Old Museum Stories

Sharing stories about the old museum in Brisbane

Category: Parts of the place (page 2 of 3)

The destination for that year

I live near Gatton, visiting the old museum building today (Sunday 7 August) as I’m here for the Ekka. I went to school in Gatton in the 1960s. Once a year we came in to Brisbane on a school trip, visiting a different place each year. Places included the Arnott’s factory (we were given samples!), the Golden Circle factory and the airport. One year our destination was the museum—we had a day out in the building and the grounds.

A note from the editor: Katherine Raymont told this story to Margie Barram at the Australian Garden History Society display at the Ekka.

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.

Reptiles

I was a regular visitor as a child, coming with my parents to the museum in the 1970s and 80s. We loved the natural history displays on the second floor. I became fascinated by reptiles. Later, in my university days a friend, Professor John Pearn, knowing this, introduced me to the curator of herpetology at the museum, Jeanette Covacevich. They knew each other through John’s strong medically-based interest in and knowledge of venomous animals. This introduction led to an amazing day trip to Jeanette’s labs during the university holidays. The lab was full of reptiles in jars of formalin, and I realized that to work in this area I would have to capture and then kill reptiles, to then count scales. (The number and placement of scales is an important definition of species in reptiles). I didn’t want to do this.

The gardens were always a serene sunlit space, surrounding the museum.

After school, I would meet my friends at Triceratops, when going to the Ekka.

A note from the editor:  An obituary for the herpetologist Jeanette Covacevich, written by two of her colleagues at the museum, was published in Memoirs of the Queensland Museum—Nature 59. Thanks to Dr Judith McKay for this information.

The thousand violins

Hi,

I’m a violinist on the Sunshine Coast.

I wondered if you have heard the story of the Thousand Violins concerts that were given in the Brisbane Exhibition Hall on the evenings of the 18th, 19th and 20th of August 1927, and broadcast live on the radio. The event made it into the overseas press, and all the Brisbane newspapers wrote glowing reviews. It was widely considered to be an amazing success. The strings were accompanied by organ and piano, and the conductor and organiser was violinist Mr Luis Amadeo Pares, a man of great spirit, who was well known in Brisbane in those days. He founded a centre of the arts called The Hall of the Muses, located approxi­mately where the supreme and district courts are in George Street today. He trained many of the student violinists for the Thousand Violins concert free of charge and the event generated enormous interest. Many had predicted that the concert wouldn’t sound good, with 1,000 young student violinists, but somehow Mr Pares achieved the impossible and the tone and intonation was said to be excellent. Actually the real number of student performers was 1,300. Luis was also president of the then newly-formed Spanish Club of Brisbane.

I think it’s important that Queensland and especially Brisbane remembers Mr Pares and all he achieved. Interestingly, for lovers of classical music, it is also of interest that the famous violinist, Fritz Kreisler, performed in the Exhibition Hall in the 1920s.

Cheers,

Jon O’Brien

In a secluded part of the gardens

I am Isobel Mary Siddans, nee Newton, now 91, of Maleny. In a little secluded part of the museum gardens, my husband Reuben Stanley (Stan) Siddans proposed to me.

A note from the editor: This story was recorded by one of the helpers at the Friends of the Botanic Gardens stand at the Ekka. Isobel and Stan announced their engagement in July 1946, and were married in February 1947.

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

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