Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery hosts SLQ exhibition

Guest blogger: Jayson Althofer - Bolton Library Services Officer, Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery

Over a century after squatters travelled between Brisbane and their stations on the Darling Downs, a major exhibition about their lives, lands and family fortunes has journeyed up the Range to Toowoomba.

Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery is currently hosting a SLQ travelling exhibition, Grass Dukes and Shepherd Kings: Aspects of 19th Century pastoral life on the Darling Downs. This large yet intimate exhibition features treasures from nineteenth-century pastoral life on the Downs.

Painting 'Homeward Laddie' being installed at the Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery

Painting 'Homeward Laddie' being installed at the Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery

Curated by Dianne Byrne of the State Library and first shown there from December 2012 to April 2013, the exhibition encompasses a great range of original materials directly related to the European history and lore of the Toowoomba region. As Max and Pam Bacon wrote in weekly newspaper, On Our Selection News on 27 August 2015, " is attracting a deal of local attention because of its connection to the area. We are indeed fortunate to be able to view the exhibition in Toowoomba".

Dr Diana Beal launching the Grass Dukes and Shepherd Kings exhibition at Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery, July 2015

Dr Diana Beal launching the Grass Dukes and Shepherd Kings exhibition at Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery, July 2015

The exhibition was officially opened on 19 July by Dr Diana Beal of Gowrie Junction, author of such books as A Detailed History of Gowrie Junction (2012) and Squatters of the Eastern Darling Downs 1840–1900s (2014). Her grandfather, Aubrey St. Clair Johnson, was manager of Loudoun Station from 1919 until its subdivision in 1930. Dr Beal shared with a large, appreciative audience her wealth of knowledge about the squatting era, including humorous and topical anecdotes about individual squatters’ foibles and political ambitions.

Part of the Grass Dukes and Shepherd Kings exhibition at Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery

Part of the Grass Dukes and Shepherd Kings exhibition at Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery

In taking up runs, Downs squatters were dispossessing Indigenous peoples of their homelands. To contextualise and extend the settler-focussed conversation initiated by Grass Dukes and Shepherd Kings, the Gallery has programmed a display of paintings by an Indigenous artist and a forthcoming talk by an historian of colonial frontier history.

For the duration of Grass Dukes and Shepherd Kings, an adjacent space is showing two artworks by Vincent Serico (1949–2008) of the Wakka Wakka and Kabi Kabi people. Titled Toowoomba I and Toowoomba II (both c.1994), they portray some violent conflicts of the 1840s that formed the basis for Toowoomba’s non-Indigenous settlement and development. Serico said of his pair of powerful paintings:

‘The young men make a stand on the Table Top, on the top of the hill, when their spears are gone they use stones. The young men get away over the side of the hill; they escape for a while, but the trackers and troopers bring them back in chains. The red sun is for the blood on the land – the people dispossessed.’

On 1 October, Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery will host a free public talk by Dr Libby Connors. Dr Connors is senior lecturer in history at the University of Southern Queensland and an active member of the Australian and New Zealand Law and History Society. She is the author of Warrior (Allen & Unwin, 2015) which traces the life of an Aboriginal lawman and his confrontation with settlers and the British legal system in early Queensland.

Dr Libby Connors. Image courtesy USQ Media Services

Dr Libby Connors. Image courtesy USQ Media Services

Dr Connors writes that her talk, titled Private Lives on the Colonial Periphery, ‘will discuss the nineteenth century cult of domesticity and how it both shaped and cloaked the gentlemen who usurped the Aboriginal grasslands of early Queensland. The few letters and diaries we have from the women of their networks alert us to the segregation of their private and public lives, creating new dilemmas for the historian seeking to understand the process of dispossession as a new British colony was constructed. The legal records of the colony’s early days help us to prise open a little of this genteel world in order to understand the racial and gender violence that their fortunes were built on.’

The talk will start at 5.30pm, Thursday 1 October. To reserve a seat, please contact Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery: phone 4688 6652 or email - art@tr.qld.gov.au.

Grass Dukes and Shepherd Kings is on show until 4 October.

(Acknowledgements. The exhibition would not be at Toowoomba but for the determination of the Gallery’s former curator, Diane Baker, and the cooperation of State Library staff, especially Fe Skoufa, Registrar, Collection Preservation and Content Development. Gallery staff also thank Fe and her colleagues Sidney Furber, Luci Ronai and Jennifer Walker for assisting to install and demount the show.)

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