Women’s History Month

This blog post is part of an ongoing series titled Connecting with Collections.

There are so many ways to celebrate and honour incredible women around the world. In the museum, we’re always looking for opportunities to bring out objects and tell their stories – and this month, it’s time to feature some of the iconic items held at Museum of Tropical Queensland, that were made, used and donated by Queensland women.

Bigin (shield)

Ethel Murray is a Girramay woman and Traditional Owner from North Queensland. She is a weaver and ceramicist, and in the last few years has embraced new materials such as aluminium, ropes and wires to symbolise traditional colours and designs into her practice  

Inspired by traditional rainforest shields, Ethel worked with synthetic ropes to create this work, a soft reproduction of a shield, incorporating traditional colours in a new way. The pattern on this shield is inspired by Ethel’s Uncle Buckeroo (Davey Lawrence) and is the second of two shields she created.

Queensland Museum purchased this shield from Ethel in 2016, after it was featured at the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair.

Bigin (shield), Queensland Museum collection: QE26852

Getvarara (basket)

On Pentecost, Vanuatu, women use getvarara baskets to carry taro, yam, and sweet potato from the village gardens. Usually, yam and taro are placed in the bottom of the basket, and firewood is placed on top with leaves, to be used for cooking.

When collected by the Museum, this basket still had hint of green indicating the basket had been recently made with fresh leaves.  Over time, as the leaf dried, this  green colouring disappeared.

This item is part of Alice Hunai’s collection of Vanuatu material culture, created in the 1980s. Alice makes many baskets to be sold in Townsville at retail outlets and markets and is still creating items for sale today.

Getvarara (basket), Queensland Museum collection: QE26502

Test card

This kind of test card was used by Girl Guides in the 1960s. It would have been filled out by a Guide, in order for her to complete the Tenderfoot test, Second Class tests and First Class tests. The card also includes which camps the Guide went on, and other skills or awards they obtained while completing the tests. Each test was individually detailed and signed off by a guide leader.

The items were originally owned by Lois Brown (nee Cripps) when she was a Girl Guide in Townsville in the 1960s. You can see Lois’ name on the front of the card, and the handwritten text noting that she was part of the ‘Bluebird’ patrol.

Test card, Queensland Museum collection: H49830

Au gemwali (dress)

Made for a festival on Yorke Island, this dress was given to anthropologist Pamela Brodie in 1979 when she was conducting research in the Torres Strait. The dress was made by Selina Savage, and given to Brodie in memory of her time on Erub (Darnley Island) with her and her three sisters, Lydia, Florrie and Serio Stephen.

Au gemwali (dress), Queensland Museum collection: QE25294

These are only four items, representative of the almost 3000 cultural items held in the collections in Townsville.

Celebrating Women’s History Month is an opportunity to not only highlight these stories, but to also reflect on the traditional gendering of museum collections. Historically, museums have been much more focused on men’s history. Our future collecting holds the opportunity to better diversify the stories it can tell – and in particular, address the gaps in women’s histories.  We’re missing stories from queer women, trans women, and women with disabilities – just to name a few. Women are also underrepresented in other collection areas of the museum, for instance, our shipwreck and maritime history collections.

Our future research and collecting practice will allow us to address some of this gender imbalance – and to develop a more balanced understanding of our State’s histories and cultures, representing all people in Queensland.

Written by Assistant Curator, Anthropology Sophie Price. Follow Sophie’s work on Instagram @sophies.curatorial