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.
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 “tatooviral.com”.
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.
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.