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Posted by: Museum Manager, Suzanne Gibson


In 2013 our incredible collections team packed up the entire Cairns Museum. Every object on display and all those in the collection store. In all the team wrapped, boxed, labelled and shifted over 5000 individual items to our temporary premises, awaiting the renovation of the Cairns School of Arts and our new gallery spaces.

We’ve kept everything in boxes since then. We don’t have room to unpack and we will have to shift them all back into the School of Arts before too long, so the less we unpack; the less we will have to repack.

Consequently, in reviewing and selecting objects for new displays in the Cairns Museum, our curators have really been guided by the catalogue and our collective knowledge of the collection. We’ve opened plenty of boxes but not all of them. There simply isn’t the time to randomly rifle through every box in the hope of finding something special.

As a result, large parts of the collection have receded from memory as we narrow our focus to objects that are going into new Cairns Museum exhibitions and ignore the ones that are not. This is especially the case for smaller objects. They’re still packed in their moving boxes. We work amongst them every day but have no visual reminder to trigger a memory or an idea. They’re sleepers.

But over the last 12 months one person has been quietly looking through pretty much every box. Druce is a photographer who comes every week and sets up his amazing camera gear – lights, lenses, camera – and patiently takes a pic or two of every object he encounters. As a volunteer.

When Druce came on board, we were hoping he could take a consistent reference image for each object. We had imagined it as a pretty functional sort of task, not as a particularly creative project. What we hadn’t grasped was how skilled he was, and how carefully he could light an object to capture its colour, materials and detail. By the time the curatorial team caught up with his work he had photographed a couple of hundred objects.

Suddenly, on screen, there were our forgotten objects. The small items that didn’t fit the storylines, the space or the focus of our new exhibitions. Things like the collection of Rotary dolls, the endless kitchen stuff, the medals and lights and handbags. All captured so beautifully that we were immediately reminded of the potential of every object to arouse our curiosity, tell a story or recall a place or a time.

Big nod to Druce.

The curators have now grabbed quite a few “forgotten” objects that they discovered through Druce’s wonderful photographs. We’re also thinking of wallpapering the entire Cairns Museum entry with them, accession numbers and all. It’s another way of sharing the collection and celebrating a great piece of work by a talented photographer who chose to donate his expertise to the Cairns Museum.


A collection of 54 ‘International’ dolls’ belonging to the late Jean Merle Warren. The dolls were often used by Rotary/Inner Wheel at various functions. The dolls were purchased/obtained in the country of origin. Included is a South Vietnamese doll bought back for her by her brother William Roy Tutty who was in the R.A.A.F. The Museum Collection already includes Jean’s “Cairns Centenary” hostess gown.

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