Blog Archives

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

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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

Battle for Bitapaka

As a part of Anzac commemorations, an extended version of the Defending the Pacific exhibition was recently donated to the Rabaul Museum. This Exhibition was developed by North Queensland MDO Ewen McPhee and far North Queensland MDO Dr Jo Wills. Lieutenant Colonel Ian Ford, of the Australian Defence Force, recently presented the exhibition to Ms Susie McGrade, Secretary of the Rabaul Historical Society, in Rabaul. The exhibition traces the story of volunteers from North and Far North Queensland who joined the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force at the beginning of the First World War.  A fifth banner was developed by Ewen and Jo to add to the exhibition. On 11 September 1914, troops from the Force landed in Rabaul to search for and destroy German radio stations. A patrol of 25 Australians encountered a composite force of German reservists and New Guinean police at Bita Paka. Six Australians, one German and 30 New Guinean police died in this action. The Australians who fell at Bita Paka were the first of more than 60,000 Australians killed in the Great War. The fifth banner can be viewed here – Battle for Bitapaka

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.

North West Queensland’s First World War 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.

Croydon Red Cross Society Signature Cloth. The Hughes family from Croydon were involved in the production of this item. Prior to being part of the Croydon Shire Council Heritage Collection at the True Blue Information Centre, it was displayed at the local Club Hotel.

Croydon Red Cross Society Signature Cloth. The Hughes family from Croydon were involved in the production of this item. Prior to being part of the Croydon Shire Council Heritage Collection at the True Blue Information Centre, it was displayed at the local Club Hotel.

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.

Roll of Honour of the Methodist Community, Winton.

Roll of Honour of the Methodist Community, Winton.

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.

Trench mortar presented to Irvinebank community as a war trophy. Loudoun House Museum, Irvinebank. Photo: Peter Shimmin, Loudoun House Museum, Irvinebank.

Trench mortar presented to Irvinebank community as a war trophy. Loudoun House Museum, Irvinebank. Photo: Peter Shimmin, Loudoun House Museum, Irvinebank.

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.

Wedding Dresses of the north

MDOs Ewen McPhee and Jo Wills recently visited Cardwell to update their Disaster Plan and start planning for their Anzac Centenary Exhibition – Re-Honouring Cardwell.

In between visits, the historical society members, led by Stephanie Berger, developed and opened a new exhibition featuring wedding dresses and accouterments over time.  Stephanie, who is a well known dressmaker in north Queensland has also been actively involved in leading the 150 year celebrations for Cardwell and the Cassowary Coast Region through the making of period costumes.

The wedding dresses  on display at the Cardwell Museum range from the years of 1892, 1915, 1927, 1947, 1948, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.

 

 

Wedding Dress Display

Wedding Dress Display

 

wedding dress display - note the photographers skill of also getting in the reflection of the sea

wedding dress display – note the photographers skill of also getting in the reflection of the sea

 

Wedding Dress Display

Wedding Dress Display

 

Stephanie recounts her history as a dressmaker

“dressmaking stems from my early childhood and of necessity my Mother taught me all kinds of sewing as we literally made everything for ourselves…..when my cousin and I were off to St Patricks College in Townsville as boarders Mum was laid up in bed with a very bad back so we made all our clothes for school including bras, panties uniforms, day dresses, pyjamas, detached collars and cuffs … the only things Mum bought at Carrolls in Townsville were Blazer, Uniform Hats, gloves, stockings, and ties.  It was a very good grounding as you can imagine… all sewn on a treadle machine.. and you sewed carefully because Mum made us unpick if we did it wrong!!   That was the start of a long association with dressmaking and both my sister and my Deb and Wedding dresses , bridesmaids, flowergirls etc were all home made.  After moving to Ingham when Harry, my husband was posted to the Hinchinbrook Shire Council, I continued making all of our clothes and of course that led to making Ball dresses, Deb Dresses and Wedding ensembles, & children’s dancing costumes for many friends and people in the area, as well as school uniforms for all 3 schools, both primary and secondary…As a matter of fact I was very close to starting a business in making readymade school uniforms for sale in my own shop… It wasn’t till later that readymade uniforms became available to buy. Even after I went into my own business of Interior Decorating, I still was involved in making in making Deb, Wedding dress and bridesmaids  ensembles for my own children and their friends. I still absolutely love the intricate work and styling involved with that more lavish dressmaking. For the ball gown I recently sewed for the C150 Gala Costume  Ball as part of the Fabric of Time project, I loved the creation of a costume from the simple use of a pattern and lengths of beautiful fabrics and the skill of putting it all together… like magic!!”
Dresses in the exhibition include the Hubinger dress from 1892, which is a quite simple skirt and blouse as was the fashion of the time.  The dress from 1915 is a much more detailed dress with definite French styling in lace and figured crepe.  The Hubinger dress from 1927 has been in the Museum since before Cyclone Yasi and was painstakingly salvaged and cared for.

 

Museum devastation after Cyclone Yasi

Museum devastation after Cyclone Yasi

Salvaging of the 1927 Wedding Dress after Yasi

Salvaging of the 1927 Wedding Dress after Yasi

The most gorgeous dress in the whole collection in Stephanie’s opinion is  the 1947 dress featuring a long train with inserted bands of lace in the skirt,   and the bride of 92 yrs told us that the dress cost 100 pounds when it was made in Brisbane.

 

Stephanie Berger arranging the 1947 wedding dress worn by Mrs Von Brennan, married in Brisbane and costing 100 pounds.

Stephanie Berger arranging the 1947 wedding dress worn by Mrs Von Brennan, married in Brisbane and costing 100 pounds.

 

1947 dress with banded inserts of laceand the cut of the fabric  to achieve the drape and fall of the train

1947 dress with banded inserts of laceand the cut of the fabric to achieve the drape and fall of the train

The 1948 dress is lace. Rations after the war meant that lace didn’t require any coupons where other fabrics did. The dress from the 1950’s  is a mini in all over guipere lace, quite tailored and worn with a short veil. As the following years showed the fabrics changed and the dresses became more ornate and the later years all featured beading.

 

right - Vivian Stafford's 1950s guipere lace mini, Left - Edna Jesse's dress of figured organza featuring classic lines and covered buttons

right – Vivian Stafford’s 1950s guipere lace mini, Left – Edna Jesse’s dress of figured organza featuring classic lines and covered buttons

 

For those who are interested in other wedding dress displays, have a look at the Victoria and Albert Museum’s exhibition here.

Heritage North – bringing local museum communities together

Ewen McPhee demonstrates display techniques at the Heritage North workshop in Gordonvale. Photo: Robyn Smith, Cairns Museum.

Ewen McPhee demonstrates display techniques at the Heritage North workshop in Gordonvale. Photo: Robyn Smith, Cairns Museum.

Heritage North is an association of museums and historical societies from north and far north Queensland that meets quarterly to discuss issues affecting the region. When the organisation meets, members have the opportunity to share ideas and stories about the region’s history and their museum collections.

Members work closely with the MDOs from north and far north Queensland. Last Saturday, Jo Wills and Ewen McPhee ran a workshop for Heritage North members at the Mulgrave Settlers Museum in Gordonvale.

Noel Weare from the Douglas Shire Historical Society presents his object to the Heritage North Workshop. Photo: Robyn Smith, Cairns Museum.

Noel Weare from the Douglas Shire Historical Society presents his object to the Heritage North Workshop. Photo: Robyn Smith, Cairns Museum.

Representatives from Cairns Museum, CADCAI, El Arish Museum, Innisfail Historical Society, Loudoun House Museum, Douglas Shire Historical Society, Mareeba Historical Society, Eacham Historical Society and Mulgrave Settlers Museum bought along objects from their collections to work on as part of the workshop.

Objects ranged from a walking cane, bricks, stone decorative items from CADCAI’s temple collection, to medals, a surveyor’s instrument, a branding iron and archival and photographic material. Ewen and Jo provided the group with curatorial advice regarding display planning and implementation. The focus of discussions was on object choice and stories, the value of labels, different display techniques and conservation suggestions.