Artists in Conversation Series: Nicola Hooper

Windmill of your mind: Stories inspired by Queensland’s oldest building is the latest exhibition by Queensland State Archives (QSA). The exhibition, showcasing the artwork of students from the Queensland College of Art at Griffith University, alongside treasures from the state’s archives, focuses on the Old Windmill on Wickham Terrace in Brisbane.

The heritage-listed Old Windmill has stood witness to much of Brisbane’s 190 year history and some of these intriguing, and at times, disturbing historical events were highlighted in a recent short film created by QSA staff.

Hooper featured image DSC_3865 cropped

One such story, about a 1907 rat plague in New Farm, inspired Nicola Hooper, one of the talented artists who contributed to the exhibition. Nicola produced a beautiful hand-coloured lithograph, James the Rat King Diptych and an accompanying Artist Book.

Hooper - diptych & artist notes

We recently caught up with Nicola and asked her about the iconic building that inspired her artwork, and if she knew much about the history of this Spring Hill landmark before she commenced this project.

I knew a little, mainly what I had learnt when at school, and was reminded of how much it is an iconic building every time I went to Spring Hill.

Nicola was particularly inspired by a report on the plague by Queensland’s first commissioner of public health, Dr Burnett Ham, which is held in the QSA collection. We wondered about her experience of drawing artistic inspiration from historical Queensland stories. Nicola told us:

I loved it! I have a fascination with historical events that have happened here in Brisbane (particularly zoonotic ones).  So to have the opportunity to read, touch and smell the Burnett Ham document was a great thrill and inspiration in creating the work.

In her Artist Notes, Nicola refers to events during the period from 1900-1907, when 499 Queenslanders contracted the Bubonic Plague, and for 219 people this proved fatal. Her work focuses on an outbreak in 1907 during the January school holidays when sixteen people contracted the plague at Garnett’s produce store in New Farm. Eleven of those infected were children, six of whom died. During the investigation of the site, floor boards were lifted, finding skeletonised rats. As Nicola observed, this may have been “the perfect place for the rat king to fester and this tale of gothic fiction, almost too ghastly to be real, borne out of these factual events from 1907”.

Our artists participating in the exhibition told us that the experience offered some unexpected insights, so we asked Nicola about what she took away from this experience.

The value of exploring and not forgetting our past, regardless of how incredible, bizarre, awful or sad some of it may have been.

The Windmill of your mind: Stories inspired by Queensland’s oldest building exhibition can be seen at Queensland State Archives, located at 435 Compton Road Runcorn. Opening hours are 9.00am to 4.30pm Monday to Friday, as well as the second Saturday of every month. Entry is free of charge and the exhibition runs until December 2017.

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5 Responses

  1. Lawrie Cremin

    Very interesting and the reference to the rat plague brought back memories of the “rat men” who I assume were council employees. They used to come on bicycles with ( as I recall) two fox terriers in a basket on the handlebars. This was in the 40s and probably into the 50s. Like puff the magic dragon they just faded away. Thanks for reminding me.

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