-opening experience, with the opportunity to see the painstakingly precise nature and results of conservation work. Textiles Conservator Dr Michael Marendy shared some simple, yet effective techniques for preserving costumes, while Jenny Blakely and Caroline O’Rorke showcased some current ANZAC related objects being treated.

The visit was facilitated by the Museum Development Office of South East Queensland, Dr Kevin Rains and Jane Austen at Gold Coast City Council, Nick Hadnutt and Jenny Blakely at Queensland Museum Southbank, and Anne Scheu at the State Library of Queensland. A big Thank you to all!

Racing on the River: Tambo backs 150 years of winners!

Trial starts, Tambo c.1890 Image courtesy of Charmaine Bailey

Trial starts, Tambo c.1890
Image courtesy of Charmaine Bailey

Keen punters from Western Queensland and beyond gathered in Tambo this year for a very special race meet to mark 150 years of horse racing. In the long history of Queensland racing, Tambo lays claim to the earliest organised race day west of the Great Dividing Range.

With horses being the most common form of transport at the time, it is no surprise that the first organised horse races were held in the district on the 20th and 21st of July 1864, barely one year after the gazetting of the township. No doubt fuelled by community spirit and the posturing of both riders and breeders, the first race was hosted by Henry L. Harden, owner of Northampton Downs station. The event was staged under the name of the Great Western Downs Race Meeting and saw 4 races each day, with 21 horses entered by 14 owners. Prizes included a number of silver trophies, silver spurs, and around 54 sovereigns prize money- not a small sum for the time!

Museum Development Officer Josh Tarrant,  Blackall Tambo Regional Council  Deputy Mayor Cr. Richelle Johnson and The Hon. Federal Minister for Agriculture Barnaby Joyce at the opening of Racing on the River.

MDO Josh Tarrant, Blackall Tambo Regional Council Deputy Mayor Cr. Richelle Johnson and The Hon. Federal Minister for Agriculture Barnaby Joyce at the opening of Racing on the River. Image courtesy of Tambo & District Race Club

To help celebrate the event, the Central Queensland MDO worked with the Tambo & District Race Club to develop and produce Racing on the River, a travelling exhibition exploring the history of racing in the district.

An exciting discovery was made during the exhibition development: the location of the first racing trophy, “The Northampton Downs Cup”. With community assistance, this holy grail of Tambo Racing history was traced back to a private collector in Toowoomba. Mrs Diana Mayall was kind enough to loan the precious piece of history for part of the exhibition.

The exhibition will travel to a number of venues in the Blackall Tambo Region throughout 2014. This project was supported by funding from the Regional Arts Development Fund through Arts Queensland and Blackall Tambo Regional Council partnering to support local arts and culture.