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by Jessica Anderson
Alan Queale was born on November 16, 1908, at Boonah, Queensland, was the eldest child and only son of Charles and Alice Queale. His mother Alice Hibbert was born in England. Her father, music teacher, brought his family to Australia when she was three. Charles Queale was the youngest of a large Irish family, and the only one born after their emigration. Charles and Alice met while working in the early Labor movement in Queensland. They were people of the Utopian kind.
Alan began making collections when he was a boy. I was the youngest of the family, and although I can barely recall his appearance when he was 12 or 13, 1 have a very distinct memory of his stamps and coins, and the air of respect surrounding them.
When he was 14 he began collecting books, mostly Australian. This was the only one of his collecting interests that ran unbroken through the rest of his life. No matter what else he was doing, his books were always in the forefront.
When he was 20 the Queensland Justice Department sent him to Cooktown as a clerk of petty sessions. This was to be the first step to his becoming a magistrate. He had a passion for historical detail and for knowing how things worked, and when he went north he began to write his observations in a notebook and to illustrate them in pencil. The notebook stopped when he got a camera and began to take the first of his many thousands of photographs. He wrote poetry for the North Queensland Register and ‘pars’ for The Bulletin. At that age he intended to be a poet, as later, he intended to be an historian. Writing was always in his ambition.
From Cooktown he was sent to Mount Isa, then a boom town, where he had his quarters in a tent. He was very happy there, and made friendships that lasted the rest of his life. Out of Mount Isa he made many expeditions on horseback, often with an aboriginal named Moonlight. Considering his later history it seems strange that apart from a few dilly bags he brought back no aboriginal artefacts. An explanation could be that although he was always interested in drawing, painting, and writing, at that stage he was not much interested in crafts. In 1933 his father died, and he returned to work in Brisbane or in towns in Southern Queensland.
Alan was an intense, perhaps an aggressive, Australian patriot. When war broke out, he “saw no reason to fight Europe’s battles”, but when Japan entered the war he joined the army. There was a saying at that time ‘He's having a good war’ which meant that the fear and discomfort were offset by the interest and pleasure. Alan had a ‘good war’. He had never been out of Australia before. He went first to the Middle East, in a ordnance corps. There began to flow into his mother's keeping, in her house in Brisbane, a stream of Palestinian artefacts, each usually accompanied by a description of where and how it was made. In Palestine he became a convert to Catholicism, in which religion lie remained for the rest of his life.
After the Middle East he served in New Guinea (tapa cloth). He did not leave the AIF when the war ended. He transferred to Military History and spent more than three years in Japan. Again a stream of goods flowed back to Brisbane, and again he could describe how each was made, whether it was a little lacquer box, a painted cup, a silk obi, a print, a doll, or a sword.
When he returned to Queensland he gave up all plans of becoming a magistrate because to do so “would mean a circuit once more of the country towns”.
In about 1930 his father had bought two of Lionel Lindsay’s etchings (one was Sunday Camp; I've never been sure of the other). They had hung on the wall of the living room, and Alan had always admired them, but it was not until he returned from Japan, and resumed work in the Justice Department in Brisbane, that he began to make his own collection. His interest in fine craftsmanship had undoubtedly been sharpened by his years in Japan. He often wrote to poets and artists he admired. His first letter to Lionel Lindsay began with the words: “Thank you for etching Australia”.
I believe that Lionel Lindsay’s work met all his requirements. It pleased him aesthetically, most of it was Australian, it was historically informative, it was valued by others, and it was crafted in fascinating and refined ways he loved to learn about and loved to explain to others. He became a friend of Lionel Lindsay and visited him and his son Peter in Sydney. In fact, in 1960 he spent six weeks in Sydney solely for the purpose of visiting Lionel Lindsay, of learning, admiring, and buying.
In 1963, the bequest of his collection was accepted by R. G. Menzies “for incorporation in the National Collection”. He continued to add to it after this, but in the last decade of his life, he gave precedence to his historical work and his library. For many years he had been determined to write the history of justice in Queensland, “from convict camp to colony”, and for this purpose he had amassed a great quantity of material. He did not finish writing it, partly because he spent so much time giving historical information to other people that he had not enough left to assemble his own; but since he loved above anything to give information to living people, I think perhaps he did what he really wanted to do most, after all.
His last years as a public servant were spent in the Queensland Archives. He never married, nor moved from the house in Brisbane. He died suddenly, of a stroke, in July 1982.
© Jessica Anderson, 1985.