Old Museum Stories

Sharing stories about the old museum in Brisbane

Category: Exhibition hall (page 2 of 2)

Twin brothers on a school trip from Cairns

Expo was in ’88, when we were in grade 10—so we came to the museum on a school trip from Cairns four years before—so 1984–85. We were in grade seven at St Augustine College in Cairns and the brothers drove the bus down. We stopped in Gladstone on the way down—stayed overnight at Stella Maris College, and visited the look-out. On the way back we stopped at Mackay.

Our visit was for two weeks. We had half a day at the museum. We remember coming in off Gregory Terrace, and the pre-historic reptile hanging from the ceiling. We also visited Seaworld and Dreamworld and Grundy’s at the Gold Coast. We were here in June–July school holidays, but we went into the surf, because there’s no surf at Cairns. It was very special to come—not everyone could, it depended on the number of billets available—we had to put in expressions of interest.

A note from the editor: John and Kelly Perkins told this story to Margie Barram at the Australian Garden History Society display at the Ekka.

School trips from Maleny

I grew up in Maleny and there were a lot of poor people there then, mostly dairy farmers. I went to Maleny State School. Each year there was a school bus trip—for many this was the only time those kids left Maleny. Our school trip was always the same—we’d go to the pineapple factory (’cause it was free) on the way into Brisbane, then we’d come to the museum.  Here we’d sit on the grass and eat our sandwiches which we’d bring from home. We’d sit under the large frangipani trees—there were none in Maleny*—because the girls wanted to collect the flowers and wear them. We were strictly forbidden to climb the trees!

The trip never changed from year to year, and we loved it. Everyone got to re-visit their favorite thing. There was always the aeroplane hanging from the roof and the big display cases with their wooden edges and wooden bases. You’d hear the boys commenting on the exhibits “That’s not a snake. We’ve got bigger ones down in the dairy”.

*There was one frangipani tree, at our house in Tamarind Street, but not elsewhere. My dad was the vet and, at that time, the vet clinic was attached to our house.

End of the day

When I was a little girl (early 1960s) my parents separated, and I lived with my mum. I did not see my dad on a regular basis, but we had a ‘date’ every year to go to the Ekka and spend the whole day together. In the morning we walked to the Ekka from dad’s flat in the Valley, and then proceeded to walk around the entire Ekka (dad always followed a set route that included everything). By afternoon it was always time to continue on to the Old Museum to look at all the displays. I am not sure whether dad thought the museum was educational for me, or whether he just wanted to stretch out his whole day with his only child. I think that I was not always as appreciative of the Old Museum as I should have been, because the visit always came at the end of our day at the Ekka when I was tired and still had the walk back to dad’s flat ahead of me (and I couldn’t wait to open my show bags). Strangely though (for a little girl), my favourite at the old museum was the captured German tank Mephisto.

 

Repurposed for World Expo 88

In 1987/88, with World Expo 88 just a short while away in Brisbane, the Restaurant & Caterers’ Association of Qld (RCAQ) established a training school to prepare the influx of casual employees who would be working there. The Old Museum became the HQ for the RCAQ and I worked in the building for a number of months. It was a spooky environment and on several occasions, weird things happened such as the phone line appearing to be in use but no one else was in the building, and a gate that we had locked at night being wide open in the morning.

Courier Mail social reporter Ken Lord also kept an office there, down a long cement hallway lined with wooden shelves all the way along. We were all based in the bowels of the building and felt quite proud to be working out of such a proud, quintessentially Brisbane building. We pretty much had the run of the place including the grounds, the verandas and the massive open space that used to house the suspended aeroplane.

As a child, I remember going to the Old Museum on school excursions and seeing the dinosaurs out the front, the hanging aeroplane and the bugs in display cases. It felt old and dusty even then (1970s) but it felt so awful for the museum to move out, and many times, I wondered if it would mean the end of the building. Happily, it remains to this day, but it could sure use some restoration.

1897 International Exhibition Queen Victoria Diamond Jubilee

I have an 1897 coin in my possession that marks Queensland’s Celebration of the 60th year of Queen Victoria’s reign, being her Diamond Jubilee.  One side shows the Brisbane International Exhibition Building [see photo], the other side is of two heads of Queen Victoria, the young and the old. Her 60th year reign was 1837–1897.  The significance of the old Museum building on the coin could have been when the Queensland Government took over control of the building and grounds when the National Association was forced into liquidation by the economic depression in 1897.

Queen Vic Coin 1897_back

Queen Vic Coin 1897_front

A good day out

We were living at Redcliffe. Mum and Dad used to bring the four of us to the museum for the day and we’d spread out, exploring. It felt a little bit dusty with light streaming in through the lovely old windows.  All the nooks and crannies, including the staircases were packed full of exhibits: photography gear, precious stones, minerals, thunder-eggs and crystals.  An aeroplane hung suspended from the ceiling between the balconies, tantalisingly close but still out of reach.  There were rows of dark, wooden display cases covered with brown, leather blinds and each one was like opening a Christmas present when you pushed it back to reveal what treasure was inside.  There was an amazing array of insects: butterflies, beetles,  dragonflies; I was glad the one with the spiders was covered so I didn’t have to see them.  In some there were birds eggs of all shapes and sizes and colours; in others, a huge variety of seashells.  There were old coins and ancient objects from all over the world, and against the walls, taxidermied birds and animals, and a box jellyfish floating broodingly in a tall glass tank.  “Mum, Dad, come and look at this!” I’m sure they enjoyed our excitement as much as they enjoyed their own explorations, and enjoy them they certainly did.  Dad loved to answer our questions, and give us that little bit of extra information.  It was like having our own personal guide.  He was like a walking encyclopedia!

Mum always had a picnic prepared and we would eat it under the downstairs balcony near the old army tank and the ancient lung fish.  I used to feel sorry for that fish lying there all alone in a tank too small for it to move around in.  Then we’d forget about it and go back inside to see some more.

It was always a disappointment when we had to leave—there was so much more to see than you could possibly manage in just one day.

Next time we’d make new discoveries, or go back to our old favourites.  And was that mean old jellyfish still there?  I can still see it, in my mind, with it’s long, long tentacles pooled at the bottom of its prison.  Was it alive, or preserved and floating in alcohol?  I don’t know, but it gave me the horrors, anyway.

I’ve always wished I could go back as an adult and explore the old place as it was, with Dad at my side to answer the questions, of course.  I’m sure there was something I missed.

Us all, 1969

Us all, 1969

A long walk home

My old museum story is from the 1960s, the time of my childhood, when my family—my parents, bother and sister—lived in northwestern Queensland. My father’s family had moved from north Queensland to Brisbane in the 1930s and most years of my growing up we made the long drive down the coast—turn right at Townsville—in the Christmas holidays. We visited members of my mother’s family along the way. From Caloundra we made short trips to Brisbane to my grandparents in New Farm.

I remember visits of the museum, and seeing the diorama about Aboriginal people on the ground floor, and the wide flight of stairs to the next level. The impressiveness of the staircase stayed with me—I had never been in such a large and beautiful building before. I can recall the magnificent display cabinets on this next level, in long rows, just like in the photo. I don’t remember Bert Hinkler’s plane, though it must have been there!

The mezzanine level of the Queensland Museum, with Bert Hinkler's Avro Avian aeroplane hanging from the roof.

The mezzanine level of the Queensland Museum, with Bert Hinkler’s Avro Avian aeroplane hanging from the roof. John Oxley Library photo

I do remember the lung fish in its tank on the verandah, and the garden beyond.  Once, in my memory, my mother and we children walked home from the museum to my grandparents’ house—I recall feeling very tired, and it being a long way. But, in hindsight, I realise that we probably walked to Fortitude Valley and caught the tram from behind McWhirters.

Fixing the balls

The two ball-shaped finials on the tops of the two domes outside the exhibition hall wing of the building were damaged by the severe hail storm in November 2014. The finials have been repaired, and I was on hand the other day to inspect them after they had been re-installed. From the cherry picker I had this wonderful view of the building, its garden, and the RNA show grounds nearby.

Looking north over the garden beds of the old museum garden, with the RNA showground beyond.

Looking north over the garden beds of the old museum garden, with the RNA showground beyond.

Dame Nellie Melba

My maternal grandmother saw Nellie Melba sing at the old Exhibition Building Hall. I was a child when she told me about it. I think we had gone to the Art Gallery, then in that building, and she was explaining how it had changed. She loved singing and was in the old State and Municipal Choir and had great admiration for the then conductor a Mr Sampson who was also, if I remember, the organist at St John’s Cathedral.

My grandmother’s maiden name was Hannah Gartside and she lived in Gregory Terrace in a house called Preston Villa (now long demolished) but it was more or less opposite the Centenary Pool. Her grandparents lived a couple doors along in a house called Daisy Nook, also gone I think; another member of the family lived close by also.

The Gartside family were gunsmiths and had a successful business in town (Gartside and Sons). Their neighbours were the Miss Watsons whose front fence still survives but the site is now a motel.

I’ll have to check when my grandmother was born. Her father was an engineer in Queensland Railways, well respected, and her father was credited with designing the Normanton Railway Station and the first Kuranda Station.   He worked on that railway when the government had to resume control. There was a model in the old museum which my grandmother would show me. He also did work at Cooktown and must have been involved with the Cooktown to Laura railway line.

James Gartside also became Lt Colonel of the Moreton Regiment but died young of a brain tumour. There is a quite grand obelisk in Toowong Cemetery erected by public subscription.

Hannah’s mother was Miriam Costin and that family came to Brisbane in 1840s or even earlier. Later one Costin became Clerk of Parliament.

My grandmother as a young woman would accompany her father to the Easter Encampments as her mother wouldn’t go. I think my grandmother enjoyed the attention she received being the Colonel’s daughter. There must have been a dress-up dance of some kind.   I’ll have to check my grandmother’s date of birth and when she started at Brisbane Girls’ Grammar which of course was just up the road.

Unfortunately I don’t know anything more about Nellie Melba in Brisbane.

A note from the editor:

The internationally-celebrated Australian soprano Dame Nellie Melba (1861-1931) performed in five seasons in the exhibition concert hall—in October 1902, June 1909, August 1909, May 1922, and June-July 1927. The performances were described in the newspapers in lavish detail. Here is part of a typical article:

Melba’s farewell concert will be a night to be remembered by many, for the Exhibition Concert Hall was thronged to overflowing, and long before the opening time a crowd had been patiently waiting tor admission. The body of the hall and the galleries were taxed to the utmost, while on the stage and at each side of the organ accommodation was also provided for music lovers. The Diva received an ovation as she appeared on the stage in a creation by Worth of pale shell pink georgette, fashioned with straight-lined back, and pouched and draped front. At the low set waistline in the front appeared elaborate embroideries in crystal and diamante, from beneath which fell a drape of powder blue, drawn to the right side, and falling below the hemline. Diamante clasps caught the filmy sleeves, and round her shoulders the singer wore a scarf of misty pink tulle. A diamond tiara and glittering diamante shoes completed her toilette, while Melba wore her most-magnificent jewels, comprising diamond rings and bracelets, ropes of pearls, and a long slender chain of platinum-set diamonds, from which hung a sapphire pendant.

At the close of her first group of songs, and, again, later in the programme, Dame Nellie received quantities of floral gifts. Among them was a sheaf of poinsettia and spikes of gladiolus toning from palest lemon to deep red, mounted on a pedestal, the base of which was hidden in blossoming banksia and roses. From the Lyceum Club was a bouquet of pink roses and sweet peas set in powder blue tulle, and tied with blue ribbons, and other floral gifts were a sheaf of arum lilies, and bouquets of Iceland poppies, gerberas, roses, and sweet peas.

—“Melba’s farewell: gala night at exhibition”, Brisbane Courier, 14 June 1927. (The article went on to name many dozens of worthy and notable Queenslanders who were in the audience).

At her final farewell concert in Brisbane, on the evening of Thursday 7 July 1927, the performance was broadcast live on radio station 4QG. Here is a newspaper report:.

It was the first time in her wonderfully successful career that a whole concert given by Dame Melba was broadcast. The information that the  concert would be broadcast had been wired to other States, and New Zealand, and it is possible that between two and three million persons listened-in to the concert.

During the evening, Dame Melba spoke into the microphone, and said she hoped the listeners had had as much pleasure in listening to her as she had had in broadcasting the concert.

Responding to numerous requests by letter, Dame Melba sang two old favorites, “Comin’ thro’ the Rye,” and “Hame Sweet Hame.”

—“Melba concert broadcast”, Daily Mercury (Mackay), 8 July 1927.

Here are recordings of the voice of Nellie Melba as she sings those two favourites. First, “Comin’ through the rye”, recorded in New York in 1913. We hear an original disc played on a 78rpm gramophone to evoke the experience many of her fans enjoyed. [source]

 

And here she is singing “Home, sweet home.” This recording has been digitally processed to remove some of the hiss and crackle.

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