If you drive 90 minutes west of Brisbane you will arrive in Toowoomba, Queensland’s largest inland city that sits majestically atop the Great Dividing Range. Known as the Garden City, Toowoomba hosts an annual Carnival of Flowers and as such, the city is full of gorgeous gardens and parks perfect for strolling and enjoying the crisp winter air and winter sunshine. On a recent weekend away with friends we were wandering through Queens Park and ended up at the Cobb+Co Museum which was established in 1987 by the Queensland Museum to house its horse-drawn vehicles.
The carriages, wagons and carts, mannequins in period costumes, horse statues and even a goat, are the same as I remember from the family road trips of my youth. However, the Play School Exhibition celebrating 50 years of the iconic children’s ABC television show was a lovely surprise. Big Ted, Little Ted, Humpty, Jemima, the rocket clock, the flower clock and the shaped windows were all there to bring back those childhood memories.
But reminiscing about history is also a hands-on experience at Cobb+Co Museum where you can experience vintage trades in a whole variety of workshops. It was the blacksmithing workshop that was underway when we were there and watching the participants forging their own tools in the workshop was loads of fun. The heat from the open coal fire and the clanging of metal on metal as participants created and shaped their tools was intoxicating and made me want to sign up too! What an awesome way to spend two days!
The following day, my friend Marta Cabral – artist, educator, researcher, speaker, consultant extraordinaire – returned with me to Cobb+Co Museum and introduced me to two of the staff, Andrew and Tony. Two GLAM workers doing great things.
Andrew works in the National Carriage Factory and is a master craftsman and artisan of the highest quality. As he shows us around the factory and spoke about what he’s working on – restoring a carriage and a canon, using wood from local weeds to build stools and wooden toys, a giant wooden spirograph drawing machine – I knew this man was a kindred creative. Andrew uses his hands and his tools, some modern and some vintage, to create pieces of beauty. With his wedding only six days away, he proudly shows us photos on his phone of a beautiful wooden wedding arch he’s built for his own wedding in six days and a painters easel as a gift for his wife-to-be.
As our conversation pivots and twists, Andrew lands on a story of a collaboration with a contemporary composer who commissioned a custom musical instrument. She wanted an instrument that replicated the sound of a flock of birds taking off. As Andrew demonstrated his creation, I marvelled at his success – he had indeed crafted a musical instrument that sounded like a flock of birds taking off from an array of found materials. Marvellous!
Tony is the Education Officer and responsible for the awesome programming that allows children and adults to engage with the museum and their collections in educational and interesting ways. We discussed visitorship and engagement and the challenge of running programming that balances corporate expectations of statistics versus quality experiences. Definitely something that all GLAM institutions struggle with and can relate to.
Cobb+Co Museum is a great example of a regional GLAM institution doing awesome things in their community. In fact, all residents of the Toowoomba Regional Council area get free admittance to the museum and there is a vibrant volunteer program. If you’re in the area, looking for a day trip or a vintage trade workshop, a visit to Toowoomba and Cobb+Co Museum are highly recommended!