Old Museum Stories

Sharing stories about the old museum in Brisbane

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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.

 

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Visiting from Roma

I’ve always loved the architecture of the old building. I recall the hanging dinosaur and the exhibits—snakes and lizards in jars—and the skeletons.

I was visiting in the 1970s. I lived out west—Roma—and each year we’d come to the Ekka for a few days, and then to grandma’s at Redcliffe for a few days. I’d see the beautiful old building on the corner. It was terrible to see it neglected—there were ten years of disrepair—I remember it had broken windows. It picked up when the orchestra came.

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

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Youth Orchestra concert

I came to an evening concert, given by the youth orchestra, with my husband and eldest son. My son instigated the outing. He was very into music, particularly brass bands. He plays cornet and trumpet, and is interested in sax. He’s in the UK at the moment and just joined a local brass band. My husband came, not just for the concert, but because he’s into organs, and was very impressed with the organ here. The original one went to City Hall, and this is the “new” one. He’s also an architect (now retired) so was really in his element in the old building. This concert would have taken place in the 2000s, and in winter—I remember we wore our coats to it.

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

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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.

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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.

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Part of daily life

I lived in Northey Street in the 1960s and 1970s, and I came here all the time. The building was part of my daily life—I saw it when I walked to school on Gregory Terrace; I saw it when my dad and I went swimming each Saturday morning at Centenary Pool; I caught trams from here.

I love this old building, and I used to spend hours in the exhibits when the museum was here.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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