Blog Archives

Welcome to the new Cairns Museum

Cairns Museum – renewed and resplendent

For those of you haven’t heard, Cairns Museum and has reopened. And it is FABULOUS!

I’m not going to pepper this post with a hundred pictures (why not visit or check the website to see it in all it’s glory), but I can’t resist sharing just a few.

Cairns School of Arts building, built in 1907, has been refurbished and modernised. You can’t help but notice the refreshed façade that now graces the corners of Lake and Shield Streets. The new annex provides space for additional galleries and a significant collections storage room, while the veranda encourages visitors to gaze out over the town and enjoy the Coral Sea breeze. Researchers can now visit the Cairns Historical Society during the wet season without sweating, and enjoy contemporary research facilities!

Inside the museum you’ll find four permanent galleries and a temporary space filled with objects and stories about people and place and living in the tropics. Take the lift to the top floor and work your way down the stairs. Explore old and contemporary Cairns, or find out about the old School of Arts collection. Interactives and multimedia bring some of the displays to life. And the shop in the entrance foyer entices with clever merchandising inspired by the collection – perfect for tourists and locals alike.

That’s not all that’s new. During the redevelopment process, the historical society and museum rebranded and worked tirelessly to create a suite of add ons like education, websites, Facebook and a heritage walk. In a win for Cairns, there are now four paid jobs at the museum (some part time) – a major achievement for a town that previously had only one. New volunteers are welcome and there are a sea of new faces taking advantage of their well managed volunteer program.

I might be a little bit biased, of course… but it really is worth a visit to see how a labour of love (and sweat and tears) has evolved to become a contemporary, dynamic and thoughtful museum.  Congratulations to all at the Cairns Museum and Historical Society team – it’s great to see you open again!

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恭喜發財 – Gong Xi Fa Cai! CADCAI creates a fresh display to celebrate Chinese New Year

cadcai-p1-2017

Volunteers have developed panels to promote the Lit Sung Goong temple collection for the 2017 Cairns Chinese New Year Festival. Design: Nettie O’Connell.

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!

 

 

 

What lies beneath… three objects that have helped us view the reef

The Marine Wonders of the Great Barrier Reef, Tourism Poster, Percy Trompf, 1933. National Library of Australia.

The Marine Wonders of the Great Barrier Reef, Tourism Poster, Percy Trompf, 1933. National Library of Australia.

People’s desire to see  beneath the surface of the sea has inspired a myriad of underwater viewing objects and inventions. From hollow reeds to Leonardo Da Vinci’s early diving apparatus, there has been a whole raft of weird and wonderful creations inspired by our fascination with coral and the reef.

I’ve been exploring the way people have viewed coral recreationally on the Great Barrier Reef and around Cairns as part of my research for Cairns Museum’s new exhibitions. Drawing on material culture and academic research, I’ve found we can make some interesting observations about north Queensland’s contribution to the evolution of coral viewing.

Early visitors to the reef used hand held viewing devises known as coralscopes, waterscopes or glass bottom floats. Made from aluminum and a clear Perspex or glass, these were either boxes or tubes that were held over the side of the boat and provided the user with a stable viewing lens.

“The exclusion of surface turbulence meant that the scene through a waterscope was sometimes in stark contrast to the surface of the water … The waterscope thus opened up, not only fear, but a delight in the other that constituted the underwater world.” (Celmara Pocock, (2003). Romancing the Reef: history, heritage and the hyper-real. PhD thesis, James Cook University, p. 231).

Queensland Museum holds one example in its collection (see below). Cairns Museum and the State Library of Queensland hold a range of photographs that illustrate people viewing coral over the side of the boat. Does anyone know of other examples in other collections around the state or country?

Glass bottom boats were another early form of coral viewing. In 1937, the Hayles family launched the worlds first glass bottom boat at Green Island. Accompanied by music, these boats were ‘allowed to drift over deep channels so that passengers can view the teeming waterlife through the glass in the bottom.'(Tourism Guide book) Adapted later in the 1940s, these vessels continue to be used on the reef today, providing access to the underwater world for those who prefer not to immerse themselves.

Local entrepreneurs Lloyd Grigg and Vince Vlassof, were involved in creating another underwater viewing first for the region. In 1954, they opened the Green Island Underwater Observatory, a 10m chamber with 22 port holes, situated at the end of the jetty. Bought for 400 pounds, it was converted from an underwater diving chamber used in WW2 to erect pylons, and taken out to the island and sunk into position.  A shop and residence were erected above it and coral formations bought in from other reefs to attract fish. The underwater observatory remains on the jetty but is no longer open to the public.

New innovations, like the Scubadoo – an underwater scooter – and more advanced diving equipment have revolutionised the way we interact with and view the reef. But these three objects provide special insight into the innovations the region has used to make the Great Barrier Reef’s underwater gardens more accessible to visitors and enthusiasts.

Stay tuned – there are many more fascinating stories being uncovered as the research for Cairns Museum’s redevelopment continues.

Edmund Jarvis and his amazing cane beetle displays

Beetle Borers of Cane,  June 1924. Meringa Station.

Beetle Borers of Cane, June 1924. Meringa Station.

It’s not often I get called to look at natural history or entomological collections. And, when I was contacted by staff at Meringa Research Station near Gordonvale to come and assess the condition of some old display cases, I must confess to being a little skeptical. Imagine my surprise, then, when a little bit of research into their creator, Dr Edmund Jarvis, revealed that these cases were going to contain more than your average cane beetle displays.

Dr Jarvis was an entomologist from the early 20th century. He ended his career as the Chief Entomologist to Queensland’s Bureau of Sugar Experiment Station, and specialised in cane beetle research. Prior to this, however, he had a museological career. After moving from Devon, England to Australia, his first job was a Acting Assistant Entomologist, National Museum, Melbourne in 1903 (now, Museum Victoria). In addition to his scientific training, he was well known for his skills in line drawings and water colours.

On site, it was immediately clear that the displays had been arranged by someone with a museological eye. Seven timber framed cases, which date between 1922-1932, had been ‘curated’ to ensure that information is conveyed in an educational manner. They contain a mixture of specimens, line drawings, photographs and labels – all laid out to make the subject matter as accessible as possible. The cases illustrate the research undertaken into pests impacting the sugar industry during the 1920s by the Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations.

Greyback cane beetle, May 1922.

Greyback cane beetle, May 1922.         Meringa Station

Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations were, established under The Sugar Experiment Stations Act of 1900 and were initially administered by Queensland’s Department of Agriculture. Employees undertook research to assist growers and millers improve the breeding, planting, growing, harvesting and milling of sugar cane. The focus on the cane beetle, and other cane related pests, demonstrates the importance of the research stations, the work they were conducting, and of the value placed upon the cane industry in Queensland in general.

In valuing these cases, I have come to think of them as more than just the work of a scientist, but as the work of a fellow museum worker with a passion for conveying information to different audiences. I am hoping to secure funds to assist with the conservation of the cases, and a way to interpret them further – in consultation with staff at Meringa.

In Times of War: FNQ remembers WWI

Exhibition Poster for Cairns Historical Society's new WWI exhibitionCairns Historical Society’s photographs manager, Pauline O’Keeffe, has been working on a WWI exhibition called “In Times of War: FNQ Remembers WWI”. The goal of exhibition is to present stories about Far North Queensland, and the impact war had on the local community, rather than focus on battles in the international arena.

“In Times of War’ is based around the Cairns Historical Society’s significant photographic collection. It will showcase more than 150 images of enlisting men, enlistment posters, war based events like enlistment march, Kanowna expedition, Red Cross, community involvement and the region at that time together with explanatory documentation.

The exhibition opens on Friday April 4 in Tank 4 at the Tank Arts Centre in Cairns and runs until April 27. The opening will include a performance by the Tropical Brass Band and a theatrical presentation by local artist Sue Hayes based on the enlistment process. The theatrical presentation will be rerun on  Thursday 10 April when the Society will also run a lecture night and present papers on FNQ related WW1 topics.

Pauline, a long term volunteer with the Society, has undertaken significant research to put this project together. Her findings, which include a gap in collections and knowledge about the impact of the war in regional communities, means she believes the Anzac centenary period offers communities a chance to build upon this research and leave a legacy of new knowledge for future generations.

For more information about the project, please contact the Cairns Historical Society on: histsoc@cairnsmuseum.org.au

This project is supported by funding from the Australian Government under the Anzac Centenary Local Grants Program and by the Regional Arts Development Fund through Arts Queensland and Cairns Regional Council partnering to support local arts and culture.

Volunteers bring Cairns’ Chinese heritage to life on Vimeo…

For those of you not familiar with Cairns’ Chinese heritage, here is a chance for a sneak peak into CADCAI’s (Cairns and District Chinese Association Inc) collection rooms and activities. Recently, four volunteers from CADCAI – Julie, Jackie, Ann and Emma – participated in a video making workshop run by ABC Open in Cairns. Over two days they scripted, filmed and produced a short promotional clip designed to entice visitors to their rooms in Cairns.

Their production showcases the region’s Chinese history and promotes the work they do to preserve the remarkable Lit Sung Goong Temple Collection. Salvaged by members of the Cairns Temple Society in 1964, this rare and beautiful collection comprises more than 250 individual objects. The Lit Sung Goong Temple Collection is representative of late 19th century Southern Chinse religious artefact production and is one of the most complete and virtually intact collections of Imperial Chinese temple fittings in Australia.

Follow the link to see the video CADCAI’s volunteers produced during the workshop: http://vimeo.com/71074565/

Reinvigorating FNQ’s museum workers and volunteers

Museum workers and volunteers from a range of FNQ museums have been involved in three different workshops over the past six weeks. Workshops offer participants an opportunity to acquire new skills so that they can care for and promote their collections and museums. But it’s important not to overlook the social value of these training sessions and to acknowledge how they reinvigorate the region’s industry and the people who work in it.

The three workshops held were designed to improve museum skills in exhibitions planning, collection management software and timber conservation. Each workshop has been a stand alone event that has been delivered by a different presenter or company.

FNQ MDO Dr Jo Wills delivered the exhibitions planning workshop through Heritage North in Cairns. Representatives from eight different groups from around the Tablelands, Cairns and Innisfail region participated.  Innisfail Historical Society members and Douglas Shire Historical Society representatives, for example, discovered that their collections both hold material related to the Low Isles expedition, and so can share knowledge and resources.

Collections management training for organisations using MOSAiC software was run by the MOSAiC team, Rew and Sally-Anne Whittington, in Cairns. There is now a local network of organisations using this software that can help each other out if they get into difficulties, including two Aboriginal collecting organisations at Kowanyama and Yarrabah.

Adam Godijn, Senior Paintings Conservator at ICS, demonstrates during a timber conservation workshop held at the Cairns and District Chinese Association Inc.

Adam Godijn, Senior Paintings Conservator at ICS, demonstrates during a timber conservation workshop held at the Cairns and District Chinese Association Inc.

Timber conservation workshops were held at CADCAI to conserve some of the nationally significant Lit Sung Goong Temple collection. The workshops were funded through the National Library of Australia’s Community Heritage Grant stream and included bringing two professional conservators from International Conservation Services, Adam Godijn and Oliver Hull, to work on the collection and run a timber preservation workshop. By opening up this training to other collecting groups, CADCAI have offered another workshop and networking opportunity for museum workers in the far north, including Cairns Museum and James Cook Museum in Cooktown.

Total solar eclipse and contemporary collecting…

Cairns 2012 Solar Eclipse Glasses

Sales of eclipse viewing shades and glasses have skyrocketed in FNQ over the last week or so. And, for about half an hour this morning, those without them would have been cursing themselves for not being able to witness the spectacle of a total solar eclipse.

Cairns Solar Eclipse Viewer

But viewing glasses are not the only ephemera and items that have been produced  to herald this astronomical event. Preparations for the total solar eclipse have been underway for years. The Eclipse 2012 Festival at Palmer River, for example, has drawn thousands to a remote locate for seven days of art, entertainment and healing. Port Douglas is holding the Solar Eclipse Marathon and its own five day Solar Eclipse Festival. And outrigger canoes slipped into the water at CliftonBeach near Cairns early this morning and paddled up to Palm Cove to celebrate the eclipse and finish with a tropical breakfast. The list goes on…

How can we, or should we, collect material from this major event and integrate it into our museum collections? Does it fit within our understanding of tourism, of entertainment, of revelling, or of stargazing over the years? Can we document how local people celebrated the event or collect from the various festivals that have been held? And can we capture, through photographic and intangible culture, the “being there” moment, that collective gasp we all took as the moon finally slid over the sun, when the light dimmed, the temperature dropped and when the birds went suddenly silent?

Cairns Solar Eclipse from Machan’s Beach, Cairns. Photo: Michael Marzik

Cairns Museum: installing a new exhibition

Cairns Museum will soon be opening a new exhibition called Cairns 1942: War in a northern town. Last weekend 10 volunteers worked tirelessly to help prepare the exhibition space for the new display. Old displays were dismantled and stored. New walls were installed. The exhibition space and object cases were vigorously cleaned. And new display panels and objects were temporarily placed to ensure the layout was correct. Stay tuned to see more images from the exhibition after it officially opens on Tuesday 5 June 2012.

Image

Michael, Les, Deb and Jo dismantle part of the old displays at Cairns Museum.

Photographer: Suzanne Gibson.