Railways 1914-1918 is the latest travelling exhibition from The Workshops Rail Museum, Queensland Museum Network. It explores the role of railways at home and on the front and the pivotal role of rail in moving Australia’s military. It has been adapted from the original exhibition and includes nine large pull up banners and a purpose built crate/show case for travelling and displaying replica artefacts and ephemera.
Plans to display it in regional Queensland began in March this year when south east Queensland MDO Josh Tarrant undertook to develop a travelling schedule. FNQ’s MDO Jo Wills was keen to give far north Queensland’s communities the opportunity to host a QM travelling exhibition and agreed to help out.
Last week, Josh and Jo travelled west to Normanton to install the exhibition in it’s first venue – the sensational heritage listed Burns Philp Building which was constructed in 1884. Now used as the Visitor Information Centre, Library and for community markets and events, it was the perfect place to kick off the tour. The MDOs used this western journey as an opportunity to catch up with communities in Georgetown and Croydon along the way. They also spent some time at the small museum at Normanton Railway Station, home to the iconic Gulflander.
It’s rather fitting that the Gulflander will contribute to the exhibition’s journey east. After being on display for a month, the exhibition will travel to Croydon on the Gulflander, thanks to the generous support from the Officer in Charge, Ken Fairbairn. It will then travel onto Georgetown by road. Etheridge Shire’s TerrEstrial Centre at Georgetown will host the exhibition in September. From there the exhibition heads east to the Mareeba Heritage Centre in October before heading down to Cairns Botanic Gardens Visitor Information Centre in November. After a short break over the Christmas period, it will be on display in Atherton’s Post Office Gallery in February before making one last journey to Port Douglas in March.
Earlier this year I was contacted by a woman who was wondering whether a cloth that had belonged to her husband’s grandmother held any interest to the collecting organisations in far north Queensland. The description of the item reminded me at once of the autographed signature cloths that we have featured previously on this blog from Croydon and Cloncurry so I quickly asked for some details. She replied:
My Grandmother-in-law, Clementine Manning, gave me an Autograph Cloth. In the centre of the cloth it says: “KINGSBOROUGH AUTOGRAPH CLOTH – IN AID OF BELGIANS – OCTOBER 9th 1915” It is surrounded by appliqued signatures of the children at the school in 1915. One of them, Vincent Manning, is my husband’s great uncle.
To say I was interested was an understatement! What a treasure! And so the process of research and object analysis begins.
Of course, it was Germany’s invasion of Belgium on 4 August 1914 that prompted Britain to declare war on the Germans and, thus triggered Australia’s involvement. Historian Peter Stanely noted:
Reports of atrocities committed against Belgian civilians—actual, exaggerated and invented by British propaganda—flooded newspapers around the world.
Australians responded powerfully to reports of ‘poor little Belgium’. Its own soldiers saw almost no action until April 1915. In the meantime, many Australians devoted themselves to supporting war charities that were directing relief supplies and money to Belgian refugees in Britain and France. Until their own troops entered battle, Belgium became the focus of many Australian civilians’ patriotic fundraising…
I found specific postcards were generated to support this, particularly in Britain. I also found a number of collections with specific material about the Belgian Relief Fund, in the State Library of New South Wales, the State Library of South Australian and the National Library of Australia.
But what of Kingsborough, and Queensland? In 1915, Kingsborough was a small mining town on the Hodgkinson goldfield in the hills behind Cairns and Port Douglas. Pugh’s Almanac reports it had a baker, blacksmith, butcher, aerated water manufacturer and two hotels – the Federal and the Kingsborough. Children were taught at Kingsborough State School No 359 by the teacher Ms Amelia Boyns.
It is through Amelia Boyns that we start to uncover more about the story and fundraising in the region. In January 15, The Telegraph reported that Amelia donated the proceeds of an autograph cloth (1 16 shillings) to the Belgian fund which were disposed of by the art union. It also notes she ran a guessing competition for a doll, raising 16 shillings and putting that towards wounded soldiers. In September 1915 the Cairns Post reports that she sold a boy’s hat for 1 eight shillings and six pence and put that towards the Belgian Fund as well.
I’d love to spend more time researching Amelia’s history. She appears to have been a motivated and passionate supporter of the war effort, and another example of the type of activities that women undertook on the home front. She left Kingsborough in 1916 and moved to Edge Hill in Cairns to teach. Unfortunately, however, that is as much time as I could sneak away from other projects and indulge in a bit of research. I can report, however, that the cloth will be donated to the Historical Society of Mareeba.
At the recent Q ANZAC 100 Heritage Leaders Workshop held at the State Library in Brisbane, I was asked to participate in a forum about community involvement in First World War Projects with three other speakers. This gave me the opportunity to discuss a few of the projects I have worked on as the MDO for far north Queensland:
Portraits of the North (Mareeba Historical Society)
Cooktown at War (James Cook Museum, Cooktown)
HistoryPin Project (Australian Sugar Industry Museum, Mourilyan)
Re-Honouring Cardwell (Cardwell and District Historical Society)
But as we sat and discussed the projects and their merits, I wish, in hindsight, that I had reflected a little more on what aspects of the projects didn’t go to plan or experienced hiccups. I am the first confess that the delivery of some of my projects encountered speed humps and that we had to make changes and deviations along the way. It’s rare that we speak publically about mistakes or hiccups – but I find these are the very things that provide invaluable learning. If we shared these experiences more readily with some of the other groups undertaking projects we might help them avoid some of the issues we have encountered.
I was also aware that the projects I discussed are but a few of those that have been produced locally, and that one of the legacies of this extraordinarily busy period of history making was the skills and contributions of museum and historical society volunteers. In far north Queensland, Cairns Historical Society, Mareeba Historical Society, Mareeba Shire Council, Cairns Regional Council, Douglas Shire Historical Society, Loudoun House Museum, Mount Garnet Visitor Information centre, Cooktown History Centre, to name just a few, have all delivered a range of exhibitions and events that provide a distinctive far north Queensland take on the First World War and involved people in undertaking historical and museum based work.
Fortunately, the Heritage Leaders Workshop gave participants an opportunity to see projects from across the region, and also appreciate the different sort of people involved. Far north Queensland was represented by volunteers from Mareeba Heritage Centre, Douglas Shire Historical Society, Atherton Library and Mulgrave Settlers Museum. Ken Keith spoke about the Douglas Shire Historical Society’s Douglas Diggers WWI Project. During one of the workshops, Don Lawrie from the Mulgrave Settlers Museum took the stage and entertained the audience with his storytelling and object based remembrances. I think it is this personal involvement, and the satisfaction that people glean from it, that lies at the heart of these projects’ success.
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.
With Remembrance Day just around the corner, I thought it timely to revisit the story of the Fryer brothers and share some of their letters and postcards which are representative of the humanity and filial affection of these four young men. To remind yourself of their story, revisit my blog from September 30th, “The legacy of war”.
The Fryer’s mother Rosina and sister Liz were the most frequent recipients of letters and cards, but William and Jack in particular were solicitous in writing to their youngest brother, Walter. Walter was only nine years old when Will and Jack enlisted, and their cards home to him are characteristically light and jolly, and signed with a long line of kisses. They frequently express an optimism about an early termination to the war and return home. While still in Egypt for Christmas 1915, William wrote to Walter, “Dear Walter, Just a PC to let you know that we had a merry Christmas & I hope it will be a happy new year & will see us all back in Australia again. I hope you had a merry Christmas with plenty of presents & plum pudding with money in it. I suppose you will be getting ready for school again when you get this so you will not have much time to write but I will send you a PC as often as I can. Love & kisses from Will”
The letters demonstrate the deep love and respect the brothers held for their mother and sister, and their communications betray a concern for their welfare, particularly in respect to money. The departure of four contributors to the family income must have been noticeable, but all four brothers elected for part of their army pay to be sent directly to their mother, who apparently carefully kept it aside for them. In September of 1916, Charlie wrote to her, “Mother never bother about keeping my money for me, use the lot of it because I will not want it when I get back. I will be satisfied to get home.” In response to news that Liz had collected a prize for most popular woman, presumably at a local event, Charlie replied, “I am glad you took the prize for most popular woman but if Mother had been there you would have had to take a back seat I am afraid. Do not think I am against you, never that.”
One of the most touching items in the collection is a rare postcard from Rosina Fryer to her eldest son William. Most of the correspondence in the Fryer collection is from the brothers to family at home – very few letters travelling in the other direction have survived. The practicalities of carrying and keeping personal belongings in the trenches make surviving letters from home much more of a rarity. This postcard captures a poignant suggestion of how every day family life was constantly overshadowed by anxiety for those fighting abroad. “My Dear Will. This card stuck me as how you wrote to take me on your knee and torment me so I thought I would send it along to greet you as we were laughing the other day about how you used to tease and tell Bob how I used to teach you all these tricks. I often wonder if we will ever have the good jolly times again but we must hope so. Good bye with love to you all three over there. Mother”
On November 11th, the Fryer Library will launch an online exhibition featuring the papers in the John Denis Fryer Collection. Watch the Fryer Library homepage for news of the exhibition launch https://www.library.uq.edu.au/fryer-library/
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.
When I was approached by the Springsure Hospital Museum to create a WWI display, I thought it would be an interesting opportunity to research the medical advances made during the war necessitated by the unprecedented injuries inflicted by this new industrial warfare. The idea for the exhibition was inspired by a memorial plaque from a ward built in 1925, paying tribute to the men of Springsure who had served in the Great War. The impacts of death and wounding from WWI were amplified in these remote Queensland towns which relied on the labour of strong young men to operate and survive. In investigating Springsure soldiers whose experiences would assist in the telling of the medical history of WWI, my attention was seized by four remarkable brothers and the research took on a momentum of its own.
Many who have spent time in and around libraries in Brisbane will doubtless be familiar with the Fryer Library at the University of Queensland. But how many are familiar with the story behind the thoughtful looking young man in a Lieutenant’s uniform whose photographic portrait hangs behind the reception desk? Perhaps few are aware of the story of his tragically short life, and the price he and his three brothers paid for their service in France.
The Fryer brothers were initially of interest to the exhibition as their parents, Charles and Rosina Fryer, were for a time Wardsman and Matron at the Springsure Hospital, and Jack, after whom the Fryer Library is named, was born there in 1895. Although the youngest of the brothers of eligible age, Jack was the first of the four to successfully enlist, but was closely followed by William, the eldest, then Charles and Henry.
William was the first to suffer the serious physical consequences of war, and was severely wounded at Mouquet Farm in September of 1916. Although according to his brother Charlie’s letter home he was “alright, happy and laughing”, William’s injuries were severe enough for him to be returned to Australia, unfit for active service and his capacity to earn his living at his former occupation as a labourer was estimated to have been reduced by half.
In the same action which saw William’s active military career ended, his brother Charles was buried alive three times by exploding shells, only narrowly escaping with his life. Charlie suffered through the appalling Somme winter of 1916/17, struggling through the worst conditions experienced in 60 years, and like thousands of others, suffered exhaustion, constant stress, and trench foot. Charlie’s letters home cannot disguise his homesickness, as he longs for the “old bush life in the bush of Queensland, where you can get wood for a fire and a free old life”. Witnessing his friends killed around him weighed heavily on him. Charlie stoically endured the horrors of the Somme until he too was killed in action near Bullecourt on April 5th, 1917.
Henry had joined his brothers in France somewhat later, but was precipitated into the grim trench warfare of the Western Front and sustained a fractured elbow from a gunshot wound at Messines in 1917. Also declared unfit for active service as a result of his wounds, he was returned to Australia.
As the only brother remaining on active service, Jack wrote to his sister in June of 1917 “S’pose it’s my turn for a clout now”. As a Lieutenant, Jack’s chances of wounding or death were high, with the average life expectancy of Lieutenants on the Western Front estimated during some stages of the war at as little as three months. Despite the grim odds, Jack endured for over another year, finally receiving severe gunshot and shrapnel wounds during an attack on his trench at 4am in August of 1918. Unfit for further active service, he remained recuperating in England until after the end of the war, at which time he returned to Australia.
On returning to Australia, Jack re-entered the University of Queensland to continue his studies which had been interrupted by the war, but failing health in 1922 led to him missing his final exams to receive treatment for tuberculosis at a soldier’s convalescent home in Brisbane. It is likely that he contracted the disease in the squalid conditions of the trenches, and there seems to be an understanding within the family that his lungs had already been weakened by a poison gas attack in 1917. Alarmed at his sudden decline, his mother traveled to Brisbane to collect him and bring him home to Springsure where she could nurse him. All efforts were in vain however, and Jack died in February of 1923 at the age of 27.
The stories of Jack Fryer and his brothers are most eloquently told in the letters they sent home from the front, now held at the Fryer Library. While they commented very little on the experiences they encountered in places now etched in the Australian collective memory, their personalities come alive through their letters – their concern for each other and their friends, the family jokes they share, and their desire to allay the fears of those left at home. The Fryer letters build a picture of a close, loving family with a dynamic probably more familiar to the 21st century than the early 20th, and the grief of family and friends at Charlie’s death in action and Jack’s terminal illness following the war is still palpable.
During a recent visit to Springsure, I was privileged to meet and talk with relatives and descendants of the Fryer brothers, and others in the community who remembered them well. Together with their letters and photographs, this provides such a tangible link with the past so as to make it appear so much more immediate. My thanks to the Fryer Library and the Springsure community for assisting with this research.
Keep watching the MDO blog as more of the Fryer story unfolds in the lead up to the exhibition at the Springsure Hospital Museum.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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.
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.
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.