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 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.
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.
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.
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.
As Cyclone Ita has gathered strength in the Coral Sea, the MDO for Far North Queensland based in Cairns, Dr Jo Wills, has been liaising with groups across the far north region to provide advice and assistance as they prepare for its arrival.
Due to the uncertain path of the cyclone, there has been potential for small museums and historical societies in Cook Shire Council, Tablelands Regional Council, Mareeba Shire Council, Douglas Shire Council, Cairns Regional Council and Yarrabah Shire Council to be affected. This has meant that Jo has been either in direct or email contact with more than 25 groups and representatives from each council to provide collections related disaster information and advice.
Understanding the significant collections, the types of issues they may face due to rain, water damage and wind damage is vital to help the MDO prepare and prioritise any response they may be tasked to undertake. One of the key tasks Jo has been undertaking is to ascertain any major concerns or issues groups in high risk zones, particularly in Cook Shire, might have. Many groups have collections in heritage buildings and some of these may be vulnerable in this significant storm. Groups in a flood inundation zone, like the Cooktown Historical Centre, for instance, have an important collection of archival documents. The National Trust of Queensland’s James Cook Museum is housed in a Queensland Heritage Register, heritage listed building and holds a significant regional collection of artefacts, photographs and items related to James Cook. Nature’s Powerhouse holds the botanical drawings of Vera Scarth Johnson – water damage to these would impact a significant record of the region’s diverse flora. Coen’s Cape York Heritage House collections are also housed in an older building – they reflect the districts pastoral heritage, priceless records of interviews with local stockmen and have an association with the Cape’s telecommunications history.
Through contact with the various groups and councils, Jo is keenly aware of the work volunteers do to protect community collections as volunteers devote significant time to collecting and preserving local stories and heritage. Most of the groups Jo works with have experienced and dedicated volunteers who are keenly aware of the risks associated with a cyclone. All are working to secure their collections and buildings to the best of their ability.
The MDO program will keep you updated as we know more and please refer to our disaster recovery page here if you require some general advice.
Severe Tropical Cyclone Ita – Issued at 11:05 am EST Friday 11 April 2014.
When we look at modern day miners, all of their protective head wear is made from plastic or other more stable materials. But it wasn’t always the case. Early miners wore canvas hats with brackets for attaching lights and peaks to keep the dust from their eyes. Following WWI, an American company, Bullard, developed ‘hard boiled hats’ made from canvas, glue and black paint. They were called hard boiled because of the steam used to manufacture them.
In the 1930s, a new type of hat emerged. Made from thick soled leather boiled in water or wax, the leather turtle miner’s cap is another early form of protective head wear used, particularly, by coal miners. Also known as a Flexoband Cool Cap, it was patented by Albert A Strauss in 1933. The ridges in the leather allowed miner’s heads to stay cool, while the bracket on the front was for attaching a carbide lamp.
The Historical Society of Mareeba has one of these caps in their collection. This is fitting, as the Mareeba region is well known for it’s mining history and coal around Mount Mulligan. The MDO for FNQ, Dr Jo Wills is working on a significance assessment of the collection and has found a similar item in the National Museum of American History’s online collection.
Perhaps you have one of these in your collection? If so, let us know! We’d love to hear from individuals or groups in Queensland with some background information about these objects.