Cairns, Queensland day 4 Tue 18 May 2021

With a free day in the schedule we kicked off with a simple eggs-on-toast breakfast at a café attached to the Cairns Art Gallery, and then, suitably coffee fortified, headed inside this restored 1936 government building.

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It had just opened an exhibition called Ritual: The Past in the Present, Indigenous North Australian and Asia Pacific Art. You can find out all about that on the gallery’s website, but to paraphrase, “it extends the Gallery’s research interest in contemporary art practices within the Asia Pacific region and the world’s tropic zone”. It was refreshing to see the entire gallery given over to a contemporary feel, and the themes revolved around life cycles, healing and renewal, and spiritual practices. Contributing artists were from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, Asia-Pacific, and even, in the Beating Hearts section, one each from North Ontario, Canada and Choctaw-Cherokee Indians. Many traditional practices were explained through film – these were fascinating but most had a tendency to run too long for the average tourist. If you were a local you could come and go at will, watching only one or two at a time, as entry to the gallery is gratis. One interesting film was on Korean female sharmans. Another done in the form of black and white cartoon characters, told the story of Naamowin whose healing practices involved traditional songs and drumming. It took the viewer through the loss of his children to the Canadian Government Indian Schools System (1831-1996) and how the drum, so important to their culture, ended up in a museum. This echoes the Australian system of removing children from their Aboriginal families and raising them on missions, which were really just a training school for labourers and domestics. (Note, we saw this exhibition before the news broke of Canadian First Nations graves being discovered in a former residential “school” for indigenous children. That made the news resonate even stronger.)

Another compelling exhibit was about the traditional tattooing of Pacific Island peoples, and how this is being taken over by the popularity of tattoos with today’s younger persons. Often this uses the Islanders traditional designs without understanding the significance of them, or having an initiation ceremony attached to the wearing, such as the below example, taken from “”.

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I didn’t take any photos in the gallery, so I encourage readers to take a look on the official website.

Our next stop was the Cairns Museum, established in the old School of Arts building. The building itself has an important history, as these establishments, also called Mechanics Institutes, played an important role in providing adult education and reading rooms. The museum is run by volunteers and is home to the Cairns Historical Society. General adult admission is A$15. I believe that price is valid for three days, and a visitor needs all that time if they are to explore everything on offer.

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Source: Flikr Creative Commons, Shaun Johnston Taken on December 11, 2005

The region is the traditional land of the Bama Aboriginal people, and about ten percent of the population come from around fifteen clan groups. In the local Yidinji language it is known as Gimuy. However, the township of Cairns is relatively recent, having been officially founded in 1876 and named after the State Governor, Sir William Wellington Cairns, who, apparently, never visited the area. In typical European style, people were drawn by natural resources they could exploit, for example, beche de mer, gold, timber, and sugar cane. In the top gallery of the museum the walls are lined with a potted history of all the local characters, both Indigenous and European. It’s a lot of reading, but provides grounding as you move around Cairns looking at street names and buildings. Imagining how the early whites dealt with the tropical heat and rain deluges gives some idea what kind of frontier town it must have been originally. As the gallery website itself claims, “It tells the tales of our city – the good, the bad and the downright troppo”

There is a section that displays how everyone went about their workday, and interesting to us was the display on the waterfront workers. Until the eventual arrival of the railway, Cairns was only accessible by sea. All goods coming in and out of the place went across the wharves, but apparently the “wharfies” had such a bad reputation that they had to hide their grab hooks when on public transport or face abuse 🙂 . 

On a lower level we found museum “stuff”. This is what I call the mandatory collection of old tools and utensils that eventually come to rest in these buildings. It’s a sad day when you see the everyday things of your childhood displayed in a museum. And I’m not even that old! (Well, in my mind at least). So here were the toasters, washing coppers and machines, primus stoves and so on that were once commonplace before modern consumerism. I knew how most of them worked.

Time was getting on, so we settled on a supermarket-ready salad for lunch and went back to the hotel for a rest. Okay, I’ll admit it, I drifted off to sleep again. But I needed a good rest for our next appointment of the day.

As part of this holiday package that keeps on giving, the next inclusion was a one-hour massage for two persons in the hotel spa. Even though every time Bill complains of aches and pains from golf I recommend he have a remedial massage, this was his first experience. We donned our hotel robes and slippers and went down the second level. Because of the hotel refurbishments making things a bit noisy during the day, the spa was not opening until later. Our booking was for 6pm. While waiting for our turn, I snapped off a few photos of the magnificent lobby and staircase from this elevation.

I didn’t mean these photos to take up so much post space, but it’s been a while since I used WordPress and I’m struggling with the photo arrangement! Rest assured the spa massage treatment was waaaaay more relaxing. It was quite an experience to be lying face down in a room into which the outside tropical sounds drifted, while all the time, my husband was a couple of feet away from me in the same situation. Then we finished off with a green tea and sorbet in a ‘retreat’ room.

We’d booked for dinner at a next door restaurant, the Piccolo Cucina. Once again, we benefited from the holiday package and enjoyed 25% off the total bill. The traditional Italian meal was superb. I had Scaloppini di Vitello (veal ‘schnitzel” in lemon parsley sauce) and Bill the Filetto Mignon with pickled walnuts and king brown mushrooms. The desserts were very tempting (although seriously, pizza with nutella topping?) but it was late by then, we were full, and another big day was on the schedule for tomorrow, so replete and happy, we toddled back to the hotel for our nightcap and zzzzzzzzzz’s.

43 thoughts on “Cairns, Queensland day 4 Tue 18 May 2021

  1. Reading this is some compensation for lockdown. The caravan has been parked in the driveway since June ready to head off to Queensland but now we would be happy to go anywhere but home. Your description of museums in Cairns are nicely balanced with your lovely hotel and massage. Sounds like a perfect holiday.

    There seems to be no end in sight for this lockdown so we just have to find things to get excited about at home. For me it is reading, house maintenance, writing (stories for my grandchildren) and a bit of gardening. My husband is totally obsessed with the Olympics and calls me in for the best bits. We’ve been having lots of blue sky weather so walks by the sea and in the Botanic Gardens (Wollongong) have been uplifting.

    I look forward to reading more of your blog.

    Liked by 1 person

    • How lovely of you to comment Linda and thank you for the follow. I have had to limit the blogs I follow as I am also writing, but I had a look at what you write and we have quite a bit in common.
      My manuscript is back with the editor as of yesterday, so doing a little catch up on other things. I’ve a couple of light read books I’ll use for taking time out, as most of my bedside table is stacked with non-fiction.
      Perhaps I’ll come walk in the Botanic Garden sometime during lockdown. For the moment, I’ve found a track beside Tom Thumb Lagoon that I have all to myself and the other day there was a wattle bush that had burst in to glorious bloom.


  2. During my travels I search for collections of everyday items, often known as “Decorative Arts” museums. I do not yet recall the sensation that you described with the words “It’s a sad day when you see the everyday things of your childhood displayed in a museum.” – Brilliant! Thanks for sharing the sights, your insights, and that piece of laugh-out-loud humor.

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  3. That looks like a fabulous art exhibition. Another example of art and culture doing the upfront work of highlighting that we are all one species together inhabiting one planet. And, always good to be reminded that marking our skin, tattoos or scarification or even branding, has been with us since the first humans for better or worse.

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      • ‘Learning to look and see’ as I repeatedly tell my daughter is an ongoing lifelong affair, and once you’ve started it’s not something easily quashed. With a big, juicy exhibition it is a double-edged sword. I am good for an hour, but no matter how brilliant it is or how interested I am, I start fading at 90 mins and am out in under two hours whatever! As you say more than one visit is the solution. Hope you’re keeping well.

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        • It’s the same for us. It ceases to have an impact by the two hour mark, and we do take our time reading the information.
          We’re currently in lockdown as the Greater Sydney area has taken a turn for the worse. On the upside, I’m days away from sending my manuscript back to the editor.

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          • Yes, I thought that was the case re lockdown. I am such a nitwit that I did type in a comment to you about it all several days ago, but I think I must have deleted it instead of sending it. Despite being summer here numbers of cases are atrocious and it looks like Johnson et al are going for herd immunity. How kind 😡. Most people I know are extremely worried again. Sadly, my brother-in-law’s 100 year old mother who lives in South Africa tested positive yesterday. She is poorly, but being cared for at home at the moment. She is the last of her generation from a widely dispersed family. They are bracing themselves for the worst. Such difficult times all round the world.

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          • That is so sad Agnes. It really brings it home when you can focus on one individual out of the thousands of numbers reported each day.
            I did think Wimbledon crowds looked odd, but my husband said you had to be fully vaccinated to attend.
            I’ve just studied up on your current situation. The 19th July will be “interesting”.

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          • I’ll let you into a secret regarding Wimbledon, my ex-husband attended on the second Monday and it was double vaccinated or single jab with a recent negative lateral flow test. Only thing was nobody checked him or his guest on their arrival! And, as for July 19th, it will well and truly put England on the map as THE outlier. Makes me so proud – not. Just heard to today’s family update the 100 year old is doing well and getting better already. Amazing. Keep safe.

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    • Gives me a vicarious thrill too Mary, LOL. Lucky we squeezed it in before this current lockdown. I’m only days away from getting the latest draft of my manuscript back to my editor, and then I’ll catch up with the rest of the Cairns short break. Hope you are all good in your part of the world. Gwen

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      • So pleased for you, Gwen. Are you done with the drafts, do you think? If not then expect to spend plenty of one on one time with your next revision. Things are pretty bad. In Victoria we are in sudden lockdown. We were told five days but most of us know the drill and are hunkering down for a long stretch. I don’t care, I’m knitting a scarf. Perhaps I’ll be like Madame Defarge and knit a secret register of names destined for the guillotine when the revolution comes. 😘

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        • The ms went back yesterday. I’m expecting this to be the final tweak before I can offer it up to my agent. I have tried many different ways of presenting the story, and I’m (finally) comfortable this structure is working.
          How lovely we are in lockdown together, (LOL). The scarf sounds a great idea!


  4. Great post Gwen, that shot of the staircase was fantastic. I think with the pace of technology we’ll have to get used to seeing more and more things from our lives in museums. It’s difficult to think of our childhoods as the “olden days!”

    Liked by 1 person

    • It had such a lot to see. It was also nice to step out on the verandah and imagine bygone people clustering there in the cool of the evening to discuss what they had learned from the latest lecture. Cairns was a real frontier town before it discovered tourism.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. The museum exhibits sound interesting – but that staircase is a Masterpiece!!! While traveling I regularly get deep massages – 1.5 hour in Belgrade but Istanbul was limited because of Covid. BTW I had moussaka for you at a taverna yesterday! 😊

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I also enjoy pointing out various olds and ends in museums I remember from growing up especially toys and games as we then go searching for them in our attic
    That’s the trouble with big old houses as well as being draughty, it’s so easy to hoard things away! A combination of museums and a relaxing massage sounds just my sort of day. Marion

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