It’s not often I get called to look at natural history or entomological collections. And, when I was contacted by staff at Meringa Research Station near Gordonvale to come and assess the condition of some old display cases, I must confess to being a little skeptical. Imagine my surprise, then, when a little bit of research into their creator, Dr Edmund Jarvis, revealed that these cases were going to contain more than your average cane beetle displays.
Dr Jarvis was an entomologist from the early 20th century. He ended his career as the Chief Entomologist to Queensland’s Bureau of Sugar Experiment Station, and specialised in cane beetle research. Prior to this, however, he had a museological career. After moving from Devon, England to Australia, his first job was a Acting Assistant Entomologist, National Museum, Melbourne in 1903 (now, Museum Victoria). In addition to his scientific training, he was well known for his skills in line drawings and water colours.
On site, it was immediately clear that the displays had been arranged by someone with a museological eye. Seven timber framed cases, which date between 1922-1932, had been ‘curated’ to ensure that information is conveyed in an educational manner. They contain a mixture of specimens, line drawings, photographs and labels – all laid out to make the subject matter as accessible as possible. The cases illustrate the research undertaken into pests impacting the sugar industry during the 1920s by the Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations.
Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations were, established under The Sugar Experiment Stations Act of 1900 and were initially administered by Queensland’s Department of Agriculture. Employees undertook research to assist growers and millers improve the breeding, planting, growing, harvesting and milling of sugar cane. The focus on the cane beetle, and other cane related pests, demonstrates the importance of the research stations, the work they were conducting, and of the value placed upon the cane industry in Queensland in general.
In valuing these cases, I have come to think of them as more than just the work of a scientist, but as the work of a fellow museum worker with a passion for conveying information to different audiences. I am hoping to secure funds to assist with the conservation of the cases, and a way to interpret them further – in consultation with staff at Meringa.
After two weeks of watching and waiting as Cyclone Nathan carved an erratic path back and forth across the Coral Sea, it finally passed over the FNQ coast on Friday/Saturday between Cape Flattery and Cape Melville. This more northerly crossing meant that the museums in Cooktown were spared the worst of the severe winds, and the museum at Coen did not experience adverse weather. A number of these organisations are housed in heritage buildings. During cyclone season, we always reflect on the vulnerability of these buildings to heavy rain and cyclonic weather, particularly if they have sustained damage from previous weather events.
As usual, MDOs worked with groups in the immediate vicinity pre and post cyclone to discuss their preparations and contingencies, and to offer advice and support. We are pleased to advise that none of the organisations sustained significant damage or impact. Staff and volunteers at James Cook Museum, Nature’s Powerhouse, Cooktown History Centre and Cape York Heritage House all did a fantastic job during the lead up phase to ensure that collections, data and buildings were as prepared and protected as they could be.
Cyclone preparation and clean up can be an exhausting process – at work and at home. And it always disrupts work on other projects. For Cooktown History Centre, Cyclone Nathan meant putting on hold their research and preparations for the new exhibition they plan to open for Anzac Day. Spare a thought for these groups now as they clean up, reopen and get back to the business (and pleasure) of running museums.
Are 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.
The 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 email@example.com
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.
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.
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.
MDOs from North Queensland, Ewen McPhee, and Far North Queensland, Dr Jo Wills, have curated Defending the Pacific, an exhibition that commemorates Australia’s (and North Queensland’s) first action in the First World War.
Using material drawn from collections from the Cairns Historical Society, Zara Clark Museum, Army Museum of North Queensland, Hinchinbrook Library, Townsville City Library, State Library of Queensland and the Australian War Memorial, the exhibition explores the special nature of North Queenslanders involvement in the First World War: of the rifle clubs, the Kennedy Regiment, their journey to Thursday Island and to New Guinea, and their subsequent early return to Australia without having seen active service.
Sponsored by the Queensland Anzac Centenary Committee, the MDOs worked with communities throughout north and far north Queensland, and on Cape York and Torres Strait, to secure venues and participation. The exhibition banners are on display at Bowen Museum, Zara Clark Museum in Charters Towers, Hinchinbrook Library in Ingham, Atherton Library, Cairns Library, Mareeba Library, Seisa Holiday Park, Torres Strait Heritage Museum on Horn Island, Horn Island Airport, Peddell’s Ferry on Thursday Island and at the Indigenous Knowledge Centre on Poruma. A special photographic exhibition that explores the rifle clubs of North Queensland accompanies the banners at the Army Museum of North Queensland in Townsville, and there is a photographic display at Green Hill Fort, Thursday Island. Ewen and Jo have recently traveled to the Torres Strait to install the exhibitions in different venues and liaise with communities.
Given the strength of the visual material and story, Jo Wills also worked with ABC Open Far North Producer, Gemma Deavin, to create a digital story which is now available online.
Particular thanks to the Army Museum of North Queensland, Hinchinbrook Library, Cairns Historical Society and Tyler Wellenseik from the State Library of Queensland for their assistance in pulling together this exhibition.
How many people do you know who have never visited their local museum or gallery? Quite often we are unaware of the treasures hidden inside buildings that are just around the corner. Or perhaps we have just never got around to visiting them as we’re too busy with our daily lives.
If you’re in Cairns this weekend, and you’ve never been out to Yarrabah, here is the perfect opportunity. In a bid to entice Cairns locals, as well as other visitors, to explore the community, Yarrabah Arts Centre is holding an open day this Saturday. This means the Arts Centre and Menmuny Museum, with it’s exhibitions that tell the story of the Yarrabah Mission and community, will be open. Why not visit to experience and explore the cultural traditions, creativity and important history that is presented at Yarrabah Arts Centre?
Mulgrave Shire Historical Society and the Mulgrave Settlers Museum are holding a Tea Cosy Competition this year to celebrate and promote the art of making tea cosies. The Museum is calling for locals, artists and other interested participants to submit an entry into one of three categories: Knitted; Crocheted; or Any Medium.
The competition is inspired by the wife of the former Mulgrave Mill Manager, Mrs Whittaker, who was well known in the local community for her decorative homemade tea cosies, and afternoon teas she hosted for the local community.The museum has one of Mrs Whittaker’s items in its collection.
Mulgrave Mill, which was one of the early central mills developed in the 1890s, has played a pivotal role in the community for more than 100 years. The region’s strong sugar history is reflected through the Mulgrave Settler Museum’s collection, which is located in a small building in the heart of Gordonvale.
This year’s theme aims to promote the way museum’s contribute to the development of society through the use of shared memory, community and cultural heritage storytelling. It reflects the desire for museums to create links between visitors and the objects in collections, and rejuvenate an understanding of the traditional methods museums use to involve their communities and stay relevant.
Right across Queensland the MDOs are working with museum volunteers and collecting groups on projects that reflect this theme and the associated goals. Here a just a few of the inspiring projects that museums are working on in Far North Queensland:
- Cairns Historical Society are in the process of re imagining displays for Cairns Museum, and working with the community to ensure their relevance.
- Cairns and District Chinese Association (CADCAI) are preparing to undertake an oral history project to capture community memories of the Lit Sung Goong Temple.
- Gordonvale’s Mulgrave Settler’s Museum is planning a new community-based competition to boost it’s public standing.
- Menmuny Museum at Yarrabah is working to update and rejuvenate displays.
- Mapoon Aboriginal Shire Council is hoping to undertake a significance assessment of its collections.
- Carpentaria Shire Council is working on the interpretation of significant heritage buildings along its main street.
- Cape York Heritage House in Coen and James Cook Museum in Cooktown are developing displays to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Queensland Police.
- Ravenshoe Visitor Information Centre is opening a new Ravenshoe Heritage Gallery to showcase the region’s photographic material culture.
- And regional councils, museums and historical societies in Cape York, Torres Strait, the Atherton Tablelands region and the reformed Mareeba Shire and Douglas Shires are planning a range of projects to commemorate the centenary of World War One.
Museums are a great industry and community to be involved in!
The theme for 2015 is: Museums for a sustainable society.
Almost a month after Cyclone Ita threatened communities along the Far North Queensland coast, it is great to see museums in the Cook Shire back in business and getting ready for the tourist season. The museums and collecting groups in the region did a great job with their disaster preparedness – it’s fortunate that the predicted impact did not eventuate for these organisations. After being in close contact with the groups during the lead up to the cyclone, it was great for the MDOs for Far North Queensland and North Queensland to travel to the region and undertake some practical work with communities.
Last week, Jo Wills and Ewen McPhee traveled up the Peninsula Development Road to Coen to work with Gail and Peter Clark at Cape York Heritage House. There is always something to see and enjoy while traveling through this magnificent country – this time there was much more water around, and small billabongs and water lilies were evident along the roadside. It was also good to see that heritage places like the Musgrave Telegraph Station were still standing strong. Unfortunately, as the road through Lakeland National Park was closed we couldn’t visit Old Laura Homestead to see how that had fared.
Jo and Ewen have worked at Cape York Heritage House in Coen for the last three years, each time helping the local volunteers to clean, refresh, reinvigorate and reinstall displays. Every year, the volunteers pack down the museum for the wet season and reinstall at the beginning of May. In addition to the usual work, this year the MDO’s helped Gail begin work on a new policing display, put up some information about WWI, cleaned up the mining machinery display and developed plans for future projects in the region.
After three days in Coen, the MDOs headed back to Cooktown to James Cook Museum and Nature’s Powerhouse. Although cyclone damage is a little more evident there, again it is nowhere near the predicted impact.
Stay tuned for more entries about the MDO’s recent activities in Cooktown.