Museum Development Officer Ewen McPhee and Queensland Museum Conservator Sue Valis recently made an interesting discovery when working on the First World War bound socks held in the Zara Clark Museum in Charters Towers.
Ewen and Sue had prioritised the rehousing of the socks, knitting needles, calico bag and letter when working as part of a Queensland Anzac Centenary grants program exhibition at the Museum. When they were approached by National Trust Queensland to assist with upcoming media, showcasing further research into the First World War Soldier who was to receive the socks, it was a good opportunity to remove them from their original frame and condition report them.
The media and personal interest generated by the socks also means that they will be viewed, photographed, filmed and documented by various media and family members in the coming months. Therefore once the socks were removed it was decided to temporarily rehouse them in archival storage materials, allowing for best practice handling, storage and ease of access.
The initial opening of the frame revealed some evidence of insect activity although this did not appear to be currently active. Dust had also penetrated the display case and removing the items showed presence of black mould at the base of the frame. The socks and the balls of wool were brush vacuumed to remove dust and the underside of the calico bag, which was most affected by the black mould, was carefully brush-vacuumed under a fume hood. Luckily the mould was dry and was successfully removed.
An interesting discovery was made when the socks were removed from the frame. What we first thought were khaki green socks, turned out to be in fact made of brown wool. As seen in the images, all the exposed areas of the wool had faded and turned a khaki green colour, while the unexposed parts of the wool were the original brown colour. This fading was due to the combination of exposure to light levels, in particular the ultra-violet component, as well as the wool being dyed by natural, as opposed to synthetic dyes. This is most evident in the images below, particularly on the ball of wool on the top left hand side.
Even though the socks were framed and housed inside the museum, in a relatively dark area, it is a good example of damage caused by exposure to high light levels. It also shows how care should be taken when describing objects for research, collection databases and for the media.
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 Ewen McPhee and Jo Wills recently visited Cardwell to update their Disaster Plan and start planning for their Anzac Centenary Exhibition – Re-Honouring Cardwell.
In between visits, the historical society members, led by Stephanie Berger, developed and opened a new exhibition featuring wedding dresses and accouterments over time. Stephanie, who is a well known dressmaker in north Queensland has also been actively involved in leading the 150 year celebrations for Cardwell and the Cassowary Coast Region through the making of period costumes.
The wedding dresses on display at the Cardwell Museum range from the years of 1892, 1915, 1927, 1947, 1948, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.
wedding dress display – note the photographers skill of also getting in the reflection of the sea
Stephanie recounts her history as a dressmaker
“dressmaking stems from my early childhood and of necessity my Mother taught me all kinds of sewing as we literally made everything for ourselves…..when my cousin and I were off to St Patricks College in Townsville as boarders Mum was laid up in bed with a very bad back so we made all our clothes for school including bras, panties uniforms, day dresses, pyjamas, detached collars and cuffs … the only things Mum bought at Carrolls in Townsville were Blazer, Uniform Hats, gloves, stockings, and ties. It was a very good grounding as you can imagine… all sewn on a treadle machine.. and you sewed carefully because Mum made us unpick if we did it wrong!! That was the start of a long association with dressmaking and both my sister and my Deb and Wedding dresses , bridesmaids, flowergirls etc were all home made. After moving to Ingham when Harry, my husband was posted to the Hinchinbrook Shire Council, I continued making all of our clothes and of course that led to making Ball dresses, Deb Dresses and Wedding ensembles, & children’s dancing costumes for many friends and people in the area, as well as school uniforms for all 3 schools, both primary and secondary…As a matter of fact I was very close to starting a business in making readymade school uniforms for sale in my own shop… It wasn’t till later that readymade uniforms became available to buy. Even after I went into my own business of Interior Decorating, I still was involved in making in making Deb, Wedding dress and bridesmaids ensembles for my own children and their friends. I still absolutely love the intricate work and styling involved with that more lavish dressmaking. For the ball gown I recently sewed for the C150 Gala Costume Ball as part of the Fabric of Time project, I loved the creation of a costume from the simple use of a pattern and lengths of beautiful fabrics and the skill of putting it all together… like magic!!”
Dresses in the exhibition include the Hubinger dress from 1892, which is a quite simple skirt and blouse as was the fashion of the time. The dress from 1915 is a much more detailed dress with definite French styling in lace and figured crepe. The Hubinger dress from 1927 has been in the Museum since before Cyclone Yasi and was painstakingly salvaged and cared for.
The most gorgeous dress in the whole collection in Stephanie’s opinion is the 1947 dress featuring a long train with inserted bands of lace in the skirt, and the bride of 92 yrs told us that the dress cost 100 pounds when it was made in Brisbane.
The 1948 dress is lace. Rations after the war meant that lace didn’t require any coupons where other fabrics did. The dress from the 1950’s is a mini in all over guipere lace, quite tailored and worn with a short veil. As the following years showed the fabrics changed and the dresses became more ornate and the later years all featured beading.
For those who are interested in other wedding dress displays, have a look at the Victoria and Albert Museum’s exhibition here.
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.