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The only good typewriter is a provenanced typewriter…

It’s probably no secret that typewriters in museum collections generally aren’t my favourite kind of object. There are a few reasons for that, all based on principles of good museological practice. Let me explain…

As I travel the regions I come across many typewriters. They seem to be breeding in collection stores and back sheds. At first there is one and then another. And then another couple that turn up after that. Before you know it they have taken over, like the seagulls in Hitchcock’s movie “The Birds”. If sparrows or starlings are considered to be the rats of the sky, I wonder what this make the venerable museum typewriter?

A proliferance of typewriters in regional museums isn’t necessarily a reason not to include them in a collection. The problem is that many of the typewriters I come across in collections have little or no known provenance. We don’t know who donated them, if they are associated with any particular event, who used them, or even where they came from. As far as being able to use them to illustrate important or interesting local stories, often they aren’t great examples.

Typical typewriter breeding habitat. Note the typewriters lurking under the card index accompanied by their close relative, the adding machine

Typical typewriter breeding habitat. Note the typewriters lurking under the card index accompanied by their close relative, the adding machine

Aside from that, they are big and heavy. Even the “compact” versions are more than capable of wrenching a shoulder or breaking a toe should you decide to tangle with them. In terms of both storage and display, they occupy a significant amount of real estate that could be dedicated to more significant objects. If you have any more than two or three typewriters that you know nothing about, and are concerned about your storage space not having room left for the town survey plans or Mayoral chains, I’m sure you know what I would be putting up high on the deacessioning priority list.

There does seem to be a couple of standard justifications that I hear for having a glut of mystery typewriters in the collection. One is that there are plans afoot to develop a display on the development of typewriters through the ages, from past to present. However, few of the museums with such aspirations consider themselves museums of technology. They are museums that aim to tell the stories of their particular community, not a worldwide perspective on technological advances. Such stories are really out of the context and scope of the museum.

Another reason I hear is that children really enjoy using (read: playing with) them. The “a-ha” factor, where the child draws a connection between the typewriter and the computer, or an understanding the rationale behind the QWERTY keyboard layout* is often cited as being justification for their inclusion. I’m sure that there are children who make the connection and are enlightened by those facts, but I’m not quite convinced that these are the best lessons we have to offer.

We have been seduced by their quaint branding and maker’s marks, often with those nostalgic golden cursive scripts transferred onto a black wrinkle paint finish. Their open construction and visible mechanisms capture our imagination, and test our cognitive ability to predict what will happen inside when we press the button marked with the letter “a”. They are a far cry from our sleek, ergonomically designed smartphones or tablet computers, and we seem to love them for it. Perhaps a little more than is healthy.  Secretly I think there are more than a few others who think these intricate machines might look delightful parted out and turned into artworks, kitsch ornaments or steampunk jewellery. In either case, we seem to find it hard to let them go.

Now, before you lynch me for crucifying this poor, defenceless, much maligned device I need to state that it is possible for me to appreciate the typewriter in a museum context. In fact, it has been one of fantastic typewriter that prompted me to write this blog.

Oliver typewriter at Dayboro Historical Society Museum

Oliver typewriter at Dayboro Historical Society Museum

Recently I enjoyed a visit to the Dayboro Historical Society, and came across this little green beauty. It is an “Oliver” brand- possibly a model 3- that was manufactured in the USA between the 1890’s to late 1920’s. In this particular configuration, the u-shaped type bars that impress the letters onto paper swing down from above, rather than from the front of the machine to back. It’s certainly not like your average Remington.

But it isn’t just the unusual “down strike” format, the age, or the fact that it wasn’t black with pretty writing that I find this particular typewriter interesting and valuable. It was because it was used by David Edgar Evans, a local resident and newspaper correspondent, during the 1930s’. I’m told that Evans would type up his regional reports on this machine before forwarding it through to the Courier Mail for publishing. Unlike a multitude of unprovenanced typewriters sitting on shelves in our museums, its importance doesn’t necessarily lie in it’s ranking in the evolution of the printed word. The significance of this particular item lies in the way that it illustrates how the Dayboro community stayed connected with the rest of Queensland, and the importance of the region in Queensland daily life. It speaks of the means and importance of communication within our state. Through the documents it helped produce,  many years on we know about the issues and events of the time that Queenslanders of the time valued and found important.

This particular typewriter would have played a large part in the recording of many incidents, both great and small: social gatherings, sporting events, births, deaths and marriages. One Dayboro local recalled that “you could barely sneeze around here without it being written up in the paper”. This is one of many typewriters that would have been used to document the very articles that today we use in our research. The Dayboro Historical Society certainly understand the most important aspect of the history of this object.

So perhaps it’s not actually the typewriter that turns my gaze glassy when I encounter them. Maybe I just need to hear more about the unique stories and reasons our communities value them. Do you have a typewriter in your collection with a unique local story? I’d love to hear all about it!

*The QWERTY layout is said to have been designed in order to slow typists words per minute down count down enough so that the machine didn’t jam

Scenic Rim Story Skills

Remember the connection between a pencil and cassette tape? Chances are a younger audience won’t. Interpetation and labels share the important stories. “[you need to read what is on the cassette]” image courtesy RHiNO Neal (via Flickr)

Remember the connection between a pencil and cassette tape? Chances are a younger audience won’t. Interpretation and labels share the important stories. Image courtesy RHiNO Neal (via Flickr)

In this age one of the challenges many community museums face is attracting new visitors. A wide range of activities such as sports, theme parks, shopping or community service all compete for potential visitors’ time and attention. Compounding this effect, people’s understanding of our collections and their meaning is diminishing. The items which were once commonplace in everyday life are now seen by many as unknown “things”, with little relevance to their understanding of the world.
And to be fair to the visitor, sometimes we don’t do the best job of helping them to understand what they are seeing and why (we think) it matters. Sometimes we simply leave them alone with these unknown, uninterpreted objects to try to make sense of what it all means. Perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised when it becomes all too hard and they don’t bother to visit. With this situation at hand, the need to produce quality exhibitions with engaging stories to make sense of our collections has never been more important.

Volunteers from The Rathdowney Museum, Museum of Australian Military Intelligence, Templin Museum, Beaudesert Historical Society, Tamborine Mountain Historical Village with their finished interpretative panel exercise.

Volunteers from The Rathdowney Museum, Museum of Australian Military Intelligence, Templin Museum, Beaudesert Historical Society, Tamborine Mountain Historical Village with their finished interpretative panel exercise.

With these challenges in mind, volunteers from Scenic Rim museums gathered recently at Rathdowney for an exhibition development and label production workshop. During the day, the groups explored the topics of exhibition components, concept development, structuring narrative, writing, and production methods. The afternoon saw a practical session, focusing on making simple yet professional foam core labels using a number of different techniques. After an enthusiastic afternoon brandishing Stanley knives, steel rulers and spray adhesive, the participants were well equipped with the background knowledge and skills needed to produce their own exhibition panels in-house. I can’t wait to see how they will use these skills to tell the fascinating stories from their region!

The Workshop was funded by the Scenic Rim Regional Council and Arts Queensland RADF Fund. The Regional Arts Development Fund is a Queensland Government through Arts Queensland and Scenic Rim Regional Council partnership to support local arts and culture. If you would like to host a similar workshop for your museum, please contact the Museum Development Officer for your region.

Anticipating Anzac: upcoming exhibition on the Atherton Tablelands

Anzac Treasures_logoAre 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.

Tablelander Article Anzac Treasures Workshop Jan 2015The 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

Conserving Mareeba’s “Portraits of the North”

Helen Kindt and David Foster with the first box of rehoused glass negatives from the Portraits of the North project.

Helen Kindt and David Foster with the first box of rehoused glass negatives from the “Portraits of the North” project.

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.


Boxes of glass negatives that needed to be rehoused.

Boxes of glass negatives that needed to be rehoused.

Rehousing the glass negatives - acid free card pockets and foam-lined archival boxes.

Rehousing the glass negatives – acid free card pockets and foam-lined archival boxes.







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.

Rehoused silk cigarette cards - protected storage and display solutions.

Rehoused silk cigarette cards – protected storage and display solutions.

Conserved artefacts stored in archival box.

Conserved artefacts stored in archival box.

Sue shows Helen an archival album for cards and photographs.

Sue shows Helen an archival album for cards and photographs.

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.

A Golden Opportunity for Gold Coast Community Museums

Recently, members of the Gold Coast Heritage Voice network were treated to a behind the Scenes tour of both the John Oxley Library, and the Southbank campus of the Queensland Museum.

Heritage Voice members and Rachel Spano at the SLQ Conservation Lab

Heritage Voice members and Rachel Spano at the SLQ Conservation Lab

Brian Randall , Chrissi Theodosiou and the staff at SLQ were generous enough to retrieve a range of books, posters, maps, photographs, and ephemera all specifically related to the Gold Coast region from their collection stores for the group to view.

Later, Reuben Hillier showed the group through the library repository where the sheer magnitude of the collection and the challenges of providing for an ever-growing collection became apparent. The careful storage and order is undoubtedly a key factor in the JOL being able to respond so quickly to collection viewing requests- largely within the hour!

Rachel Spano greeted us at the SLQ conservation lab, where a number of specialist conservators were at work on fragile paper based objects. The lab has a range of specialist equipment at hand, including some fanciful looking gilding and embossing tools. There was an interesting conversation about the principles behind the appropriate choice of conservation or restoration in a library context, which provided some interesting perspectives compared to a museum standpoint.

At the Museum, Nicholas Hadnutt treated the group to an in-depth examination of the Social History collection stores and the treasures that it holds. While some elements of the collection elicited nostalgic reactions and others confirmed a long history of collecting, all asserted the important role of Queensland Museum as responsible custodians of significant Queensland histories.

Sue from the Kirra Hill Heritage Group get the all clear!

Sue from the Kirra Hill Heritage Group gets the all clear from conservation!

A visit to the conservation lab provided an eye-opening experience, with the opportunity to see the painstakingly precise nature and results of conservation work. Textiles Conservator Dr Michael Marendy shared some simple, yet effective techniques for preserving costumes, while Jenny Blakely and Caroline O’Rorke showcased some current ANZAC related objects being treated.

The visit was facilitated by the Museum Development Office of South East Queensland, Dr Kevin Rains and Jane Austen at Gold Coast City Council, Nick Hadnutt and Jenny Blakely at Queensland Museum Southbank, and Anne Scheu at the State Library of Queensland. A big Thank you to all!