Blog Archives

Island Artists

I recently came across an object when working with Proserpine Historical Museum that made me think of a project that I was involved in seventeen years ago for the Queensland Museum. It was entitled “Old salts, alternative life-stylers and beach bums”. The goal of this Queensland wide project was to record people who had a long association with the sea and/or maritime practices, individuals who had chosen a lifestyle that was perceived to be alternative, and individuals who had chosen to drop out of society and live on islands or the coastal fringes of Queensland.

The object in question is the crown from the Great Barrier Reef Coral Festival that was presented to the Coral Queen. This crown was won by Thora Nicolson, formerly of Linderman Island and donated to the Museum. The fascinating full story of the festival and its transition can be found here, here and here through the Museum Facebook page.

Great Barrier Reef Coral Festival – Coral Queen crown. Image Ewen McPhee

Additional research has identified similar festival material culture such as crowns, gowns, sashes, photographs, movies and stories in museum collections throughout Queensland. It would be interesting to look at how these festivals originated, changed and their eventual demise.

My interest however was sparked by the makers of the crown – Leena and Bill Wallace from Coral Art on Dent Island. It is worthwhile to watch this short YouTube clip found here.

Leena and Bill lived on Dent Island and carved out a niche market for themselves selling painted coral arrangements. Bill, formally in the US Navy, was the collector, and Leena the artist. They lived on Dent Island for over 10 years and were some of the early pioneers in tourism in the Whitsunday region. They shipped their painted coral around the world and it was used to promote the Great Barrier Reef through the Queensland Tourist Bureau.

As the area opened up to cruising yachtsman in the 1960s, passing sailors, such as John Gunn, documented them in his 1966 book Barrier Reef by Trimaran

“A married couple live in an idyllic setting on a cleared area of land behind the beach on this northern tip. With tremendous enterprise they have pioneered a business for themselves. The husband dives for coral pieces, and the wife applies delicate shades of colour to them, to make them look like the living corals…One may not be enthralled by this kind of tourist art, but it is popular. And the life that the two have carved out for themselves on their own island is one that many of us would love to have…”

Other painted coral business also sprang up in the Whitsundays such as Mandalay Gardens at Mandalay Point across from Airlie Beach and collections of painted corals can be seen at the Bowen Museum and Historical Society.

Leena and Bill fit into the category of alternate life-stylers and it would have been great to record their story in full. Please contact the Proserpine Historical Museum if you know more about Leena and Bill.

K26064
 Bill and Leena with coral, Dent Island, Barrier Reef (National Archives of Australia
11925533)
L92296
Coral art business on Dent Island, Barrier Reef. 1970. National Archives of Australia, 11464802)
L92298
Coral art business on Dent Island, Barrier Reef. 1970. National Archives of Australia, 11464804)
K26066
Mr Wallace with coral, Dent Island, Barrier Reef, 1970. National Archives of Australia 11925560)
L92300
Coral art business on Dent Island, Barrier Reef. 1970. National Archives of Australia, 11464806)

Dent Island coral display, Whitsunday, Great Barrier Reef. Beris Gaal, Queensland Places.
Karen Rasmus, 1960 Coral Queen, arranging a display of Barrier Reef Coral at the Queensland Tourist Bureau, Brisbane, 1960 – Note the boxes of Coral Art from Dent Island in the background. Queensland State Archives ID 3089

Still Engaging

The Museum Development Officers (MDOs) are currently engaging with their communities while working at home. This unfortunately means no workshops, display installation, oral histories, conservation, community meetings or any work that does not allow for adequate and safe social distancing. The MDOs will continue to assist by phone, email and depending on resources, video calls.

Although Melanie (Mackay) and Jo (Cairns) are used to working alone, Lydia (Toowoomba), Josh (Ipswich) and Ewen (Townsville) are all based in the Queensland Museum campuses which have now closed their doors to the public and encouraged staff to work from home.

Self and community isolation may be new to many people but the MDOs have all worked with remote communities who are used to isolation either by distance or by natural disasters such as flood. The MDOs have documented School of the Air radios, cleaned Flying Doctor objects, researched stories about Afghan traders servicing isolated pastoral stations, documented rural and remote health practices, researched quarantine stations on islands, and recorded the events of returning First World War soldiers and the Spanish Flu.

These objects and stories show resilience, innovation, adaptation and community spirit. They are in these museums because they are valued by the community and underscore their shared values and their desire to document what to them is often everyday life.

The MDO blog has recently added a new page with links to “how to videos”. Although these are designed as a basic introduction to a topic they may be useful if you need to undertake some work while your museum is closed or you have time at home. Please contact your local MDO if you need further information.

Royal Flying Doctor Service medical chest as used by remote pastoral stations.
Image: John Flynn Place, Cloncurry.
Traeger transceiver type 59SA. These were used specifically by School of the Air pupils.
Source: John Flynn Place, Cloncurry.

Bowen’s rich maritime history

Connected Culture

North Queensland Museum Development Officer, Ewen McPhee, has continued to work with the Norfolk Island Museum on a project detailing the material culture from Pitcairn Island.

With the permanent population on Pitcairn Island decreasing, the Norfolk Island Museum decided to start documenting the material culture that is held in the Pitcairn Island communities on Norfolk Island and in New Zealand (Auckland and Wellington).  The Norfolk Island Museum was also interested in looking at collections that were held in other museums to ensure their own collection policy, research and interpretation planning  was well informed and appropriate.

Janelle Blucher,Team Leader of Heritage Management, at the Norfolk Island Museum applied to the Pacific Development and Conservation Trust for funding to undertake this project.  This funding was successful and in February 2016, Ewen joined Janelle on Norfolk Island to start the project.

Initially the aim was to try and identify objects that arrived on Norfolk Island in 1856 when the entire population of Pitcairn Island moved to Norfolk Island.  This trip was undertaken on the vessel Morayshire and has been well documented in historical accounts.  Janelle and Ewen were particularly interested to find out which objects  the Pitcairn Islanders deemed important enough to bring with them on this initial voyage from Pitcairn Island.

Community recording days were held at the Norfolk Island Museum where people were encouraged to bring in their objects and retell their family histories and stories.  Janelle and Ewen developed a standard recording sheet that in time will inform a database of community collections that will be maintained by the museum.

Jeanine photos (1)

Jeanine Snell with her collection of Pitcairn Island objects (Norfolk Island)

hair comb turtle shell two (2)

Turtle shell hair comb, from Pitcairn Island, belonging to Jeanine Snell

The response on Norfolk Island was very positive with Pitcairn Island descendants and other members of the community, including collectors, bringing in their objects to the Museum.  Janelle and Ewen were able to photograph, record and document information about the families and the objects over a number of days.  They were also invited into private homes where they viewed many larger items such as Boston whalers rocking chairs, photograph albums, paintings and souvenirs.  Objects that Norfolk Island community members brought into the museum included yollo stones, baskets, hats, wooden carvings, a signed cricket bat, painted Hatti leaves, photographs, letters, bibles, turtle shell hair combs, and dolls.

Ewen and Janelle then traveled to New Zealand to the cities of Auckland and Wellington where they continued the community recording.  In Auckland they were shown contemporary weaving of baskets, hats and mobile phone covers, along with tapa and print making items.  More yollo stones appeared, along with a whalebone picker used to thatch house roofs with, wooden souvenir boxes, Hattie leaves, painted coconuts, woven fans, baskets and a top hat.  Ewen and Janelle also visited the Auckland Museum where they were shown the collection of over 11000 stone tools that were acquired by the Museum.  All of these items, held in the archaeology collection, pre date the arrival of the HMS Bounty on Pitcairn Island but nevertheless add to the body of knowledge surrounding the occupation of Pitcairn Island.  In Wellington, Janelle and Ewen made contact with Pitcairn Islanders and their descendants as well as visiting the Alexander Turnbull Library and Te Papa Museum to view their Pitcairn Island collections.

Possibly one of the most prized objects brought out from Pitcairn since 1856 is made from stone, a vesicular or aerated basalt stone, fashioned into a functional Polynesian style domestic item known as a ‘yollo’ stone or a food grater. Measuring approximately thirty by twenty centimetres this rectangular shaped stone is scored across its surface and used to grate or ‘yollo’ breadfruit, banana and yams.  This food preparation tool made from Pitcairn Island’s basalt is still used by some, and is highly valued by island families on Norfolk and also by Pitcairn families now living in New Zealand.

 

Yolla stone top view

Yolla Stone belonging to Jane Rutledge (Norfolk Island)

The  Te Papa collection revealed an exquisite whalebone tapa beater, a wooden candle holder with an inscription of the Bounty story, painted clam shells, a wooden magic box, contemporary tapa, and other souvenir trade items.

Te Papa (139).JPG

Ewen McPhee at Te Papa

Also in Wellington, Janelle and Ewen met with the donor of a collection of glass plate negatives taken in 1928 and now in the Alexander Turnbull library.  These photographs clearly show what life was like on Pitcairn Island in 1928 and are an important snapshot in time for further family history and documentary work.  The Library also contained an 1814 account by Royal Navy Lieutenant Willis on approaching Pitcairn Island complete with a narrative and paintings.  Other objects included newspaper cuttings, photographs, and souvenirs.

IMG_7575

Janelle Blucher with the Willis account

 

Janelle and her team at the Norfolk Island Museum are continuing to collect information and developing the database. The Norfolk Island Museum facebook page has been used to connect with the Pitcairn community and shows more photographs from the project.

 

Cyclone Season and Preparation

With the first low developing in the Coral Sea it is a good time to enact your cyclone preparedness plans.

Usually this should involve:

  • checking that all volunteers and local council staff are aware and have read the cyclone preparedness plan, and understand what need to be done if a cyclone watch is declared;
  • checking your disaster response bin and ensuring that it is up to date with the list enclosed in the bin (see below for list);
  • ensuring a recent backup of all computer files has been carried out, or check that routine automatic backup systems are working and up to date;
  • ensuring the museum curator and office holders have updated personal contact details for each other stored in their personal mobile phones;
  • checking the list of phone contacts for volunteers, local council contacts and emergency services;
  • checking local council cyclone plans;
  • checking that any procedures dealing with post disaster event are located in a safe place and that volunteers and staff  are aware of these;
  • locating all keys to display cabinets, testing that all locks work and access is available to remove objects. Storing the keys in the key safe and ensuring volunteers and staff know how to access;
  • ensuring collection items and display images have been updated and that volunteers and staff are aware;
  • ensuring any loaned objects are assessed and that they are returned if practical. Contacting lenders and make them aware that cyclone season is approaching;
  • cleaning all gutters, down pipes and removing overhead branches

Your disaster bin should be located in an area that is readily accessible and should have a list, kept with the bin, stating what the contents are.  It is important to replace things like batteries and review its contents on a regular basis.

THIS DISASTER BIN SHOULD CONTAIN:

  • 1 torch
  • 1 head torch
  • 1 spare battery
  • 10 metres plastic sheeting
  • 2 rolls waterproof tape
  • 1 pair scissors
  • 1 stanley knife
  • 4 packets paper towelling
  • 40 Chucks wipes
  • 1 sponge mop
  • 1 spare mop sponge
  • 1 hand sponge
  • 1 plastic bucket
  • 1 brush & pan
  • 8 garbage bags
  • 2 boxes nitrile gloves
  • 1 large & 1 medium rubber gloves
  • 2 dust masks
  • 2 waterproof pens
  • 30 tyvek labels & ties
  • 1 roll cotton tape
  • 1 notebook
  • 2 pens
  • 30 ziplock bags

 

Example of disaster supply bin - cable tie shut and cut when needed.  This will mean that supplies aren't used for general cleaning purposes

Example of disaster supply bin – cable tie shut and cut when needed. This will mean that supplies aren’t used for general cleaning purposes

 

For more information about cyclone and disasters preparation, visit some of the Museum Development Officer previous blog posts or contact us.

 

 

Adaptation and collaboration: creating the gallery for “Cooktown’s War”

IMG_4809

Cooktown’s War: final exhibition in one of the nun’s cells at James Cook Museum, Cooktown. Photo: Ewen McPhee.

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.

Bowen Museum and Historical Society – First World War exhibition

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.

Norfolk Island Significance Assessment

View over Slaughter Bay from Kingston Jetty towards Nepean Island

View over Slaughter Bay from Kingston Jetty towards Nepean Island

Ewen McPhee recently undertook a significance assessment for the Norfolk Island Museum. The Norfolk Island Museum holds collections and provides historical interpretation from four distinct periods of Norfolk Island History:

  • Polynesian Settlement – 700 – 1500
  • First Settlement (penal) – 1788 – 1814
  • Second Settlement (penal) – 1825 – 1855
  • Third Settlement (Bounty mutineer descendants from Pitcairn Island) – 1856 to present.

The Norfolk Island Museum displays and stores collections in the following locations:

  • The HMS Sirius Museum
  • The Commissariat Store
  • No 10 Quality Row
  • Pitcairn Norfolk Gallery (Pier Store)
  • Guard House (research centre, paper, photographs and books)
  • Anson Bay Offsite Storage Facility

Consultation was undertaken with key stakeholders on Norfolk Island regarding the issue of national significance. This resulted in replacing the more commonly used National Significance level with Pacific Significance. This was done in order to reflect the importance of Norfolk Island’s location and its relationship to other Pacific nations. The level of Pacific Significance is seen as the same as National Significance if the assessment was undertaken within Australia.

Norfolk Island is part of the Australian Convict Sites listing that was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2010. This means many of the collection items were assessed as having International Significance as well.

Key significance findings included:

The HMS Sirius Museum

The archaeological collection from the HMS Sirius displayed in the HMS Sirius Gallery is of International Significance for its ability to document the purpose of the First Fleet coming to Australia, the role that it played as the sole defence vessel for the New South Wales Colony and through the role that it played in the development both physically and psychologically on the early settlement of Sydney Cove. The collection is also of international significance for its ability to document the story of survival and resilience on Norfolk Island and in Australia before, during and after the wrecking event as well as documenting the early phase of European Pacific Island occupation and exploitation. Finally, the HMS Sirius collection is Internationally Significant as it adds to historical research, archives, and museum collections by providing additional and complimentary data to inform collections, research and exhibitions. This is particularly the case for research into the development of the First Settlement at Norfolk Island and the subsequent Second Settlement.

The Commissariat Store 

The KAVHA Collection associated with the Kingston and Arthur’s Vale Historic Area (KAVHA) held in the Commissariat Store is of International Significance for its ability to provide archaeological evidence for both the Polynesian settlement and the site of the earliest European settlement from Australia to the south west Pacific. It is Internationally Significant through its ability to provide archaeological evidence on the role that the KAHVA site played in the evolution of the colony of New South Wales and later Australia. The KAVHA collection also details the convict settlement, living and working conditions at the beginning of European occupation of Australia (the First Settlement), and the planning and operation of a nineteenth century penal settlement (the Second Settlement). The collection is Internationally Significant through its documentation of the initial flax industry and its subsequent failure including the kidnap of Tuki and Huru. It also provides archaeological evidence of remote island survival and subsistence and the natural history through the fauna remains. The Third Settlement is also represented through the evidence of the arrival of the Pitcairn islanders and their material culture.No 10 Quality Row

No 10 Quality Row

The objects associated with the collection at No 10 Quality Row are primarily of Local Significance with a number of key objects being of International Significance. The International Significance objects include examples of early convict furniture making and indicate style, method and timbers used. Ceramics from the KAVHA collection on display are also of International Significance. The period furniture on display within No. 10 Quality Row is of Local Significance documenting the furniture styles and uses on the Island during the Third Settlement period. Domestic items and agricultural processing objects such as the spinning wheel, arrowroot grinder and corn husker are all of Local Significance and tell the important story of living and domesticity on a remote island.

Pitcairn Norfolk Gallery (Pier Store)

The Norfolk Island Museum Trust (NIMT) collection objects associated with the HMAV Bounty and those from Pitcairn Island, housed in the Pitcairn Gallery within the Pier Store are of International and Pacific Significance. The internationally significant objects document shipboard technology and life aboard HMAV Bounty and objects that were actively salvaged from the wreck of the HMAV Bounty for use on Pitcairn Island by the mutineers. In some cases these objects were prioritised and deemed important enough to the community to bring with them to Norfolk Island like the Codex of Laws. The objects with personalised marks are of particular interest, particularly the ones where the practice was carried forward into the Third Settlement. The objects of Pacific Significance include the contemporary souvenirs from Pitcairn Island and the ability to document the start, scope and history of the Norf’k language from the arrival of the Pitcairn Islanders on Norfolk Island. The Third Settlement objects housed within the Norfolk Gallery in the Pier Store are primarily of Pacific and Local Significance. The Pacific Significance objects document the reasons for the departure from Pitcairn Island and the arrival on Norfolk Island. They detail the use of the KAHVA site during the Third Settlement along with the expansion to other areas of Norfolk Island. They demonstrate the participation in industries such as whaling, fish factory operation and other maritime related activities such as lighterage and the import and export of goods to the Island. The objects tell the story of the locating and influence of the Melanesian Mission, early Pacific tourism and the military usage of the Island during the Second World War. The Locally Significance objects document the spread of the agriculture industry, education, religion, Island democracy and the annual commemoration days.

The Guardhouse

The collections housed within the Guardhouse are of International, Pacific and Local Significance through their associations with the First, Second and Third Settlement phases. This collection contains photographs, oral histories, maps, diaries, letters, records, books, newspapers, subject and biographical files and has outstanding research significance, is in good condition and is both rare and representative.

To find out more about the museum, visit their website: http://norfolkislandmuseum.com.au/

“Evolution: Torres Strait Masks”- MDOs working with Gab Titui

Apart from the disaster recovery work in Winton, the MDOs have been working on numerous other projects.  One of these, “Evolution: Torres Strait Masks”,  has been with staff from Gab Titui Cultural Centre on Thursday Island.

At the end of last year, Jo Wills and Ewen McPhee traveled up to Torres Strait to train and work with the staff to develop a new exhibition for their cultural maintenance gallery. The theme was chosen to recognise the cultural significance of masks in Torres Strait culture, their influence on contemporary art forms, and to revive the art form itself.

The special challenge for this project was the procurement of objects – so many of these items are held in international institutions and other Australian museums. To address this, the exhibition concept was planned around a contemporary arts component which involved commissioning local artists to create masks for the exhibition.

After undertaking applied training with the MDOs, Gab Titui staff got down to the task of researching and curating the exhibition. Working with renowned artist Alick Tipoti as co-curator, Leitha Assan and Aven Noah developed the overall look and feel for the exhibition and prepared all exhibition text and content. They identified eight different artists, based on islands where masks were traditionally made, to design masks for the exhibition: Andrew Passi, Eddie Nona, Vincent Babia, Kapua Gutchen Snr, Alick Tipoti, Torrens Gizu and Yessie Mosby.

Jo and Ewen returned to Gab Titui to help install the exhibition. Cultural protocols dictate the way masks can be handled – only men are able to touch the masks. For installation, this meant Ewen worked with Aven and Kailu to hang the masks, while Jo worked with Leitha and Elsie to hang panels, create object mounts for other items, line the cases and prepare the labels.

The end result is stunning, and a testament to their hard work. The masks are extraordinary and powerful objects in their own right, and together represent a significant body of work. The black lined cases create a sense of mystery and dark magic to echo the spirituality of the objects. The labels tell the artists stories, while the text panels provide an insight into the background of the mask in TI culture.

“Evolution” opened in conjunction with the 2015 Gab Titui Arts Awards and will be on display for a year. Jo traveled back to Thursday Island to attend the opening, see the final exhibition, and was lucky enough to see performances by the Aibai Sagulau Buai Dance Team from Badu Island.

Thank you to George Serras from the National Museum of Australia for allowing me to use some images from the opening in this post.

Winton Fire response – Waltzing Matilda Centre

Queensland Museum staff Ewen McPhee and Sue Valis have returned from their initial response to the salvage work at the Waltzing Matilda Centre in Winton.   Ewen and Sue worked side by side volunteers from the Winton and District Historical Society and Winton Shire Council workers to salvage the objects and start the conservation process.

Once the building was cleared for entry, objects were removed from the Centre with the assistance of Council workers, many of whom also had a strong attachment to the collection through their own family history.  Objects were then brought outside and checked off a list, recorded and transported by car, truck and ute to a clean work area.  Under the guidance of Sue, Winton and District Historical Society volunteers then prioritised objects and started laying them out and undertaking preventative conservation.  Other makeshift drying areas and cleaning zones were utilised to ensure the large volume of objects were processed quickly to allow every possible chance of long term conservation.

Credit must go to the Winton and District Historical Society for their policies, procedures and facilities before, during and post disaster.  The Society had excellent records, training, facilities and community spirit that allowed the initial response to go smoothly.   A report on the condition of the collection will be provided at an appropriate time by the Society.

Please see the galleries below for images of the building and response.  If you click on the images this will enlarge them and allow you to scroll through each gallery.

The entire Museum Development Officer team will return to Winton in mid July to again work alongside the volunteers from the Winton and District Historical Society.

This Blog will continue to update the progress of the response.

The Building

The objects in situ and display area

The recovery

The recovery area