Old Museum Stories

Sharing stories about the old museum in Brisbane

Category: 1940s

A closer look

I’m from Ashgrove—well really Oakleigh—but its not a suburb anymore. It’s near the army base at Enoggera. I went to the Oakleigh State School in the late ’40s—over a thousand kids there then. I had an uncle who was a Queensland senator.

I remember the Mephisto from a visit in the late 1950s but really the old museum building was a place I was always going past, and every so often I’d have a closer look. I recall the dusty corridors upstairs and the display cases—full of rocks!

What took me past? I played hockey for a while—that was at Victoria Park. So I’d catch the tram to it and walk back to the museum to catch the tram home. I played school football in Ballymore Park—we’d all ride our bikes there, play, and ride back. Or those who took the tram would come back to the museum to catch their tram home. In ’59—I was fourteen—I’d always be going to the Centenary Pool. It was the place to be. I’d ride my bike over. Your bike was like part of your body. It was freedom.

I was always going past, and sometimes I’d take a closer look.

Notes from the editor: Noel Milliner told this story to Margie Barram at the Australian Garden History Society display at the Ekka. The uncle Noel mentions in the story was Senator Bertie Milliner, whose sudden death in 1975 precipitated the contentious appointment of Albert Field to the senate and the constitutional crisis that followed. Noel’s nephew Glen Milliner served as a member of the Queensland parliament.

 

In the periphery

As kids, we grew up in Bardon, before we moved to the Gold Coast in the early 1950s. I recall taking the tram and going into the museum. We were little so we came with our mother, in the late 1940s.

My strongest memories of this place though are associated with it being next to the exhibition. We’d come and eat lunch watching the sheep dog trials. When we first came we got the sample bags first—a terrible mistake, as you have to carry them all day! My greatest tip is never buy sample bags til you’re ready to go home. Another tip from that time was, if you came on the last day, Saturday, it was half price entrance.

I went to university on a scholarship, but it was being able to work on the Ekka turnstiles during my uni years that paid for everything else. They paid correct pay, and you’d work 10-12 hours a day. You had to join a union to work and I joined the theatrical union as it was the cheapest.

All these coming and goings would have the old museum in their periphery.

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

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.

The gardeners

The Old Museum gardens are unique amongst Queensland’s institutional and public gardens in having a gardens maintenance and support area still on site and in operation. This area includes propagation facilities and potting tables, shade houses, compost facilities, and gardener’s storage and facilities building. This is a rare occurrence in Australia and an area that should be highly valued and kept intact and in operation.

Through the 20th century, the gardens had its own gardeners who were based at the gardens and worked from their yard and the bush house there. As well as maintaining the gardens and lawns, they propagated all the plants used for the seasonal changing displays in the beds. It should also be noted that there were generally not generous or even sufficient funds for the gardeners to undertake all they would have liked to do for the gardens. The lack of funds for new plants led from the early part of the 20th century to the gardeners collecting seed from their plants, taking cuttings and propagating and growing on the plants to meet the different garden beds displays. These gardening practices and traditions involved a considerable amount of work for the gardening staff.

It seems highly likely that the primary reasons these gardens remained generally intact and one of the finest gardens in Brisbane through the 20th century was the continuity of the gardeners, their attachment to this special place, the practices they passed on to the following gardeners, and the lack of funds to generate changes and extensive plant changes.

All the gardeners at the Old Museum Gardens were not recorded in the past studies. It would be wonderful to complete the list. Gardeners included: Ray Priest, Dave Dowdless from 1966, Col Harmon (who had been the head gardener at the Yungaba Migrant Centre, and retired in 1970), David Hockings there from 1970, Jack Kennedy head gardener, who passed on to Ted (Dude) Neilsen there from 1966 to 1979 and head gardener for 5 years, and John England.

In 1989 and 2000 when I was part of the team preparing the Old Museum Gardens conservation study I met the gardeners who were still working in the gardens, and contacted a couple of the retired gardeners. Col Harmon told me of the gingko tree that used to grow near the entrance to the bush house. It was 10 to 14 metres high and an original planting in the list of plants at the place prepared by Frederick Manson Bailey, the Queensland government botanist at the turn of the century.

Ted Neilsen recalled the large Moreton Bay fig tree which grew just near the lawn near the corner of the old fernery, the fishpond, and the round garden under the present demountable building. He also told of the seed beds being in the open where the spirit store building is now, and recalled the fine garden along there comprising a hedge along the fence, a line of alternating frangipani trees and palms with annuals displayed along the garden frontage. He had tended the historical beds of annuals removed for the dinosaurs, and the roses. He told me that “dozens came daily just to look at the roses”.

John England told me about the paths always being asphalt with tile drains or a raised timber edge, that he planted the macadamia tree in the lower garden, the bougainvillea hedge near the potting shed was “always there”, and there were two timber slatted ferneries—one open to the public—and much more about the gardens and the plants now gone but which were there through his time as gardener in this very special place in Brisbane.

The gardeners' work area, November 2013

The gardeners’ work area, November 2013

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