Filmmakers on the Great Barrier Reef: Jo’s SLQ story

Our members use our collections, spaces and resources for all sorts of projects and purposes. Long-time SLQ member, Jo Besley, tells us about her current research project:

“I am a freelance museum curator, based in Brisbane. I’ve been using SLQ for over 25 years, which seems extraordinary to me! I think I first used the library when I was working as a student architect for the heritage architects Allom Lovell Marquis-Kyle, and part of my job was to research the photographic collection. Nothing was online (there was no online!) and the photographs were in boxes according to subjects, including suburbs and even individual city streets.

I continued to use SLQ in my work as a curator at both Museum of Brisbane and Queensland Museum, and now as a freelance curator. I tend to use John Oxley Library as my topics are nearly always local, and the original materials such as manuscripts, diaries, photographs and documents are invaluable to my work. I love the peace and calm of the Oxley library and its views over the river.

Steenbeck machine used to view reel to reel films from the National Film and Sound Archive at SLQ. On screen is an image from the underwater films of Noel and Kitty Monkman.

Steenbeck machine used to view reel to reel films from the National Film and Sound Archive at SLQ. On screen is an image from the underwater films of Noel and Kitty Monkman.

At the moment I am working on a new social history museum in Cairns, far north Queensland. It’s a very exciting project! As part of my research, I’ve been using a library service that is perhaps not so well known – viewing films from the National Film and Sound Archive in Canberra. This national institution has lots of amazing material and they will send access copies to Brisbane, which can then be viewed at SLQ.

I am currently researching the fascinating story of Noel and Kitty Monkman, pioneers of underwater filmmaking on the Great Barrier Reef.  In fact, Noel was the first person to film the Great Barrier Reef from under the water. He was also a micrographer and made films by filming through a microscope, revealing for a popular audience the extraordinary microscopic life on the reef. I was able to view Noel’s earliest films, made in the 1920s, at SLQ. There is no way I could have done this research if I’d had to travel to Canberra. It was so easy and comfortable for me to watch the films at SLQ.

Noel and Kitty settled permanently on Green Island in 1956. They established a cinema to show their nature documentaries, so they were tourism pioneers as well. Noel and Kitty became increasingly concerned about the exploitation of the reef, and were an important voice for conservation of the Great Barrier Reef.”

Over and under the Great Barrier Reef by Kitty Monkman, 1975.

“Over and under the Great Barrier Reef” by Kitty Monkman, 1975. John Oxley Library. SLQ Call number: J 994.36 MON)

We’d love to hear your SLQ story about how and why you use our spaces, services and collections. Leave us a comment or contact us via our Ask Us form: http://www.slq.qld.gov.au/services/ask-us

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As told to Fed Pani, Visitor Experience