I love writing stories, and found it a little hard to pick just one that relates to the museum.
We were always visitors to Brisbane. Each year in the humid school holidays at Xmas we would drive the long dusty highway to visit Gran.
My grandmother lived in a cottage in East Brisbane, and for some reason she would take most of us (four girls in our family and four boy cousins) to the museum for the day. Like going to the pictures, Gran would bring a large bottle of cordial, a packet of bikkies and some sandwiches.
As a small girl it always seemed such a journey—I guess there was the bus from East Brisbane to the Valley, and then another bus up the hill to the door, or maybe it was still a tram.
There were two main memories, the first was being lost in the cavernous halls full of mystery, and the second was lunch out in the elegant gardens. We had nothing like this building in Canberra.
When I returned to Brisbane with my own three children, realising that the museum had moved, I took them all eagerly to South Bank. They didn’t have any expectation, but I apologised to them on the way in. I had built this trip up to be an adventure, a museum of natural history, a place of caverns, stair wells and being lost. It was too clean, too organised. We have become used to it now, but I wish they had the opportunity to know the old museum.
(the photo was from the time, but not from the museum)
My earliest childhood memories are so very special to me and all my siblings. We grew up in the early 1950s around the Lota–Wynnum area. My dad built our house at Lota when there were only a very few people in the area. We first lived at Allister Street Lota in the small two-bedroom house that is still standing to this day. Each fortnight my dad would add a little more to the house, as money was hard to come by and building materials were very dear.
We were a poor family, but very rich in love. My mum had a large family—eventually there were 12 of us kids, three boys and nine girls, but the other two boys were the babies of the family, so our brother was third in line after two sisters and then the rest of us girls down to the twin boys, so he had a lot to contend with. We were always happy and got along just fine. Our outings were very special to us because of where we were taken and it was usually on a Sunday. A lovely train ride from Lota, or Wynnum where we lived later, to the beautiful palace that was ours. That is what we had in our hearts and minds: that the beautiful museum building in the Valley was ours alone.
What fantasies we created. It was our palace—running from floor to floor lifting the brown covers that were over a lot of the glass topped display cabinets to reveal another fascinating specimen—the wonderful skeletons and exotic collections from faraway lands—the magnificent lions and tigers at the front desk—our minds went wild with imagination—then the big lung fish out on the beautiful verandah. This was our special place—we each imagined that parts of that glorious building was our “home” and we would go and visit our brother and sisters in their part of this “palace”.
Mum would always take a packed lunch for us all and then we would sit in the beautiful gardens and imagine that we were very rich indeed to have such a wonderful home. The day would never end without the obligatory climbing all over the “Mephisto,” the old war tank at the entrance. We loved that old building, it was a complete part of our childhood. Many of us married and had children and took them to visit this special place that was so dear to us as well. Until Brisbane lost its identity and some of its history, a sad day to see the museum being moved. We have visited the new one in South Bank a few times and I am so sorry to say it has no charm. It’s clinical and uninteresting. We lost a wonderful tourist destination and a beautiful piece of history.
Please don’t ever demolish this building. It is well loved and part of Brisbane’s history. Thank you for reading.
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