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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!
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.
As summer rapidly approaches, the risk of damaging storms and bush fires greatly increase. So now is the time to ensure your organisation is disaster ready.
Check your buildings for any potential problems externally such as blocked gutters, damaged drains and roofing. Also check for possible risks internally such sources of moisture including damaged air conditioning and water pipes, areas of poor air circulation, crowded, poorly packed shelves etc. A large mould outbreak or insect infestation are also disasters !
Do you have a disaster preparedness plan?
If you don’t, now is the time to develop one. If you are unsure how to proceed, you can receive assistance from your local Museum Development Officer or contact the Australian Institute of Conservation of Cultural Materials (AICCM) https://aiccm.org.au/disaster
The following websites may also be helpful:
- Be Prepared: Guidelines for Small Museums for writing a disaster preparedness plan (an oldie but a goody): https://aiccm.org.au/sites/default/files/docs/CAN_resources2014/beprepared.pdf
- Museums & Galleries of NSW: How to develop a disaster plan: http://mgnsw.org.au/media/uploads/files/How_to_develop_a_disaster_plan.pdf
- State Library of Queensland: Salvaging damaged collections (includes a disaster plan template): http://www.slq.qld.gov.au/resources/preserving-collections/salvage_damaged_collections
- Q-Dis: The Queensland Disaster Information Network (Q-DIS) is a group for sharing information on disaster preparedness and planning for heritage and cultural collections in Queensland: http://manexus.ning.com/group/qdis
- Queensland State Archives – Disaster planning and recovery: http://www.archives.qld.gov.au/Recordkeeping/Disaster/Pages/Default.aspx
If you already have a disaster preparedness plan make sure it is current.
It is important to review your plan on an annual basis and update it as needed. Listed below are some areas that require regular review:
- Significant items:
- Check the list of high priority collection items. These are the objects that will be retrieved first in a disaster situation. These normally include unique and/or historically significant items.
- Have there been any new acquisitions or donations that need to be added? Have you deaccessioned any items currently on the list ?
- Are collection items still in the same locations or have they been moved? Update location details and floor plans. It is very important to be able to quickly locate significant collections for quick retrieval. Many organisations mark the shelving where high priority objects are located to assist in the location process.
- The disaster team:
- Check phone numbers for the disaster team are current.
- Are people still willing and able to participate? If not, it is time to recruit new volunteers.
- Who will lead the team?
- Ensure all team members are familiar with the Disaster Plan and the salvage procedures for the collections.
- Extra assistance:
- If you require external assistance and have made arrangements in the past (e.g. priority access to the local cold storage facility to freeze water damaged collections), check that these arrangements are still possible. A written agreement may be helpful.
- Organise new arrangements if needed.
- Disaster kits:
- Carry out an inventory on your disaster kits and restock if necessary. Ensure the kits are stocked with materials and equipment appropriate to your greatest disaster risks (e.g. flooding or water leaks).
- Disaster training
- Organise training on use of the disaster plan and salvage procedures for members of the disaster team. Ideally this should be done annually.
- If you require assistance with training, please contact your local Museum Development Officer or AICCM.
So as the old saying goes “forewarned is forearmed”. Fingers crossed this summer will be disaster free and your disaster plans remain untested!
Earlier this month I was lucky enough to travel to Muttaburra to deliver some workshops. Although a (very) small town, Muttaburra boasts two museums – the Dr Arratta Memorial Museum and Cassimatis Store and Cottage – which are managed by a small but dedicated team of volunteers. Keen to learn about how best to care for and interpret their collections, we devised a series of four workshops covering collection policies, interpretation panels, cataloguing, and object labelling.
While we all may know what is exciting and unusual about our own collections, it is worth giving some thought to how we share this with our visitors to make sure we’re providing the best possible experience of what our collections have to offer. During our workshop on interpretation panels, the Muttaburra volunteers thought and talked about how to plan exhibitions and displays (and what’s the difference between the two!), how best to interpret objects to make them accessible and interesting for visitors, and the nuts and bolts of what makes good interpretation panels. Thinking and talking is good, but doing is even better, so the volunteers soon got stuck into making their own interpretation panels. Now armed with the tools of the trade, I’m looking forward to seeing what they do with their new skills!
Writing a Collection Policy may not sound like the most exciting aspect of museum life, but it is really the most important document in helping you manage your collection well. It helps you clearly define all the main aspects of managing your collection, including how you will collect objects, how you will document them, how you will care for them, as well as tackling some of the more tricky issues of deaccessioning and ethical considerations. With two very different collections to manage, some thought had to be given to how to structure the collection policy to best suit their situation, but very quickly the volunteers worked together to painlessly produce a document which will be their first port of call in all important decision making processes.
Another hallmark of a well managed collection is good documentation, but with backlogs common to all museums, it often gets put in the too hard basket. We spent some time in Muttaburra looking at the processes for accessioning items into the collection, followed by the more detailed work of cataloguing. While some useful work has been done in the past at the Hospital Museum, we had to spend some time trying to establish if previous location systems were still practical, and devising new ones for the Cassimatis Store and Cottage. As always, practice makes perfect so getting their own electronic catalogue started was an important component to the workshop.
A good catalogue is of little use if you can’t identify your objects, so applying accession labels to objects was our last topic. Good object labelling, combined with good documentation, is also another weapon in the museum arsenal when confronted with a disaster. There are several options for doing this safely and unobtrusively dependent on the materials of each object, so the volunteers were introduced to a range of techniques. I expect that soon everything that isn’t nailed down will have a number attached to it!
The workshops were funded by the Regional Arts Development Fund through Barcaldine Regional Council. Thanks to the volunteers for being such wonderful hosts and willing students, and also to the volunteers from the Aramac Tramway Museum who made the trip to Muttaburra to take part. It’s great to see small museums and communities working together. I’m looking forward to seeing more of your new skills in action.
North Queensland Museum Development Officer, Ewen McPhee, has continued to work with the Norfolk Island Museum on a project detailing the material culture from Pitcairn Island.
With the permanent population on Pitcairn Island decreasing, the Norfolk Island Museum decided to start documenting the material culture that is held in the Pitcairn Island communities on Norfolk Island and in New Zealand (Auckland and Wellington). The Norfolk Island Museum was also interested in looking at collections that were held in other museums to ensure their own collection policy, research and interpretation planning was well informed and appropriate.
Janelle Blucher,Team Leader of Heritage Management, at the Norfolk Island Museum applied to the Pacific Development and Conservation Trust for funding to undertake this project. This funding was successful and in February 2016, Ewen joined Janelle on Norfolk Island to start the project.
Initially the aim was to try and identify objects that arrived on Norfolk Island in 1856 when the entire population of Pitcairn Island moved to Norfolk Island. This trip was undertaken on the vessel Morayshire and has been well documented in historical accounts. Janelle and Ewen were particularly interested to find out which objects the Pitcairn Islanders deemed important enough to bring with them on this initial voyage from Pitcairn Island.
Community recording days were held at the Norfolk Island Museum where people were encouraged to bring in their objects and retell their family histories and stories. Janelle and Ewen developed a standard recording sheet that in time will inform a database of community collections that will be maintained by the museum.
The response on Norfolk Island was very positive with Pitcairn Island descendants and other members of the community, including collectors, bringing in their objects to the Museum. Janelle and Ewen were able to photograph, record and document information about the families and the objects over a number of days. They were also invited into private homes where they viewed many larger items such as Boston whalers rocking chairs, photograph albums, paintings and souvenirs. Objects that Norfolk Island community members brought into the museum included yollo stones, baskets, hats, wooden carvings, a signed cricket bat, painted Hatti leaves, photographs, letters, bibles, turtle shell hair combs, and dolls.
Ewen and Janelle then traveled to New Zealand to the cities of Auckland and Wellington where they continued the community recording. In Auckland they were shown contemporary weaving of baskets, hats and mobile phone covers, along with tapa and print making items. More yollo stones appeared, along with a whalebone picker used to thatch house roofs with, wooden souvenir boxes, Hattie leaves, painted coconuts, woven fans, baskets and a top hat. Ewen and Janelle also visited the Auckland Museum where they were shown the collection of over 11000 stone tools that were acquired by the Museum. All of these items, held in the archaeology collection, pre date the arrival of the HMS Bounty on Pitcairn Island but nevertheless add to the body of knowledge surrounding the occupation of Pitcairn Island. In Wellington, Janelle and Ewen made contact with Pitcairn Islanders and their descendants as well as visiting the Alexander Turnbull Library and Te Papa Museum to view their Pitcairn Island collections.
Possibly one of the most prized objects brought out from Pitcairn since 1856 is made from stone, a vesicular or aerated basalt stone, fashioned into a functional Polynesian style domestic item known as a ‘yollo’ stone or a food grater. Measuring approximately thirty by twenty centimetres this rectangular shaped stone is scored across its surface and used to grate or ‘yollo’ breadfruit, banana and yams. This food preparation tool made from Pitcairn Island’s basalt is still used by some, and is highly valued by island families on Norfolk and also by Pitcairn families now living in New Zealand.
The Te Papa collection revealed an exquisite whalebone tapa beater, a wooden candle holder with an inscription of the Bounty story, painted clam shells, a wooden magic box, contemporary tapa, and other souvenir trade items.
Also in Wellington, Janelle and Ewen met with the donor of a collection of glass plate negatives taken in 1928 and now in the Alexander Turnbull library. These photographs clearly show what life was like on Pitcairn Island in 1928 and are an important snapshot in time for further family history and documentary work. The Library also contained an 1814 account by Royal Navy Lieutenant Willis on approaching Pitcairn Island complete with a narrative and paintings. Other objects included newspaper cuttings, photographs, and souvenirs.
Janelle and her team at the Norfolk Island Museum are continuing to collect information and developing the database. The Norfolk Island Museum facebook page has been used to connect with the Pitcairn community and shows more photographs from the project.
The early hours of Saturday July 18th will mark the first anniversary of the fire which claimed the Waltzing Matilda Centre in Winton. It has been a long hard road for the volunteers of the Winton District Historical Society so it is timely to reflect on the enormous amount they have achieved since the devastating impact of the fire. Previous blogs have detailed the remarkable results achieved by conservators on a number of significant objects (Winton Fire response – Waltzing Matilda Centre, Winton Fire Response – the next phase of recovery, Phoenix objects from Winton, The conservation of a fire damaged print), but the work hasn’t stopped there.
Since March 21st the volunteers have opened those areas of the complex unaffected by the fire on a daily basis, and have welcomed over 1800 visitors. Although displays in the main Waltzing Matilda Centre were impacted by the fire, there’s still plenty for visitors to see in the museum complex with a fascinating range of cultural and natural history objects from the region on display. Visitors can also see objects salvaged from the fire and the ongoing work of volunteers in conserving them.
The Waltzing Matilda Story, which previously formed part of the Billabong Show in the Centre, was saved from the fire and can be viewed in the Sarah Riley Theatre, which has also played host to a variety of community activities since the fire, including Waltzing Matilda Day, a famil tour and smoko for interstate journalists, and a free talk on overshots in Western Queensland by historian Sandi Robb.
In amongst all this activity, the volunteers have continued to work steadily through the objects still requiring attention. Locals and visitors have also donated their time and expertise in the ongoing cleaning process, and the Winton Creative Arts Group have achieved stunning results with some of the collection, reading room, and storage furniture, with 11 large items and 12 chairs restored.
With all these achievements it’s easy for outsiders to forget the physical and emotional toll a disaster such as this takes on those who face loss and damage of their treasured collections. But the images below demonstrate just what a huge accomplishment the successes of the past year have been. The Winton District Historical Society are collaborating with Council, architects and the curatorial team on plans for the new Waltzing Matilda Centre, incorporating the museum precinct, and we can’t wait to see what they’ll do next.
Follow the new Centre’s progress at Waltzing Matilda Centre
At the recent Q ANZAC 100 Heritage Leaders Workshop held at the State Library in Brisbane, I was asked to participate in a forum about community involvement in First World War Projects with three other speakers. This gave me the opportunity to discuss a few of the projects I have worked on as the MDO for far north Queensland:
Portraits of the North (Mareeba Historical Society)
Cooktown at War (James Cook Museum, Cooktown)
HistoryPin Project (Australian Sugar Industry Museum, Mourilyan)
Re-Honouring Cardwell (Cardwell and District Historical Society)
But as we sat and discussed the projects and their merits, I wish, in hindsight, that I had reflected a little more on what aspects of the projects didn’t go to plan or experienced hiccups. I am the first confess that the delivery of some of my projects encountered speed humps and that we had to make changes and deviations along the way. It’s rare that we speak publically about mistakes or hiccups – but I find these are the very things that provide invaluable learning. If we shared these experiences more readily with some of the other groups undertaking projects we might help them avoid some of the issues we have encountered.
I was also aware that the projects I discussed are but a few of those that have been produced locally, and that one of the legacies of this extraordinarily busy period of history making was the skills and contributions of museum and historical society volunteers. In far north Queensland, Cairns Historical Society, Mareeba Historical Society, Mareeba Shire Council, Cairns Regional Council, Douglas Shire Historical Society, Loudoun House Museum, Mount Garnet Visitor Information centre, Cooktown History Centre, to name just a few, have all delivered a range of exhibitions and events that provide a distinctive far north Queensland take on the First World War and involved people in undertaking historical and museum based work.
Fortunately, the Heritage Leaders Workshop gave participants an opportunity to see projects from across the region, and also appreciate the different sort of people involved. Far north Queensland was represented by volunteers from Mareeba Heritage Centre, Douglas Shire Historical Society, Atherton Library and Mulgrave Settlers Museum. Ken Keith spoke about the Douglas Shire Historical Society’s Douglas Diggers WWI Project. During one of the workshops, Don Lawrie from the Mulgrave Settlers Museum took the stage and entertained the audience with his storytelling and object based remembrances. I think it is this personal involvement, and the satisfaction that people glean from it, that lies at the heart of these projects’ success.
After months of research and preparation, the exhibition on the Fryer brothers and the medical history of the war opened at the Springsure Hospital Museum on April 24th. Two of my previous posts, The Legacy of War and Dear Mother… dealt with the experiences of four of the Fryer brothers of Springsure during the First World War and the impact this had on their lives, and that of their family, following the war.
While researching the exhibition I had found, despite the terrible tragedies which had befallen the family during and after the war, the Fryer brothers were still survived by children, grand children, great grandchildren, nieces and nephews. The family have contributed to the research and followed the journey of discovery, and to have so many attend the exhibition opening to remember the lives of these young men made the event thoroughly unforgettable. Family had travelled from as far afield as Darwin and Tasmania to be at the event, and the opening was attended by around 80 family members and invited guests.
Another special guest at the opening was the Manager of the Fryer Library, Simon Farley. Simon and his team have been extraordinarily generous in allowing me access to the Fryer material and providing images for the exhibition. As the custodian of so much of significance to the family and researchers, Simon’s presence was greatly appreciated by everyone. The Fryer Library have honoured their namesake with their own online exhibition JD Fryer: Student and Soldier Also attending the opening were local veterans from WWII and Afghanistan, which gave the content of the exhibition added relevance.
The heritage listed 1868 Springsure Hospital Museum provided a beautifully intimate setting, given added weight by the Fryer family’s connection to the building. The exhibition was funded by the Central Highlands Regional Council Regional Arts Development Fund. Cr Kerry Hayes, Central Highlands Regional Council Mayor opened the event and other Council representatives attended, with many having worked behind the scenes to help make the day a success.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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….