Tenterfield museums trip

We volunteers at the Richmond River Historical Society and Lismore Museum have a sort of “busman’s holiday” – an expression first recorded in 1893 in the UK – once a year (but not last year for COVID reasons).

Tenterfield is just over two hours’ drive from Lismore, so we started early. Our president drove eight of us in a minibus to Tenterfield, where we met another volunteer who found it easier to drive from her home than into Lismore. Some of our volunteers drive a long way to pursue their interests!

The first museum we visited was the Tenterfield Railway Museum.

The station [now heritage-listed] opened in 1886 and is a rare survival of something that was once common throughout NSW nineteenth century railway precinct. When the line was completed to the border in 1888, Sydney and Brisbane were linked by rail for the first time. Services declined gradually from the 1970s and finished completely in October, 1989.

Tenterfield Station platform. The railway crew housing was in the building on the far left at the back.

Volunteers maintain the displays inside the buildings and also the many locomotives and machinery – both rail and agricultural – on site. Two out-buildings once housed railway workers and soldiers in World War II.

Working model railway

Denise won the prize for best “find” when she discovered a coffin (unused, we hoped!) in one of the carriages. In the old days, the dead were occasionally transported by train to their final resting place.

Photo by Denise Bennett

The large grounds also contain railway crew quarters and barracks for soldiers in World War II.

I’d forgotten that each state used to have its own width of tracks – all different. This caused a lot of messing about because a train could not fit on the tracks if it wanted to go interstate – there was much unloading and reloading of passengers and freight. This was inefficient and expensive, and eventually a standard gauge was adopted in all states.

Next on the agenda was the Sir Henry Parkes Memorial School of Arts museum.

Sir Henry Parkes Memorial School of Arts museum (photo by Mattinbgn, Wikimedia Commons)

Best remembered for his fiery and impassioned support for the Federation of Australian Colonies, Sir Henry Parkes took his Federation call to the people at the Tenterfield School of Arts on 24 October 1889.

The museum is obviously well-funded – many large rooms, shiny wooden floors, clean and well-looked-after. The rooms cover the memorabilia of Parkes’s political and personal life (he had three wives over a long life); the long table at which he gave his historic speech; a games room; a library; and a collection of Aboriginal artefacts. I was disappointed at the Indigenous display, but that is probably because the one in our own museum is so good. The building also contains the town cinema.

As Premier of New South Wales, Parkes had been to Brisbane for talks on the federation issue with his parliamentary counterparts. He broke his return journey at Tenterfield to tell the people ”the time was close at hand when they ought to set about creating a great national government for all Australians”.

Source: https://www.schoolofartstenterfield.com/museum

You can see interior shots of the museum here.

Tenterfield also celebrates the life of entertainer Peter Allen, since he was born there. The song he wrote about his grandfather is Tenterfield Saddler, and the saddlery still exists as a museum, much photographed by tourists.

Tenterfield saddlery – now a museum – made famous by Peter Allen (photo by photo by Mattinbgn, Wikimedia Commons)

All that brain stimulation made me hungry, so lunch was had inside the warm Courtyard Cafe, conveniently at the Parkes museum. The cold wind outside encouraged indoor eating – the tableland temperatures are much lower than ours on the coast. Then onwards to the Tenterfield Centenary Cottage Museum.

Tenterfield Centenary Cottage Museum consists of the Cottage Museum, General Sir Harry Chauvel Gallery, Petrie Pioneer Cottage and various examples of machinery from a bygone era.

The cottage now houses a large collection of memorabilia and historical material relating to Tenterfield and its surrounding district, with the cottage being the nucleus of the complex.

Domestic museums are more my speed than political ones, maybe because I like to be reminded that I grew up in a classic South Australian sandstone, late-1800s cottage somewhat like this one. Many of the domestic appliances and furniture are things I recognise from my parents’ or older aunts’ places when I was a kid.

Tenterfield Centenary Cottage Museum
Bedroom of Centenary Cottage
Stone cottage parlour fireplace

The parlour also contained comfy chairs, a piano, old concertina/button boxes and various dust-gathering ceramics. Those were the days when families made their own fun.

There’s a unique object in one of the rooms – a strange and disturbing (to modern sensibilities) kangaroo-skin wardrobe. The skin was laid on the cedar frame. Built in the late 1880s and allegedly one of a kind, it would be of national historical significance.

One of the enthusiastic volunteers at the Cottage Museum shows us the strange kangaroo-skin wardrobe.
Detail of the kangaroo skin wardrobe

One of our group was much taken with the early (1930s) electric fridge. It would have replaced an ice-chest, much to the happiness of the woman of the house.

The adjacent Petrie Pioneer Cottage, built of wood, showed the more humble lifestyle of a worker’s family (the blacksmith who had the stone cottage would have been thought of as a more than a mere workman – it was a respected and much needed occupation; he would have been self-employed).

Inside Petrie Cottage

I must have been very small but I certainly remember my mother warning me to keep my fingers out of the mangle when she used a copper of boiling water to wash the clothes, then wring them out with one of these.

She was very pleased to have a wood stove in the kitchen, like the one below, replaced by an electric one when Dad (who was a plumber) could afford it.

Many of the outbuildings house agricultural equipment and tools.

It’s fun to speculate on what some tools were used for. This is possibly a butterfat quality tester.

I wasn’t familiar with bark huts, but they were certainly built by pioneers who needed a cheap or temporary shelter like this one.

Bark hut

Thanks to the many enthusiastic volunteers who showed us around. It’s always interesting to see how other regional museums display their wares – and possibly steal some ideas for our own!

The world’s northernmost museum

I’ve mentioned before that I’m fond of museums. Having worked in a museum early in my career (a natural history one), and now volunteering in one (a historical one), I know how much effort goes into them. I couldn’t resist going to the one in Svalbard. There’s a mining museum in Ny-Ålesund, which strictly speaking takes the title of world’s northernmost museum (at 78.92 degrees latitude), but Svalbard’s is the northernmost general museum (in Longyearbyen, 78.22 degrees latitude).

It’s modern style and well set-out, and looks like it’s had lots of money thrown at it. It covers natural history, mining history, and sealing/whaling history. That last is the main reason people first came to Svalbard after it was discovered in 1596 by the Dutch explorer William Barentz – there’s no sign of indigenous people there. Archaeology in Svalbard consists mainly of hunters’ huts and coal mining machinery. The coal mines are being phased out, with only one mine working at the moment. There’s even a failed marble quarry. Here’s an article on industrial archaeology in the polar regions if you want to get into the nitty-gritty.


I was pleased to see exhibits on underwater life in addition to the larger, more well-known animals. In summer, upwelling currents bring tonnes of phytoplankton and zooplankton to the upper levels of the sea, creating a bonanza of food for animals who must stuff themselves silly to either survive the winter on site or migrate south. I was hoping to get a book on underwater life in the fjords, but had to wait until the Bergen aquarium to find one in English. There is a lot more life on the cold sea bottom that I imagined.

Translation: hard bottom fauna

Translation: pair of ice amphipods

I like these 18th century illustrations.

Coal mining was extremely hard work, horizontally in narrow channels carved by the miners themselves. Miners had to climb up the steep mountain slopes to enter the mine, then work long hours in poor conditions.

Artwork tribute to miners on the main street of Longyearbyen

‘Sykehus’ (sign on the left of the statue) means ‘hospital’

There’s only one working mine now, and the old mines have been left as they are. They’ll probably be preserved indefinitely in the cold climate where things take a long time to rot down (if they ever do). Imagine walking up to this one every day for long hours of back-breaking labour in all seasons (including -40 degrees C and blizzards).

Bronze tribute to miners in the main street of Longyearbyen



Modern coalmining here is now much safer and better paid – see this article (note that it is a 2007  article, but gives an idea of modern conditions).

The photo below shows a disused mine and the graveyard below it. The white crosses mark the graves, including those of several miners (numbers vary depending on which website but seven seems to be in the majority) who died in the 1918 Spanish flu outbreak. The graveyard stopped being used in the 1950s. Bodies don’t tend to stay buried in the ground (buildings also rise up, due to the melting and re-freezing of the permafrost, unless they have special footings), and don’t decompose due to the extremely cold temperatures. In 1998, researchers exhumed some corpses to see if there was any Spanish flu virus still alive. I haven’t been able to find anything definitive on whether they found the virus. One website says traces of the virus were found in one body. Another says only skeletons were found (despite many websites saying bodies froze in the permafrost and so would be preserved). Dead bodies, and dying people, are now flown to the mainland for burial there. There’s been talk of moving the cemetery due to avalanche risk.

Old mine and graveyard

This website says:

… after exhuming six of the seven bodies in Longyearbyen cemetery, Canadian medical archaeologists extracted their lung, liver, kidney, and brain tissue using a boring device for taking tree core samples. The genetic material of the 1918 flu, researchers found, was still there — bits of ribonucleic acid (RNA) fragmented in the bodies. Back in the laboratory, researchers cultured the bacteria clinging to lung tissue; still alive, they grew hardily when placed in nutrient broth and heated to body temperature.

So I’m a tad confused about what actually happened.

Alcohol restrictions are in force in Longyearbyen, as a left-over from the old mining days when there wasn’t much to do except drink, leading to fighting. Our German guide said much the same about winter and whiskey (he didn’t mention fighting, though). Residents are limited to a quota of either 24 beers or two litres of hard liquor a month, but wine purchase is unrestricted. There aren’t any taxes on alcohol, so it is quite cheap (especially compared to mainland Norway where I paid A$16 for a schooner of beer, normally A$5 at my local pub).

Our guide’s alcohol card


Any human artefacts (including what seems to be junk) from 1946 and before are designated cultural heritage sites and must not be disturbed. So intriguing old huts like these are definitely off limits. Look from afar but don’t touch.

It’s a shame that ugly old machinery spoils the illusion of a pristine wilderness, but removing it is probably in the ‘too hard basket’.

Industrial archaeology

I suppose one could consider it an ‘open-air museum’. There are no curators here, though.

Hastings Point marine museum

I’m a bit of a museum nut. Having worked as a curator’s assistant in the South Australian Museum of Natural History (marine invertebrates section), I appreciate the tremendous dedication, enthusiasm and plain hard work that goes into such places.

Large state museums are one thing, but there are other, off-the-radar places quietly doing their thing to educate kids (and adults, which I regard as just as important) about the fabulous creatures of the sea and the work we need to get on with to help that environment (which is, after all, helping ourselves, even if some of us don’t value it for itself). You just have to know where to find them.

One such place is the Marine Environments Field Study and Resource Centre (aka Adventure Education) at Hastings Point, northern NSW. The Marine Discoveries Centres Australia website explains:

Ted Bram­bleby BSc is the found­ing direc­tor of Adven­ture Edu­ca­tion. For the past 45 years his goal has been to immerse stu­dents into the won­ders and the mir­a­cle of the marine world. Ker­rie Trees left  sec­ondary teach­ing after meet­ing Ted under­wa­ter in Byron Bay in 1998. Together they have cre­ated the only pri­vately run and funded Marine Edu­ca­tion field trip facil­ity of its kind in Aus­tralia. Using a mul­ti­di­men­sional approach to edu­ca­tion through a phi­los­o­phy that true edu­ca­tion hap­pens through active par­tic­i­pa­tion in the envi­ron­ment and not lim­ited to the class­room today the facil­ity based at the 5 star North Star car­a­van park at Hast­ings Point receives vis­i­ta­tion from over 80 schools for Day Vis­its and 1–3 night field trip camps.

The Adven­ture Edu­ca­tion team of Teach­ers and Marine naturalists facil­i­tate a range of pro­grams that are edu­ca­tional, informative and fun. In addi­tion to immers­ing them­selves in the nat­ural beauty of the Hast­ings Point ecosys­tems Stu­dents, teach­ers, guests of the North Star and com­mu­nity groups also expe­ri­ence the most com­pre­hen­sive and unique Marine Museum on the eastern sea board of Aus­tralia with over 200 hun­dred pre­served and dried marine spec­i­mens. Inter­ac­tive edu­ca­tion ses­sions com­bine detailed bio­log­i­cal con­cepts with the fas­ci­nat­ing visu­al­iza­tion of stereo micro­scope pro­jec­tion of live pre­served marine spec­i­mens to big screen tele­vi­sion. All stu­dents and guests will be inspired to lighten their car­bon foot­print and to make a dif­fer­ence in our collec­tive efforts to pre­serve our ocean planet home.

Ted also wrote “Australian marine fish workbook” and “Marine biology for beginners: tropical Australia” with Neville Coleman, and was awarded “Queensland science teacher of the year”.

Ted Brambleby

Ted Brambleby, marine biologist, educator and enthusiast

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Shovel-nosed ray mouth

Shovel-nosed ray mouth

The Venus flower basket (below) is fascinating. It is the skeleton of a sponge that lives at depth, and a couple of shrimp (male and female) use it as a permanent shelter (see the Real Monstrosities website for their story). It is also home to bioluminescent bacteria, making it a glow-in-the-dark beauty.

Venus flower basket

Venus flower basket (front)

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Hastings Point area, showing the snorkelling and rock pool areas (left)

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Dugong skull

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Well done, Ted and Kerrie. Photographs do not do justice to the place.

The Marine Discoveries Centres Australia website also lists more such small facilities Australia-wide. You might like to visit some. I certainly intend to.

Reptiles of all kinds at Fernbank

I’m a museum enthusiast, especially natural history museums. I even worked in one once (as a curator’s assistant in the marine invertebrate section of the South Australian Museum). So I was delighted to be taken by Jane while I was staying with her in Atlanta to the Fernbank Natural History Museum.

The museum has impressive art displays – where else can you sip coffee at the feet of life-sized metal dinosaurs …

Heavy metal coffee break

contemplating the ones about to swoop down on you and steal your cake …

Oooh - I see chocolate mud cake! Swoop!

It’s an attractive and well-organised museum. As well as the static exhibits, there was a live exhibit of geckos, in many separate terrariums. I didn’t write down the correct names of the geckos – I was too busy appreciating their marvellous colours and patterns, after I had finally spotted them in their terrariums. It’s amazing how something so colourful can get lost in leaves. I’ve just made up the names to differentiate them.

The texture-iffic gecko

The rock-wall gecko

The orange-spoted gecko (top left, and more top right)

The shy gecko

The bamboo gecko

The brown-spotted gecko

The exhibition had good information boards and lit-from-behind walls of photos of gecko eye patterns …

Gecko eye patterns

and gecko feet patterns …

Gecko feet patterns

and gecko skin patterns …

Gecko skin patterns

Congratulations to the museum for such a colourful, educational and entertaining exhibit.