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.
Like many museums across Queensland, James Cook Museum received funding from the Anzac Centenary Local Grants Program. Designed to showcase the museum’s First World War collections, the grant also included time for Ewen and I to provide onsite advice, reconfigure the gallery space and install the exhibition.
When Kate Eastick took over the reins as the museums new curator, however, she decided to refocus the exhibition to tell stories from the home front and the local community, and identified a different space for the exhibition. This change responded, in part, to some of the stories and objects Kate uncovered during her research. An unexpected find, for example, was a hand crocheted square (pictured below). She was also keenly aware of Cooktown History Centre’s Behind the Lines Exhibition, which provides detailed biographies of Cooktown’s soldiers and their wartime experiences.
Cooktown’s War creates an additional narrative layer to Cooktown’s war stories and reveals the impact of the First World War on Cooktown residents. And by working with members of the History Centre, the exhibition demonstrates the benefits of two of Cooktown’s premier collecting organisations pooling resources and knowledge. Shared photos and research have meant that details about rifle clubs, and Chinese business owners and war loans have been placed on display. Difficulties surrounding Indigenous enlistment are explored through archives and portraits of Charles and Norman Baird, brothers who were among Queensland’s Indigenous soldiers from the region. Stories of Red Cross fundraising initiatives and women’s patriotic activities have been woven into the exhibition framework through evocative photographs (see below). Kate also included a contemporary story using a uniform and images from the 100 years commemorative march held in Cooktown this year.
Changes to the project meant that Ewen and I also had to make adjustments. The alternative gallery space meant Ewen had to install a new hanging system and different types of framing mounts and matts were required. By coincidence, Cooktown’s timber honour board, already on the display, is located outside the gallery. This, and a poster created to promote the exhibition, created a nice entry to the gallery. I had to remove some photos and posters from damaged frames for conservation and display purposes. I also made a range of different mounts and object supports, and generally extended my sewing skills! Of course, label making is always a feature for this type of project, but I can advise that the degree of difficulty definitely increases as the temperature and humidity rises!
MDOs have to be fairly versatile and responsive whilst in the field. As James Cook Museum had recently had a serious pest issue in its Indigenous display cabinets, we took time out from the exhibition to reline the cases with unbleached calico and then reinstall all the objects that had been treated prior to our arrival.
With Remembrance Day just around the corner, I thought it timely to revisit the story of the Fryer brothers and share some of their letters and postcards which are representative of the humanity and filial affection of these four young men. To remind yourself of their story, revisit my blog from September 30th, “The legacy of war”.
The Fryer’s mother Rosina and sister Liz were the most frequent recipients of letters and cards, but William and Jack in particular were solicitous in writing to their youngest brother, Walter. Walter was only nine years old when Will and Jack enlisted, and their cards home to him are characteristically light and jolly, and signed with a long line of kisses. They frequently express an optimism about an early termination to the war and return home. While still in Egypt for Christmas 1915, William wrote to Walter, “Dear Walter, Just a PC to let you know that we had a merry Christmas & I hope it will be a happy new year & will see us all back in Australia again. I hope you had a merry Christmas with plenty of presents & plum pudding with money in it. I suppose you will be getting ready for school again when you get this so you will not have much time to write but I will send you a PC as often as I can. Love & kisses from Will”
The letters demonstrate the deep love and respect the brothers held for their mother and sister, and their communications betray a concern for their welfare, particularly in respect to money. The departure of four contributors to the family income must have been noticeable, but all four brothers elected for part of their army pay to be sent directly to their mother, who apparently carefully kept it aside for them. In September of 1916, Charlie wrote to her, “Mother never bother about keeping my money for me, use the lot of it because I will not want it when I get back. I will be satisfied to get home.” In response to news that Liz had collected a prize for most popular woman, presumably at a local event, Charlie replied, “I am glad you took the prize for most popular woman but if Mother had been there you would have had to take a back seat I am afraid. Do not think I am against you, never that.”
One of the most touching items in the collection is a rare postcard from Rosina Fryer to her eldest son William. Most of the correspondence in the Fryer collection is from the brothers to family at home – very few letters travelling in the other direction have survived. The practicalities of carrying and keeping personal belongings in the trenches make surviving letters from home much more of a rarity. This postcard captures a poignant suggestion of how every day family life was constantly overshadowed by anxiety for those fighting abroad. “My Dear Will. This card stuck me as how you wrote to take me on your knee and torment me so I thought I would send it along to greet you as we were laughing the other day about how you used to tease and tell Bob how I used to teach you all these tricks. I often wonder if we will ever have the good jolly times again but we must hope so. Good bye with love to you all three over there. Mother”
On November 11th, the Fryer Library will launch an online exhibition featuring the papers in the John Denis Fryer Collection. Watch the Fryer Library homepage for news of the exhibition launch https://www.library.uq.edu.au/fryer-library/
Recently Queensland Museum staff Ewen McPhee, Dr Melanie Piddocke and Sue Valis visited Bowen Museum and Historical Society to work with the volunteers on their First World War display. As with many community museums the First World War objects and stories that are held within the Bowen collection are significant on a National, State and Local level. This trip was undertaken to install some display furniture and to train the volunteers in object mounting, display planning and basic conservation practices. Research was also done for the next phase of exhibition development which includes text panels and object labels.
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.
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.
“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
As a part of Anzac commemorations, an extended version of the Defending the Pacific exhibition was recently donated to the Rabaul Museum. This Exhibition was developed by North Queensland MDO Ewen McPhee and far North Queensland MDO Dr Jo Wills. Lieutenant Colonel Ian Ford, of the Australian Defence Force, recently presented the exhibition to Ms Susie McGrade, Secretary of the Rabaul Historical Society, in Rabaul. The exhibition traces the story of volunteers from North and Far North Queensland who joined the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force at the beginning of the First World War. A fifth banner was developed by Ewen and Jo to add to the exhibition. On 11 September 1914, troops from the Force landed in Rabaul to search for and destroy German radio stations. A patrol of 25 Australians encountered a composite force of German reservists and New Guinean police at Bita Paka. Six Australians, one German and 30 New Guinean police died in this action. The Australians who fell at Bita Paka were the first of more than 60,000 Australians killed in the Great War. The fifth banner can be viewed here – Battle for Bitapaka
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
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
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.
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.
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.
Are you Anzac-ready? Or busy working on an Anzac-related project? As museums and historical societies across the state continue preparations for a suite of Anzac projects for the 100th anniversary of the landing at Gallipoli, let’s take a sneak preview of a project underway in far north Queensland.
Anzac Treasures from the Tablelands is collaborative exhibition between museums, historical societies, libraries and visitor information centres from the Tablelands Heritage Network. They are working with the FNQ MDO to pull together and curate the exhibition. It is funded through the Federal Government’s Anzac Centenary Local Grants Program in the Kennedy electorate, via the Friends of the Atherton Chinese Temple, and with the support of Tablelands Regional Council.
The exhibition aims to highlight the work volunteers do to protect the districts heritage, as well as commemorate the First World War and its impact in the region. Part of the project has involved the volunteers participating in a series of exhibition workshops which explore the process of putting an exhibition together – from developing a concept and identifying objects to organising space and writing labels. Over the next few weeks, groups will be busy framing images, finalising labels and preparing their contributions prior to installation and the exhibition opening.
This is the first collaborative exhibition the Tablelands Heritage Network have worked on together. It has been a lot of fun, as well as an informative and engaging process. Participants have been sharing resources and ideas, and comparing their own local knowledge of this topic and the region during the war period. At a recent workshop, volunteers presented a range of objects for inclusion in the exhibition, some previews of which are included in this article published in a recent edition of the Tablelander newspaper. Click on the newspaper to read.
Anzac Treasures from the Tablelands opens on 2 April 2015 at the Post Office Gallery at Atherton Chinatown, 86 Herberton Road. It run will run for two months. Inquiries to Atherton Chinatown: 07 4091 6945 or email@example.com
Museum Development Officer Ewen McPhee and Queensland Museum Conservator Sue Valis recently made an interesting discovery when working on the First World War bound socks held in the Zara Clark Museum in Charters Towers.
Ewen and Sue had prioritised the rehousing of the socks, knitting needles, calico bag and letter when working as part of a Queensland Anzac Centenary grants program exhibition at the Museum. When they were approached by National Trust Queensland to assist with upcoming media, showcasing further research into the First World War Soldier who was to receive the socks, it was a good opportunity to remove them from their original frame and condition report them.
The media and personal interest generated by the socks also means that they will be viewed, photographed, filmed and documented by various media and family members in the coming months. Therefore once the socks were removed it was decided to temporarily rehouse them in archival storage materials, allowing for best practice handling, storage and ease of access.
The initial opening of the frame revealed some evidence of insect activity although this did not appear to be currently active. Dust had also penetrated the display case and removing the items showed presence of black mould at the base of the frame. The socks and the balls of wool were brush vacuumed to remove dust and the underside of the calico bag, which was most affected by the black mould, was carefully brush-vacuumed under a fume hood. Luckily the mould was dry and was successfully removed.
An interesting discovery was made when the socks were removed from the frame. What we first thought were khaki green socks, turned out to be in fact made of brown wool. As seen in the images, all the exposed areas of the wool had faded and turned a khaki green colour, while the unexposed parts of the wool were the original brown colour. This fading was due to the combination of exposure to light levels, in particular the ultra-violet component, as well as the wool being dyed by natural, as opposed to synthetic dyes. This is most evident in the images below, particularly on the ball of wool on the top left hand side.
Even though the socks were framed and housed inside the museum, in a relatively dark area, it is a good example of damage caused by exposure to high light levels. It also shows how care should be taken when describing objects for research, collection databases and for the media.
Last week, volunteers at Mareeba Historical Society worked with Queensland Museum Conservator, Sue Valis, and FNQ MDO, Jo Wills, to conserve their First World War related collections in a project called “Portraits of the North”. Funded through the Queensland Anzac Centenary grants program administered by the Anzac Centenary Coordination Unit, Department of the Premier and Cabinet, the project was designed by the MDO program and the Historical Society to preserve, protect, present and promote the legacy and stories surrounding their significant collection of glass plate soldier portraits and associated First World War artefacts.
And, what a collection it is. The glass negative portraits illustrate the youth and vigour of enlistees before they left to serve their county overseas. Postcards and letters home reveal the personal impact of service, and the ways in which soldiers and nurses communicated with loved ones at home. Other glass negatives document scenes from front, enlistment posters, musical scores and stories from war correspondents. Additional items include a dressing bandage, a soldier’s belt, a Dead Man’s Penny, war medals, silk cigarette cards with military insignia, and photographic albums.
After an initial assessment of the conservation needs and priorities, Sue and Jo worked with Helen and David to protect and rehouse the glass negatives. A project that the Society has wanted to tackle for over 15 years, the process of making individual pockets for different sized glass negatives and lining storage boxes with protective foam was time consuming and repetitive. However, now that the work is finished, the collection will be better protected into the future.
Sue also undertook specialist conservation and rehousing of some of the Society’s First World War artefacts. Some of the items, including the silk cigarette cards, the soldier’s belt and the medals have had been conserved in such as way as to make them easy to display in the Society’s four up coming exhibitions in 2015.
Having two Queensland Museum staff work intensively onsite on specific projects has a lot of benefits for communities and volunteers. It provides them with access and exposure to a range of conservation skills and training, and to discuss future projects with the MDO. But communities are not the only beneficiaries. Through these types of project QM staff can extend their skills and understanding of materials, objects and historical research, thanks to the expertise and generosity of volunteers. Whilst working on the conservation project, Jo also worked with Helen, David and Carol to identify appropriate collections for use in another Anzac project being undertaken on the Atherton Tablelands, as well as discuss a range of other projects and issues that the Society aspires to achieve.
“Portraits of the North” was made possible thanks to a grant by Queensland Anzac Centenary Grants Program, through the Anzac Centenary Coordination Unity, Department of Premier and Cabinet.