Author Archives: Dr Melanie Piddocke
Recreational boating is an avidly pursued pastime in the tropical waters around Mackay, and this was as true 100 years ago as it is today. In 1914, local carpenter Henry Charles Rose completed his 22ft (6.7m) motor launch Eleanor and launched her at Cremorne. Rose had built two other boats – the Rosebud and Rosebud II – but it was the Eleanor, named after his mother who had died the previous year, that he kept for himself.
Eleanor did not have to wait long to show off her style. The Port Denison Sailing Club in Bowen announced an aquatic carnival would take place over Easter 1914, and the Mackay Regatta Club was well represented with 65 people making their way north by various watercraft. Little Eleanor was tasked with transporting the official time keeper for the event, and made the trip to Bowen in an impressive 15 hours. Eleanor placed second in her division, winning £1 in prize money, although “…in the opinion of the Mackay officials and the Bowen official, who accompanied the Eleanor, that she was really entitled to first place, the Regatta Club is officially writing the Bowen Club on the subject.” (Daily Mercury, 16 April 1914). Although the protest was carefully considered, it was resolved that it was not received in time and the placings stood. Eleanor nevertheless had a pleasant trip back to Mackay a few days later, overnighting at Lindeman Island on the way.
Henry Rose continued to enjoy his little craft around Mackay. Shortly after the excursion to Bowen, the Eleanor was again in the news. On the 18 May, 1914, the Daily Mercury reported “Quite a number of launches and auxiliaries were out yesterday. The Electron, Lassie, Swan, and Rob Roy went to Round Top, while the Eleanor went to Slade Rock. The Eleanor called in at Slade Point, and shipped a large “knee” to be utilised in the big motor launch being constructed by Messrs. J Fourro and J. Phillips. Fishing, oystering, and sea bathing were indulged in, and all the boatmen appeared to put in a good time, the weather outside being fine.” The following year the Eleanor returned again to Bowen for the now annual Easter regatta, but this time appeared as a spectator vessel only.
It was, however, following the devastating cyclone of 1918 that the Eleanor really came into her own. All vessels in the Pioneer River were sunk or grounded and the little Eleanor, found outside the police station in Brisbane Street, was the only vessel to survive in tact. She was quickly put to use in making contact with areas cut off by the flood, and in ferrying messages between the town and ships which started to arrive off Mackay in the weeks following the disaster. The Eleanor became a vital link between the north and south banks of the river, and with the outside world.
Henry Rose retained ownership of the Eleanor until his death in 1977, when she was sold to some fisherman. Some time later however, she was abandoned and neglected in Eimeo Creek. In 1987 she was retrieved by the Maritime Archaeological Association of Mackay and donated to the Mackay Museum. Eleanor can still be seen on display here, a significant part of the important maritime history of the region.
Significance. It’s a term we use frequently in museums. But what does it actually mean, and how can we apply it to our collections? Having just undertaken site visits to two collections for significance assessments, and with the Community Heritage Grants open to fund significance assessments, now seems like a good time to dip a toe in the sea of significance.
Understanding significance provides us with a framework to explain why an item or collection is important or valued. Through research and an application of a standard set of criteria, we are able to define the characteristics that make an object or collection significant without reference to personal interests. We can apply the principles of significance to managing our collections on an almost daily basis.
Significance 2.0 is the guiding document for understanding how to use significance. It explains the four primary criteria (historic; artistic or aesthetic; scientific or research; social or spiritual) and four comparative criteria (provenance; rarity or representativeness; condition or completeness; interpretive capacity).
I have recently conducted two site visits for significance assessments, at Greycliffe and Kilburnie Homesteads in the Banana Shire. These assessments have an added dimension as both buildings are on the state heritage register. The built heritage has therefore already been identified as significant, so how the collection relates to the building and allows it to be interpreted needs to be considered.
By applying the significance criteria to the collections at Greycliffe and Kilburnie Homesteads I am able to identify in what ways they are significant. Both have historic significance for their ability to demonstrate a pattern of life (particularly pastoralism, but the collection at Greycliffe also encompasses other industries important to the region, such as dairying and cotton growing). Perhaps unusually, both also have items of artistic or aesthetic significance. This is especially the case for Kilburnie, once the home of noted artist Ruby Campbell. Not only is the collection rich in her works, but also those of other artists she collected. And finally, both collections have considerable research significance, with a wealth of archives and photographs providing a fertile ground for potential researchers. As for the comparative criteria, the majority of both collections have good provenance, are in good condition, and have very high interpretive value, allowing their custodians to tell compelling stories about the history of their region.
While I undertake further research into these collections to provide their custodians with a comprehensive significance assessment, consider how you might be able to apply the criteria to your collection. If you have questions about significance, ask your local MDO – they will be happy to guide you!
On 26 August 1939 Queensland Premier William Forgan Smith officially opened Mackay’s new harbour. The construction had commenced in 1935 and was the largest infrastructure project undertaken in the region to date. But the journey to that point had been long and fraught with difficulty.
Mackay’s original port was situated in the Pioneer River and had been an official port since 1863. Aside from being the only means of importing goods and materials for the budding settlement, Mackay’s port quickly became vital for the rapidly developing sugar industry. The port had a problem, however. The river was shallow and had a large tidal range which restricted the entry of large vessels, and even small craft were left high and dry at low tide. This meant that bagged sugar had to be loaded on to small vessels in the river, which then had to wait for high tide to make their way out to larger ships moored off Flat Top Island (lying about 4 kilometers from the river mouth) and transfer the sugar across. Similarly, passengers would travel out to large steam ships waiting at Flat Top Island and be swung between vessels in canvas bags.
Over the years a number of solutions were proposed in order to provide deep water access to Mackay, but most were discounted due to impracticality or expense. In 1913 work was begun on the construction of a rail viaduct connecting Flat Top Island to the mainland, but after considerable expenditure in the preparation of infrastructure for the project, it was determined that the sandy bottom into which the foundations of the viaduct would be laid were too unstable and the project was abandoned in early 1914.
In 1927 James Love, a member of the Mackay Harbour Board, suggested the construction of two stone breakwalls leading out from the shore north of the river mouth to form a harbour. Love’s scheme had many points in its favour – by this time any improvements to the river were considered impractical, the harbour location was close to Mackay, rock for the walls could be easily obtained from nearby Mt Bassett, and it’s location allowed room for expansion in the future. But at over £800,000 it was extremely costly.
Love’s plan may have remained nothing more than that if Forgan Smith hadn’t been elected Premier of Queensland in 1932. Forgan Smith had served as Member for Mackay since 1915 and was committed to seeing a resolution to the city’s port woes and was a strong supporter of Love’s plan. In 1933 he negotiated a loan from the State Government of £1,000,000 plus an additional £250,000 grant in order to construct the harbour.
Work began in 1935 with the construction of road and rail links between Mt Bassett quarry and the harbour site. A Telpher crane was constructed for the project which was stabilized by two large sea anchors on either side and ran on rails to carry rock along the walls. A serious setback was encountered in early 1938 when wind and waves generated by a nearby cyclone breached the partially constructed walls causing the Telpher crane to collapse into the sea. Most of the crane was salvaged, repairs were made, and work continued. Then, weeks before the planned opening in July 1939, soundings revealed the harbour was still too shallow and extra time was required to allow additional dredging to take place.
On 26 August 1939 the Sydney Star of the Blue Star Line sailed into the new harbour, carrying dignitaries on board for the official opening ceremony. A few weeks later, the first shipment of sugar left the harbour.
As MDO for Central Queensland I recently collaborated with North Queensland Bulk Ports to create a display to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the opening of the harbour. NQBP’s archives hold a significant and beautiful collection of images detailing the construction of the harbour from 1935 to the opening in 1939, a selection of which I scanned for use in the final display. In their collection NQBP also have a number of significant items including souvenirs from the opening ceremony, an original programme from the day, contracts for the work and materials for the construction of the harbour, annual reports through the construction period, and artist’s impressions. Digitized images and text were displayed on a large fabric cube. This, together with some of the original items for the collection, formed part of the celebrations organised by NQBP over the weekend to mark the 80th anniversary of the harbour opening. Over 3000 people attended the event, demonstrating the important role the harbour has played in both the economic and social life of Mackay over the past 80 years.
It has been a long road for the volunteers at Pioneer Valley Museum since a leak during the rain event in February forced them to close and empty their museum (see Water damage at Pioneer Valley Museum). But they have tirelessly persisted, and today they will open their doors to the public for the first time.
The volunteers have approached their new display layout with a focus on telling significant regional stories. The result is a well-structured, informative, uncluttered and engaging display space. Every surface has been painstakingly cleaned, and each showcase has been relined using archival blue board and calico giving them a bright crisp look. New labels have been written and produced on foam core.
One of the challenges for the new display was to find a practical solution for the layout of the egg collection. Due to the fragile nature of the items we wanted to create a display that would minimise handling and allow the eggs to easily be transferred to storage if necessary without having to repack them. The solution – a box with two removable layers of foam to allow the eggs to sit clear of the box for display, then be recessed into the box by removing a layer of foam for storage. Each egg had its own foam nest cut for it. This design means the volunteers can also swap out different egg trays for display.
The volunteers at Pioneer Valley Museum have achieved a remarkable amount in a short space of time. They have packed down and stored their entire museum, negotiated cleaning and repairs to their damaged building, spent countless hours and elbow grease cleaning walls and relining showcases, and redesigned and redeveloped their displays. They are all probably too tired to enjoy their success at the moment, but I hope they have the opportunity to savour it as they welcome visitors to their wonderfully refreshed museum in the coming weeks.
While all eyes were on Townsville during the floods at the beginning of the year, the steady rain also occurring in the Mackay region was creating its own style of disaster at the Pioneer Valley Museum west of Mackay.
While the museum was closed over the Christmas/New Year period, the gutters were overwhelmed by the rain, which found its way down the inside of the walls and soaked across the carpet. Fortunately most objects escaped major damage but the volunteers came back to open their building in February to be greeted by a strong smell of mould and carpets that were somewhat furrier than usual.
At the time the damage was discovered, I was busy helping with flood recovery in Townsville, but on my return to Mackay I assisted the volunteers in setting up some damp textiles to dry and to liaise with Mackay Regional Council (who own the building) about what needed to be done. It was clear the entire carpet needed to be pulled up and replaced, as the water had spread over a large area and no amount of cleaning and drying would fully remedy the problem. Without complete replacement, mould and damp would become a recurring issue.
This left the volunteers with the mammoth task of packing down their entire display so that showcases could be moved around to allow removal of the damaged carpet and replacement with a new one. The small but dedicated group of volunteers accomplished this over a few very intense weeks, in time for the scheduled date for furniture removal and carpet replacement.
Last week Sue Valis from the Museum of Tropical Queensland and myself assisted the Pioneer Valley Museum volunteers with the next stage of their recovery. The volunteers have very wisely opted to turn their misfortune to advantage by taking the opportunity to reorganise and rethink their displays to allow some objects to be rested and new stories to be told. With the new carpet in place, I helped them plan a new layout, while Sue demonstrated how to cover archival blue board with calico to make attractive and safe bases for showcases. With many of the showcases previously lined with carpet, this is an effective way to not only enhance the appearance of the showcases but to improve the conditions in which the objects will be displayed.
While this was not a disaster on the scale of Townsville, the situation at the Pioneer Valley Museum is a timely reminder that a seemingly small incident can have long term effects on the operational capacity of museums, to say nothing of the strain they can place on volunteers and financial resources. Pioneer Valley Museum remains closed to visitors while they continue to put their museum back together, but they will open again before long with some beautifully refreshed displays of their significant collection.
Last month four museums in the Mackay region collaborated on an exhibition to mark the 100th anniversary of the cyclone which struck the region on January 20th 1918. The exhibition was valuable in not only gathering together information and objects to commemorate this devastating event, but also in acting as a timely reminder of our continued vulnerability to severe weather events.
The cyclone, considered a category 4 in today’s system, caused widespread devastation from Mackay and down the coast as far as Yeppoon and Rockhampton. It was responsible for substantial losses in the sugar and beef industries, and claimed 30 lives in Mackay. Mackay Museum, Greenmount Homestead, Pioneer Valley Museum, and Sarina District Historical Centre collaborated with the assistance of Mackay Regional Council and the MDO programme to gather together information, photographs and objects to create “In the Path of the Storm”. By combining in this way to produce the exhibition, the museums were able to present a region wide interpretation of the event and its impacts.
By the very nature of the event the museums were commemorating, objects were going to be hard to come by. But the museums demonstrated what treasure troves community collections can be. Greenmount Homestead contributed a diary kept by Albert Cook at the time of the cyclone as well as an impressive print by Tom Roberts which had been water damaged at the homestead during the cyclone, and which still bore the watermarks. Mackay Museum contributed a model of the brave little Eleanor, the only vessel to survive the cyclone intact and which was crucial in the recovery efforts in the days following the cyclone, when Mackay was completely isolated from the rest of the world. The original vessel is on display at the Mackay Museum. On loan to Mackay Museum from the Queensland Museum collections were the twisted remains of the Brinawarr, a steamship which broke free from its moorings during the cyclone and crashed into the bridge over the Pioneer River, severing communications between north and south Mackay. The remains of the Brinawarr were only rediscovered during the construction of a new bridge in 2009.
The exhibition was held in the Jubilee Community Centre and was the first major exhibition in this new space created from the former library. Community response to the exhibition has been enthusiastic, with many visitors engaging through opportunities to tell their own family’s story of the cyclone. One hundred years on, memories of the event passed down are still painful and vivid.
The exhibition banners have now left the Jubilee Community Centre and begun a tour of the region, first stop Melba House at Marian. So keep a weather eye for the banners coming to a venue near you!
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.
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
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.