Rediscovering Buk Ti

Rediscovering Buk Ti

As I sat as guest at the annual Christmas party in late 2018 at the little pub at Lucinda overlooking Hinchinbrook Island, I was taken in by the enthusiasm of the President of the Ingham Family History Association Inc. (IFHA) and her request for help  with a “little display”. 

A “little display” she said, counting off on her fingers one by one, “…which talks about Chinese in the Lower Herbert Valley, why they came here, what they did, who they were… and hospitals, police, gambling, businesses, Chinatowns, the families, the schools, the opium…” and so the list went on.

“This is not a display,” I blurted out “this is an exhibition!”

And so our journey began to research, collate, write, organise and display what has become an extraordinary exhibition which consumed the next fourteen months of our lives!

Experts at researching family history, but never having undertaken such a large project before, IFHA were faced with an enormous task. There were gaps in knowledge when it came to computer, design and interpretive writing skills. Few had seen or knew what a Chinese artefact looked like and no one had ever really thought about the Lower Herbert valley as a place where Chinese men settled.

This was after all, a town known as an Italian town, with its Art Deco buildings, Romeo and Juliet balconies and annual Italian Festival

No one in the community expected a bunch of retired women with an average age of seventy-five to pull off such an ambitious program. But pull it off they did!

IFHA women threw themselves into the project with gusto to learn, discover and reveal the rich history of Chinese migration to the Hinchinbrook Shire district. They undertook training to develop computer skills in Power-point and Publisher, went on field trips and talked to the community to secure precious Chinese artefacts for loan.  

Most importantly the women talked to local Chinese descendant families and collected their stories, giving voice to over 26 families.  Family history stories form a vital part of the exhibition, revealing Chinese family links throughout north Queensland,  across many generations, including  deep connections into the Cairns community.

One of the most exciting discoveries made during the research phase was a small black and white photograph no bigger than 4cm X 6 cm of the now long gone Halifax Temple interior.

This is the only visual reminder of a once thriving spiritual and social community located deep in the heart of the sugar cane fields – cane fields that were connected by Chinese constructed tramways to one of the many busy Mills.

The quality of the image was so good it could be blown up into a banner 2.4 metres by 1.8 metres and revealed the name of the Temple deity – “Buk Ti” or Temple of the Northern God.

Cairns was the only other town to have a Buk Ti Temple. It was destroyed by fire in 1927, and today the site located where the small car park is today next to Oceana Walk Arcade in Grafton Street.

Connected as part of the broader Chinese Diaspora of the 19th Century, the links between the small thriving Lower Herbert River Chinese communities and the large Cairns and District Chinese community go beyond just a migration pattern. Extensive family and settler connections can be found in marriage and business links, sugarcane farming, market gardening and China based village associations.

After visiting this exhibition, why don’t you take a walk down to the old Cairns Chinatown in Grafton Street between Spence and Shields Street and imagine the old Chinatown there. Let your imagination transport you back in time to a bustling Chinese-Australian community and take a moment to reflect upon the hardships experienced by Chinese settlers living under restrictions and the White Australia Policy.

Anzac Day WWI Tribute

historical image of 5 Members of the Aquatic club who had enlisted


historical image of 5 Members of the Aquatic club who had enlisted

Thank you to Pauline O’Keeffe who has put together this small collection of World War I images as a tribute to the ANZACs from Far North Queensland.

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are warned that the gallery below contains an image of a deceased person. More than a century ago the world saw the Great War – World War I. Triggered by an assassin, a Serbian nationalist, who killed the heir to the throne of Austria as he visited Sarajevo.

This act was the catalyst for a massive conflict that would last four years from 1914-1918. More than 65 million soldiers were mobilised by more than 30 nations including 416, 809 Australians, of which 334,000 served overseas.

When Australia joined the war in August 1914, the reaction was one of excitement, especially among young men. Australian men answered the call to war with a sense of adventure, duty and enthusiasm. Separated by 20,000 kilometres, Australians at home were encouraged to support the troops in any way they could.

Even with its remote location, young men living in Cairns, Far North Queensland, also met this call to arms. Sadly, industrialisation brought modern weapons, machinery, and tactics to warfare, vastly increasing the killing power of armies.

Battlefield conditions were horrific, typified by the chaotic, cratered hellscape of the Western Front or Gallipoli, where soldiers in muddy trenches faced bullets, bombs, gas, bayonet charges, and more.

After the First World War ended, communities searched for ways to remember the sacrifices of local people and to commemorate their service.

The Cairns cenotaph was unveiled on Anzac Day 1926. On it are the names of 146 people including, unusually, two women.

The cenotaph was built at the intersection of Abbott and Shields Streets. It was later relocated to the Esplanade opposite the RSL.

Monica Margaret O’Callaghan, daughter of Callaghan O’Callaghan and his wife Margaret (nee Finlay) was born in Irvinebank, 2 December 1887. Monica completed her nursing training at the Cairns District Hospital, graduating on 2 August 1915, aged 27.

By September 1917, Monica enlisted in the Australian Army Nursing Service in Brisbane as a Staff Nurse. On 16 November 1917, she sailed for India on the Canberra and was posted to the King George Hospital at Poona, arriving in January 1918.

Nurses posted to India, like Monica, experienced difficulties coping with the climate, the lack of facilities and the venomous snakes. They received no training in cultural or religious protocols and there were language difficulties with patients and Indian staff.

During her time in India, Nurse O’Callaghan was hospitalised for a month with measles and later with pneumonic influenza. She returned from the front in September 1919 and went back to work at the Cairns Hospital.

India was not considered a war zone and many nurses, including Monica, were not awarded the Victory Medal even though they cared for Turkish prisoners of war and British and Indian soldiers.

In January 1921, the Cairns Sub-branch (RSSILA) Executive unanimously agreed to elect Sister O’Callaghan as an Honorary member of the League, in recognition of her extensive service overseas during World War I.

Monica married William Kevin Aloysius Collins in 1924. Collins was a local pharmacist who was elected Mayor of Cairns from 1927 until 1949.  Monica donated land to the Cairns RSL Sub branch for the building of retirement homes for local returned servicemen. Mayor Collins died in 1959 and Monica in 1960. They are buried in a family plot in the Martyn Street Cemetery.

The Trouble with Parting


the objects we find hard to discard

Cairns Museum Temp Exhibition

Have you ever donated something to a museum?  Had it been in your family for ages and did you feel too guilty to throw it out? Welcome to the wonderful world of local Museums and our new, family-friendly exhibition ‘The Trouble with Parting’

This exhibition explores objects commonly donated to the Cairns Museum and asks: what is it about them that makes people think they belong in a Museum? Why do so many people find these particular objects hard to discard?

And what about us? Why has this Museum collected multiples of the same object?

Objects are not discarded or donated in a vacuum. The value we place on objects reflects the world that shaped us. Museums are the same. What Museums acquire reflects changing fashions, politics and personalities.

The Trouble with Parting takes as look at the Cairns Museum’s most populous sub-collections and starts a conversation about what these objects reveal about us.

What we do know from researching and selecting the objects for the exhibition is that they hold memories. Seeing a sewing machine or a camera can spark conversations and reminiscences between generations.  Who doesn’t want to show their kids a proper Polaroid camera? Or talk about how most of us used to know how to sew – especially if you wanted the latest fashions!

Lets think about our large collection of hats

The Cairns Museum has 56 hats in its collection, 20 of which are on display in “the Trouble with Parting’

Most were worn and donated by women. Together they’re a mass of colour, technique and materials. Individually they reflect fashion trends or the particular style of the woman who wore them. Could you discard something well designed, hand crafted and perhaps worn by your mother? Have you got a hat that you can’t bring yourself to discard?

And what about the Museum. The collection reveals that we have been drawn to the hand-made, the beautiful and objects that reflect the past. Until the 1960s, hats were almost always worn outside the family home by both men and women.

Nowadays, it is a Bunnings Hat for sun protection, a baseball inspired cap for street identity or a fascinator for the races.

Which begs the question. What hat should we collect today?

Behind the Scenes

Our collections volunteers worked incredibly hard to identify, select, research and prepare over 150 items for showing in this exhibition. If you are in Cairns, you should drop by and take a deep dive into the dilemmas of collecting Cairns. 

Percy Trezise

Percy pretty well buggered after a hard day's jog, Cape York 1973.

Percy Trezise

The man who loved Cape York Peninsula

Percy pretty well buggered after a hard day's jog, Cape York 1973.

The Museum’s newest exhibition examines the life and legacy of a man whose name was synonymous with Cape York Peninsula for over 30 years – Percy Trezise.

Artist, conservationist, rock art specialist, Aboriginal rights activist, friend and mentor, author, bushman, pilot and storyteller, Percy was a charismatic, energetic and unconventional figure who strode the national stage raising awareness of Queensland’s most significant cultural heritage – the rock art created by Aboriginal people over their tens of thousands of years living in Cape York. His legacy of research, art, archives, books, papers and most importantly, protected areas, bears witness to his efforts.

The exhibition brings together for the first time Percy’s art, writings, diaries, photographs, letters and, most significantly, examples of his Cape York rock art recordings and facsimiles, to showcase the breadth of his interests and energies. His rock art recordings are shown with the permission of their Traditional Owners and Custodians.

The exhibition explores Percy’s many friendships and the people who contributed to Percy’s project of understanding and protecting the rock of Cape York. Especially significant was his twenty year ‘brotherhood’ with Lardil man Goobalathaldin, Dick Roughsey. Artists, cultural activists and writers, these two men projected Cape York Peninsula into the national imagination.  

The exhibition features artworks created by both men, inspired by their explorations of Cape York, as well as award winning children’s  books they wrote and illustrated. Unusually, they worked together on the illustrations, with Percy painting the landscapes and Goobalathaldin painting the figures.  

Percy Trezise: the man who loved Cape York Peninsula will run through to December at the Cairns Museum. The exhibition is included in the price of entry.

Eddy Oribin and Percy Trezise heading bush, courtesy Heinz Steinmann
Eddy Oribin and Percy Trezise heading bush, 1973. Courtesy Heinz Steinmann

Reef Productions

Reef Productions

Migrants, Makers and Merchandise

This exhibition, that ran from May to August, 2021 in the Cairns Museum Temporary Exhibitions gallery, showcased the colourful, creative and original hand printed merchandise of Reef Productions. This small Cairns souvenir company created a unique brand based on Cairns’ environment, communities and the region’s Indigenous cultures.

In the mid-1970s Cairns was on the cusp of change. From a small agricultural town with a bustling port, it was evolving into a major holiday destination, with reef and rainforest promotions luring visitors to the tropics. As tourism grew so too did the demand for locally made souvenirs. 

It was in this climate that Reef Productions began. The exhibition features the stories of the migrants who grew a national business from Cairns’ northern beaches and explores the personal stories of the artists whose beautiful, original works were the foundation for this unique Cairns brand.

It showcases a large collection of napery and prints donated to the Society by former Reef Productions owners Andy and Joan Csorba.

Fly through the Reef Productions Temporary Gallery:

Behind the Scenes

Our collections volunteers worked incredibly hard to catalogue and accession the donation, as well as prepare selected items for exhibition Our fabulous sewers Jenny and Lynette carefully prepared the tea towels for display mounting and we were lucky to have Melanie Sorenson from Sorenson Art Conservation run two workshops on hinge mounting paper works for display.