Museums & Galleries Queensland Conference: Day One

Last night was the welcome reception for the Museums & Galleries Queensland conference held at the Cairns Museum. I wanted to briefly write about the public art tour I went on prior to the reception and also a bit about the Museum.

Public Art Tour

We were very fortunate to have two representatives from Cairns Regional Council join us for a walking tour around Cairns CBD to explore some of the public art. To give you an idea, there are 180 pieces of public art in the wider Cairns region and Cairns CBD. This basically means that everywhere you go in Cairns, you’re going to see a few works of art along the way.

At the start of the tour we were directed to the Cairns arts and culture map, an initiative of the Council. This map was launched in accordance with the Council’s Arts and Culture Policy that aims to enhance and promote cultural programs and facilities. Although not an app, it works pretty well on mobile devices. I wish I knew about this map earlier so I could explore more on my own! It geographically displays any arts, culture or heritage place in Cairns that fits into any of the following eight categories: facilities and spaces, festivals, public art, industries, artists, organisations, historical places, and city collections. You are able to select which category you’d like to explore so everything doesn’t show up at once.

If you are walking along the Esplanade and come across a sculpture that doesn’t have any interpretation available, this site is able to tell you the artist, year it was created, etc. There is also a ‘more details’ button that gives you a lot more information and some fantastic images of the work. It is a really great tool for exploring Cairns and must have involved a lot of work in setting up. If you would like to explore this site further click here.

The following is a selection of works we visited on the tour. I tried to take as many photographs as possible, but didn’t capture everything.

1. The Herd by Hew Chee Fong and Loretta Noonan

These granite sculptures were added to the Esplanade in 2003 during redevelopment. They represent a herd heading out to sea.


2. Brass Plaques by Brian Robinson

Dotted along the walkway of the Esplanade are brass plaques depicting Indigenous designs and motifs used by craftspeople and artisans from the Oceania region.

3. Woven Fish by Brian Robinson

If you have ever seen any advertising for Cairns, you’ve probably already seen these fish. Made from stainless steel, these fish are replicas of the traditional Torres Strait Islander practice of weaving palm leaves to create fish.


4. Citizens Gateway to the Great Barrier Reef by Brian Robinson

This is the most recent piece of public art to be unveiled in Cairns. It is a stunning work that aims to represent and encompass a social movement towards protecting the reef and ensuring it has a future. You could spend quite a bit of time looking at this work trying to decipher all the animals included. This was my favourite work to see on the tour.




5. Seasonal Lines by Paul Johnson

A very subtle but beautiful work using mosiac to map the tropical seasons in Cairns.

6. Rainforest Shields by Paul Bong

Paul Bong is a Yidinji Elder from Babinda, south of Cairns. This work consists of five shields that all represent something different, from welcoming everyone to country to telling ancestral stories.

To see photographs of all the works mentioned above, make sure you visit the arts and culture map.

Cairns Museum

After the tour, it was time to explore the Cairns Museum and join everyone for the welcome reception. Much to my surprise, one of the temporary exhibitions on display is called Small World: Les Paul’s Miniature Furniture. Between 1973 and 1987, Les Paul created 11 miniature dioramas and 4 miniature collections depicting ‘typical’ rooms in Cairns using available rainforest timber. The main skill involved in creating miniature items is to ensure that the proportions of each object are to scale. Not only do they display his skill, but allow for some insight into Cairns in the early 1900s. The Cairns Museum acquired Les Paul’s collection, along with his tools and records.

Here are my favourite rooms.

Kitchen – early 20th century
Bedroom Suite – 20th century
Kitchen – Tasmanian Huon Pine
Office Furniture – 19th century



A huge thank you to our volunteer guide, Shannon, who briefly showed us around the other floors of the museum pointing out a few objects along the way. A highlight for me was seeing these bathers from the 1950s in the context of early Cairns tourism.


On the same topic, visitors also have the opportunity to look at what happened to the coral that was taken from the Great Barrier Reef way back in the past and kept as souvenirs. As you can see below, the bright and colourful coral would eventually die and turn white.


As well as presenting a timeline of Cairn’s history with some significant themes and industries included, the exhibitions also highlight a few locals and their stories. For example, Elizabeth Hides who owned and operated the Hides Hotel in Cairns becoming a well-respected and well-liked businesswomen between 1895 and 1916. On display is a Victorian-era blouse that would have been similar to one worn by Hides.


Practical Information

There is a lot more to explore in the Cairns Museum. It is open Monday to Saturday from 10 am to 4 pm, closed for public holidays. Admission is $15 for adults, $12 for concessions and there are special family prices available. It is an accessible museum. I am unsure from the website if and when the Small World exhibition will close.

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