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Exhibitions

Exhibitions

Breezeway

Also known as the Reception area, the Breezeway between the Federation Gallery and the Seafarers' Gallery is home to a small gift shop, a display about the history of the Museum and the public noticeboard.

An exhibition  of historic lenses and other lighthouse equipment is on display.


Federation Gallery

Battle of the Coral Sea

A display of panels, artefacts, model ships and dioramas tells the story of Townsville’s association with the two world wars at sea, with as focal point the Battle of the Coral Sea (4-8 May 1942), which was fought between Japanese and Allied naval forces only about 885 km (477 nautical miles) north-east of Townsville. The showpieces amongst the models are HMAS Nestor (dedicated to Neville George who sailed on the ship and later founded the Museum) and the aircraft-carrier USS Lexington. A model of HMAS Albatross, an early seaplane carrier, represents the history of the Royal Australian Navy between the world wars. Also on show is a model of the famous (or infamous) World War I German auxiliary cruiser (or raider) Seeadler, probably one of the last windjammers (large steel-hulled sailing ships) used for waging war. Enhancing the display are a series of short video documentaries, courtesy of the Australian National Maritime Museum, featuring the story of the Australian submarine AE2 and Australian troop transports during World War I.

Also on show are two World War II documentaries, loaned to the Museum thanks to the generosity of the Australian National Maritime Museum. The one documentary, titled Clash of the carriers, features the Battle of the Coral Sea, using original footage and state of the art animation, making the battle through stunning visuals and sounds real as never before. This documentary is part of War and Peace in the Pacific 75, a program of the Australian National Maritime Museum supported by the USA Bicentennial Fund.

The other documentary confronts the visitor with the human side of the battle through interviews with Australian and US Coral Sea veterans, both moving and entertaining.

Women’s War 2

The Women's War 2 exhibition , consisting of display panels and display cases arranged around a mock-up of a typical North Queensland living-room during the war, complete with a piano and blackout curtains.This exhibition tells some of the stories about life in Townsville during the years 1939-1945 from a young woman's perspective. The twelve participating ladies whose experiences are showcased had all worked in different local industries in the defence of the country, many of them associated with maritime industries.

Dark Victory - Operation Jaywick: Singapore: 1943

A humble wooden fishing tender that was part of one of World War II’s most daring and successful raids, MV Krait, will share its story through a pull-up banner touring exhibition, a video documentary and an accompanying Virtual Reality experience. This exhibition will be on show at the Maritime Museum of Townsville, now until the end of September.

Called Operation Jaywick, the plan was for the fishing tender and its 14 Z Special Unit personnel, disguised as a Malay fishing crew and vessel, to sneak into Singapore Harbour and attack Japanese ships.

Established in June 1942, Z Special Unit, consisting of Australian, British, Dutch, New Zealand, Timorese and Indonesian members, was a secret special forces unit with the purpose to infiltrate areas under Japanese occupation, gather intelligence, conduct raids on shipping and other acts of sabotage and rescue Allied military personnel.

Built in Japan in 1934 and named Kofuku Maru (Happiness or Good Fortune), she was a fishing tender that took food and supplies to fishing boats around Singapore and collected their catch. She was seized by the British before  Singapore fell to the Japanese on 15 February 1942. Australian captain Bill Reynolds and his crew evacuated over 1,100 civilians during the Japanese attacks before ending up in India, Sri Lanka and eventually Australia. Here the military authorities took over the vessel for transport purposes and renamed her Krait after a deadly snake of the Indian jungle.

In Australia, Reynolds and British Major Ivan Lyon crossed paths and hatched a plan to use a boat as part of a top-secret mission, which would see the vessel disguised as a local fishing vessel leave from Australia, travel to Singapore and there to use folboats (collapsible kayaks) to sneak up undetected to Japanese ships to attach limpet mines and sink them.

The Krait was shipped to Sydney for repairs, before she was moved to one of Z Special Unit's bases on Thursday Island. On its journey north, the engine died near the Whitsundays and she was towed to Townsville for repairs.  A  new engine was fitted in Cairns.

On 13 August 1943, Krait left Thursday Island for Exmouth in Western Australia. Here, further repairs were made. Eventually, on 2 September, she departed for Singapore with a crew of ten sailors and four soldiers. The unit travelled for three and a half weeks to reach Singapore, disguised as Malay fishermen and flying a Japanese flag.

Leaving the Krait in the safer waters of Borneo, six commandos navigated in three folboats undetected over 100km for three nights until they reached Singapore Harbour on 26 September. They penetrated the harbour unseen and attached magnetic limpet mines to the hulls of Japanese merchant vessels. Seven ships were either destroyed or severely damaged, representing and over 37,000 tonnes of shipping.

The Krait crew was instructed to wait only two weeks to meet the men at the rendezvous point, but after only one folboat its crew made it back in time, they decided to ignore this instruction and waited another few days. Incredibly the other two folboats and their crew made it back to Krait two days later.  On 19 October, Krait and her entire complement arrived safely back at Exmouth.

The raid had dark consequences. On 10 October, the Japanese military police arrested 57 civilians on suspicion of their involvement in the raid. They were tortured for weeks and fifteen of them died. Others barely survived. The story of one of them, Elizabeth Choy, is told in the exhibition. This incident later became known as the Double Tenth Massacre.

Produced in 2018, Dark Victory commemorated the 75th anniversary of the daring raid in that year. The Australian National Maritime Museum developed a touring exhibition and joined forces with the  National Museum of Singapore to produce the video and the virtual reality experience. Using a headset, the viewer is taken ‘on board’ the Krait for a guided tour to explore the historic vessel.

Operation Jaywick was preceded by a mock attack on shipping in Townsville harbour on 23 June 1943, intended as a training exercise. Z Special Unit commandos members penetrated the port using folboats and attached dummy limpet mines to at least ten ships. The raid had been conducted without informing the local  military authorities (on purpose) and caused havoc. Nevertheless, it demonstrated the effectiveness of the planned method of attack on shipping in Singapore. Some of the commandos who took part later participated in Operation Jaywick.

Z Special Unit was disbanded after the war. In May 1992, a commemorative plaque was unveiled during a ceremony at the Museum, attended by four surviving members of the unit. This plaque commemorates the practice raid.

Krait survived the war. Dedicated as a war memorial, she is on display at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney.

 

 


Seafarers’ Gallery

Named after the organisation that established the Museum, this gallery contains a variety of maritime themes. These include James Cook's voyage when he discovered and named Cleveland Bay and Magnetic Island (June 1770), the infamous blackbirding industry during which thousands of South Sea Islanders were brought to Queensland as indentured labourers, the diving and peaqrling industry, navigation at sea, traditional watercraft of the waters around Australia and Reef tourism in the 1980s. Highlights of this gallery are models of HMS Pandora, HMB Endeavour and HMS Bounty .

On display in the Gallery are the original model of the Four Seasons Barrier Reef resort floating hotel (which operated at John Brewer Reef during 1988-1989) and the Yellow Sub, a semi-submersible designed by Doug Tarca, Townsville's Reef tourism pioneer. Seated in comfort just below the ocean surface, this revolutionary vessel offered tourists an opportunity to experience the wonders of the Reef. The vessel operated during 1983-1989.

The Museum is trialing, with the permission of the publishers, a virtual reality demo game, named Titanic: Hope and Glory. This game enables you to explore the magnificent interior of Titanic, visiting various decks and areas, ranging from the opulence of the upper decks to the spartan and industrial appearance of the lower decks.


Memorial Garden

Located between the Seafarer’s Gallery and the Port Building, this outdoor area commemorates Royal Australian Navy casualties of the Pacific Theatre of War during World War II, the people who died when the steamship Yongala was lost (1911) and the members of the Allied commando unit Z Special Unit who died when attacking Japanese shipping in Singapore harbour, October 1944 (Operation Rimau).



Royal Australian Navy after 1945

A gallery in the Port Building is dedicated to the post-war history of the RAN, with as focal point the Fremantle-class patrol boat HMAS Townsville, featuring a model, uniforms and a video documentary.


Yongala Gallery

Two areas inside the Port Building tell the story of the disappearance and discovery of the steamship Yongala through interpretive panels, a video documentary and displays of original artefacts, including the ship’s bell.


Shipwrecks

A small exhibition inside the Port Building features relics associated with some famous shipwrecks, such as the Gothenburg and the Duroc. One of the anchors outside at the Bay Rock lighthouse probably is the oldest artefact owned by the Museum. Dating back to the 1780s, it is an anchor found at the wrecksite of the French exploration corvette L'Astrolabe, which foundered at Vanikoro in the late 1780s. The exhibition tells the story of this famous shipwreck. Also on display are posters showcasing the shipwrecks off Magnetic Island, part of the circa 70 known wrecks in the waters off Townsville.


Bay Rock Lighthouse

This lighthouse is situated between the Port Building and the Model Ship Gallery. After relocation it was officially opened to the public in September, 2003.

Bay Rock is a small mound of granite situated west of West Point, Magnetic Island. The lighthouse was one of the first to be erected in Queensland in 1886. Its light was essential for the safe passage of vessels entering Cleveland Bay from the north or for anchoring in the main shipping anchorage off Bay Rock, or for those vessels making for the Quarantine Station at West Point. Shallow water and reef in this area made early navigation both difficult and dangerous.  

The light source was an open flame kerosene burner of 1000 candle power, and in clear weather was visible for about 14 nautical miles. The tower itself is 8m tall, and when positioned on Bay Rock, the light was 29m above sea level. A small house was also built on 'the rock' to accommodate the light keeper's family.

The last light keeper was John Lawson, who had been on Bay Rock for less than a year when a tragedy befell him in March 1920. Returning to Bay Rock with five friends in a small fishing boat one evening, the vessel was capsized in a sudden squall. The weakest three stayed clinging to the boat, while the others swam to Bay Rock in order to raise the alarm and return to pick up their friends in the light keepers boat. Although they searched all night, no sign of either Lawson or the others was found. The search continued for several days but yielded only the small boat.

Following this incident it was decided to replace the manual function of the light with an automatic mechanism. This meant that light keepers and their families did not have to live on this isolated rock again. Mrs Lawson and the five children were relocated to the mainland.

Although only the top section is original, the lighthouse is of historic significance, being associated with the safe passage of local shipping in the years before and following Federation. It is also associated with local light keeping families, many of whose descendants remain in the Townsville area. 

With the help of the emergency services helicopter and generous community members, the lighthouse was relocated to the museum from Bay Rock in 1992.


Model Ship Gallery

Designed for the demonstration of model ship building, this gallery displays about forty model ships. Although most of them have no particular connection with Townsville, the display demonstrates the evolution of ship design, the craft of model ship building and the range of materials used.


Boat Shed

The Boat Shed is a large covered area displaying the mooring vessel Beth, a range of historic outboard motors (Seagull, Mallard, Gold Cheetah, Evinrude, Riptide) and marine communication equipment. Also on display are a double rowing shell named Terrow and a coxed quad rowing shell named Allan Rolfe, used by school rowers at St Joseph's Gregory Terrace College (Brisbane) and in more recent years at Ignatius Park College (Townsville).

The Boat Shed is currently being reorganised as a display area.


Gun Deck

Located behind the Boat Shed and workshop at the end of the Museum precinct, the Gun Deck displays a rare 1880s naval 5-inch breech-loading gun that may have originated from the Queensland Navy’s gunboat Paluma; it also offers a view of one of Townsville’s oldest shipyards.


Outside objects

Located at various positions in the garden are some more objects on display, such as a 1930s wooden clinker-built lifeboat, a home-built fishing dinghy with an inboard engine, anchors and lighthouse lenses.

These outside objects include the two oldest items in the Museum collection, both dating back to the 18th century. A heavily corroded barrel of a naval six-pounder cannon is one of the many relics retrieved from the site where the British transport ship Cato was shipwrecked on the Great Barrier Reef in 1803. And a naval stock anchor commemorates the ill-fated French exploration expedition, commanded by  Jean-Francois de Galaup La Perouse, which was wrecked at Vanikoro in 1788 with the loss of all lives. This particular anchor probably originated from one of the ships, the Astrolabe.