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‘Never Enough Grass’ module: Creating a Country

Dr George Main, National Museum of Australia, 8 April 2009

MICHAEL PARKER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, I’m Michael Parker from the Friends committee. Welcome to the next in our series of curators’ talks where Dr George Main will be talking about his research into the development of the Australian pastoral industry called ‘Never Enough Grass’, an element of the Creating a Country gallery which is due to open next year.

GEORGE MAIN: Thanks, Michael. Today I am going to be talking about ‘Never Enough Grass’ which is one of ten modules or sections within the new Creating a Country gallery that has been under development for a few years. The gallery is going to open some time in the second half of next year in the area that is now occupied by the Nation gallery. The idea of this new gallery is to look at ten big themes in Australian history and, to do that, the Museum is going to be focusing on a handful of places in relation to each theme. So instead of trying to tell very broad, general stories about these quite big familiar themes in Australian history, the idea is to tell them in terms of the particularities of places and the encounters and histories that unfolded within those places in relation to the themes that we are looking at.

Today I am not going to try to give you an overview of the whole gallery or even of the ‘Never Enough Grass’ module so much as to look at one place in detail so that you can get quite a strong impression of that place and how we are going to interpret it in relation to Australian pastoral history. My plan is to keep it pretty informal so, if you would like ask questions at any moment, please do so. We also have some objects here which I will refer to throughout and which you can have a look at later.

One thing I am also going to talk about today is the significance of the fieldwork that all of us curators have been doing as we have been developing our modules for the new gallery. Because place is such a focus for this exhibition and is the frame through which we are interpreting history, our visits to places have been really central in terms of how we understand and interpret places. Through focusing on place we are implying that place and forces that are active within places help to shape historical outcomes. So in a way we need to go to those places as curators to experience that place and to expose ourselves to those forces that are active within those places and that have shaped the realities that have emerged there today.

Another really important part about going to these places is to build relationships with local people and institutions. Because our focus is on place and implied within that is that we are valuing those places and what’s significant within those places, the opportunity to develop productive and fruitful relationships has been very high. One of the lovely things about developing this gallery has been a process that has taken place where the Museum and the Museum staff are sharing in the valuing of places that people who live within those places also hold.

Each of the ten modules within the gallery explores a particular idea or a philosophy or a problem that have shaped the way people have acted within those places. Not only is there the theme and the place but also there is a particular idea that we are trying to interpret in relation to each of the modules.

With the ‘Never Enough Grass’ module which is looking at Australian pastoral history and the expansion of the pastoral frontier in the nineteenth century, we are looking at the cultural and economic dynamics that powered that expansion of pastoralism right across the continent throughout the nineteenth century. It is this expansionist cultural imperative, its origins, its operation and its consequences that we are focusing on and interpreting in relation to four places.

I will now give you a very brief introduction to the four places that we are looking at in ‘Never Enough Grass’ and then return to one of those places to look at it in depth and to show you images of some of the objects that are going to be featured in that place exhibit.

Many of you will know of Springfield, the property just this side of Goulburn, where the Faithfull family established a very well-known merino stud and from where the Maple Brown family donated a lot of material a few years ago, some of which has already been incorporated into the new Australian Journeys gallery. The property was established in the 1820s. It was a place where merino wool was produced. The collection that we have reveals a lot about the processes by which colonial society were valuing the activities of the Faithfull family and the produce they were producing, which helped to enable an independent economy to emerge in colonial New South Wales as it was a good export commodity.

The second place that visitors will encounter in the new gallery is Bowen Downs in central Queensland, which was established in the early 1860s by William Landsborough and Nat Buchanan who secured finance from the Scottish Australian Investment Company. This property supplied a lot of the cattle to pastoralists who were establishing stations further north in places like Katherine. The Katherine district in the Top End is the third of the four places that visitors will encounter. We are primarily looking at two stations in that area: Springvale station which was established in the late 1870s by Alfred Giles who was managing it for an absentee owner; and Elsey station near Mataranka where Jeannie Gunn lived for a year and about which she wrote her famous books.

Derby in the west Kimberley is a very important port town and very much a significant node in the transport networks that extend across the west Kimberley and beyond. This gives us an opportunity to look at a town and at how the town and its institutions contributed to the pastoral industry.

Now we will return to Bowen Downs in central Queensland. This is a photo I took of the mail box [image shown] and 1862 is a bit of a stab at the year it was established. That’s probably when Nat Buchanan arrived to become manager. The lease was secured earlier. Just to give you an idea of exactly where Bowen Downs is, it’s just to the north-east of Longreach [map shown]. There are waterways that extend down through Longreach into the Thomson River which passes through Longreach. So it’s smack bang in the middle of Queensland.

This is a map that the Scottish Australian Investment Company produced in 1863 to promote itself and to attract investment presumably [image shown]. At that stage the land was known as the Landsborough Runs. You will see that the leases were secured all along the waterways, which I will talk about later. Cornish Creek is the main waterway flowing into the Thomson River. This is country that at that stage was occupied by Iningai people with Dalleburra people further to the north.

In 1861 William Landsborough, who was put in charge of an expedition to find Burke and Wills who were missing at the time, travelled down through from the Gulf just after he had secured the leases for that country. He had passed through that country earlier in 1860 and then secured the leases. Then in 1861 he passed down through that area again and arrived in Melbourne where he was met with great celebration and presented with various items which honoured the work he did in terms of opening up this country to pastoralism.

I will now run through a series of photos which will help give you a stronger sense of this country and what it looks like before I go more into the particularities of the history. This is a photo of the main homestead at Bowen Downs taken in 1874 [image shown]. You can see the various vines - it might be honeysuckle or some such - that they have growing around there to keep the place cool and the very flat, open, grassy downs nature of the country which you can glimpse in the background.

This is a much more recent photo [image shown] taken from the air of the homestead complex. The homestead now is quite modern. Various red-roofed buildings are still there. They are much older and only a very small sample of the many buildings that used around the homestead, which was a very substantial centre of settlement. That’s Cornish Creek, the main waterway, coming down along the top. All that land from the homestead area to the waterway is covered in archaeological relics and footings of buildings and down near the creek remnants of the gardens that the Chinese vegetable gardeners established. [image shown] This is the flat open spaces of the district. Bowen Downs was sold recently, and this is a photo from the sales catalogue showing a part of the Cornish Creek that is dammed and again the open grassy country of mostly Mitchell grasses. [image shown] Another photo which I took from the paddocks looking out towards the wool shed and then the line of trees is Cornish Creek. A recent photo from drought times in the district [image shown].

This is the remains of a very large sheep washing plant that was built in the 1860s [image shown]. It’s an example of how visiting the place and encountering certain elements within the place really helps to give you a sense of the particular history that unfolded within that place. [image shown] That’s the sort of country that is more characteristic of Bowen Downs - as I mentioned, it is very open and grassy. You then come along down into the creek at a certain point and encounter these vast industrial relics which speak so much about the global capital that was financing the establishment of this station in the 1860s.

One thing we are trying to do in this module is to counter some of the more popular stories about Australian pastoral history that it was primarily a domain in which individual pioneers were acting within that country for their own interests and instead to tell stories about particular enterprises like Bowen Downs where it was just as representative of what was happening in terms of the great flows of capital that were coming in from overseas. It was decisions being made in Scotland and in Sydney by financiers and investors that enabled this history to unfold within this place.

[image shown] This is an 1878 photo of that sheep washing plant. You may know that sheep and wool were washed in the 1870s and 1880s to reduce the cost of cartage, of transport, of the wool to lessen its weight. And also I understand the mills in England were desiring that that process to take place, but it was discontinued as technologies changed in the mills.

[image shown] You may all have visited the Stockmen’s Hall of Fame in Longreach. One thing I haven’t mentioned is that each of the four places within this module interrogate a particular sub-theme. Rather than trying to tell the same story or similar stories within each place, we have broken it down into certain sub-themes, and within the Longreach area we thought it would be appropriate to interrogate or interpret the pioneer legend mode of storytelling - so we have called it a national legend.

This is a mode of telling stories about Australian history that tends to honour the transcendence or overcoming of certain constraints that pioneers encountered. It tends to honour those people who didn’t directly benefit from their endeavours - the pioneers who came first and did all the hard work and made our lives a bit easier. These are the sorts of stories you often encounter when you travel into that area at local museums. It’s a story that has elements of truth to it. It is certainly a mode of story telling that is very relevant to Bowen Downs where William Landsborough and Nat Buchanan overcame all sorts of constraints and problems to establish the station there in the early years.

[image shown] This is a photo of William Landsborough and his two Aboriginal guides who accompanied him on his 1861-1862 journey from the Gulf down to Melbourne, and we hope to borrow this particular object from the National Library. When Landsborough arrived in Melbourne he was greeted with much fanfare. His journey in 1861-1862 from the Gulf down through northern and central Queensland revealed that there was a lot of good pastoral country right throughout the central and northern parts of Queensland. A lot of Victorians were keen to expand up into that area. He was presented with an extraordinary array of silver items by Sir Henry Barkly, the Governor of Victoria. This is one of those pieces [object shown] which we are borrowing from a descendant of Landsborough and will have as a centrepiece of the Bowen Downs exhibit. The inscription at the centre of the silver salver reads:

To William Landsborough Esq., Commander of the Expedition from Carpentaria in search of Burke and Wills. This salver and the accompanying pieces of plate are presented by Numerous Friends and Admirers in Victoria to express their Appreciation of the Courage and Skill With Which He Successfully Crossed This Continent and Opened Up a Vast Territory Won From The Desert for Australian Enterprise and for Civilization.

Very dramatic wording which communicates a lot of the significance that colonists were placing on his activities.

According to the family, Landsborough wore these buckles [image shown] when he was presented to Queen Victoria. He married soon after his expedition and travelled to Europe and spent some time there.

We are also borrowing this item [image shown]. It is one I encountered at Bowen Downs as I was wandering around the sheds with the manager. It’s the rim from one of the big drays which transported items to Bowen Downs and took produce away. The constraint of distance is one of the constraints that we are focusing on. This wheel rim has done many miles and is part of that story of the struggles to overcome the great distances between the Port of Bowen and Bowen Downs, hundreds of miles away.

It is these sorts of items which perhaps some people who live at Bowen Downs or in similar places might not immediately think are of great historical significance, but in terms of the history and the dynamics which shape that place I feel they have significance and I hope you agree. At the sheds and right throughout that country that I showed you on that photo you come across all sorts of items scattered around, which in themselves record something of the many people who have lived there and the great activity that has taken place at Bowen Downs over the generations. Many of the metal items which you see around the place have ‘BD’ stamped into them, so they were made on the property by a blacksmith.

I don’t think it has yet happened at Bowen Downs, but many of the places I visited across Australia to develop this module and another module have lost a lot of metal items in recent years. As scrap metal prices have been very high and trucks have been travelling right across Australia the scrap metal companies have been taking a lot of material away. Everywhere I went people said, ‘You should have been here last week because the truck has been through’. In some places we have secured items but now all the other items that were there when I visited have now all gone. So I beat the trucks. [image shown] These are two bullock yokes here. You can just see ‘BD’ stamped on the outer one.

Just returning to that earlier map, another constraint which pastoralists in this area had to overcome before they were able to successfully establish grazing enterprises was the resistance from local Iningai and Dalleburra people. Obviously when Landsborough and Buchanan selected all that country along the waterways that led to tensions with the local people. It’s quite a dry area, so water is of great value both in terms of allowing people to survive but also as a source of religious significance. There is certainly evidence of tension and conflict erupting in this area.

[image shown] This is a document from the Scottish Australian Investment Company archives which we will be borrowing. It’s an original return of sheep. You can see on the fifth line it’s recorded that 190 sheep were ‘killed by the blacks’ in April 1867. This is a letter [image shown] by Boyd Morehead, who was the son of the manager in Australia of the Scottish Australian Investment Company, that he wrote to his father about this incident. He had just arrived at Bowen Downs to replace Nat Buchanan as manager and he wrote to his father:

Before my arrival we had a severe loss from the Blacks on Reedy Creek who took away four hundred of our Wether weaners. Mr Ranken however with his usual zeal started after the robbers as quickly as possible and succeeded in recovering more than two hundred, our loss thus standing at something under that number. This is a casualty heretofore unknown to us and I have little doubt that it will never happen again.

He doesn’t go on to explain or to articulate why it will never happen again - you can probably guess. [image shown] This is a photo of Boyd Morehead taken later in life. He became a parliamentarian, and in the 1880s when a debate was ensuing within Queensland about violence on the frontier, Boyd Morehead told parliament that, and this is recorded in Hansard:

The country had been taken up, and the colony had been made by men who had gone out, and in their pioneering had, of necessity, to use extreme measures to the inhabitants of the soil. The aboriginal, no doubt, had been shot down; no one denied it, and if they had not been shot down the white man would never have been there.

This, of course, is a very strong statement. While developing the gallery, we have been identifying certain quotes that have a resonance almost like an object. So quotes like this will be presented almost as an object for people to consider and to make sense of in terms of their relationship to other objects and images within the gallery.

This fellow [image shown] is Robert Christison. He took a different approach to Aborigines in this area. He was a grazier, a pastoralist who took up land just north of Bowen Downs. William Landsborough directed him to country just north of Bowen Downs on the same system of waterways. He was able to befriend the local Dalleburra people and he allowed a lot of them to live on his property. He gave them protection against the native police who were stationed at Bowen Downs for a while and were responding to reports of killing of sheep and so on by, it seems, killing a lot of people. Robert Christison is either of the two bearded men on the right; they’re two brothers. His brother was living with him for a while and they look very similar. We are not quite sure which one is Robert. You will see a pistol on the belt of this fellow and another pistol hanging behind the head of the man at the centre.

There’s an extraordinary set of photos taken on Lammermoor of Dalleburra people in the 1870s by a fellow who was working on a nearby station who had an interest in photography. [image shown] This sort of gathering of Aboriginal people so close to the homestead - certain historians have seen this as a record of how trusted the Dalleburra people were and how they were included by the Christison family in the life of the station.

The fellow on the right is known as Barney. He was the fellow that Christison first befriended, and the key person he negotiated good relations with in those early years. One reason we know so much about Robert Christison and what happened on Lammermoor is that his daughter Mary, who became Mary Bennett, was a writer and great advocate for Aboriginal rights. She recorded in detail the history of the station and her father’s involvement with the Dalleburra people, and particular incidents where Christison wouldn’t allow the native police onto the property to do their work.

We actually have a descendant of the Dalleburra people on Lammermoor who works here at the Museum - Lee Burgess, whom some of you may know. We have been talking with him and he’s been talking with his family members about what we are doing. Hopefully we can involve them somehow in the interpretation of the exhibition.

QUESTION: Who formed the native police?

GEORGE MAIN: The Queensland government. Their role was to counter any problems that were emerging on the frontier to make it safe for the pastoralists to establish their properties.

QUESTION: Were they white policemen?

GEORGE MAIN: They were led by white men but they recruited Aborigines from outside the area - quite a few from New South Wales, I understand, who didn’t have allegiances with the people there.

This is the breast plate [image shown] that Barney is wearing, and this is now held by the State Library in Queensland. One thing that I think is really interesting about this breast plate is the way that Christison has included the various tribal names and indicated sections within the tribe that Barney belonged to, which reveals something of the degree of intimacy the family had with the Dalleburra people. Often breast plates might say ‘King George of Wagga Wagga’ and don’t include that sort of detail that is included on this breast plate.

The British Museum in London has an extraordinary collection of objects which the Christison family donated. We are hoping to borrow some of those, including this photo of Wyma [image shown]. Here the photo records her names and how she fitted within the Dalleburra tribe, again recording something of the intimacy the family had with the Dalleburra people.

With this story about Christison and our interest in the heroic dimensions of the pastoral history within this area, in a way we’re suggesting that Robert Christison could also be considered a hero on the frontier as someone who gave sanctuary to people in a very rare way. This is a necklace and pendant made by Wyma. The documentation is extraordinary about these objects. A lot is known about their makers, how they were made, what they were made of. Again, that in itself is recording something of that relationship that the family had.

We are doing our best to record the contribution of women on the pastoral frontier. It may not look like it, but this LC5 brand gives us an opportunity to do so [image shown]. The LC5 brand was the cattle brand of Bowen Downs. This item has had a lot of use. You can see the ‘5’ has been worn away and part of the ‘C’. The LC5 waltz was composed by Edwina Edkins who was the daughter of the manager of Mount Cornish, which is part of Bowen Downs, the cattle arm of the enterprise. She named a particular waltz that she composed in the late nineteenth century after the cattle brand, which indicates something about the romance of pastoralism, the value that Australian settlers placed on the industry and the activity of pastoralists. We are hoping that we could perhaps make a recording of this waltz and play it somehow within the gallery or allow people to listen to the waltz. That’s Edwina Edkins [image shown].

This man here is called Ned Wilson [image shown]. He was a dogger who worked with Aramac Shire Council for about 30 years. Some of his traps are displayed here as well as the LC5 brand which I just showed you, and on the top you might like to have a look at the LC5 waltz cover of the sheet music which I printed out. That is one of the traps on display. He has donated a number of his traps. He has also in recent years written an autobiography, which is a lovely book and record of his life in the area and which provides a lot of context for the items he has donated. The Aramac Shire Council donated some dingo bonus books which record the number of dogs that have been killed in the area. So they still have to control dingoes and cross breeds in the district. Again, this is one of the constraints or the barriers to pastoralism which people have had to overcome that we are interpreting within the gallery.

This is a very interesting observation that Ned made in his autobiography:

I would like to learn more about dingoes. It’s hard to learn about dogs when you’re a dogger. It would be better to be able to sit for days and watch them from a distance through glasses to see what they do and how they develop. I don’t think people understand that I would prefer to be able to do that. How can you learn a lot about an animal when you are required to shoot it? You get to know about the creature only up to the point where its life ends. You never get to understand what it would have done. That’s disappointing.

What I think is really interesting about this statement of Ned’s is that it shows how individuals are operating within certain contexts. That dynamic that I described earlier, that expansionist cultural imperative and the various processes by which society is valuing the activities of pastoralists and the pastoral industry and what it’s offering Australian society - it’s a dynamic in which individuals have to operate. Ned Wilson had a job within Aramac Shire Council to destroy dogs, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s a free agent as he lives his life within this place.

This is a familiar sight to people who travel through pastoral country where dingoes and wild dogs live [image shown]. It’s a bit hard to make sense of this practice which obviously is very gruesome and confronting. The anthropologist Deborah Rose wrote recently about a particular dog tree which is not far from here up in the mountains to the south of Canberra where there are many dingoes hanging:

In life these creatures were despised by the pastoralist, and now the deaths are displayed in a narrative of total power. The pastoralist wants to destroy the animal, and he wants to display his dominance. And so he tortures the dead body. The dingo, this outlaw, can be defiled with relative impunity. Social power as well as interspecies power is on display here.

These two taxidermied wild dog specimens were prepared by this taxidermist Paul Stumkat [image shown]. The dogs were killed by the current dogger who is employed by Aramac Shire Council.

Our intention is to display these dogs in the same position as dogs are displayed within the Bowen Downs area but to shroud them in a way which both allows people to encounter the practice of displaying dead dingoes in this way and also denotes other interpretations of this practice. The shrouding, which will be some sort of fabric through which you only partially see the dogs, will indicate that the Museum doesn’t necessarily want to participate in this same practice of displaying power over these species. Instead we are interpreting that practice and allowing for a degree of respect also to be demonstrated towards these particular dogs which were killed by the dogger - not for the Museum but in the general course of his daily work. I would be interested to hear what you think about this idea either now or at the end.

The dryness of that area, as indicated by the desirability of the land along the waterways, is another constraint that people had to overcome to successfully establish this pastoral station. Here’s a picture of a dam being built on Bowen Downs in 1878 [image shown]. This property Kensington Downs [image shown] is a neighbouring station to Bowen Downs and this photo was taken in about 1920. The owner of Kenya station, which was originally part of Kensington Downs, donated this windmill recently to the Museum which was built in about 1925 when the land which is now Kenya was Kensington Downs. It’s enormous. It’s about 13 metres high and the fan wheel is over six metres in diameter. It was a big job to dismantle it. Interestingly, the fellow and his sons who dismantled it, his grandfather probably built the windmill. Again, it was an opportunity for the Museum to work with local people who have that extraordinary historical connection to the heritage of the place.

It’s unfortunate that this lovely old windmill had to come down but it was gradually falling down itself. When we started talking to John Seccombe who donated it, the fan wheel was intact. And then the following summer a storm ripped off some of the fan blades. So in a way it’s an opportunity to conserve this piece and to record its history. There are other mills that were built at the same time which have now totally fallen apart.

Initially we were hoping that most of the tower would fit within the gallery but we have now had to accept that only part of the tower will fit and the entire fan wheel. The idea is that it will be one of the big objects. This is a gallery that will have quite a few big objects in it, and this is one of the biggest.

We also had a photographer based in Longreach visit the site before the mill came down to take lots of photos. Again, it was an opportunity to work with a local photographer and continue building those links with people within the place is so that together we are representing the place here at the Museum. He was very creative and did things such as scale the mill and take these wonderful photos [images shown] which set the context of the mill. We will be able to enable visitors to get a pretty strong sense of the place in which that mill stood for so long. I might leave it there, which gives about ten minutes for questions.

QUESTION: Could you tell us the details of the book by the dogger from Aramac council so we can buy it?

GEORGE MAIN: It’s called A Dogger’s Life.

QUESTION: Is it available from the shop here?

GEORGE MAIN: No, we hope to have it available in the shop. Do you have access to the Internet? If you see me afterwards I will get your details and send those to you. Aussie Outback Publishing, I think, is the name of the company that published it a few years ago.

QUESTION: Were the original leases ever fenced in the 1860s onwards? I notice there was a piece of barbed wire in one of those slides. Were they fenced immediately or did that come after they lost a lot of livestock?

GEORGE MAIN: Fencing came after. My understanding is that in the 1860s a lot of those technologies weren’t readily available yet and that wire fencing became more available in the 1870s and 1880s especially as the railways extended out into that country. I think wire fencing started at Bowen Downs in the early 1870s, according to a former owner of the property who has done quite a lot of archival research, and finished some time in the 1880s.

QUESTION: (inaudible).

GEORGE MAIN: It depends in what part of Australia you are looking at. This particular property actually stayed in the hands of the Scottish Australian Investment Company until the 1980s so for more than century. Initially William Landsborough, Nat Buchanan and some other partners in Sydney owned the property in partnership with the Scottish Australian Investment Company, and then they sold it to the company who held it for a long time. The Cameron family held Kensington Downs for some generations as well. A lot of these big properties were subdivided under closer settlement legislation, including Bowen Downs. That broke them apart quite a bit.

QUESTION: This is just a comment really: the poet Judith Wright’s family took up land around Armidale but a section also took up land in Queensland. She wrote a book called The Cry for the Dead which documents the conflicts between white and black people and the dreadful massacres that occurred, which she says were never exposed to the public or to the people in the south. So I would say the price that we paid for expansion in Queensland was terrible - we paid a terrible price.

GEORGE MAIN: We certainly hope that we can communicate the significance of that component of the history within this exhibit.

QUESTION: Do you have a Nat Buchanan umbrella? He used to ride holding an umbrella.

GEORGE MAIN: That would be a great object, wouldn’t it? No. I have worked with Darrell Lewis who has had a lot of contact with the Buchanan descendants and he has assured me there is no umbrella still in existence.

QUESTION: Sorry about that. On another point, I think it’s a bit precious to shroud the dogs. I go past a place where they are shooting dogs that are mauling the sheep and my grandchildren and I look at it. We all have our dogs and we love our dogs, but the message is that the dogs are mauling other animals.

GEORGE MAIN: In terms of shrouding, the idea that we have at this stage - and it may change - is to use this image on the shroud. So in a way it’s both increasing the exposure to the practice within this place as well as allowing space for people to not be happy with this practice.

QUESTION: It’s not pretty but it’s a fact of life.


QUESTION: (inaudible) One of them looked like a dingo.

GEORGE MAIN: That’s right there’s interbreeding happening certainly.

QUESTION: I would like to hear you focus a little on the life of the women on these properties. They had large families, some of them, what did they do with the children? What about stores coming in and things like that? And the CWA [Country Women’s Association], was that around in those days?

GEORGE MAIN: This is only one of the four places through which we are exploring the history of pastoralism. In the way that we are in this place focusing in part on conflict between Aborigines and pastoralists, such conflict occurred in other places, but we are not going to be exploring it elsewhere in at as much depth. In this particular exhibit the history of women may not be as strongly focused on as in other exhibits. We certainly do look at women’s history.

There is another object here which I haven’t yet mentioned from Elsey station which was made by a Mangarrayi woman in the 1930s and traded with the manager’s family for flour and other supplies. It’s a ceremonial armband which the women from the station made at the time from glass beads. It’s actually got ‘HTT’, the cattle brand for Elsey station, beaded onto the armband. So here we have the HTT brand and the armband displayed. In some ways that might help go towards answering your question in that the stories that we’re telling within this gallery are very object-centred and again embedded within the particularity of these places. So if we haven’t encountered certain objects that offer stories then we won’t be telling certain stories.

We have objects which relate to women’s experiences and we talk about the particularity of those experiences in relation to that object, that place and that moment in time, rather than trying to present a general statement about women’s experiences on the pastoral frontier. Some people may find that engaging; some people may not find that satisfying; and that’s a bit of a risk we are taking in the way that we are interpreting history in the gallery.

QUESTION: You have obviously travelled extensively getting all of this information: When you came across older and perhaps interesting people, do you actively encourage them to write things down or to stay in contact with you or take photos? It’s all very well looking at what has happened 150 years ago, but looking ahead I think what people are doing now and in recent history could be very important.

GEORGE MAIN: No, I haven’t been. I suppose this work in itself is all consuming and quite exhausting. But it’s a good point. We certainly should be encouraging people to record history as it’s being made. In some instances we are telling very contemporary stories about activities that are taking place today set within an historical context.

One example of that is a retired drover and wharfie who lives at Derby who I encountered when I went to Derby. He now uses the jetty there, which was the point from which cattle and wool were exported and supplies and people came in. He uses that jetty regularly to catch mud crabs and to fish from. He has donated one of his mud crab nets which we will display in the Derby section. We have also hired a local fellow who is an historian and a filmmaker to record his stories about working as a drover in the area and working as a wharfie on the jetty there and also to record footage of him using the mud crab net and fishing from the jetty.

So there have been opportunities to try to capture some history from people. And in a way we are doing that to enable people to make sense of places as they are today and to indicate something of the way that the consequences of history are still unfolding within places - that people’s lives are set within an historical context and made sense of within the history of places and their own lives. Our relationship with Ned is very contemporary as well. We talk occasionally and he’s helping us to interpret these objects and the history about place.

MICHAEL PARKER: We are just about out of time, and there are no more questions. Thank you very much George for that. It’s been a great talk and a lot of interest obviously. Thank you.

Date published: 6 May 2009