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Innisfail & District Historical Society Inc.
TIMELINE 1983 TO 2019

1983  -  State High School teachers first discussed the need for a Historical Society and requested help from the Johnstone Shire Council.  The Shire Chairman Cr. Herb Layt called the initial meeting of interested persons in November 1983.  A Steering Committee was formed.

1984  -  the first official meeting was held in April 1984 with the election of Officers and a committee formed.  Meetings were held in a meeting room at the Shire Hall.

1985  -  Activities: A clean-up of Geraldton Lookout and a visit to Eacham Historical Society.  Stories of Innisfail’s past were read at the monthly meetings and at the end of the year, these stories were published in a magazine format.   These journals became an annual publication.   CEP funding was applied for to fund a full time Research Officer, stationed in the Library and the Heritage Collection (a combination of articles, documents, artefacts etc., collected between the Historical Society and the Council) was commenced.


1986  -  A Heritage week display was held in the Library and very well received by the public.   The first display was held at the Annual Show in July and was a replica of See Poy’s first Shop.


1987  -  A Heritage Week Display in the Library, and the Show Display this year was A Canecutters’ Kitchen.  The Annual display at the show has been a permanent activity each following year for the Historical Society.


1988  -  In April a display was set up for the Opening of the new Bicentennial building for the Australian Sugar Industry Museum and was a display of Chinese artefacts.  IDHS helped set up a permanent display of a canecutters’ kitchen in the Sugar Museum with articles on permanent loan.   Again this year there was a Heritage Week display in the Library and the annual show display.


1989  -  This year we received a grant to purchase two glass display cases.


1990  -  After the refurbishment of the Memorial School of Arts we were granted space on the first floor of the building to hold our meetings and began to gather artefacts etc for a Local history Museum.  The Local History Collection had begun right from the start and were stored in members’ homes.


1991  -  After a year of preparation, the 18th December saw the Official Opening of the Innisfail Local History Museum on the first floor of the Memorial School of Arts building.  The opening ceremony was performed by the Shire Chairman Cr. Ross Overton and attended by a large gathering of friends and supporters.


1992 to 1995  -  These were busy years with the annual magazines, the annual Show and working to extend the museum displays.   We had also begun to gather a volunteer workforce.    This volunteer’s group has always been a very valued workforce and without them the Museum just would not be able to function.


1996  -  in August, IDHS hosted the Annual General Meeting of the Museums and Historical Societies’ of FNQ of which we were active members, attending quarterly meetings at other museums each year.  Also this year we received grants of $7040 from the Gaming machines Community Benefit Fund for office equipment and $1325 from the Queensland State Government through the Queensland Museum, for a display case for the Chinese display.


1998  -  The restoration of the two Chinese See Poy portraits was begun.  The portraits were sent to the Brisbane Art Gallery where their restorers worked on the paintings.   We had been advised that the cost of the work would be $20,000 and we would need to pay half so we set to work with the assistance of the Council and local support to fund this work.  We didn’t quite make the $10,000 but the Qld Art Gallery supported us with this, as these paintings are very rare and of high Historical Significance.


1999  -  The launch of the restored See Poy portraits was held in the Qld Art Gallery with a special function on 12th February for the Chinese New Year and then held there on display for a few months. A second-hand large glass display case was purchased and placed at the showgrounds in the pavilion with the permission of the Show Committee.   An external display was held for the Harvest Festival and we also loaned Chinese garments from our See Poy Collection to the Museum of Tropical Queensland at Townsville for three years.  We received grants of $2800 from Arts Queensland for new computer equipment and $2348 from the Reef Casino Community Benefit Fund for maintenance on displays and possibly air conditioning.


2000  -  The See Poy portraits were returned to us and a launch event was held in the Shire Hall and attended by dignitaries and friends.  A very special event, before the portraits were put on display in the Museum.


2001  -  Drama this year - a fire in the basement area of the building in June.  A fire began in an old couch placed outside the door of the Boiler Room.  Fortunately the smoke was spotted and the fire put out before any major damage was done.  But it demonstrated what a disaster it could have been.  


We were given a grant of approx. $16000 for Information and Technology to learn how to use technology to make a DVD for tourism purposes.  This was taught at evening courses at TAFE College during 2002.


We also received a RADF Grant of $2200 to assist with the Exhibition in the Australian Sugar Industry Museum and Gallery of the Len Mackness Photos – “Views of the Johnstone Shire”   These photos were from Ca 1910’s and were printed from glass plate negatives and was an outstanding exhibition.


2002  - The TAFE Course was carried out at evening classes during term time this year. 

 Our museum was used as a case study during a workshop on Disaster Management held at the ASIM for museums from southern states, ie National Museum, NSW and Victoria Museums and the New Zealand Museum “Te Papa”.


2003  - We launched The Italian Pioneers book of family histories.   We also published and launched a Special magazine for the Centenary of the Johnstone Shire Council.


2004  -  We received a RADF Grant in April to assist with the production of an exhibition entitled “Innisfail Interiors”.   A group of local photographers were given black and white film for their cameras and they went into peoples’ homes and photographed interiors.  These were fantastic photos and the exhibition of 40 large black and white prints were framed and exhibited in the gallery at ASIM.   This exhibition was very well received by the public.


2005  - this was a quiet but productive year.  We purchased a computer etc and also a vacuum cleaner.   We had our usual display at the Show.  The School of Arts building celebrated its 75th anniversary with an afternoon tea for old and current residents and was a pleasant occasion.

2006  -   A drama to begin the year with Cyclone Larry devastating the town on March 6th.  In the middle of the Market Day for Feast of the Senses the Mayor announced that a cyclone was heading our way and everyone should go home and prepare.   The town was very badly damaged.  Fortunately the Museum building had very little damage done: water ingress from some of the windows and there must have been water through the roof because a few days later the picture rail holding the See Poy paintings collapsed, but luckily there was no damage to the paintings or other artefacts.   It was discovered that work had to be done on the building as asbestos was in some of the walls so this had to be replaced.  It all took time but was finally completed.  It was a slow year for everyone as the town tried to regain a sense of normality.   Our Show Stall was moderately successful .  The pavilion had been badly damaged but our cabinet was undamaged.      A big success in October was our first Cemetery Walk.  It was very well received and gave us the incentive to make it an annual event.


2007  -  At the Feast of the Senses in March we had a stall selling the “Taken by Storm” book, peoples’ experiences in Cyclone Larry.  This sold very well and only eight months later at our Christmas Lunch we were able to present a cheque for $30,000 to the SES.   Also during Feast of the Senses we displayed photos in the competition of Cyclone Larry photographs.  Ours wasn’t a competitive entry , we had four large framed groups of photographs which we titled “A Century of Cyclones” showing photos of the 1906, 1918, 1986 (Winifred) and 2006 (Larry) cyclones.  These created a lot of interest.   We also displayed these photos on Mothers’ Day at a special day at Spurwood Springs.


Our second cemetery walk was held in October and again was very successful, even though we were competing for the crowd with it being the football grand final night.


2008  -  This was a busy year with an external exhibition in a shop in Central Arcade “Vale Johnstone Shire”  our farewell to the Johnstone Shire as the Councils amalgamated and became Cassowary Coast Regional Council.   We also held the “Spirits of South Johnstone” Town walk  and later the third Cemetery Walk.   These walks are proving very popular and bring in welcome funds.  Along with these external events, we kept up with the maintaining of the museum and our regular activities.


2009  -  This year we held “An Evening on the Esplanade” walk.  A feature of this walk was the Canecutter Statue which in 2009 turned 50 years old.         We loaned some of our aboriginal artefacts for the Ma:mu Cultural Exhibition which was held in the Shire Hall.  This was a special exhibition.


The Council gave us the ground floor of the building after the Community Support Centre moved out into their own building.  We then had a huge job in shifting displays downstairs and rearranging the areas into rooms such as the Cyclone Room, the Natural History Room and others.   We were grateful to the Council in arranging for us to have help from the prison workforce who were cheerful and enthusiastic and helped make this a much easier job. 


 In October we celebrated our 25th Anniversary with a special luncheon held in the RSL.  We had guests from the other Historical Societies in FNQ, CCRC Mayor and Councillors  and members and friends.   At this function we launched a DVD “Innisfail 1873 – 1945, the Early Years”.  This DVD was made possible by a Q150 grant.  After the lunch our guests walked to the Canecutter Statue to celebrate its 50th anniversary and then to the museum where we were presented with the key to the building by the Mayor Cr Bill Shannon and everyone was able to walk through and inspect the newly refurbished Museum displays.


2010  -  For the Feast of the Senses Market Day we held an open day in the museum and we had a number of visitors through the door.  We also had a stall selling our magazines, historical books etc.


We were asked to take a display of WW1 artefacts to Goondi State School and Diana our secretary conducted this visit.   Later in the year we had a visit from Mena Creek State School who were particularly interested in the Aboriginal artefacts.


In May this year we were very pleased to be presented with Lieutenant Mourilyan’s actual telescope and portrait.   We also received a portrait of Captain Moresby and a framed photo of the PS Basilisk. These had been in the collection at the Mourilyan Sugar Mill and came to us because of the mill being closed and demolished after Cyclone Larry.   These objects and the See Poy portraits are the most significant objects in our museum and are very prized.


In August we had a special external exhibition in a shop in Central Arcade to celebrate the change of name from Geraldton to Innisfail.  This exhibition was very well received and created a lot of interest over the following week.


In November we held a workshop on Museum Practices conducted by Trish Barnard, a curator from the Museum of Tropical NQ.  This workshop was financed by a RADF grant.


Also this year in November, we decided to produce a calendar of black and white historical photographs for 2011 and this proved very popular and sold out quickly with us having to get a few more printed to satisfy demand.


2011  - At the Feast of the Senses Gala Dinner we were asked to display the Chinese Portraits and we also had an open day in the museum.


Our secretary gave talks about the Historical Society and Museum on ABC Radio and at an Inner Wheel meeting.


We prepared a book “The Life and Times of Jubilee Bridge” and we also presented an external exhibition in the Foyer of the Shire Hall prior to the opening of the new Jubilee Bridge in September.  We had a stall on the day of the opening of the bridge at which we sold the book and some souvenir pieces of the old Jubilee bridge.  These sold well and were very well received by the public.


2012  -  Australia Day Awards - we received a nomination for the Exhibition and book “Life and Times of Jubilee Bridge”.  Although we didn’t win the award, we were pleased to have received a nomination.,


We had shelving installed in the research room and we had new office furniture and a new computer installed.  A major purchase was new blinds throughout the museum and we were grateful to receive a donation of half the cost from the CCRC.


The ABC Antiques Roadshow came to town and we were invited to take some objects along for discussion.  We took Mourilyan’s telescope and the special Chinese hats and they created quite a talking point with the ABC personnel and the public.  We invited the ABC personnel back to the museum for lunch and they were very impressed with the museum.


2013  -  February saw us having a small external display for the Qld Information Centres’ Association conference held in the Shire Hall.  We prepared a couple of panels of historical photographs and they created quite a lot of interest.


In April we had a major external exhibition of photographs of early South Sea Islanders in the Qld sugar cane industry for the 150th Anniversary of SSI people coming to work in Queensland.  These panels were also used to decorate the hall for the Feast of the Senses Gala Dinner.   In May we opened an external exhibition of photographs and artefacts in a shop in Central Arcade for the Italian Week.  This was well received and over the following week many people came in to look and browse.


We received a RADF grant which enabled us to have the very old Innisfail Advocate newspapers photographed.  These papers were from 1923 to 1926 and now they are digitised we can use them for our own display purposes or books.  This was completed in January 2014.


2014  -  We assisted with a display at Mission Arts Centre entitled “Clump of Paradise” by Peter Kellet by lending them our boy mannequin, the old swimming costumes from Ca 1920s and the Bingil Bay Lifesaver blazer.


For Queensland Week in June we had an external display again in Central Arcade.  We used many of the panels of old photos that we had prepared for other displays.  We also launched the first of our photo albums “Memories of Old Geraldton/Innisfail” and this was well received and sold well throughout the year.


In July the Show Society held its 100th Show Anniversary and we had put together a display from previous shows which included lots of family photos, show photos and artefacts.  These created lots of interest.  Our big glass display case which is kept at the Showgrounds has proved its worth every year.


In September we auspiced the 50th Anniversary of Innisfail’s win of the prestigious Rugby League Foley Shield win in September 1964.  Two of our members Cheryl Belbin and Chris Head prepared this exhibition and it was a very successful event.  We gained all the documentation and photograph panels for our archives.


Our calendar for next year “Pubs of the Past” was an overwhelming success and when we had sold the first 100 before the end of this year, we ended up printing 160 extra and all were sold by Feast of the Senses in 2015.


2015  -  This was a very busy year.  At the Feast Market Day we had our usual stall outside the museum where we sold the last of the calendars and our second Memories Book of photos. 


On Saturday 18th April we held the unveiling of a plaque commemorating  the WW2 Mustard Gas Trials in Wrights Park, East Innisfail.   It was very wet occasion but a very successful  one.  The unveiling was done by Major Chris Rosenthal from the 51st battalion of Cairns and we were able to hold a pleasant morning tea in the Men’s Shed.  We had a number of distinguished guests, members and friends.


On June 6th we held an external display at the Eco Expo held at Warrina Lakes and on June 7th we held our third street walk “Ramble on Rankin Street”.  These street walks are very popular.


In September we had a stall at the Innisfail Festival.  In October we had a stall at the Lioness Craft Fair at which we sold our new calendar for 2016 and we also had our new postcards and fridge magnets for sale.


2016  -  this year started with 5 months of general museum activities and maintenance and with preparations for the South Johnstone Centenary.   This took place in June with our Street Walk on Friday 24th which was very successful with 110 paying guests and the sales of our South Johnstone Memories Book.   South Johnstone Mill, the Post Office, the State School and the Police Station all celebrated their Centenaries.


In August Connie and I attended the official opening of “The Anzac Experience” in Cairns.  This was an exhibition put on by the National War Museum which toured throughout Australia and was a very moving experience.  We had loaned our WW1Trench Periscope and were fortunate to have it on display.  Our members were also able to travel to Cairns to see this exhibition on a bus hired by the Australian Sugar Heritage Centre.  This was a great day out.


In November we had the opening of a new display, an Aboriginal “Midja”, an indigenous dwelling place built by Trish Galvin and Shenoa Sultana and it is a striking exhibition.  Our opening function was very successful with the opening performed by Ma:Mu Elder Mrs Rose Drahm and the Mayor Cr. John Kremastos.


2017  -  We were able to give our manpower and support to the Feast of the Senses attempt on the Guinness World Record for the biggest Banana Split by helping to decorate the cardboard towers which were to hold the banana split and we decorated over 200 - a good job for a small group like ours.  We also participated on the day with the World Record attempt and were part of the excitement when the record was granted.  A very pleasant outcome of this was the presentation of a large framed coloured photo taken on the day by Mr John Fossey, showing the immense size of the banana split .  We were also given the Certificate presented on the day by the representative of the Guinness World Record Company and presented to us by Kirsty Densmore Feast Manager and Martin Densmore Feast President.


We assisted with a display at the Innisfail Rugby League Centenary and also with the production and display of a plaque to honour the Van Leeuwin Brothers, builders of many of Innisfail’s Art Deco buildings.  We have assisted other groups with letters of support and we loaned a sailor mannequin to Cardwell Historical Society for the Battle of the Coral Sea Commemoration.


In June we held the 4th Cemetery Walk with this one being the most successful with approx. 150 people attending.


2018  -  We began the year continuing with preparations for the Centenary of the 1918 Cyclone which was held on 18th March in the Shire Hall.  It was a night of stories of the cyclone and dramatic photos being shown on the big screen.  A short video was played to commence the proceedings which touched hearts and set the scene for an emotional evening.   We had also produced a cyclone book of the stories and photos and this was very popular and sold out in three months.  We had great assistance from Council staff with this event and could not have had such a successful night without their assistance.


In August we had a town walk “A Wander in Edith Street” and this was to assist the Art Deco celebrations.   Our end of year function was a cruise up the Johnstone River with Snapping Tours and was a very pleasant occasion.


2019  -  In January we were presented with an Australia Day Award for the Event of the Year for our 1918 Cyclone event.   This was an award won not only by the Historical Society but by all the people who put this event together: the narrators who told the stories, the Council staff who helped in so many ways and our own members who put in so much time and hard work over many months.  The gold medallion and certificate are shown with pride in our office.


Again this year we helped the Art Deco weekend with a town walk in Rankin Street.


We celebrated our 35th Anniversary with a lunch held at the Queens Hotel – a very pleasant occasion.

To sum up:


We have published 31 of our annual journals (with two in the process of preparation), plus a special Johnstone Shire Council Centenary journal,  Italian Pioneers book, 3 x Memory books “Photos of the Past”, Jubilee Bridge book, South Johnstone Centenary Book, 1918 Cyclone Centenary book and assisted with Cyclone Larry “Eye of the Storm” book.


We have had a display at the Annual Show every year since 1986.

3 Heritage week displays in our early days in the Library, Chinese display at opening of the new section of ASIM, launch of See Poy paintings in Shire Hall, display for Harvest Festival, display “Century of Cyclones” photos, Display at Qld Information Centres’ Conference, display  South Sea Islanders photos at Feast of the Senses Gala Dinner,  large display at 100th Anniversary of Show Society, display for 50th Anniversary Foley Shield win, display at Eco Expo at Warrina Lakes, display for Centenary of Innisfail Rugby League.


Large Exhibitions held externally: “Views of Johnstone Shire 1912-1920”, “Vale Johnstone Shire”, “Innisfail Interiors” Photograph exhibition, Jubilee Bridge Exhibition, Italian Week Exhibition, Queensland Week exhibition.


We have held 4 Cemetery walks and 5 Street walks.


We have published a calendar each year since 2011.


We receive lots of enquiries to research family histories etc.  We have spoken about the Historical Society at other organisations: Probus, Rotary, Inner Wheel, ABC Radio and others.


Each year we have held Mid-year Social functions and End of Year functions for members, volunteers and friends.

The timeline to 2019 was prepared by
Past President, Val Robertson.
The following reflects some of our activities and achievements since.

2020 - This year presented new challenges with Covid resulting in total closure of the Museum for over 3 months. Our visitor numbers plummeted. The Innisfail Advocate newspaper closed and copies of several years of newspapers were donated to our collections.


Members attended Centenary Celebrations for El Arish settlement – a wonderful event.


Mission Beach Historical Society formed largely as a result of quarterly meetings of Cassowary Coast Regional Council historical groups.

The Annual Show was cancelled this year due to Covid restrictions.

Several members of our Society attended Council Symposiums relating to collecting and cataloging, storing, restoration and promotion.

The 2021 calendar was produced and sold well.


Art Deco is now under the umbrella of our Society and forms a large part of the town’s history.


Installation of our website began.

2021 - Effects of Covid are continuing to be felt with visitor numbers to the Museum still down.


The Val Robertson Room was named, Val being President of the Society for over 30 years and she contributed an enormous amount of time and effort to the Museum and collection of our history.


Our annual show display this year featured the Tea Industry with some photos and tea caddies and other memorabilia.


Members visited Tully Library and Cairns Museum for the launch of new exhibitions and facilities.


Once again the 2022 calendar was successfully produced and sold out.


A Cemetery Walk as part of Art Deco Week celebrations was well received.


2022 - Visitor numbers slowly increased as the Covid impact gradually subsides.

Upgrades to our computer system (including a Bluetooth speaker to allow the playing of appropriate music on different occasions) were finalized. We now have some merchandise for sale (pens, tote bags, mugs). Receipt of grant monies helped with purchase of a new printer/scanner and a flat bed scanner to allow proper capture of the photographic collection.


A new display was erected in the Museum to celebrate Innisfail’s Guiness World Record Longest Banana Split achievement.


Our annual show display this year was a kitchen theme including old aprons and household utensils which attracted favourable comments from showgoers.


The 2023 calendar was produced and sold out. The Cemetery Walk – part of Art Deco Week celebrations – was very well patronized. Historical Society members participated in the Art Deco Vintage Market Day by providing morning teas.


The bottled specimens formerly in the Natural History Room have been relocated to Townsville Museum to allow restoration and better maintenance.

The ABC produced a short film Tropical Trials in Innisfail during the 60’s and a copy donated to our Museum.

2023 - New signage on the Museum premises made possible by a grant has proven effective in identifying our location and has drawn positive comments.


Visitor numbers this year increased markedly.


Members produced a book to mark 150 years since the first European settlement and the popularity has made 2 reprints necessary.


Window displays continue to be changed regularly and draw favourable comments, attracting visitors to the Museum.


Innisfail’s annual Show was held in July and the theme of our display was “150 Years” with artefacts and photographs from 150 years of Innisfail’s discovery and settlement.


This year’s Cemetery Walk was still well attended even though the weather was not ideal. Another calendar was produced, this time to mark the centenary of the completion of the last link in the north coast railway – the opening of the Daradgee rail bridge.

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