Seeing the Light

The use of light figures prominently in two of the exhibitions currently at the Museum of Brisbane. One, Robyn Stacey’s ‘Cloud Land’, draws us inside her artworks as images of Brisbane from a camera obscura (pinhole camera) are captured on the walls engulfing the viewer. It’s certainly a new way of looking at our city, even if the images are necessarily upside down. As part of the Open House in Brisbane recently, I attended a practical demonstration of the camera obscura in a bedroom in the Hilton Hotel. Lying on the bed made viewing the images more comfortable, but unfortunately the day was cloudy and the images were difficult make out. Well, I suppose the exhibition was called Cloud Land.

Camera obscura image of Brisbane's CBD projected onto the ceiling of a room in the Hilton Hotel
Camera obscura image of Brisbane’s CBD projected onto the ceiling of a room in the Hilton Hotel

The second ‘light’ exhibition at the Museum of Brisbane was a collection of paintings by William Bustard, an Englishman who came to Brisbane in 1921 and, unlike his compatriots of a century earlier who painted the Australian landscape in dark European colours, was profoundly impressed by the distinctive sense of light here. It figures prominently in many of his paintings. However, the biggest surprise I had was to find in a corner of the exhibition, encased in glass, an open book ‘Robinson Crusoe’ showing one of his illustrations.

An illustration by William Bustard in the book 'Robinson Crusoe'
An illustration by William Bustard in the book ‘Robinson Crusoe’

For me, it was a case of remembering things I didn’t even realise I’d forgotten. I had once owned a copy of this book myself, but all memory of it had been submerged by the intervening 60 years. I wonder what ever happened to it? Perhaps it was my own book I was now privileged to look at once more?

Windows at the Hermitage


Winter Palace - just a part of The Hermitage Museum
Winter Palace – just a part of The Hermitage Museum

I like the way Tim Winton describes a painting as a window. I found many windows at the NGV’s ‘Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great’ when I visited the Melbourne gallery this week. German born Catherine the Great (Catherine II) came to power in 1762, aged 33, and ruled Russia for the next 34 years, until her death in 1796. She saw herself as a Philosopher Queen, a new kind of ruler in the age of Enlightenment. The paintings on display here represent just a minute fraction of the Hermitage Museum’s 3 million objects in its collection at St Petersburg. Each painting is a window into the life of Europe in the 18th century.

'Destruction of the Turkish fleet in the Bay of Chesme on 7 July 1770' by the artist Jacob Philipp Hackert
‘Destruction of the Turkish fleet in the Bay of Chesme on 7 July 1770’ by the artist Jacob Philipp Hackert

This painting was of particular interest to me. Commissioned in Rome in 1770 by Ivan Shuvalov at the request of Catherine the Great, it commemorates the Russian fleet’s victory over the Turkish squadron in the Bay of Chesme in the Aegean Sea on the night of 7 July 1770 (incidentally, at the same time that Cook was ‘discovering’ Australia for the English). Because the artist Jacob Philipp Hackert was not present at the Bay of Chesme event, he relied on advice from those involved and used specially produced maps of the location; a Russian ship was also exploded for his benefit in the port of Livorno. In 1772 the completed painting was sent to St Petersburg together with Turkish military trophies.

But the greatest window that opened for me at the exhibition was that of the life of Catherine the Great herself and of her place in Russian and world history.

Blogging with a Tinge of History


Glamis Lodge at 6 Stirrat Street, Coorparoo
Glamis Lodge at 6 Stirrat Street, Coorparoo

I have maintained my ‘Moreton Bay History’ Internet site since 1997 and used it to publish biweekly instalments of oral history until I had sufficient to publish them in book form. It was an inbuilt deadline to meet every second Saturday.

However, I like to live in the present time, as well as in the historical past; and in other areas as well as Moreton Bay. So I introduced a blog page on my Internet site as a way of keeping readers informed of my current thoughts and activities. However, over the years, I have found that history – either from personal reminiscences or from my experiences collected from local history – has more and more infiltrated my blogs. Perhaps I have reached that age when I like to reflect back on my life’s experiences and on those who have influenced me.

It also strikes me that many of the things I have experienced have passed into history itself. It’s beginning to make me feel old! So when does the topical end and history begin? When it ceases to become viable? Looking back on my own blogs, my old childhood home at Glamis Lodge, Coorparoo has now been demolished to make way for units. It’s still causing controversy, and even has its own Facebook page ‘Save Our Coorparoo – Glamis Lodge’. Then there is the Myers shopping centre, Coorparoo, which I lived opposite for ten years: also now demolished for apartments. I guess you could now call both of these ‘history’.

Other blogs revisit wrecks in the mangroves of Moreton Bay and the Lazaret at Peel Island. Still others are just my observations of places I visited on holidays – with a tinge of their history thrown in.

As author, Robert Goddard says: ‘Memories are more than recollected experiences. They’re displacements of ourselves in time and space. They’re events our younger self witnessed and participated in, recalled by an older self who often wonders if he’s truly the same person. They’re visions of people we once knew. And, bewilderingly, we are one of those people.’

Many of you who have been following my ‘Moreton Bay History’ website may not be aware that I have now rebuilt it with WordPress as host.  You may now access it at

You will note that it now includes my weekly blogs, which I update every Saturday.

I hope you will visit and enjoy my pages!

The Cartwheel Twopence

1797 dated Two pence coin (image courtesy of Yvonne Wilson)
1797 dated Two pence coin (image courtesy of Yvonne Wilson)

Yvonne Wilson of Alexandra Hills has supplied the following information:

‘At the Soho Mint, James Watt and Matthew Boulton used their steam powered coin presses to make twopence coins. These 2d coins weigh exactly 2 ounces (56g) making them the heaviest British coins for ordinary circulation. 722,160 were minted, all bearing the 1797 date. The obverse reads GEORGIUS III * D:G * REX and the reverse BRITANNIA 1797. The large size of the coins, combined with the thick rim led the coins being nicknamed cartwheels.

‘This particular Cartwheel was found washed up on Amity Point beach (Stradbroke Island) whilst landing a small boat back in the 1970’s. The location was not far from the site of the old Racecourse which has long since disappeared through erosion and inundation. After a quick rinse in Coca-Cola it spent 40 years in a coin purse as a “lucky’ coin before being put on display here.’

St Damien’s Catholic Church, Peel Island

Roman Catholic church before its restoration
Roman Catholic church before its restoration

For over half a century after the Peel Island Lazaret’s closure in 1959, the settlement’s tiny Roman Catholic church lay dormant and forgotten in Peel’s bush. Finally, the Friends of Peel Island Association Inc. took the decision to restore the building. Having gained the interest of the local Catholic Parish of Cleveland, the restoration work proceeded thanks for members of their congregation: Syd Steele (manager of the project), John Hickey (master builder), Patrick Hickey (assistant) and Anthony Ryan (labourer), Bob Anderson (master painter and decorator), Tony Moore and Anthony Castelli (assistant painters) who gave of their time and professional expertise to restore the church.

The rededication service, which was celebrated on Peel Island by the Most Rev. Bishop Joseph Oudeman OFMCap.DD, on Tuesday 2 August 2011, was the culmination of a lot of hard work.

Altar in the tiny Roman Catholic church, Peel Island
Altar in the tiny Roman Catholic church, Peel Island

Father Damien or Saint Damien of Molokai, born Jozef De Veuster, was a Roman Catholic priest from Belgium and member of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, a missionary religious institute. He won recognition for his ministry in the Kingdom of Hawaii to people with leprosy (also known as Hansen’s disease), who had been placed under a government-sanctioned medical quarantine on the island of Molokai. After sixteen years caring for the physical, spiritual, and emotional needs of those in the leper colony, he eventually contracted and died of the disease, resulting in his characterization as a “martyr of charity”.

Father Damien's final resting place in Belgium
Father Damien’s final resting place in Belgium