Earlier this month I was lucky enough to travel to Muttaburra to deliver some workshops. Although a (very) small town, Muttaburra boasts two museums – the Dr Arratta Memorial Museum and Cassimatis Store and Cottage – which are managed by a small but dedicated team of volunteers. Keen to learn about how best to care for and interpret their collections, we devised a series of four workshops covering collection policies, interpretation panels, cataloguing, and object labelling.
While we all may know what is exciting and unusual about our own collections, it is worth giving some thought to how we share this with our visitors to make sure we’re providing the best possible experience of what our collections have to offer. During our workshop on interpretation panels, the Muttaburra volunteers thought and talked about how to plan exhibitions and displays (and what’s the difference between the two!), how best to interpret objects to make them accessible and interesting for visitors, and the nuts and bolts of what makes good interpretation panels. Thinking and talking is good, but doing is even better, so the volunteers soon got stuck into making their own interpretation panels. Now armed with the tools of the trade, I’m looking forward to seeing what they do with their new skills!
Writing a Collection Policy may not sound like the most exciting aspect of museum life, but it is really the most important document in helping you manage your collection well. It helps you clearly define all the main aspects of managing your collection, including how you will collect objects, how you will document them, how you will care for them, as well as tackling some of the more tricky issues of deaccessioning and ethical considerations. With two very different collections to manage, some thought had to be given to how to structure the collection policy to best suit their situation, but very quickly the volunteers worked together to painlessly produce a document which will be their first port of call in all important decision making processes.
Another hallmark of a well managed collection is good documentation, but with backlogs common to all museums, it often gets put in the too hard basket. We spent some time in Muttaburra looking at the processes for accessioning items into the collection, followed by the more detailed work of cataloguing. While some useful work has been done in the past at the Hospital Museum, we had to spend some time trying to establish if previous location systems were still practical, and devising new ones for the Cassimatis Store and Cottage. As always, practice makes perfect so getting their own electronic catalogue started was an important component to the workshop.
A good catalogue is of little use if you can’t identify your objects, so applying accession labels to objects was our last topic. Good object labelling, combined with good documentation, is also another weapon in the museum arsenal when confronted with a disaster. There are several options for doing this safely and unobtrusively dependent on the materials of each object, so the volunteers were introduced to a range of techniques. I expect that soon everything that isn’t nailed down will have a number attached to it!
The workshops were funded by the Regional Arts Development Fund through Barcaldine Regional Council. Thanks to the volunteers for being such wonderful hosts and willing students, and also to the volunteers from the Aramac Tramway Museum who made the trip to Muttaburra to take part. It’s great to see small museums and communities working together. I’m looking forward to seeing more of your new skills in action.
The early hours of Saturday July 18th will mark the first anniversary of the fire which claimed the Waltzing Matilda Centre in Winton. It has been a long hard road for the volunteers of the Winton District Historical Society so it is timely to reflect on the enormous amount they have achieved since the devastating impact of the fire. Previous blogs have detailed the remarkable results achieved by conservators on a number of significant objects (Winton Fire response – Waltzing Matilda Centre, Winton Fire Response – the next phase of recovery, Phoenix objects from Winton, The conservation of a fire damaged print), but the work hasn’t stopped there.
Since March 21st the volunteers have opened those areas of the complex unaffected by the fire on a daily basis, and have welcomed over 1800 visitors. Although displays in the main Waltzing Matilda Centre were impacted by the fire, there’s still plenty for visitors to see in the museum complex with a fascinating range of cultural and natural history objects from the region on display. Visitors can also see objects salvaged from the fire and the ongoing work of volunteers in conserving them.
The Waltzing Matilda Story, which previously formed part of the Billabong Show in the Centre, was saved from the fire and can be viewed in the Sarah Riley Theatre, which has also played host to a variety of community activities since the fire, including Waltzing Matilda Day, a famil tour and smoko for interstate journalists, and a free talk on overshots in Western Queensland by historian Sandi Robb.
In amongst all this activity, the volunteers have continued to work steadily through the objects still requiring attention. Locals and visitors have also donated their time and expertise in the ongoing cleaning process, and the Winton Creative Arts Group have achieved stunning results with some of the collection, reading room, and storage furniture, with 11 large items and 12 chairs restored.
With all these achievements it’s easy for outsiders to forget the physical and emotional toll a disaster such as this takes on those who face loss and damage of their treasured collections. But the images below demonstrate just what a huge accomplishment the successes of the past year have been. The Winton District Historical Society are collaborating with Council, architects and the curatorial team on plans for the new Waltzing Matilda Centre, incorporating the museum precinct, and we can’t wait to see what they’ll do next.
Follow the new Centre’s progress at Waltzing Matilda Centre
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/
Before the serious heat of summer struck, MDO Josh Tarrant and I travelled to Ilfracombe to undertake a conservation clean of the objects and interior of Langenbaker House. I have previously blogged about the history of this remarkable piece of Western Queensland history – moved to Ilfracombe from Barcaldine in about 1899, it was occupied continuously by the Langenbaker family for over 90 years. On the death of the last family member, the house and all its contents were acquired by the local council in order to preserve this increasingly vanishing part of Queensland’s heritage.
Situated in dry, dusty, drought-stricken Ilfracombe, keeping the house and contents clean will always be a challenge. The design of the house – timber frame with corrugated iron walls – would have allowed plenty of breeze to flow through, keeping the Langenbakers cool, but has also let in dust and pests now the house is unoccupied and not receiving the regular housekeeping attention of Mrs Langenbaker. The dust had built up over some years, so it was time to arm ourselves with vacuum cleaners and set to work.
Not only does dirt and dust detract from the appearance of objects, it also creates food and habitation for pests, which may further damage collection items. As the aim of our conservation clean was to remove these harmful agents in order to safeguard the items for the future, normal household cleaners were off the agenda, as these are often just as harmful to objects as the dirt and pests themselves. Our primary cleaning tools were vacuums with adjustable suction and micro-attachments, soft brushes, with the occasional sparing use of distilled water and cotton buds. But even these simple tools produced dramatic results. Colours became more vibrant (or even visible!), and the house took on a more lived-in feel. Mrs Langenbaker had a reputation as a meticulous housekeeper, so the appearance of the house is now more in keeping with how it was maintained during her lifetime.
Annual deep cleans are an excellent way of extending your weekly or monthly collection cleaning schedule, getting in to those hard to reach places, and giving your collection a good health check. But be prepared to put in some time – our conservation clean of Langenbaker House took five full days! Click on the images below to see some of the results.
As the new kid on the MDO block, I have recently had the privilege to travel to the western areas of Central Queensland to meet groups caring for cultural heritage in the west. In a trip that covered Nebo, Clermont, Emerald, Springsure, Barcaldine, Muttaburra, Winton, Longreach, Ilfracombe and Isisford, I encountered everything from dinosaurs to diggers, as well as meeting the dedicated volunteers caring for these collections in the often hot and harsh outback.
A new type of object for me was a 1976 prize winning rich boiled fruit cake, preserved in its own purpose built glass dome and proudly on display at the Barcaldine and District Folk Museum. It was originally intended that the cake would last about five years under its dome, but thirty eight years on the cake is still going strong, although the temptation to sample its rich fruity goodness isn’t hard to fight.
Possibly most famous for its role in the 1891 shearer’s strike which ultimately led to the formation of the Australian Labor Party, Barcaldine has a rich agricultural and social history which is evident in the architecture and monuments about the town. Much of this history is eloquently told and on display at the Barcaldine and District Folk Museum. Aside from the fruit cake above and a wealth of social history items linked to the town, the museum also has an interesting collection of WWI material, including this pair of French airman’s goggles.
Also a central location in the 1891 shearer’s strike but now more famous for a major fossil find in the area in 1963, Muttaburra is a small town with a big history. When grazier Doug Langdon stumbled across some unusual looking rocks on his property, it led to the first recorded specimen of one of Australia’s prehistoric giants – Muttaburrasaurus langdoni – named for his discoverer. Affectionately known as ‘Mutt’ or ‘Dino’, the dinosaur is recreated in the park in the middle of town, and each year fossil enthusiasts visit the area in the hope of making the next big find. Muttaburra has more on offer than dinosaurs however, with the A.A. Cassimatis Store and Cottage and the Dr Arratta Hospital Museum capturing a snapshot of life in Muttaburra in a more prosperous time. The range of goods on display at the Cassimatis Store helps to reinforce how essential these general stores were to remote communities, stocking everything from farm and stock supplies to boiled lollies and over the counter medicines.
Dinosaurs were still on the menu in Winton, with a visit to the Australian Age of Dinosaurs. With a dedicated team of staff and volunteers constantly chipping away at fossil deposits, what’s on offer at the AAOD is continually evolving (unlike the dinosaurs themselves!). But as with Muttaburra, there’s so much more to Winton than dinosaurs. The heritage listed Corfield and Fitzmaurice Store not only has displays ranging from shearing to, yes, dinosaurs, but also offers a rare opportunity to see the virtually unaltered interior of an early 20th century general store, complete with manager’s office, clerk’s cubicle, and flying fox or cash railway for dispensing change.
Another rare survivor in Winton is the Chinese market garden and store of Willie Mar. The garden, which had provided Winton with fresh fruit and vegetables since the 1920s when Willie’s father commenced operations, only ceased to produce commercially in 2000 when floods impacted heavily on the aging Willie and his garden. Willie himself passed away in 2007, and many residents of Winton have vivid memories and engaging stories of Willie and his garden. Although the fruit and vegetables are gone, Willie’s shop and house remain at the site, as well as evidence of the ingenious pond watering system common to Chinese gardens. The Chinese skills and traditions of farming small patches of land with a continual crop yield became an essential part of community health and survival in many outback towns and the excellently interpreted Willie Mar site is a tangible reminder of this now extinct tradition. The progress on this site will be exciting to watch as the Friends of Willie Mar continue to interpret and share the site. A special thanks to the Friends of Willie Mar group and the volunteers at the Qantilda Museum for taking the time to share with us their wonderful collections.
In this first year of the First World War centenary commemorations, it’s hard for the MDOs not to notice World War One collections as they work with Queensland’s regional museums and communities.
As we write grants and work on a variety of projects, we’re all keenly aware of the importance of these collections and artefacts. Rolls of honour, signature cloths, letters home, knitted socks, soldiers portraits and glass negatives, Dead Man’s pennies, war trophies, equipment guild artefacts and war souvenirs: these are just some of the items that are preserved by volunteers in regional Queensland’s community museums. They are special and significant. They demonstrate the impact of the war on communities, families and individuals.
In a recent trip in north west Queensland, Ewen McPhee and Dr Jo Wills came across an extraordinary array of First World War collections and materials. Like other communities across the state, there are some powerful stories from the First World War period that illustrate just how people and townships in north west Queensland were affected by the war – both on the front line and at home.
Of particular interest were the signature cloths in Croydon and Cloncurry. Community members paid to have their signatures embroidered onto the cloths as part of patriotic fund raising activities. Some of these were later auctioned off to raise further funds for the war effort. There are a number of these signature cloths in other collections around Australia. One in Alison Homestead in Wyong Shire Council NSW recently survived a fire. Another made by the Neerim South Red Cross Society is held by Museum Victoria. It would be interesting to know which other communities in Queensland hold these cloths in their museums and collections.
Other objects strongly represented in collections include honour rolls and memorial boards. Irvinebank, Croydon and Winton have decorative items that commemorate citizen’s involvement and sacrifice. During their travels out west, Jo and Ewen met up with Central Queensland MDO, Dr Melanie Piddocke, in Winton and found a number of interesting items at the Qantilda Museum at the Waltzing Matilda Centre.
A rare and evocative First World War object is held by Zara Clark Museum in Charters Towers. Ewen has previously posted an entry about the pair of half knitted socks and an associated letter that the museum holds. His research into this subject has uncovered related items in other museums, such as the “Grey Sock Booklet’ that was printed by the Soldiers’ Sock Fund to provide instruction for knitting socks. A copy is held in the Powerhouse Museum Collection.
Another interesting item can be found at Loudoun House Museum in Irvinebank. Volunteers Tony, Peter and Ellen showed MDOs a trench mortar presented to the community as a war trophy. Numerous communities were presented with trophies captured from German troops on the front line.
Thanks to all of the volunteers, museums and council officers in Charters Towers, Hughenden, Winton, Cloncurry, Mount Isa, Burketown, Normanton, Croydon and Irvinebank for making us welcome and sharing information about your heritage and collections.
Keen punters from Western Queensland and beyond gathered in Tambo this year for a very special race meet to mark 150 years of horse racing. In the long history of Queensland racing, Tambo lays claim to the earliest organised race day west of the Great Dividing Range.
With horses being the most common form of transport at the time, it is no surprise that the first organised horse races were held in the district on the 20th and 21st of July 1864, barely one year after the gazetting of the township. No doubt fuelled by community spirit and the posturing of both riders and breeders, the first race was hosted by Henry L. Harden, owner of Northampton Downs station. The event was staged under the name of the Great Western Downs Race Meeting and saw 4 races each day, with 21 horses entered by 14 owners. Prizes included a number of silver trophies, silver spurs, and around 54 sovereigns prize money- not a small sum for the time!
To help celebrate the event, the Central Queensland MDO worked with the Tambo & District Race Club to develop and produce Racing on the River, a travelling exhibition exploring the history of racing in the district.
An exciting discovery was made during the exhibition development: the location of the first racing trophy, “The Northampton Downs Cup”. With community assistance, this holy grail of Tambo Racing history was traced back to a private collector in Toowoomba. Mrs Diana Mayall was kind enough to loan the precious piece of history for part of the exhibition.
The exhibition will travel to a number of venues in the Blackall Tambo Region throughout 2014. This project was supported by funding from the Regional Arts Development Fund through Arts Queensland and Blackall Tambo Regional Council partnering to support local arts and culture.
I’ve been delivering oral history workshops for a number of years around Central Queensland. The workshop takes about half a day and participants learn the ins and outs of the interview process plus what to do before and after. But at the end of the training there are two key messages I want participants to walk away with. Read the rest of this entry
Congratulations to the five community museums in the Mackay region who received the 2012 Gallery & Museum Achievement Award in the category ‘Organisations: Volunteer Run’ for their joint exhibition Sugar Strike: The Impact of the 1911 Sugar Strike on the Mackay Region.
In 2011 five museums in the Mackay region joined together to tell the story of the 1911 sugar strike including local events which had state and national ramifications. Read the rest of this entry