By Dr Elizabeth Bissell, Senior Curator, Cultures and Histories, Queensland Museum and Solitaire Osei, Senior Conservator, Textiles, Queensland Museum
When Queensland Museum’s long-awaited Anzac Legacy Gallery opened its doors in November 2018, visitors may have been surprised to see a women’s mourning suit displayed near Mephisto, the rarest tank in the world.
The suit was made for Mrs Christina Massey of Mayfield Road, Belmont, by Janet Walker, a popular Brisbane dressmaker during the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Christina Woolridge was born in the Orkney Islands, Scotland, around 1865. She immigrated to Australia and married Thomas Massey at Roma in 1888. They had four children – James, Heywood, Helen, and Thomas Junior. Christina’s eldest son Heywood (known as Woodie) was serving in France with the 31st Battalion when his father passed away in Brisbane in 1918. It’s possible that Mrs Massey wore the mourning suit to her husband’s funeral that same year.
The mourning suit is an important object to have in the gallery because it represents one woman’s story, but also the stories of many women – mothers, sisters, daughters, and aunts – who lost loved ones during the First World War. It also reflects a particular time in Queensland, and how the war affected social customs. Because there was such an unprecedented amount of death during World War 1, Victorian mourning customs, which were very elaborate and public, were replaced by more private, modest acknowledgements as whole communities mourned. The silk satin suit reflects the design and styling that was popular during the war years, comprised of a jacket and skirt of simple design lines with military-like braid and button decoration.
The fabric of the original suit was deteriorating and too fragile to go on display so it was painstakingly re-created by Queensland Museum Textiles Conservator Solitaire Osei. The process of reconstructing the suit was a challenge she hadn’t faced before, but with her textile conservation experience and training in fashion construction, Solitaire knew it was achievable.
I spent a total of 420 hours re-creating the suit in matching materials. Starting with a thorough analysis of every fabric, thread and stitch, I was able to piece together how it was originally constructed. It wasn’t an easy process, however. Normally you start with people’s measurements to make a dress, but I had to go the other way as I had no idea what size or shape Mrs Massey was. So, after numerous measurements were taken, I drafted patterns and set out to reconstruct the mourning suit made by Janet Walker one hundred years ago.
When recreating the suit, it was the braid on the jacket back that proved the most difficult to obtain. The braid wasn’t available anywhere as it was made more than a century ago, so I had to break down the components of the braid and source the material. I ended up finding it at a military store in the UK and I then had to teach myself how to braid it and constructed a replica.
With the reproduction complete and ready for display, I still had a few unanswered questions. It was my hope that one of Mrs Massey’s descendants could shed some light about the alterations made to the garment, which were found during the reconstruction process. However, the process of tracking down descendants was complicated. The relationship of the donor to the Massey family wasn’t recorded at the time of the donation and the curatorial team were unable to trace living descendants through desk-based research, which led them to seek a broader audience through a media call out.
Fortunately, Peta Geisel, Christina’s great granddaughter, contacted Queensland Museum within hours of hearing the call-out on ABC Radio Brisbane.
She and her late mother Erna Olsen (daughter of Helen Wruck nee Massey) had donated the gown in 2008. Ms Geisel said the dress had sat for many years among the Christmas decorations at the top of her mother’s cupboard in Eudlo near the Sunshine Coast, before she housed it at her home in The Gap until the time of the donation.
In September 2018, Queensland Museum hosted a morning tea for the family, including Peta Geisel, her daughter Jasmin Forsyth and granddaughter Asha. Peta’s brother Jason Olsen also attended, as well as a nephew Adam Craven. The family admired the reproduction and viewed the original suit, which prompted a few memories. Peta described dressing up in the suit as a child and even wore it on horseback in a parade one day, resulting in a rip in the skirt that is still there today.
“I have many memories of my sister and I trying on this dress,” said Peta.
“However, back then, we had no idea it held such historical value. Granny Massey’s dress has such a story to tell, and I’m delighted to be learning even more about it, as this journey continues.”
Peta used to be a dressmaker herself, so was especially interested in the reproduction process.
“Solitaire’s work is outstanding,” she said.
“You can see in the detail, her level of skill and passion for this project.”
A large part of the curatorial team’s work on the Anzac Legacy Gallery has involved tracking down and meeting with descendants of those people whose stories are featured. Consultation and collaboration are so important when designing a gallery, and we try to find someone related to every single object we display. Stories enrich objects, providing context and connection.
by Peter Volk, Assistant Collection Manager, Social History, Queensland Museum
On 1st July 1959, nearly 60 years ago, Brisbane television station QTQ9 went on the air. A few months later, on 2nd November, ABQ2 started broadcasting as well. If you are of the right age, you can remember growing up on a steady diet of 1960’s era TV, all served in black and white, with monophonic sound, all delivered on a 576 line screen.
However, QTQ9 wasn’t the first TV station in Queensland, not by a long way. TV transmission in Queensland started on 10th April 1934, and the first TV broadcast license was issued to radio station 4CM in 1935.
What did TV look like in those days, and why did it take 25 years (!) before it became generally available?
Experimental radio station 4CM broadcast from the convict-built Old Windmill on Wickham Terrace in Brisbane. The initial TV experiments were made late in the evening after the radio station had gone off the air. Dr Val McDowall, who owned the radio station, worked with Thomas Elliott, a local engineer and one of Queensland’s first licensed HAM radio operators, to build a TV transmitter. There were no standard components for such a thing at the time. This technology was beyond the cutting edge, so they had to improvise. The transmitter included wooden cotton reels, parts from a Meccano set and hand-cut aluminium disks. They worked with another gentleman named Alan Campbell, who went on to be a co-founder of QTQ-9. Mr Campbell had a TV receiver that was an equally home-made affair, with a screen 11 cm wide, about the size of a mobile phone screen today. Together these three men made history.
The first successful transmission of a television signal in Queensland was made on 10 April 1934, and was picked up in Mr Campbell’s home at Wilston. The first image seen was that of Mickey Mouse, followed by a picture of actress Janet Gaynor. The first news transmission took place on 9 October 1935 with a reading from a section of a local newspaper. The first entertainment included cartoons of Mickey Mouse, and a film called “The Chocolate Soldier,” using a projector Mr Campbell had built.
The TV signal could be charitably described as low resolution. The more scan lines a TV has the better the picture is. A modern hi-definition TV has a minimum of 720 scan lines, and more commonly 1096. 4000 line (4K) TV’s are available now, and 8000 line sets (8K) are entering the market. The old B&W TVs had 576 lines. The early TV signal from 4CM’s apparatus had 30, though a later version of the equipment used a 180 line scan.
The early 30 line transmissions used a rather long radio wavelength, which gave them a good range. It was reported that 4CM had been picked up by receivers in Melbourne. Soon after, along with the shift to 180 line scans, the transmission frequency was raised. The resolution of the image was now much better, but the range was reduced to about 25 miles.
The receivers were about the size of a regular computer monitor, but most of that size went to housing the mechanical works. The actual image size was very small by comparison – from the size of a large postage stamp to the size of a mobile phone screen.
Nipkow DIsk and Photocell used for the first successful transmission of a television signal in Queensland on 10 April 1934. This was the heart of the TV system. The rapidly spinning disk with pinholes in the rim scanned the subject with a moving dot of light, and the “TV Eye” acted as the camera. It was a simple photocell that measured the light intensity and output a proportional electrical signal. Notice the use of cotton reels and Meccano in the construction of the supports and frame
This was a mechanical TV system, of the type championed and improved by John Logie Baird in the UK. The core of the TV was a spinning disk, called a Nipkow disk, with a series of holes in the rim of the disk forming a spiral. The subject was seated in near darkness, and a very bright light (usually an arc lamp) projected a pinhole sized spot of light through the holes in the rim of the Nipkow disk. The disk was spun very rapidly by an electric motor. The spacing of the holes meant that only one pinhole passed in front of the subject at a time, and the spiral pattern of the holes meant that each hole passed over a different part of the subject, moving from left to right until the whole subject had been scanned once. The wheel had then done one rotation, and on the next the subject was scanned again.
This scanning process became known as the “flying spot” technique. It was used in early broadcast TV up until 1938, in some places, and is occasionally used for specialist applications today.
Close-up view of the scanning disk. Everything was hand-built from what was available.
A photocell measured the intensity of the light reflected from the subject, and sent a signal to a second light source (usually a neon lamp) that varied in intensity according to the signal. When one looked at the second light source through a similar Nipkow disk spinning in synchronisation with the first, one saw a copy of the original signal. The trick was sending that light intensity signal to the second light source over a radio. If one can do that, one is transmitting TV. Audio was transmitted as a radio signal over a different frequency.
It seemed that the Brisbane experimenters had the core of a successful television system. They commenced regular TV transmissions, for an hour every evening from 7:30 PM. Initially everyone had to build their own receiver from scratch, but with a bit of time and capital receivers could have been manufactured and sold to the general public. Commercial broadcasting and professionally made receivers were both available in the UK from 1929. However, the steady development and deployment of the technology was stopped dead by World War 2.
When war broke out in 1939 Australia, like the UK, withdrew all the broadcasting licenses for experimental radio and TV groups and put all their scientific efforts into military projects. The people who had been working on TV transmission had made themselves the best in Australia at cutting edge radio technology. Instead of broadcasting Mickey Mouse cartoons they found themselves working on radio and radar projects for the military. TV research went into suspension around the world – except for experiments with TV guided bombs. After the war the 4CM TV crew found that their lives had taken different directions, and the band never got back together. Additionally, mechanical TV had fallen by the wayside and been replaced by TV that used an electrically scanning cathode ray tube for the transmitter and receiver. This led to one of the first format wars, where various nations could not agree on the number of scan lines, the number of frames per second and other technical details. Australia as a whole was uncertain as to which technology to adopt. There was also dispute about how the TV industry should be organised. The British model had the government, through the BBC, running the TV stations and the U.S. model had the stations owned and run by private industry. After much argument in Parliament the Federal Government made the firm, principled and determined choice to have five bob each way and do both. Additionally, in the early 1950’s Australia was in a recession and the capital and skills needed to develop a new industry weren’t available until later in the decade.
This early TV transmission equipment found its way to the Royal Historical Society of Queensland, and from them to the Queensland Museum, where it is preserved today. As far as is known, none of the early TV receivers have been preserved anywhere in Queensland.
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.
The 7-14 July marks the 2019 NAIDOC Week. Each year, NAIDOC Week celebrates the culture, history and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. NAIDOC Week is commemorated by both Indigenous communities and all other Australians. Annual NAIDOC events and activities are held across Australia to encourage people to participate in the celebrations, and support local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
Understanding NAIDOC Week
Some might not know, but the boycott of Australia Day – often now referred to as Invasion Day – is not a new event, and connects directly to the origins of NAIDOC Week.
Aboriginal rights groups have been boycotting Australia Day since the beginning of the 20th century. By the 1920s, many of these groups were becoming more active and organised, protesting the day in an effort to highlight the mistreatment of Aboriginal people in Australia. The Australian Aborigines Progressive Association (AAPA) and the Australian Aborigines League (AAL) rallied hard throughout the 1920s-1930s to make the broader population aware of these boycotts and the reasons behind them, however their efforts went almost entirely unnoticed.
By the late 1930s, the situation had not changed. Protests continued, so much so that after a large demonstration in Sydney’s CBD on Australia Day, 1938, the anniversary became known as the Day of Mourning. This event in particular is recognised as one of the first major civil rights gatherings in the world. At the time, William Cooper, founder of the AAL, proposed the concept of a national policy for Aboriginal people to then Prime Minister Joseph Lyons. Unfortunately, the proposal was rejected, as the Australian Government did not at this time hold constitutional powers when it came to Aboriginal people, a fact that would not change until the 1967 Referendum in Australia.
The impact of the 1938 demonstration was felt around the country, and the Day of Mourning became an annual event. Between 1940 and 1955, the Day of Mourning was held every Sunday before Australia Day, known as Aborigines’ Day. The date of Aborigines’ Day was moved to the first Sunday in July in 1955, in an effort to use the day as both a day of protest, and also a day which promoted the celebration of Aboriginal culture and heritage.
Soon after, the National Aborigines’ Day Observance Committee (NADOC) was formed, and in 1975, the Committee decided to extend the event to cover an entire week, from the first Sunday of July – Aborigines’ Day – to the second Sunday of July, a day that also became a commemorative day of remembrance for Aboriginal people.
In the early 1990s, NADOC recognised the inclusion of Torres Strait Islander people in the Committee, changing their name to the National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observation Committee (NAIDOC).
Every year, the NAIDOC week theme is chosen to reflect a significant issue or event that is relevant to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. This year’s theme – Voice Treaty Truth – recognises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s place in Australian history and society, and promotes the reforms outlined in the Uluru Statement of the Heart.
The Uluru Statement represents the unified position of Australia’s First Nations people. The Statement was developed as a result of the First Nations National Constitutional Convention, which ran over four days in May, 2017. The Convention brought together over 250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders to Uluru (on the lands of the Anangu people), to discuss constitutional reforms, and agree on how to approach the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Constitution.
Reforms highlighted in the Statement involve enshrining a First Nations Voice to Parliament in the Constitution to empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and a Makarrata Commission to supervise treaty processes and truth-telling about the history of Australia and colonisation, and its continuing effects (Makarrata is from the language of the Yolngu people in Arnhem Land; the word means ‘coming together after a struggle’. Makarrata encapsulates concepts of conflict resolution and peacemaking, and seeks to acknowledge and right past wrongs).
The 2019 National NAIDOC Poster was designed by Charmaine Mumbulla, a Kaurna/Narungga woman. The artwork is titled ‘Awaken’. Charmaine depicts in her artwork the early dawn light rising over Uluru, which symbolises the unbroken connection between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the land. The circles at the base of Uluru are representative of the historic gathering in 2017 which resulted in the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Of the work, Charmaine wrote: “Our message, developed through generations, is echoed throughout the land: hear our voice and recognise our truth. We call for a new beginning, marked by a formal process of agreement and truth-telling, that will allow us to move forward together”.
NAIDOC in the collections
There are certain objects within our collection at the Museum of Tropical Queensland that link directly to NAIDOC Week.
This t-shirt is from NAIDOC Week 1998, and promotes the 1998 theme ‘Bringing them home’. The theme reflected on the report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families (April, 1997).
The report addressed the wrongs done to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples through the removal of Aboriginal children from their homes and families, and contained recommendations for redressing these wrongs. One of the key recommendations in the ‘Bringing them home’ report focused on an official acknowledgment of, and apology for, the removal of the Stolen Generations – those Aboriginal children who were forced from their families and communities by governments and churches to be raised in institutions, or fostered by white families.
The impact of the ‘Bringing them home’ report resulted in all State and Territory Parliaments officially apologising to the Stolen Generations, their families and communities between the years 1997-1999. National Sorry Day was established in 1998, and is celebrated every year on May 26.
This t-shirt was acquired by a Queensland Museum curator in October 1998, to add to the State Collection held at the Museum of Tropical Queensland. The item is a significant object within the collections, and is representative of the ongoing NAIDOC Week celebrations, and the nature in which the Week is celebrated with a range of activities and events for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous Australians to participate in.
These two objects are children’s toys, woven from blades of coconut leaves. They were made by Kate James at the Museum of Tropical Queensland during NAIDOC week in 2000. Kate is a Murray (Mer) Islander woman from the Margaram people. She was born and raised on Mer and came to Townsville in the 1960s.
This scarf was made and donated to the Museum of Tropical Queensland in 2012, by 14-year-old artist Chern’ee Sutton. Titled, ‘History of Australia: Ajarku Muruu’, Sutton created this hand-painted scarf as an interpretation of Ajarku Muruu, which means ‘All One Country’ in Kalkadoon language.
Sutton detailed that each of the 5 large circles represent approximately 14,000 years of life in Australia, totalling nearly 70,000 years. The red and orange circle represent the beginning of art, the green circle represents the beginning of a country, and the blue circle represents the beginning of a nation. The Southern Cross at the top represents a common unity of two worlds combined, and the small dots represent the spirit trails that link all Australians together through acceptance and understanding of each other. This scarf was painted by Sutton after Rob Messenger, Member for Burnett, commissioned her to paint a tie for him to wear in Parliament House for NAIDOC Week 2012.
Each of these items are representative of the culture and heritage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia.
Sophie Price, Assistant Curator Anthropology, Museum of Tropical Queensland
This article is the first in a series about the historical maritime mapping and interaction along the North Queensland coastline.
The Mermaid at Cape Cleveland
On Sunday 14 June 1819, HMS Mermaid rounded Cape Cleveland in north Queensland and made an unscheduled stop, anchoring off present day Red Rock Bay. In command was Lieutenant Phillip Parker King RN, the Australian-born son of the third New South Wales Governor (Philip Gidley King) who, together with his crew, was on his third voyage surveying the Australian coast.
The Mermaid, an 84-ton cutter constructed of teak, had been built in India and measured 17 metres in length with a draft of just three metres when loaded. It had a complement of about nineteen officers and crew and was an ideal vessel for hydrographic surveys requiring access to inshore areas. It was later to become unseaworthy because of construction issues, and for King’s fifth and final survey voyage, the Mermaid was replaced by the brig Bathurst, a vessel of twice the size.
The purpose of the Mermaid’s unscheduled stop was to confirm King’s assumption that potable water and wood fuel (to replenish his vessel’s supplies) could be accessed on the lee of Cape Cleveland. King sent Frederick Bedwell, his first officer and senior master’s mate, ashore to undertake the search. Bedwell was accompanied by Allan Cunningham, a botanist and eager explorer attached to the Mermaid’s crew on the recommendation of Sir Joseph Banks.
Frederick Bedwell (undated)
Alan Cunningham (undated)
After finding a perennial stream (entering the sea in today’s Bedwell Bay), Bedwell returned to King with a favourable report, and the decision was made to remain at anchor for several days and send watering and wooding parties to restock the vessel. On 17 June 1819, after three days re-stocking, the Mermaid again weighed anchor and continued its hydrographic survey north.
During the Mermaid’s three-day stay at Cape Cleveland, Frederick Bedwell sounded across Cleveland Bay towards today’s Picnic Bay on Magnetic Island (named Magnetical Isle by Captain James Cook) and then towards the beach at today’s Rowe’s Bay on the mainland. Bedwell established that the depth of Cleveland Bay was suitable for shipping and anchorage.
In the meantime, King, Cunningham and John Septimus Roe, second master’s mate and assistant surveyor, explored parts of Cape Cleveland. They climbed a peak, made sketches and recorded observations in compliance with King’s instructions from the Colonial Secretary. Cunningham collected several botanical ‘novelties’ including the first specimen of the hoop pine (Araucaria cunninghamii) on mainland Australia, and King remarked on the swarms of butterflies, quite probably the blue tiger (Tirumala limniace).
Blue Tiger Butterfly
King and Cunningham observed several thatched huts of pandanus palm and the remains of cooking fires, indicating Cape Cleveland was certainly inhabited. King also noted an inconsistency in his compass bearings, remarking that it may have had similarities to James Cook’s observations when passing Magnetic Island. Later, when departing on 17 June, King recorded his first sighting of Aboriginal peoples on Magnetic Island.
An important story, largely untold, unknown and unacknowledged
The Mermaid’s stay at Cape Cleveland two centuries ago marks the first recorded landing by Europeans in the Townsville area. Today, the city of Townsville has grown in importance as Australia’s largest tropical city with a population of almost 190,000, surpassing the size of the Northern Territory capital city, Darwin.
When Frederick Bedwell RN stepped ashore at Red Rock Bay, the establishment of a permanent European settlement near the mouth of Ross Creek was still almost half a century away. It was not until 1864 that settlers arrived by land, rather than by sea, and established the port city of Townsville to serve a developing pastoral hinterland.
Regrettably, the importance of these expeditions in Australia’s maritime history, the achievements of Phillip Parker King and the Mermaid’s crew in surveying the Australian coastline over four remarkable voyages between 1817 and 1820, and a fifth major exploration by the same crew in the sloop Bathurst in 1822, remain largely unknown to the Australian public.
King’s instructions from the colonial office and the third survey
Phillip King’s instructions were to finish the task that Matthew Flinders was unable to fully complete – to conduct a full examination of the ‘New Holland’ coastline. The detailed survey work undertaken between 1817 and 1821 by the Mermaid and its crew (and the following year on the Bathurst) indisputably confirmed that the Australian continent was indeed an island.
In addition, King had been tasked by Colonial Secretary, Lord Bathurst, to record and report on a formidable list of diverse matters including weather conditions, mountains, animals, vegetables, wood, minerals, metals or stones, details of local communities, their languages and way of life. They were also to record any products of use for export to Great Britain, which explains the inclusion of botanist and scientist Allan Cunningham in the Mermaid’s crew.
King’s third survey, which included the interlude at Cape Cleveland, departed Sydney on 8 May 1819. After a few days break at Port Macquarie, the Mermaid sailed further north on 21 May destined for Torres Strait, Coepang Timor and eventually back to Sydney via Bass Strait.
The Mermaid’s crew and their legacy
In retrospect, it is difficult to underestimate the courage, skill and ingenuity displayed, as well as the hardship endured, by the Mermaid’s crew in their pioneering and unassisted survey work in remote areas. The men were young: Lieutenant King was 27 years old and both master’s mates, Bedwell and Roe, just 22 years old; botanist Cunningham was 28 years old. All went on to achieve further positions of respect in the Australian colonies.
Phillip Parker King has the distinction of being the first Australian-born Rear Admiral and, apart from his expertise as a mariner and naval hydrographer, he later achieved great respect and admiration as an administrator and pastoralist and served on the New South Wales Legislative Council.
Allan Cunningham was acknowledged in later life as a resolute explorer, botanist and writer. Many places in both Queensland and New South Wales, including a federal electoral division in New South Wales, are named in his honour.
John Septimus Roe, a skilled hydrographer and prolific writer who was King’s assistant surveyor from 1817, later achieved fame as an explorer and was, for forty years, Western Australia’s Surveyor-General as well as holding other important public positions in the service of the colony.
My forbearer, Frederick Bedwell (1796 – 1857), joined the Royal Navy shortly before his fourteenth birthday, entering service on 8 September 1810. From 1811, he served with Sir George Cockburn in Cadiz during the Napoleonic Wars and again at Chesapeake in the north American campaign. He also served as master’s mate with Cockburn on the Northumberland, escorting Napoleon Bonaparte to exile on St. Helens, and he later trained in hydrography before his appointment as second in command of the Mermaid, a position he retained on all of the voyages of the Mermaid and the Bathurst.
In later life, following several years in England, Frederick Bedwell returned to New South Wales and captained ships for the NSW colonial administration. He married Susannah Matilda Ward in 1832 and became a pioneer landholder in the Paterson area of New South Wales’ Hunter Valley in 1837 on their property ‘Valentia’. There he is credited with introducing the willow tree to Australia.
The Bedwells had twelve children, and their third child, daughter Zorayda Anne Bedwell (1836 – 1924), married Charles Allan Dun (1823 – 1908), the third child and eldest son of neighbouring Paterson landholders, William Dun and Maria Dun nee´Burdett, in 1857. Frederick Bedwell had also fathered a daughter Eliza (born at the end of 1820) to Louisa Calcott of Sydney.
Charles Dun and Zorayda (Bedwell) moved north and were among the first landholders in the Lake Cootharabra area of south-east Queensland. Dun’s Beach on the lake is named after them. Their son, Percy Vivian Dun, married Elizabeth Ann Cork who, with her family, moved to the township of Ayr, south of Townsville, in the very early years of the twentieth century following the incapacitation of Percy in a mining accident. They were my great grandparents.
Today, it is likely that there are thousands of living descendants of Frederick Bedwell, and many of them are probably unaware of their forbearer’s contribution to the development of modern Australia. It follows that Australians, at large, are also unaware of the importance of the work of the Mermaid and the Bathurst and their officers and crew in the story of modern Australian. The unscheduled landing and interlude at Cape Cleveland are part of the overall substance of King’s five hydrographic surveys, although the significance of that first visit clearly needs to be shared with today’s residents of Townsville.
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.
National Reconciliation Week (27 May – 3 June) celebrates the shared histories, cultures and accomplishments of Aboriginal People and Torres Strait Islanders and the broader Australian community. It urges all Australians to learn how we each can contribute to achieving reconciliation in Australia. National Reconciliation Week commemorates two significant milestones: the date of the successful 1967 Referendum, and the date of the Mabo decision.
The theme for National Reconciliation Week in 2019 – GROUNDED IN TRUTH – recognises that to strengthen Australia’s race relations, the relationship between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and all other Australians must be built on truth. The theme encourages all Australians to come to terms with our shared history, to unify the country and continue to create a culture of respect and understanding.
THE 1967 REFERENDUM
The 27th of May, 1967, marks the date of the Australian Referendum, in which over 90% of Australian voters said ‘YES’ to amending the 1901 Constitution in support of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The overwhelmingly successful vote meant that Aboriginal People and Torres Strait Islanders would now be included in the census, and allowed the Commonwealth, rather than each individual state government, to create laws for them. This addressed the inequalities within the legal system from state to state. The Referendum became a key symbol for the equal rights movement of the 1970s.
THE MABO DECISION
Eddie Koiki Mabo was from Mer (Murray Island) in the Torres Strait. Mabo famously challenged the Australian legal system and won his people’s case for land ownership. The case, Mabo and others v Queensland (No 2) (1992) made its landmark decision on 3 June 1992, granting recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as traditional owners of the land of their ancestors. The Mabo decision was a turning point for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the fight for native title.
The Mabo decision abolished the doctrine of terra nullius, which was put in place by British invaders in 1788, meaning the land belonged to nobody. The Mabo decision identified that terra nullius should never have been applied to Australian land, instead recognising that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples had occupied the land for 40 000 – 60 000 years before the British arrived.
In honour of National Reconciliation Week, have a look below at a range of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artefacts from the Townsville region, that represent the Aboriginal communities from this part of the state.
This shield was made by the Rainforest people situated between the Townsville and Mossman Regions. This community is best known for their swords and shields, which distinguish them from other Indigenous language groups. Shields such as this one were shaped and then painted with rich ochre colours, creating abstract designs that represented both animal and plant totems.
A hafted stone axe, made by Russell Butler in 1998.
This digging stick was found by the Environmental Protection Agency during field work at Ross Creek, Townsville in 1998.
This necklace was made using echidna quills and red sandalwood seeds, threaded onto a nylon line with a gold plated catch. It was made in Townsville by Dot Prior in 1998.
This woven Pandanus basket was made by Sarah Wapau in 1990. Ms Wapau was born on Thursday Island, and was a prominent member of the Torres Strait Island community in Townsville when this item was purchased by the Museum in 1991.
Sophie Price, Assistant Curator Anthropology, Museum of Tropical Queensland
Today is International Women’s Day and we’re highlighting some of our favourite females in Australian history, shared through the lens of the incredible women who are part of the Queensland Museum Network team. Our collections are full of amazing stories and we’re thrilled to be able to share them with you to celebrate this special day.
Jennifer Wilson, Senior Curator, Transport Energy and Science Favourite piece of history: Lores Bonney, who is featured in the Anzac Legacy Gallery at Queensland Museum, was a pioneering aviatrix who dodged death on a number of record-breaking solo flights across the globe during the First World War. During her aviation career, Lores completed the longest one-day flight by an airwoman (Brisbane to Wangaratta), was the first woman to circumnavigate Australia by air, the first woman to fly from Australia to England, and the first to fly from Australia to South Africa. She was awarded an Order of Australia Medal in 1991. The Bonney Trophy, which she presented in England, is still awarded annually to an outstanding female British pilot.
Geraldine Mate, Principal Curator, History, Industry and Technology Favourite piece of history: This microscope belonged to Professor Dorothy Hill, renowned palaeontologist and geologist from Taringa, Brisbane. Her approach to scientific inquiry, particularly her research on fossil corals, led to a long and successful career. In one of many firsts, she was the first woman to be elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science. Dorothy became Australia’s first female professor in 1959 when she became Professor of Geology at the University of Queensland. She also became the first Australian woman Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science (1956), the Royal Society of London (1965), and the first female president of the Australian Academy of Science (1970). The Dorothy Hill Medal honours her contributions to Australian Earth science and her work in opening up tertiary science education to women.
Judith Hickson, Curator, Social History Favourite piece of history:In 2017 it was the 50 year anniversary of the 1967 referendum, which saw Australians uniting to vote 90.77% ‘yes’ to changing the constitution to include Aboriginal Peoples and Torres Strait Islanders in the population count. Commissioned by Australia Post to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the historic date, a commemorative stamp was launched in Canberra on 24 May 2017 by then Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Nigel Scullion. The commissioning and unveiling of the stamp was a historic occasion, bring together representatives of younger generations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, surviving campaigners, their families and Government representatives. The chosen stamp design was by Rachael Sarra, a Goreng Goreng woman, artist and designer at Brisbane-based creative agency Gilimbaa.
“… without the courage and determination of the original campaigners, all our lives could have been so different” – Rachael Sarra
Barbara Baehr, Arachnologist and ABRS Research Fellow Favourite piece of history: In 2014, Queensland Museum scientists honoured wildlife warrior and conservation icon Terri Irwin by naming a new species of spider after her. The spider, Leichhardteus terriirwinae, was discovered by Dr Barbara Baehr and senior curator Dr Robert Raven in the Mt Aberdeen region in North East Queensland. The tiny spider is predominantly brown, with white legs and three white stripes…but don’t expect to easily find it as it’s less than seven millimetres long. The tenacity of the small spider was what led Barbara to name it in honour of Terri Irwin.
“We named this specific swift spider after Terri Irwin because Terri is a fast and straight thinking woman and we could not think of a more appropriate name for this slender and fast moving spider” – Barbara Baehr
Candice Badinski, Communications Coordinator Favourite piece of history:Thancoupie Tapich Gloria Fletcher AO (1937-2011), best known simply as Thancoupie, was a leading figure in the Indigenous ceramic movement in Australia, and one of North Queensland’s foremost contemporary artists. In a career spanning four decades, she held over fifteen solo exhibitions in Australia and internationally, became Australia’s first Indigenous solo ceramic artist, and was the first Indigenous Australian to complete a tertiary degree in the arts. Today Thancoupie’s sculptures are represented in a number of major institutions across the country, and she is remembered as a pioneer for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists. In 2014, Queensland Museum curators purchased The Legends of Albatross Bay (Weipa Story) – a cast aluminium sculpture that narrates the history and legends of the artist’s home at Napranum in Weipa, Western Cape York. The sculpture was an exciting acquisition, as the work represents not only one of the final chapters in Thancoupie’s career but also offers added depth to the museum’s existing collection of the artist’s work.
Karen Kindt, Collection Manager, Anthropology Favourite piece of history:Irene Longman, who in 1929 became our first female sitting member in the Queensland Parliament. Irene was married to one of our very own at the museum, Heber A. Longman, the longest serving Queensland Museum Director (1918 to 1945). For over thirty years, Irene involved herself in public life, in a professional and voluntary capacity, working on issues relating to the welfare of women and children, town planning and the preservation of flora and fauna. Queensland Museum holds correspondence dated 20 March 1928 from Dr de Rautenfeld in which he gifted two brooches, one for the museum’s collection and one as a personal gift for Irene. On display in Anzac Legacy Gallery, we also have a tablecloth used as a fundraiser for peace that Irene was instrumental in implementing.
Mephisto, the world’s only remaining German First World War tank is without doubt a unique and fascinating object. Visitors come from across the world to see it, and many words have been written about it. It is also a treasured object to many Queenslanders who remember it out the front of the old Museum on Gregory Terrace, or lurking menacingly in the Dinosaur Garden of Queensland Museum at Southbank. But it is also close to the hearts of Museum staff and volunteers – one more than most.
My name is Lance Barrett, and I am a Front of House volunteer, meeting and greeting the public when they visit the museum. My paternal Grandfather William Joseph “Bill” Barrett played a part in the history of the Mephisto tank. As my grandfather passed away some years ago, I am only now coming to realise the significance of his experiences. During the 1980s my grandfather was interviewed by Queensland Museum and attended a function here but I would have been busy working at my job at Telstra then and missed it. Years later, when I joined the Sciencentre and the Museum, I began to understand that he was actually present around the time of the capture of the Mephisto and was interviewed when he was 90 about his experiences.
My grandfather enlisted in 1916, a boy from Glamorganvale, just 18 years old and fresh of the farm when he signed up. Before leaving he planted a number of Moreton Bag Fig seeds in the plot on his family farm, in case the worst should happen. By March 1917 he was on the Western Front, was wounded in battle at Broodseinde (Belgium) and returned to his unit in France in July 1918. In October he was transferred to the 26th Battalion who retrieved the tank and sent it on its way to Brisbane. At the interview with then Queensland Museum Curator, Mark Whitmore, my grandfather spoke about how he saw Mephisto when he was relieving troops holding an outpost beyond the tank.
In my role as a Front of House volunteer I regularly visited the display Courage of Ordinary Men. It made me think about my grandfather’s war experience, and really personalised the First World War for me. In 2012 my Dad visited the European battlefields, including Villers-Bretonneux, to see where his father had fought. When he brought home photos, it made me feel so connected with my grandfather and his experiences. Added to this, other relatives have served in the military over the years, including both World Wars and Vietnam. One distant cousin received a DCM in World War 2, and my Dad served in peace time. With all these family connections, and talking to visitors to the Courage of Ordinary Men exhibition, I felt everything fall into place because so many of my relatives have served our country – a family history of service. I have wondered whether I could do that – it seems to me the ultimate bravery.
Now, when I talk to visitors about war time, I challenge them to think about what it really meant for the men and women who served. And today as I look at Mephisto, newly installed in the Anzac Legacy Gallery, I find myself thinking again of my grandfather, standing at an outpost on the Western Front, looking across at this tank, just after it had been captured. And once again feel that wonderful connection to my grandfather, William Joseph “Bill” Barrett. I think about our family, my Aunts and Uncles, most of who are still with us, who are so proud of Grandad, their Dad, and his role in the First World War.
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