A talk was presented by Justyne Wilson at the Pine Rivers Heritage Museum on February 11, aimed at uncovering the original biographical timeline or ‘life cycle’ of the objects and stories in the P150 Collection, which was sold to the Queensland Museum in the late 1890s by Archibald Meston, then Protector of Aborigines in Queensland. The collection includes approximately 285 objects – predominately weapons comprising of barbed hunting spears, shields, tomahawks, and woomeras, fire sticks and some personal adornments, including shell neck ornaments and dilly bags.
In this talk Justyne spoke of the relationship between the collector ‘Archibald Meston’ and the ‘Queensland Museum’ as both opportunistic and systematic as they had both inadvertently preserved objects and their stories. Archibald, by carefully documenting each artifact in a bound register made the cataloguing process easier for Queensland Museum staff. She also described the difficulties encountered when housing this type of collection – with a few surprising revelations about the objects and their uses.
Archibald Meston was a journalist, poet, botanist, historian, politician (MLA Rosewood 1878-1882) and amateur ethnologist. He was also appointed Protector of Aborigines 1897-1903, a position later held by his son Harold.
Meston had a lifetime interest in Aboriginal culture and the languages of Indigenous people. His ‘Report on the Aboriginals of Queensland’ was the basis of the Aboriginal Protection Act of 1897, the law which regulated Queensland’s Indigenous people into the 1970s. His actions as Protector, especially in respect of the Fraser Island Reserve, were often controversial.
In 1894, Archibald Meston was appointed to the role of Special Commissioner of Police to prepare schemes for Aborigines improvement and in 1897 he was appointed Protector of Aborigines for South Queensland. As part of his duties as Special Commissioner of Police, Meston undertook an ‘exhaustive investigation’ of the nature and causes of the troubles between the ‘wild tribes and the settlers’ in the Cape York Peninsula. This formed the basis for the ‘1896 Report on the Aboriginals of Queensland’. According to the report, the trip covered over 5,000 miles by steamer, whaleboat, dingy, horse and on foot, with only one companion; a man from the Coen River named ‘Gnootaringwan’. During these travels, Meston engaged in collecting objects with an overriding interest and personal admiration for traditional weaponry, which he later sold to the Queensland Museum. These objects represent a static picture of a dynamic situation in the West Cape York, during a period of disruption and dislocation.
Justyne painted a picture of Meston’s tour, where he collected many artefacts. She also described the difficulties that were faced in housing and preserving this unique collection of objects, whilst acknowledging their historical significance to the peoples and communities they represented from the West Cape York districts. This Heritage Talk was very informative and gave an insight into the collection and the methods used to document artefacts at the Queensland Museum.
Other materials relating to the work of Archibald Meston can be found in the collections of the State Library of Queensland. These include a collection of press cuttings, notes, biographical obituaries, correspondence relating mainly to Aborigines in Queensland, in particular, to language. Also represented in the collections are a number of articles written by Meston on subjects relating to Queensland history.
- OM90-63 Archibald and Harold Meston Papers 1895-1951
- M 1028 A Meston Manuscript
- OM64-17 Archibald Meston Papers
- API-3 Archibald Meston Photograph Album ca. 1904.
Janette Garrad – Original Content Technician, State Library of Queensland