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Camouflaged Socks

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.

Socks, knitting needles, balls of wool, calico bag and letter in original frame

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.


note the colour change from brown to green

Note the colour change from brown to green


Detail of the ball of wool showing most fading.

Detail of the ball of wool showing most fading

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.

LETTERS and the Zara Clark Museum collection

As part of the month long Charters Towers Heritage and Cultural Festival, Zara Clark Museum developed a new exhibition with the help of North Queensland MDO, Ewen McPhee.  The theme for the festival is “Letters Around the World” with many events happening around the town.  The festival will culminate in an extravaganza on Saturday 28th September where digital images will be projected on the walls of eleven historic buildings capturing the past, present and future of Charters Towers.  Ephemeral sculptures, music, dance and performance pieces will be performed in the main street of town.

charters towers image

Zara Clark Museum, Charters Towers

The LETTERS exhibition at Zara Clark Museum took each letter of the word letters and themed it with collection objects. L- letters, E – education, T – tradition, T – translation, E – everyday, R – records, S -signs.

One of the most powerful objects is a pair of half knitted socks and an accompanying letter from a son, a World War 1 soldier, to his mother.  In the letter Jim, the son, describes his life, how he has lost mates and has a  sad and tearful heart.  Despite this he is proud to be an Aussie.  In the closing paragraph Jim states “The weather over here at present is very wet and the winter is coming on us again.  You might knit me some socks and send me a pair of warm gloves….“.  The mother started to knit the socks but they were left unfinished after the news of her son’s death.  The half finished socks along with the letter are located in the museum in the L- Letters section.


Letter and Socks

Other interesting objects include a Welsh bible, a shorthand bible, and part of the original Chinese Joss House in the T – translation section.  The S – sign, section has an original Hardies Fibrolite metal sign advertising asbestos for walls and ceilings.  The R- records section has original ledgers from the Burns Philp days and also mining records from Charters Towers gold rush days.





tin dance signs – T- tradition

The Letters Exhibition will run until the end of October.