Mapoon Aboriginal Shire Council holds a piece of tapa (bark cloth) that is believed to date from the 1900s. It was one of several items bought back to Mapoon in 2015 by Mrs Liz Ashton, granddaughter of Mapoon missionary, Reverend Nicholas Hey. Although the exact provenance of the cloth is unknown, it was thought to have been made by South Sea Islanders living in the area, and was a gift to Reverend Hey’s wife, Minnie. The Heys, along with Superintendent Reverend James Gibson Ward and Mrs Matilda Hall Ward, were the founding missionaries of the Batavia River Presbyterian Mission at Mapoon.
The tapa will soon be exhibited at Mapoon’s new Cultural Keeping Place which is part of a new cultural facility scheduled to open later this year.
In April, Queensland Museum’s northern MDOs, Dr Jo Wills and Ewen McPhee, traveled to Mapoon to work with Cultural Heritage Officer, Jason Jia, and provide hands on assistance and advice for collections and displays.
Relaxing the tapa
One of the tasks was to help ‘relax’ the tapa after it had been folded for a number of years. Following advice from QM conservators, a table was lined with paper towels and these were moistened with water. These were then covered with pH neutral blotting paper and the tapa was placed on top. Another layer of dry blotting paper was then placed over the tapa and, finally, another layer of moistened paper towels. This ‘sandwich’ effect allowed the moisture to ‘relax the folds’ without overtly impacting on the item and the dyes.
After a few days, the folds ‘relaxed’ sufficiently for the tapa to be rolled for storage. The cloth was placed between sheets of acid free tissue and then rolled onto a tissue covered tube. It will be transported to Cairns where it will be carefully framed in readiness for the new display. Thanks to QM conservators for their professional advice and interest.
Preparing for displays and collections
The new Keeping Place will house displays, a community database and a secure storage room. An overall layout plan was developed, taking into consideration visitor access, staff operations, cultural requirements and database access. This database allows users to explore the region’s resources, wildlife, flora, culture and language and is an important part of the centres cultural work.
To ensure new displays help visitors understand the history and culture of the region, key themes and events were identified. Banners will explore these themes, and make use of the photographic and archival collections held by the council, Cape York Collection in Weipa and at State Library of Queensland. They will explore culture and country, maritime exploration, the missionary era, the 1963 removals and the return to community. Objects, where available, will accompany these displays.
Contemporary cultural artefacts and stories will also be displayed to acknowledge the ongoing nature of cultural production. This means items such as the delightful ghostnet magpie geese created by local artist and resident, Zoe de Jersey and her husband Stan, can be included and exhibited. Follow this link to find out how they created these scultures from ghostnets collected from the region’s beaches.
The keeping place is just one part of Mapoon’s new cultural facility that recognises the importance of culture and identity: it also includes an arts studio, a gallery and coffee shop and an Indigenous Knowledge Centre/ library.
Acknowledgement: The Cape York Collection in Weipa holds a significant collection of Mapoon-related material, including photographs, and missionary diaries and archives. The collection’s honorary curator, Geoff Wharton OAM, has generously shared his knowledge and information with the MDOs and Jason as they work on this project.