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.
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.