People’s desire to see beneath the surface of the sea has inspired a myriad of underwater viewing objects and inventions. From hollow reeds to Leonardo Da Vinci’s early diving apparatus, there has been a whole raft of weird and wonderful creations inspired by our fascination with coral and the reef.
I’ve been exploring the way people have viewed coral recreationally on the Great Barrier Reef and around Cairns as part of my research for Cairns Museum’s new exhibitions. Drawing on material culture and academic research, I’ve found we can make some interesting observations about north Queensland’s contribution to the evolution of coral viewing.
Early visitors to the reef used hand held viewing devises known as coralscopes, waterscopes or glass bottom floats. Made from aluminum and a clear Perspex or glass, these were either boxes or tubes that were held over the side of the boat and provided the user with a stable viewing lens.
“The exclusion of surface turbulence meant that the scene through a waterscope was sometimes in stark contrast to the surface of the water … The waterscope thus opened up, not only fear, but a delight in the other that constituted the underwater world.” (Celmara Pocock, (2003). Romancing the Reef: history, heritage and the hyper-real. PhD thesis, James Cook University, p. 231).
Queensland Museum holds one example in its collection (see below). Cairns Museum and the State Library of Queensland hold a range of photographs that illustrate people viewing coral over the side of the boat. Does anyone know of other examples in other collections around the state or country?
Glass bottom boats were another early form of coral viewing. In 1937, the Hayles family launched the worlds first glass bottom boat at Green Island. Accompanied by music, these boats were ‘allowed to drift over deep channels so that passengers can view the teeming waterlife through the glass in the bottom.'(Tourism Guide book) Adapted later in the 1940s, these vessels continue to be used on the reef today, providing access to the underwater world for those who prefer not to immerse themselves.
Local entrepreneurs Lloyd Grigg and Vince Vlassof, were involved in creating another underwater viewing first for the region. In 1954, they opened the Green Island Underwater Observatory, a 10m chamber with 22 port holes, situated at the end of the jetty. Bought for 400 pounds, it was converted from an underwater diving chamber used in WW2 to erect pylons, and taken out to the island and sunk into position. A shop and residence were erected above it and coral formations bought in from other reefs to attract fish. The underwater observatory remains on the jetty but is no longer open to the public.
New innovations, like the Scubadoo – an underwater scooter – and more advanced diving equipment have revolutionised the way we interact with and view the reef. But these three objects provide special insight into the innovations the region has used to make the Great Barrier Reef’s underwater gardens more accessible to visitors and enthusiasts.
Stay tuned – there are many more fascinating stories being uncovered as the research for Cairns Museum’s redevelopment continues.
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.
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
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.