A good show : colonial Queensland at international exhibitions

McKay, Judith (1996). A good show : colonial Queensland at international exhibitions PhD Thesis, School of History, Philosophy, Religion, and Classics, The University of Queensland.

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Author McKay, Judith
Thesis Title A good show : colonial Queensland at international exhibitions
School, Centre or Institute School of History, Philosophy, Religion, and Classics
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 1996
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Ray Evans
Kay Saunders
Ken Inglis
Total pages 324
Language eng
Subjects 2103 Historical Studies
Formatted abstract Colonial Queensland was an active participant in international exhibitions, cultural milestones of the late nineteenth century. In the years between separation (1859) and federation (1901) Queensland took part in sixteen international exhibitions as an official exhibitor (that is, with official displays and officially appointed representatives) and in another fifteen as an unofficial exhibitor. This thesis examines various aspects of Queensland's involvement in these events. It covers new ground as hitherto little has been known of Queensland as a world exhibitor.

First the motives for exhibiting are examined, by comparing the wholehearted support for British exhibitions with the sparing support for Australian exhibitions, including the one held on home ground in 1897. Of the sixteen exhibitions in which Queensland participated officially, in ten it exhibited as part of a British colonial group, at British request. Moreover, eight of these sixteen exhibitions were held in Great Britain, including seven in London. This support for Britain and British interests at exhibitions reflected the colony's economic dependence, which increased as the century progressed. Exhibitions effectively chart the course of this dependence, and also of Queensland's more ambiguous relationship with its sister colonies.

Then the mode of exhibiting is examined — the selection, presentation and handling of exhibits. These exhibits were dominated by economic concerns rather than a desire to represent colonial life fully. Exhibition commissioners, the selectors of exhibits, were drawn from Queensland's economic elite and their exhibits reflected its varying needs for British investment in the major productive industries: agriculture, pastoral and mining. The presentation and handling of exhibits were unadventurous and amateurish by world or even Australian standards. Yet Queensland could be relied upon to put on 'a good show', and will be remembered for its pioneering use of photography and for adding the mercury fountain to the 'novelties' devised especially for exhibitions.

In the next five chapters, the major section of the thesis, the exhibits are examined more closely to construct a microcosm of Queensland environmental, cultural and economic history. The flora and fauna exhibits illustrate both the exploitative view of nature that was central to Western civilisation and the interest in natural history so keen in the nineteenth century. Likewise the Aboriginal (including human) exhibits show the racial attitudes of the time and provide insight into race relations in the colony. The mineral and mining exhibits portray in gilded splendour a materialism and a pride in technological achievement, while the agricultural and pastoral exhibits show the great optimism in the future of the colony as 'an earthly paradise for the farmer'. Other exhibits, such as maps, newspapers and educational exhibits, plotted the advance of Western civilisation in Queensland.

Finally the impact of Queensland's involvement in exhibitions is examined. In general, exhibitions did not fulfil their stated goals of attracting investment and population into the colony, nor did they extend its trade. Moreover, exhibitions brought few cultural benefits and no substantial legacy in buildings or public collections. They were, however, 'a first-class advertisement' for the colony and helped to shape its image at home and abroad.

The factual details of Queensland's involvement in exhibitions are provided in extensive appendices. The thesis text is enhanced by 156 mostly contemporary illustrations.
Keyword Exhibitions -- History
Queensland -- Economic conditions -- 1824-1900 -- Exhibitions
Queensland -- History -- 1824-1900 -- Exhibitions
Additional Notes The author has given permission for this thesis to be made open access.

 
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