Before the serious heat of summer struck, MDO Josh Tarrant and I travelled to Ilfracombe to undertake a conservation clean of the objects and interior of Langenbaker House. I have previously blogged about the history of this remarkable piece of Western Queensland history – moved to Ilfracombe from Barcaldine in about 1899, it was occupied continuously by the Langenbaker family for over 90 years. On the death of the last family member, the house and all its contents were acquired by the local council in order to preserve this increasingly vanishing part of Queensland’s heritage.
Situated in dry, dusty, drought-stricken Ilfracombe, keeping the house and contents clean will always be a challenge. The design of the house – timber frame with corrugated iron walls – would have allowed plenty of breeze to flow through, keeping the Langenbakers cool, but has also let in dust and pests now the house is unoccupied and not receiving the regular housekeeping attention of Mrs Langenbaker. The dust had built up over some years, so it was time to arm ourselves with vacuum cleaners and set to work.
Not only does dirt and dust detract from the appearance of objects, it also creates food and habitation for pests, which may further damage collection items. As the aim of our conservation clean was to remove these harmful agents in order to safeguard the items for the future, normal household cleaners were off the agenda, as these are often just as harmful to objects as the dirt and pests themselves. Our primary cleaning tools were vacuums with adjustable suction and micro-attachments, soft brushes, with the occasional sparing use of distilled water and cotton buds. But even these simple tools produced dramatic results. Colours became more vibrant (or even visible!), and the house took on a more lived-in feel. Mrs Langenbaker had a reputation as a meticulous housekeeper, so the appearance of the house is now more in keeping with how it was maintained during her lifetime.
Annual deep cleans are an excellent way of extending your weekly or monthly collection cleaning schedule, getting in to those hard to reach places, and giving your collection a good health check. But be prepared to put in some time – our conservation clean of Langenbaker House took five full days! Click on the images below to see some of the results.
After the enormous effort by volunteers from the Winton and District Historical Society and Queensland Museum staff Ewen McPhee and Sue Valis to recover objects from the fire damaged Waltzing Matilda Centre in Winton, the next stage of the recovery process could begin. Ewen and Sue returned to Winton with MDOs from across the state, Melanie Piddocke, Josh Tarrant, Lydia Egunnike and Jo Wills, to assist museum volunteers with the next step in cleaning and conserving objects retrieved from the fire. During the week we were also joined by Deborah Bailey, Director of Operations & Communities for Queensland Museum, who lent an extra pair of helping hands.
Despite extensive damage to the main building at the Waltzing Matilda Centre, a significant number of objects were retrieved for cleaning and conservation. As other parts of the facility containing the remainder of the museum’s collections were untouched by the fire, this provided excellent working spaces for the cleaning process. The excellent documentation, organisation, and knowledge of the collection by the volunteers further added to the efficiency of prioritising and locating items to be cleaned.
Most of the items recovered had suffered surface damage from soot, while some paper based materials had suffered water damage in the fire fighting process. Under the watchful eyes of our conservators Sue and Lydia, we all learned special techniques for dealing with the unique challenges of object recovery post fire. Against the continual hum of generators and vacuum cleaners, the cleaning process was started. After a solid week of cleaning, significant inroads had been made on many of the objects, and the area reserved for clean objects began to fill up. It was time for the MDOs to say a regretful farewell to all the volunteers at Winton, who have not only worked incredibly hard since the fire but had also been wonderful hosts to the MDOs throughout the week. But, with a long road still ahead of them in recovering and rebuilding their museum, the MDOs and Queensland Museum will continue to support them in this important process.
As the new kid on the MDO block, I have recently had the privilege to travel to the western areas of Central Queensland to meet groups caring for cultural heritage in the west. In a trip that covered Nebo, Clermont, Emerald, Springsure, Barcaldine, Muttaburra, Winton, Longreach, Ilfracombe and Isisford, I encountered everything from dinosaurs to diggers, as well as meeting the dedicated volunteers caring for these collections in the often hot and harsh outback.
A new type of object for me was a 1976 prize winning rich boiled fruit cake, preserved in its own purpose built glass dome and proudly on display at the Barcaldine and District Folk Museum. It was originally intended that the cake would last about five years under its dome, but thirty eight years on the cake is still going strong, although the temptation to sample its rich fruity goodness isn’t hard to fight.
Possibly most famous for its role in the 1891 shearer’s strike which ultimately led to the formation of the Australian Labor Party, Barcaldine has a rich agricultural and social history which is evident in the architecture and monuments about the town. Much of this history is eloquently told and on display at the Barcaldine and District Folk Museum. Aside from the fruit cake above and a wealth of social history items linked to the town, the museum also has an interesting collection of WWI material, including this pair of French airman’s goggles.
Also a central location in the 1891 shearer’s strike but now more famous for a major fossil find in the area in 1963, Muttaburra is a small town with a big history. When grazier Doug Langdon stumbled across some unusual looking rocks on his property, it led to the first recorded specimen of one of Australia’s prehistoric giants – Muttaburrasaurus langdoni – named for his discoverer. Affectionately known as ‘Mutt’ or ‘Dino’, the dinosaur is recreated in the park in the middle of town, and each year fossil enthusiasts visit the area in the hope of making the next big find. Muttaburra has more on offer than dinosaurs however, with the A.A. Cassimatis Store and Cottage and the Dr Arratta Hospital Museum capturing a snapshot of life in Muttaburra in a more prosperous time. The range of goods on display at the Cassimatis Store helps to reinforce how essential these general stores were to remote communities, stocking everything from farm and stock supplies to boiled lollies and over the counter medicines.
Dinosaurs were still on the menu in Winton, with a visit to the Australian Age of Dinosaurs. With a dedicated team of staff and volunteers constantly chipping away at fossil deposits, what’s on offer at the AAOD is continually evolving (unlike the dinosaurs themselves!). But as with Muttaburra, there’s so much more to Winton than dinosaurs. The heritage listed Corfield and Fitzmaurice Store not only has displays ranging from shearing to, yes, dinosaurs, but also offers a rare opportunity to see the virtually unaltered interior of an early 20th century general store, complete with manager’s office, clerk’s cubicle, and flying fox or cash railway for dispensing change.
Another rare survivor in Winton is the Chinese market garden and store of Willie Mar. The garden, which had provided Winton with fresh fruit and vegetables since the 1920s when Willie’s father commenced operations, only ceased to produce commercially in 2000 when floods impacted heavily on the aging Willie and his garden. Willie himself passed away in 2007, and many residents of Winton have vivid memories and engaging stories of Willie and his garden. Although the fruit and vegetables are gone, Willie’s shop and house remain at the site, as well as evidence of the ingenious pond watering system common to Chinese gardens. The Chinese skills and traditions of farming small patches of land with a continual crop yield became an essential part of community health and survival in many outback towns and the excellently interpreted Willie Mar site is a tangible reminder of this now extinct tradition. The progress on this site will be exciting to watch as the Friends of Willie Mar continue to interpret and share the site. A special thanks to the Friends of Willie Mar group and the volunteers at the Qantilda Museum for taking the time to share with us their wonderful collections.
Keen punters from Western Queensland and beyond gathered in Tambo this year for a very special race meet to mark 150 years of horse racing. In the long history of Queensland racing, Tambo lays claim to the earliest organised race day west of the Great Dividing Range.
With horses being the most common form of transport at the time, it is no surprise that the first organised horse races were held in the district on the 20th and 21st of July 1864, barely one year after the gazetting of the township. No doubt fuelled by community spirit and the posturing of both riders and breeders, the first race was hosted by Henry L. Harden, owner of Northampton Downs station. The event was staged under the name of the Great Western Downs Race Meeting and saw 4 races each day, with 21 horses entered by 14 owners. Prizes included a number of silver trophies, silver spurs, and around 54 sovereigns prize money- not a small sum for the time!
To help celebrate the event, the Central Queensland MDO worked with the Tambo & District Race Club to develop and produce Racing on the River, a travelling exhibition exploring the history of racing in the district.
An exciting discovery was made during the exhibition development: the location of the first racing trophy, “The Northampton Downs Cup”. With community assistance, this holy grail of Tambo Racing history was traced back to a private collector in Toowoomba. Mrs Diana Mayall was kind enough to loan the precious piece of history for part of the exhibition.
The exhibition will travel to a number of venues in the Blackall Tambo Region throughout 2014. This project was supported by funding from the Regional Arts Development Fund through Arts Queensland and Blackall Tambo Regional Council partnering to support local arts and culture.