Museum of Brisbane

Roses used to bloom on Elizabeth Street

Museum of Brisbane welcomed its first Artist-in-Residence for 2019, Dr Janet Lee. Janet is a local writer who uses a phenomenological approach to examine objects and explore their ability to evoke emotion. In her writing practice, Janet often responds to ‘things’ – objects, places, buildings, clothes, letters, documents, photographs and artworks.

During her residency, Janet created new written narratives that responded to the artworks and objects in our exhibition, Micro Histories. The result was a series of short fiction works that imagine characters and plots inspired by the exhibition.


Roses used to bloom in Elizabeth Street by Dr Janet Lee

Micro historians use the intense study of a single event person or community to tell us something about the wider world. It is a localised history that emphasises the individual and their journey.


I don’t understand black holes.

A clever professor has tried to explain black holes to me. They even shaped a handful of sand into a small planet, held it in their left hand and smashed it with their right. There was a small thing left over, condensed energy, or something like that, I think they said. Something about the size of a grape.

I still didn’t understand.

So, they told me about gravity waves, and how gravity waves are on a journey and how we could measure them.

I am not even going there.

I mean, I understand black holes swallow things, you know. Big things like stars and planets. It’s just that I don’t understand, you know? Do the black holes swallow smaller things as well?

I like to think of the stars and planets still living down in a black hole, for a while anyway, and getting smaller or larger, although I don’t know if they do. Things might be still there, down the black hole I think, just different somehow, changed by time.

History made smaller.

A form of micro history. I must ask the professor.


In that book about her, Alice fell down a black hole, and things grew smaller or larger, and then she went through a tiny door.

There is a tiny door in Burnett Lane.

It is just the perfect size for Alice. I can’t imagine any other reason for it to be there. Except that it is waiting for Alice to open it.

I think there must be a black hole behind that door. Like there was in the book. And down that black hole there will be roses.

Alice found roses when she fell down, didn’t she? Roses, and butterflies and caterpillars. That black hole in Burnett Lane, it will definitely have roses.


Because roses used to bloom on Elizabeth Street.

That is what the old lady said. Roses used to bloom on Elizabeth Street and you could smell the fragrance as you went past.

And pineapples.

There will be pineapples down the black hole in Burnett Lane. That’s what the old map said.

In 1844, pineapples grew in a garden just off Queen Street.

Slate’s Pineapple Garden, the map said, and there were little pineapples drawn on the map, as if they were growing right there on the paper, to prove that there really were pineapples.

There are pineapples still, coming back into fashion, in the Easton Pearson exhibition. A pineapple sits atop one of the models. The model is wearing a gorgeous outfit, all sequins and fine details.

So, the pineapples haven’t gone far, they are still just off Queen Street.


There aren’t layers of history, I’ve decided, there are more like swirls of history, which we see circling back. Like Alice did when she followed the rabbit.

A gone world which we still see. A microhistory we can still find.


Butterflies and Cheshire cats?

There are butterflies aplenty in Brisbane. Perhaps butterflies who looked for roses, and then became steel, or something like that, like Lot’s wife or perhaps Midas, given the metallurgical slant. The metal butterflies hang up there now, you don’t need to go down a hole to see them. You just need to look up from your phone.

Look up in Queen Street. Look up in Edward Street. They flutter everywhere.

Look up from your journey, because when you do, you are really very nice to talk to. At least you were when I met you.


Cheshire cats?

Hmm, the Lions maybe? The ones who sit on boxes on the square. They will smile as you take a selfie.

I tell you, there will be swirls of history down that black hole behind the door in Burnett Lane.


Swirls not layers. Because our history is still being made, still circling.

There will be men in chains, and Savory the baker, the only one, apparently, and Mort the milkman, so the old map said, that map with the pineapples upon it. There will be Robbie Burns in the park, and creeks running through the city, and horses on cobble stones at City Hall, and signatures on walls, and skating rinks, and there will be butterflies on the ceiling dome, and lino on the kitchen floor and buildings we loved and beautiful paintings.


If we could fit through Alice’s door, we could meet them all on our journey in the black hole. We care about them, even though they might belong to another time, to the future or the past.

The words are there on the statue, encouraging us to care. Bertrand Russell is saying ‘One must care about a world one will never see.’

I take that to be the world in history and the world in the future. And we are all on a journey into history, aren’t we?


A caterpillar?

Why I see them in the city all the time.

12 small children in bright fluorescent vests, tiny hands clutching to a green rope in the middle, little sandshoes all shuffling along.

A cute caterpillar with 24 legs.

I have seen a few of these caterpillars about. Dear little things with tiny feet.

They have a care for the future, those caterpillars. They are just waiting to burst into butterflies.

Perhaps the caterpillars are on a journey to find the roses. The roses which used to bloom in Elizabeth Street.


 Writer’s note:

There were lots of lovely people I met and interesting objects I connected with while at Museum of Brisbane. I wanted to include them all in some sort of narrative, to let them know they meant something to me, that I had noticed them, and that I was curious, (just like Alice). The small door in Burnett Lane, a laneway with its own fascinating history, and then, an excellent program about black holes, (great presenter, simple language, but sorry, I still don’t understand), gave me some sort of tenuous link, which probably makes absolutely no scientific sense.

‘Micro historians use the intense study of a single event person or community to tell us something about the wider world. It is a localised history that emphasises the individual and their journey.’ Didactic under the heading Every Object Tells A Story in the Micro Histories exhibition, MoB.

‘One must care about a world one will never see’. Bertrand Russell quote located on the Clem Jones AO statue in Adelaide Street.