I recently came across an object when working with Proserpine Historical Museum that made me think of a project that I was involved in seventeen years ago for the Queensland Museum. It was entitled “Old salts, alternative life-stylers and beach bums”. The goal of this Queensland wide project was to record people who had a long association with the sea and/or maritime practices, individuals who had chosen a lifestyle that was perceived to be alternative, and individuals who had chosen to drop out of society and live on islands or the coastal fringes of Queensland.
The object in question is the crown from the Great Barrier Reef Coral Festival that was presented to the Coral Queen. This crown was won by Thora Nicolson, formerly of Linderman Island and donated to the Museum. The fascinating full story of the festival and its transition can be found here, here and here through the Museum Facebook page.
Additional research has identified similar festival material culture such as crowns, gowns, sashes, photographs, movies and stories in museum collections throughout Queensland. It would be interesting to look at how these festivals originated, changed and their eventual demise.
My interest however was sparked by the makers of the crown – Leena and Bill Wallace from Coral Art on Dent Island. It is worthwhile to watch this short YouTube clip found here.
Leena and Bill lived on Dent Island and carved out a niche market for themselves selling painted coral arrangements. Bill, formally in the US Navy, was the collector, and Leena the artist. They lived on Dent Island for over 10 years and were some of the early pioneers in tourism in the Whitsunday region. They shipped their painted coral around the world and it was used to promote the Great Barrier Reef through the Queensland Tourist Bureau.
As the area opened up to cruising yachtsman in the 1960s, passing sailors, such as John Gunn, documented them in his 1966 book Barrier Reef by Trimaran
“A married couple live in an idyllic setting on a cleared area of land behind the beach on this northern tip. With tremendous enterprise they have pioneered a business for themselves. The husband dives for coral pieces, and the wife applies delicate shades of colour to them, to make them look like the living corals…One may not be enthralled by this kind of tourist art, but it is popular. And the life that the two have carved out for themselves on their own island is one that many of us would love to have…”
Other painted coral business also sprang up in the Whitsundays such as Mandalay Gardens at Mandalay Point across from Airlie Beach and collections of painted corals can be seen at the Bowen Museum and Historical Society.
Leena and Bill fit into the category of alternate life-stylers and it would have been great to record their story in full. Please contact the Proserpine Historical Museum if you know more about Leena and Bill.
“Rarely if ever before has so deep and so general a gloom been cast over the community of this colony as that which has been occasioned by the sad catastrophe which occurred in Torres Straits on the night of the 24th February. The wreck of the R.M.S. Quetta in the vicinity of Adolphus Island with a loss of 173 lives is one of those shocking disasters of the sea which strike nations with sorrow and distress, and leave their painful mark upon the annals of the world’s shipping.”
I first saw the R.M.S. Quetta tea towel while I was visiting Andy and Joan Csorba, owners of a former Cairns souvenir company in Cairns during the 1980s-1990s called Reef Productions. It was in among a host of other tea towels, napery and linen that I have been assessing for Cairns Museum. Having visited the Quetta Memorial Church on Thursday Island numerous times during my MDO travels, I am familiar with its story and was intrigued by the teatowel and the design.
Initially, I thought my ‘who drew it’ query would be easy to solve. Made from Polish linen, the object has ‘Handprinted by Reef Productions’ printed underneath the image. All I had to do, I reasoned, was ask Andy and Joan. But having had so many designs produced they couldn’t recall who had created the original drawing.
Reef Productions was a souvenir company which started in Cairns in 1970s and ran, under multiple owners, until the late 1990s. Initially, the company produced drawings of local industries, heritage buildings and tourism spots. But when Andy and Joan took over, they diversified and started to work with Indigenous artists and produced cultural designs for screen printing by artists like Thancoupie, Jenuarrie, Heather Walker, Roslyn Kemp and Enoch Tramby.
Given the subject of the tea towel, I wondered whether or not one of these artists had created the piece, or perhaps a Torres Strait Islander living in Cairns. Wrong on all counts. So I continued to research the history of the company, and liaise with other former owners and artists who produced artwork for the prints. Another artist, Jim Arena, shared pictures of all his designs with me so I have a catalogue of his creations. But there was no Quetta on his list.
Discussions with previous owners uncovered the stories behind some of the different commissions that Reef Productions asked the artists to produce. One of these was a line drawing of the new parliament house in Canberra by Dutch-born Ludij Peden. I was thrilled when I found her website and a small video which featured a photo of Ludij with Jenuarrie, Thancoupie, Roslyn and Joan Bouissevain (all of who created work with the Csorbas). It’s the only photograph I’ve ever seen of artists from Reef Productions together. There was also one of Ludij and Andy with the parliament tea towel. Naturally, I made contact. Like Jim, Ludij generously gave me a list of all of her work for Reef Productions. Bingo!
In a follow up email she wrote:
I was commissioned, via Andy, to do the tea towel design of the Quetta sinking for the ladies’ guild of the Anglican Church – for a fundraiser … They wanted the tea towel to look like the stained glass window in the church – depicting the ship sinking in the storm.
With this mystery solved, I’m now working with staff at Cairns Museum to develop an exhibition of Reef Productions objects and about the people who were involved. Stay tuned for more information. There are examples of Reef Productions items held in both Queensland Museum and the State Library of Queensland. No doubt the information uncovered in this project will contribute additional knowledge to these collections into the future.
Protecting collections from pest and fungal damage is one of the greatest challenges faced by cultural heritage custodians. The most effective approach to controlling pest and fungal activity in collections (including any personal collections) is a well-considered, practical Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program. So if you thought IPM was just used in the agricultural sector, think again. The aim of my new Pesky Pests series is to help you plan and effectively implement an IPM program for your collection and help you identify and eliminate your pesky biological foes.
A successful IPM program is all about proactive actions including good housekeeping practices, regular monitoring, effective building maintenance and the creation of a hostile environment for enemies. Regular applications of toxic pesticides and fungicides are not recommended and should not be necessary.
So what does a successful IPM program look like:
An organisation-wide acceptance of the principles of IPM and a willingness of all to learn and implement routine actions needed to protect the collections. These actions include:
- Training of all staff and volunteers (including cleaning staff).
- Contact your local MDO if you would like help with this.
- Run regular refresher IPM sessions on an annual basis.
- Prevention of entry of pests, such as insects, birds, and rodents, into buildings
- Moderate the interior climate and avoid high relative humidity and temperatures.
- Develop good exterior building maintenance and appropriate landscaping.
- Inspect all incoming objects and paper materials for evidence of prior or current pest and mould activity, and inspect stored collections periodically for insect and mould activity. This includes materials such as stationary supplies.
- Avoidance of practices and habits that attract pests and fungal activity:
- Moderate the interior climate and avoid high relative humidity and temperatures.
- Develop and maintain good interior housekeeping practices.
- Maintain appropriate food restrictions and food/rubbish removal practices.
- Implement measures to detect pests and fungal activity:
- Set up and maintain a pest and fungal monitoring program for all collection storage and display areas. This should include regular visual inspections as well as the use of insect blunder traps.
Next time in Pesky Pests: We will look at how to check your buildings and collections for potential and existing risk factors and discuss mitigation strategies.
I decided to follow the Pomona lead suggested by the museum staff with a quick search on Trove. The name “Hodge” and “Pomona” limited to the decade in question turned up quite a number of results. Through the newspaper articles I discovered Mr Hodge and (presumably) his wife occupying a range of positions on community organisations, hosting family members visiting the region (through the personal notes column), and even winning a manicure set at a Pomona School of Arts Ladies committee presentation.
Although it wasn’t long before I found Mr Hodge mentioned in the context of the Freemasons, I decided to take a break from the visual monotony of the slightly pixelated black and white script to rest my eyes. Mr Hodge was indeed a member of the Cooroora lodge at Pomona around the period. Was there anything else relevant to be known?
Fortunately, I had previously conducted a significance assessment of a museum collection in Pomona and knew that they had a collection that related to the Cooroora Lodge. Looking back through my files, I could see that the museum holdings contained Masonic honour boards, regalia, iconography, framed photographs and even tessellated pavement. But there were no such chairs in their collection. As I examined my photographs, a name and date on an honour board for the Master Masons of the lodge caught my eye: the same name as on the chair’s plate, and a date one year later!
As it turns out, Brother Hodge elevated to the position of Master Mason within the lodge in the next year. It seems that he would then occupy the very chair that he had recently presented. At this point the connections between the chair, Hodge, and the Pomona Lodge were becoming apparent.
A picture of the chair in the lodge room would be ideal to make a definite connection, but how likely would it be that an image of the interior of the Masonic Centre featuring the chair? While I wasn’t entirely hopeful, the Masonic Centre was closed and sold comparatively recently in 2005, so the existence of such a useful photograph was a possibility.
An internet search delivered proof of the chair’s location and use…
The lodge was photographed in 1999 by Roger Todd, a Sunshine Coast architect with an interest in local heritage architecture. Among his images were two that show the lodge room and its furnishings- including the chair in question!
You might be wondering about the images on the wall behind the chair. Well, there is more to this story. The (former) Cooroora Masonic Centre building is listed on the Queensland Heritage Register. The register reveals that one of the significant features of the building is a series of painted murals that wrap around the four walls inside the main lodge room. The paintings feature a number of noteworthy historical temples and structures, presumably also containing features of Masonic symbolism. The scale and execution of the murals, complete with a breathtaking sense of perspective, creates an illusion of being able to step into a classical world. However the scenes depicted are not entirely new: they were copied from photographs of a similar mural that decorated the Masonic Temple in the Criterion Restaurant in London. The original London murals were destroyed when the building was bombed in World War 2.
The artist was a Pomona storekeeper and Freemason who began working on the mural in 1925, handmixing the colours and painting into the evenings by the light of a kerosene lamp for almost a decade. The series of murals was finished around 1934.
The artist’s name- you guessed it- was William Hodge!
When we began looking at this chair, there was very little known about it. But with the results of this type of research we can begin to understand its history, connections and significance at a regional or possibly even state level. I’m still investigating this item and can sense that there is yet more to know, so the mystery remains as to how this chair ended up in the current location.
It’s not case closed yet!
I’d like to acknowledge the input and expertise provided by members of Lodge Maroochy 168, the United Grand Lodge of Queensland, Masonic Memorial Centre Archives, Roger Todd Architect, Noosa Museum, and the Yandina Pioneer Cottage. Thank you all.
As you may have read in Melanie’s significance post , a key component of a significance assessment is understanding the provenance of individual items, or the collection as a whole. But what happens when there isn’t as much documentation as you might like? How can you understand what you are looking at, where it comes from, what it means, assign a degree of significance, or make use of it in any way other than telling the most generic, commonplace histories? The simple truth is that you can’t, and you are going to need to find out more! In this blog I’d like to share a particular experience in object research that took an item from barely being understood to… well.. let’s just say something more than that!
I came across this chair while undertaking a significance assessment recently. It’s a well-crafted timber chair, stately perhaps, but not overly elaborate or ornate. The height, accentuated by its pointed top and acorn shaped finials, gives this chair a real sense of presence in the room compared with other more regular seats. It seems that while it can fulfil its purpose as a place to sit, there is more to it than just that. The object label simply reads “Masonic Chair”.
None of the museum records available to me could provide any elaboration about this particular chair. By the rationale and logic of the Museum’s collection policy, it may have come from the local Freemasons lodge. But a staff member mentioned that they thought it may have come from a Masonic Temple in Pomona (a nearby town in another local government area). All very interesting, but what was its history and how did it get to be in this collection?
First things first, I had to make sure that the chair was indeed Masonic. Other benevolent societies that are sometimes confused with Freemasons (such as the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes, or the Manchester Unity Independent order of Oddfellows) operated throughout Queensland. While I was confident that it was Masonic, some quick background research confirmed that the design of the chair and its motifs are common to furniture associated with Freemasonry. Since I was in the area at the time, I was able to arrange a meeting with some local Freemasons who were able to shed some light on their organisation’s local history, some basic information about the types of furniture you might come across in a lodge, organisational hierarchy, and some of their donations of objects to the museum over the years. They identified the chair as being used by the Master Masons of a lodge, and pointed out that there were other similar- though slightly different- chairs that were also used during their private rituals. While we identified that the collection held other undocumented Masonic items gifted to the museum, no one was sure if this chair in particular came from the local lodge.
During our examinations, we turned our attention to the small engraved presentation plate at the head of the chair that listed the name of the person who presented it, their title, a date, some flourishes and a hallmark. The name and date on the plate didn’t match any listed on their local lodge honor boards, but the name seemed familiar.
Who was Bro. W. Hodge, who did he present this chair to, and why?
To be continued…
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!
The Museum Development Officers (MDOs) are currently engaging with their communities while working at home. This unfortunately means no workshops, display installation, oral histories, conservation, community meetings or any work that does not allow for adequate and safe social distancing. The MDOs will continue to assist by phone, email and depending on resources, video calls.
Although Melanie (Mackay) and Jo (Cairns) are used to working alone, Lydia (Toowoomba), Josh (Ipswich) and Ewen (Townsville) are all based in the Queensland Museum campuses which have now closed their doors to the public and encouraged staff to work from home.
Self and community isolation may be new to many people but the MDOs have all worked with remote communities who are used to isolation either by distance or by natural disasters such as flood. The MDOs have documented School of the Air radios, cleaned Flying Doctor objects, researched stories about Afghan traders servicing isolated pastoral stations, documented rural and remote health practices, researched quarantine stations on islands, and recorded the events of returning First World War soldiers and the Spanish Flu.
These objects and stories show resilience, innovation, adaptation and community spirit. They are in these museums because they are valued by the community and underscore their shared values and their desire to document what to them is often everyday life.
The MDO blog has recently added a new page with links to “how to videos”. Although these are designed as a basic introduction to a topic they may be useful if you need to undertake some work while your museum is closed or you have time at home. Please contact your local MDO if you need further information.
Community collaboration has always been central to my work as a MDO. And, in our current climate, with the restrictions that COVID-19 is placing upon travel and gatherings, I thought I’d tell you about a recent training series I ran at Herberton Mining Museum,
Creating workshops for collection policies and collection management procedures aren’t the easiest topics to be creative with. Just how much fun can you have with a Deed of Gift or a Loans form? And how do you convince volunteers wary of change that a bit more paperwork and process is a good thing? My challenge was to develop comprehensive AND accessible workshops that made sense to the participants.
Funded through a Community Heritage Grant from the National Library of Australia, the workshops bought together a total of 12 people from six different museum groups: Herberton Mining Museum, Loudoun House Museum, Tolga Museum, Millaa Millaa Museum, Malanda Dairy Centre and Ravenshoe Visitor Information Centre.
Participants congregated (yes, face to face) at Herberton Mining Museum for three weeks of two day training sessions. The first day of each week involved an overview of the principles and examples from the industry. The second day was dedicated to practical reinforcement, and the challenge of adapting perfect museology principles into day to day reality.
The value of people being able to articulate their experience of managing the museum, and outline their successes and frustrations regarding donations, acquisitions and procedures in a collaborative environment is immeasurable. We heard stories about wayward items appearing on museum doorsteps, anonymous donations, lost databases, misplaced loans and cataloguing triumphs. These helped create a sense of inclusion and camaraderie, and injected a bit of humour into the discussion. Some of the comments on the workshop evaluation forms highlighted the ‘priceless’ nature of shared learning experiences, and the opportunity of hearing from groups struggling with similar issues.
Some said the chance to come together helped them ‘regain their mojo’ as they felt cataloguing and some of the processes had been overwhelming them until they heard from others. Benefits were also gleaned from spending time with people they don’t normally work with.
One of the most salient lessons from the training was the need for organisations to have clear volunteer induction procedures. It is reasonable, we decided as a group, that new volunteers understand that volunteering in a museum means you engage with objects and that this has certain responsibilities and requirements.
Groups are now working on developing up policies and procedures, adapting some of the templates I provided as part of the workshops, and reflecting on their induction processes. They are also enjoying the archival and collection management materials that were made possible as part of the grant.
Thanks to Herberton Mining Museum for hosting the training and making everyone feel welcome.
“Everybody… it’s going to get LOUD!”
So warned Cairns Museum Manager, Susan Gibson, as CADCAI’s lion dancers and musicians geared up to begin their performance. Celebrating the Chinese New Year of the Metal Rat, and the opening of the latest temporary exhibition, dancers made their way through the museum and the crowd, bringing blessings, energy and great joy to this event.
“Two Worlds” is a collaborative exhibition developed by Cairns Museum and CADCAI. It tells the story of Chinese Australians in Cairns from World War II to the 1960s. Drawing on oral histories conducted with five of Cairns’ Chinese elders, the exhibition showcases candid family photographs from the Chinese community and uses quotes to bring them to life. The interviews explored the challenges these elders faced as they navigated through worlds of tradition and modernity, of how they challenged and embraced these contradictions, and of how they overcame discrimination with strength, humour and determination.
As MDO, I also value this exhibition as an exemplar of great community engagement. This is the second exhibition they have co created for Chinese New Year, and illustrates the benefits of shared knowledge, resources and facilities, and a commitment to explore and present new ideas and local stories.
And, yes, it was loud. Kids zoomed around the displays. Adults hastily prepared red envelopes as offerings to the lions. The balcony was full of people catching up on local news and sweating in the afternoon heat. People were everywhere, and the museum hummed with life.
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.