Cowboys in the Museum

This blog post is part of an ongoing series titled Connecting with Collections. The series offers readers a peek inside collections at the Museum of Tropical Queensland, highlighting objects and their stories.

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Like most Queenslanders, I grew up knowing that Rugby League was a central part of life. I remember sitting with my dad watching the Friday Night Footy, the entire family wearing jerseys or team colours as good luck charms.

North Queenslanders – dare I say it – might even be some of the most passionate out of all rugby supporters. You can’t walk down Townsville’s main street without noticing the Cowboys Leagues Club situated right in the centre of town, and on a game day it’s completely normal that 80% of people hanging around town are wearing some sort of Cowboys merchandise.

While the Cowboys didn’t quite make it into the NRL Grand Final this year, the rugby league spirit was still alive in Townsville in the lead up to the match last week. In tune with recent finals season, have a look at something we have tucked away in our collections – a very different kind of museum object.

WHEN ART AND RUGBY COLLIDE

Around the same time that the Museum of Tropical Queensland was being developed, North Queensland formed its first every official rugby league team: the North Queensland Toyota Cowboys.

These two icons – the Museum and the Cowboys team – have a longstanding relationship aimed at assisting the local community, and advocating for education, accessibility and innovation.

As such, in 2006, a project between the two was developed: the Sports Star Art Torso Casting Project. Sports Star Art was a world-first, contemporary concept in sporting memorabilia. Six local Cowboys players had their torso’s cast in plaster, to raise funds for the development of the ‘Archie’s Shipwreck Adventure’ children’s exhibition at the Museum of Tropical Queensland.

Matt Bowen – affectionately called Matty by his fans – a former Cowboy and one of the teams most valued and popular players, was one of the six immortalised in plaster.

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The plaster casts were made at the Museum in March 2006. The players were positioned in a hospital bed, their arms and torso’s coated in dental alginate, for 45 minutes while the casts set.

That was the easy part – the casts then had to be removed from the players’ bodies, slowly so that (hopefully) only a minimal amount of body hair would be removed with the plaster.

Matt Bowen commented that the removal, “pulled every bit of hair I had on my chest – and it hurt”.

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Once the cast was removed, the museum displays preparator dried the cast, and applied both fibreglass and resin. Once set, the plaster was broken away from the outside, the cast was sanded, and then airbrushed to match the Cowboys uniform.

The final contribution for this item was Matty Bowen’s signature. Bowen’s torso then became a permanent part of the museum’s collections, and the five remaining casts were auctioned off at the Museums fundraising event for the new exhibition.

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People often assume they’ve seen it all when it comes to museum collections. But I guarantee they’ve never seen Matty Bowen’s torso at another museum.

 Sophie Price, Assistant Curator Anthropology, Museum of Tropical Queensland

The worst Rugby League team ever?

September means football finals. Expectations are high for teams that have been up the top all year and fans of these teams are cautiously optimistic. But for everyone else, it’s just another wasted year and the fresh promise of next season cannot come soon enough.

In the 1940s a Rugby League side from the Ipswich Railway Workshops experienced the highs and lows that are all too familiar to football fans at this time of year.

In 1944 the Moulders’ Shop fielded a side in the Ipswich Rugby League (IRL) Juniors competition. Success was instant. They dominated the competition and achieved back-to-back wins in both the 1944 and 1945 Grand Finals. The team’s performance was so impressive that for the 1946 season, the Moulders’ applied to the IRL to play in the Seniors. Oh, how the mighty would fall.

Accepted into the Seniors and facing teams such as Tivoli, Swifts, West End, CYMS (Catholic Young Men’s Society) and Laidley, Moulders’ suddenly found themselves uncompetitive, taking out the 1946 wooden spoon without a win or even a draw all season. The Moulders’ again played in the Seniors for the 1947 season and hopes were high when they beat the reigning Premiers, West End, with a score of 14-11 in a trial match under lights at the North Ipswich Reserve.

But for all the pre-season optimism, the Moulders’ (also known as the Maroons) started 1947 much like they’d ended the previous season – anchored to the bottom. Halfway through 1947, the team got their first-ever premiership points in an 11-all draw against West End. Ultimately, however, it would be another winless season.

I’ve always subscribed to the belief that there’s a certain romance supporting a rubbish football team – it’s good character building. But in 1948 the IRL top brass, who were obviously not romantics, kicked the Moulders’ out of the Seniors. Their only crime? Being one of the worst sides to have ever played in the history of the IRL competitions.

So, take heart my fellow football fanatics; even if you support the worst team in the league, there’s a good chance they’ll at least be there to let you down again in the future. Remember, there’s always next year… unless you’re a Moulders’ supporter, that is.

Photo: The 1946 Moulders’ Senior Rugby League side from the Ipswich Railway Workshops. (Photographer: Whitehead Studios. Queensland Museum Collection)

Rob Shiels
Brisbane Lions tragic/Collection Manager,
The Workshops Rail Museum

Railway Carriage Secrets

Here at The Workshops Rail Museum, we’ve been working hard to clear the backlog of little jobs necessary to keep our locomotives and rolling stock looking clean and well maintained. Whilst polishing brass on a steam locomotive is something even a curator can do, many of these jobs require outside knowledge and expertise.

This was the case with one of our passenger carriages – BV 269. This timber coach, built-in Maryborough in 1882, is the oldest one in our collection. It spent much of its working life on the line west of Townsville, and before being retired to the museum was used regularly on the Kuranda tourist service. In the last 18 months, we have opened it up to visitors for the first time since the museum opened. Unfortunately, a number of rips had developed in the seats. We decided we couldn’t have our visitors sitting on torn vinyl, so we removed them and took them to Brian at B&B Trimmers and Upholstery for restoration.

When we returned to collect them there was a surprise waiting for us. Not only were there a set of beautifully reupholstered seats, but Brian had also set aside a stained and tatty looking piece of canvas uncovered during the process. On it was scrawled the names of two employees of the Townsville Railway Workshops and the date 14/11/1949. These men, B. G. Delowery and H. W. Hoit, had signed their work! Giving us an insight not only into the last time the seats had significant work done to them, but the pride that these men had taken in their jobs a few months shy of 70 years ago.

Many of our trains hold secrets like this, but rarely do we get to encounter them. Who knows what other messages are hiding in amongst our locomotives and rolling stock…?

By David Hampton

Re-imagining Pandora

This blog post is part of an ongoing series titled Connecting with Collections. The series offers readers a peek inside collections at the Museum of Tropical Queensland, highlighting objects and their stories.

In 1790, HMS Pandora sailed out of England with a clear mission: to find the HMS Bounty and its 25 mutineers. Pandora reached Tahiti in March 1791, and captured 14 of the mutineers, restraining them in the makeshift prison cell on the stern deck, ‘Pandora’s Box’. Leaving Tahiti in May 1791, Pandora spent the next several months searching for the remaining mutineers on other islands in the South-West Pacific, including Samoa, Tonga, Rotuma and Tokelau. On the eventual journey home to the United Kingdom in August, after failing to track down the nine other mutineers, Pandora ran aground and sank whilst attempting to traverse the Torres Strait.

The wreck remained undisturbed until 1977. Upon discovery of the shipwreck site, the Queensland Museum conducted several archaeological expeditions between 1979 and 1999. The extensive excavations unearthed a significant amount of the buried ship’s hull, as well as the well-preserved collection of artefacts now held by the Museum of Tropical Queensland in Townsville.

When Pandora sank, so did almost everything on board the vessel. The Queensland Museum team uncovered a large assemblage of artefacts that shed light on the everyday lifestyle on board the ship during its eventful journey, as well as a range of Polynesian artefacts that the crew had collected whilst on the islands.

Among these Polynesian objects were a collection of fishhooks and shanks made from mother of pearl shell. Research on the collection deduced that the shell shanks, in particular, were parts of fishing lures used for trolling bonito fish. When suspended in water during use, the lures resemble small fish moving in the water, and attract the predatory bonito. After over 180 years underwater, the other distinguishing features of the lures – the hook and plant fibres – disintegrated prior to discovery of the wreck. The shanks, therefore, cannot be linked to one particular area, as this kind of lure was not only common in French Polynesia, but in a variety of regions across Oceania. They came in a variety of forms, colours and sizes, depending where they were manufactured.

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MA7901 Fishing/trolling lure component. Discovered at the Pandora shipwreck in the 1980s-1990s.
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MA8098 Fishing/trolling lure component. Discovered at the Pandora shipwreck in the 1980s-1990s
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MA8023.1 Fishing/trolling lure component. Discovered at the Pandora shipwreck in the 1980s-1990s.

Currently on display at the Museum of Tropical Queensland is the display, ‘Making Connections: French Polynesia and the HMS Pandora collection’. As part of the display, artist and anthropologist Tokainiua Devatine created an art installation inspired by the many pearl shell shanks from the Pandora wreck. In his artwork, Tokainiua aimed to represent the variation in the pearl shanks, displaying different sizes, colours and forms of the shell pieces in his interpretive artwork.

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Art installation created by artist Tokainiua Devatine, currently on display at the Museum of Tropical Queensland.
People in French Polynesia still use bonito lures made from mother of pearl shells to catch bonito fish. Although, today metal hooks and synthetic fibres are used on the lures, instead of the natural fibres and shell or bone hooks used when the Pandora’s crew acquired the lures.

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E40896 Bonito lure. PhD student and curator Jasmin Guenther purchased this lure in French Polynesia in 2018.

Alongside the pearl shanks found on the Pandora wreck site were several pearl fishhooks. Fishhooks used in French Polynesia at the time of Pandora’s journey through Oceania also came in a variety of shapes and sizes depending on their intended use and associated region. Locals would frequently include the hooks in trade and exchange practices, and European visitors to the islands avidly collected them in the 1700s.

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MA8006 Fish hook fragment. Discovered at the Pandora shipwreck in the 1980s-1990s.

Unlike the lures, pearl fishhooks are no longer used for recreational or commercial fishing today.

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E40888, E40889. Tahitian artist Hiro Ou Wen created these fishhooks in 2018 as reproductions of the traditional pearl fishhooks discovered at the Pandora shipwreck.

To learn more about the material culture of French Polynesia, and the connection between Pandora artefacts and contemporary art in Oceania today, visit the Museum of Tropical Queensland and experience the current display, ‘Making Connections: French Polynesia and the HMS Pandora collection’.

Sophie Price, Assistant Curator Anthropology, Museum of Tropical Queensland

International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples

Today we acknowledge International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. Did you know there are 370 million Indigenous peoples belonging to 5000 different cultures across 90 countries with over 7000 languages spoken?  Indigenous peoples, also known as First peoples, Aboriginal peoples or Native peoples, are ethnic groups who are the original settlers of a given region, in contrast to groups that have settled, occupied or colonized the area more recently. Queensland Museum holds Indigenous collections belonging to Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and the Pacific peoples.

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Shell Pendant – Pictured with the raw materials used to make the artefact, this ochre decorated Windowpane Oyster (Placuna placenta) pendant was designed and made in 2018 by Umpila, Yirrganydji/Djabugay artist Bernard Lee Singleton. The pendant is an early experimental artwork created as part of an artistic process to learn and adapt traditional techniques.

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Dance Headdress – This Torres Strait Islander headdress, made by Audi Gibuma is known as a dhari or dhoeri, is a distinctive traditional dance and ceremonial adornment.

We also hold a World Cultures collection with artefacts from Indigenous cultures from North and South America, Africa and Asia. Pictured below are some amazing artefacts from that collection.

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Native American Blanket –  Gifted to Queensland Museum Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Consultative Committee by W. Richard West, Director of the Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, USA, at a public lecture at the Queensland Museum in 2006.

Inuit Dog Sled Whip and Sled Reins Toggles- The 12 metre long whip is a traditionally crafted device that reflects knowledge and culture that values the husky dog as partner in the important community tasks of hunting and transportation.

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Kalahari San Collection  – Recently donated to the museum, these artefacts belong to First Nation peoples of Southern Africa. Known as Kalahari Bushmen, this Indigenous community have been severely impacted by loss of culture and traditional lands, due to enforced government mandated programs.

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African Maasai Sandals – These handcrafted sandals made from recycled motorcycle tyres, were owned and worn by a Maasai Warrior our very own QM staff member, who walked out of his home village of Kiserian, Tanzania and immigrated to Brisbane in 2009, wearing these sandals.

Carved Ivory Tusk –  Crafted in an African village for the tourist market, this artefact was acquired by the museum in 1985 as part of a customs seizure. Due to external pressures and loss of traditional cultural lifestyle, often African communities seek alternative methods of income to sustain their families and communities. The trade in elephant ivory has led to the decline of elephant populations in many countries and the trade is now banned under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species commonly referred to as CITIES.

Sample Bags Steal the Show

For the people of Brisbane, the Ekka has been a major event on the calendar for over 130 years, with many attending year after year – no doubt for the Dagwood dogs, strawberry sundaes and of course, showbags – or sample bags as they were once called in the 1920s.

A Brief History of the Ekka

The Royal Queensland Show, affectionately nicknamed the Ekka, is a 10 day annual exhibition that commences on the second Thursday of August held at the RNA showgrounds in Brisbane. The first show was the Queensland Intercolonial Exhibition held in 1876, following the formation of the National Agricultural and Industrial Association of Queensland in 1875.

The show was intended to promote not just local industries, but also to showcase the agricultural, pastoral and industrial resources of the whole of Queensland, and this has continued to be the key purpose of the show. But the social aspects are just as important. It’s a place where city and country people come together and for many years, the annual showbags have been a highlight of Queensland’s social scene.

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Show Favourites: Sample Bags

Sample bags began to appear from the mid-1920s and were designed to provide samples of the goods of many different manufacturers and organisations. The first sample bags contained local coal and crushed quartz, then later stocked baking ingredients, miniature cans of fruit and lollies, whereas today you’ll find chocolate, toys and retail products dominate the contents.

The Chantler Family’s Show Bag Collection

Showbags collected by the Chantler family from Red Hillwere donated to the museum by their cousin. It is not known which of the Chantler family was the showbag collector, but the collection is both distinctive – in the number of showbags collected – and representative, in the way it reflects the interest of many in collecting showbags as mementoes of their annual visits to the Ekka.

These paper showbags are likely from the 1960s or 70s, before plastic bags started to be used around the 1980s. The Cherry Ripe bag indicates the showbags were pre 1967, before Cadbury acquired MacRobertson’s Steam Confectionery Works. Do you remember when Cadbury Crunchies only cost 10 cents?

Snapshots in Time

This blog post is part of an ongoing series titled Connecting with Collections. The series offers readers a peek inside collections at the Museum of Tropical Queensland, highlighting objects and their stories.

You don’t often go to a new place without seeing at least one postcard for sale. Beaches, small towns, big cities – there’s always a tourist shop, and there’s always a postcard stand. I myself have a series of postcards on my fridge, parading beautiful sights my friends and family have visited – my favourite being a picture of a fluffy sheep in front of the rolling hills of New Zealand.

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This postcard shows scenes much closer to home. The postcard was originally purchased by the late Lloyd Noel Vickers during his time stationed in Townsville in the mid-1940s as a member of the Australian Armed Forces.  Fold out postcards allowed people to send their loved ones multiple images at a time, rather than the single image postcards of today.

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Lloyd Noel Vickers, photographed at time of enlistment in Bendigo, Victoria by renowned wartime photographer William Vincent Kelly. During WW2, Townsville was the major North Queensland base for both Australian and US forces and had 11 operational airstrips within the city. Vickers was stationed at one of these during his time with the Air Force. The postcard was kept by Vickers as a memento of his time in Townsville.

This photograph and the postcard were recently donated to the Museum of Tropical Queensland by Vickers’ daughter, Denise Mitchell (Vickers), in memory of her father.

SPOT THE DIFFERENCE

Manufactured and distributed in the 1940s, the images of Townsville featured on the postcard depict a place very different from today.  The images used on this postcard depict significant locations throughout the city. Have a closer look at some of these sites, and try to spot the similarities and differences between their 1940s context, and their position in Townsville today.

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Railway station

Built in 1913, the Great Northern Railway Station was well-known to the many soldiers who travelled to and from Townsville by train during WW2, and is featured in many commemorative photographs from the end of the war. The station closed in 2003, when the new railway line was built. Today, the building is used by Queensland Rail as both a travel centre and office space.

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Another photo captures the Castle Hill lookout. The road to the lookout was developed as part of a Great Depression unemployment relief project, and officially opened in the year 1937. Today, visitors frequent the lookout by car, or by navigating one of the many designated hiking trails that traverse up the sides of the hill.

Victoria Bridge

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One of Townsville’s oldest bridges, Victoria Bridge opened in 1889 to connect the port on Ross Island to the Townsville CBD. The bridge became Queensland’s sole swing bridge during the years 1889-1925, and closed to traffic in 1975, when the George Robert’s bridge opened. Victoria Bridge was revamped and reopened as a pedestrian bridge in 2001.

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Flinders St

The Townsville Post Office (left), built in 1886, is a heritage-listed building that now houses the Townsville Brewery. In 1942, the clock tower was dismantled after the bombing of Darwin; as a significant landmark in Townsville’s city centre, and because of the building’s status as a communications centre, it was also considered a possible target. In the 1960s, the tower was modified by JE Allen & Co., and soon became the prime location for political rallies because of its central position in the Townsville CBD. The building was redeveloped as the Townsville Brewery in 2001. The Union Bank building (right) was built in 1885 and established as the Perc Tucker Regional Gallery in 1981.

JUST LIKE YOU WERE THERE

The images on this postcard were produced from black and white negatives and then hand-coloured to bring life to the photographs. Hand-coloured images let manufacturers over-saturate the photographs with colour, to create a more ‘realistic’ visual experience. A range of pigments were used to create the vivid colours: oils, watercolours, dyes, crayons or pastels. The production of hand-coloured photographs generally stopped in the 1950s, when colour film became more available and the preferred method. However, many countries continued to hand-colour images because it was too expensive to obtain and produce colour film; in several places, this process was practiced as late as the 1980s. The 1970s also saw a resurgence in the technique, with trends in collecting antiques taking hold and a market opening for these types of hand-coloured images.

Murray Views, Gympie, was the key manufacturer for souvenir postcards during this period. Fred Murray opened Murray Studios in Gympie in 1906, initially only producing products for the Gympie region and surrounding areas. In 1929, the company changed to Murray Views, and was soon creating souvenir images and postcards from as far as Cairns to Grafton, with each photograph captured by Fred and his team. Fold out poster production began at the company in the mid-1940s, when Murray’s nephews took over the company.

MULTIPLE STORIES

This postcard is significant to the collections at the Museum of Tropical Queensland for several reasons. The images provide a contrast between historical locations in the Townsville region that are still some of the main tourist locations today, and the techniques used to create the postcard give us insight into both image and souvenir manufacturing in the mid-20th century. It also encourages us to think about the situation in which Mr Vickers might have purchased the object, during his years spent in Townsville. By looking at these images, we can gain a sense of both time and place.

Sophie Price, Assistant Curator Anthropology, Museum of Tropical Queensland

We are custodian of Queensland's natural and cultural heritage, caring for more than a million items and specimens in collections that tell the changing story of Queensland.