Monday, 29 December 2014

Foley Shield Rugby League History

This is a book for those interested in the history of North Queensland football.  Proserpine identity, Mr Tony Price has just completed his new book, 'More Than The Foley Shield' which was recently launched at a well attended function at the Irish Club in Brisbane.  The book is an amazing record of the North's involvement in rugby league from the very earliest days and tells the story of more than three hundred players and officials that have had a hand in the hundred years rise and development of the game.  The breadth of this large volume is stunning, covering international games, the Foley Shield games and more with no region or town missed out.  Along with more than four hundred photos, many never seen before, of teams and players from Sarina in the south to Thursday Island in the north and west to Mount Isa.  The story is written in a chronological order and records the names of all the North Queensland team players from 1908 through to the Cowboys, Mackay Cutters and the Northern Pride.  The author, Tony Price has been involved in the game of rugby league for some fifty years, first as a player, then coach and administrator and finally as a supporter.  A few years ago, he published his huge, two volume book on the history of rugby league in the Whitsundays district entitled 'Before the Purple and Green'.  If you have an interest in North Queensland football history, Tony's new book is a must for your collection.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Herberton Mining Museum

It was recently reported by Mrs Veronica Weal that the Herberton Mining Museum had enjoyed a record number of visitors over the last tourist season with the visitors been impressed by the new displays including the new tin dredging video unit.  Their Minerals Room has undergone some changes and new samples have been added while the Academic Rock Collection is now completed and is a valuable resource for anyone with an interest in geology.  Volunteers have been kept busy with genealogy research for visitors working on their family histories and two of the museums staff assisted with the recent Lions Club's heritage 'Ghost Walk' at the local cemetery performing very creditably in ghostly roles while others from the museum assisted behind the scenes to help make the evening a great success.  Another exciting project the volunteer have been working on lately is the construction of a one-in-ten scale working model of a tin dredge.  This amazing replica was kindly donated to the museum by the family of the late Lionel Bowden who past away before he could complete the project.  The model dredge was in hundreds of pieces when collected and will require many hours of painstaking work to reconstruct and finish off but once completed it will be a rare and impressive piece of machinery which will become the central feature of a display on the local tin dredging industry.  Admission to the museum is still free of charge for local residents and by 'gold coin' donation for visitors from other areas.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Cairns Historical Society

With the Cairns Regional Council agreeing to fund the position of Museum Manager until 2018, the Society's Management Committee were delighted to announce that Mrs Suzanne Gibson has been appointed as their first paid Manager.  Recently the Society formed a special committee called the Cairns Museum Project Control & Planning Group to manage the new Museum project.  Mrs Tammy Kowitz who has already had discussions with the Council on the museum project is on the committee and they have also been fortunate to have Mr Clive Skarott bringing along his extensive business experience to the Chair of this group.  The Society was also pleased to honour Mr Edward Ward with Life Membership.  Ted is the group's longest serving member having joined the Society more than fifty years ago in 1962 when he was still only a teenager.  This year has brought other changes to the group with the recent 'retirement' from the committee of three of the Society's old stewards, Mr Gil Jennex and Pat and Alan Broughton.  All three has spent between thirty to forty years helping to run the Cairns Historical Society and they have left a wonderful legacy to the Society and to the people of the City of Cairns.  The Society has decided to have its annual Christmas party at the Edge Hill Bowls Club on the 11th December and then to close down the group for several weeks from 19th December through to the 5th January 2015.

Eacham Historical Society

The program put in place to try to involve more members in the activities of the Society by conducing fieldtrips and other fieldwork have seen several remakably successful trips organized to explore the district.  During the tin fields trip, where two dozen members and guests gathered at Herberton and then headed out to the tin fields to explore the old mining towns from Watsonville, through to Stannary Hills and finishing off at Irvinebank.  The trip organizers discovered that many on this outing had never been into the local mining areas before.  So the next field trip went further out into the mining country to where many members had never been.  This outing started out at Dimbulah where the members viewed the remains of the old FHV tobacco factory and then on out to the mining townsites of Mount Mulligan and Thornborough.  The last fieldtrip was much closer to home with nearly thirty members travelling about the country to the east of Malanda from Glen Allyn, where morning tea was had at the Nerada Tea Visitors Centre and then on to the Butchers Creek area before finishing the day at Boonjie.  It is hoped to continue this program of field work in the new year and to include some cemetery restoration work.  The last event for this year will be the annual end-of-year party to be held at the Malanda RSL on the 9th December with the Society closing down the following week until mid January.

Mareeba Historical Society

The Mareeba Historical Society recently held its AGM with Mrs Joan Collins taking on the position of President as well as the group's Editor.  The Treasurer reported that she was somewhat dismayed with the state of the accounts and suggested that a serious effort be made with fundraising to get some money coming into the group's coffers.  Also on financial matters, the Society has received the grant for the World War One photographic displays and is now planning to open the first of four completely different displays early next year.  Conservator Sue is working on showing members how to clean, preserve, conserve and pack away, the hundreds of glass negatives and slides that the Society hold in its collection.  The group's Christmas barbecue is to be held on 13th December at Helen's home in Mareeba as usual.  

Friday, 31 October 2014

Kirrama Timbermen Book

'Timber and Timbermen' is the title of the recently published book from Mr Ed Healy of Wondecla.  The book tells the story of the timber industry and timbermen of Cardwell and the Kirrama Range from the first days of settlement in 1864 up to the introduction of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Listing in 1988.  After a long career in Education, Ed had enrolled in a Graduate Diploma in Advanced Studies in Australian History and the core of his book began with the research and writing of the 'Track to Road' study which dealt with the building of the Kirrama Range Road by the PEI scheme during the 1930's.  Ed had spent much of his childhood on the Kirrama Range and amongst the timbermen of that district and this interest led, later in life, to the realisation that those involved in that industry was 'dying-off' and he set out to do oral interviews with those still living.  It took some twenty years of working off and on to complete this new volume on North Queensland history which was launched at the recent Annual General Meeting of the Cardwell & District Historical Society at the JC Hubinger Museum in Cardwell.  This new book has sufficient detail and statistics to interest the more serious history buff along with plenty of stories and photos from the social history of the people involved to keep those with a more general interest in the local timber industry happy.  Mr Healy has produced a fine study of this subject which is also needed for other areas of the North.  It is a little difficult to obtain a copy of this work as it is only been printed in limited numbers and only when needed which also make it rather expensive but it is a must for anyone interested in our northern history and particularly in the timber industry.  

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Cardwell and District Historical Society

The Cardwell historians recently gathered at the JC Hubinger museum for their Annual General Meeting.  I had travelled to Cardwell to attend the book launch which was to be held there and discovered the group were also having their annual meeting, so I decided to sit in and learn how this group were progressing.  Society President, Anne Mealing gave the meeting an excellent run down on the groups' activities over the previous year before going on to a detailed report on the many projects the Society have been involved with over this busy anniversary year.  The 150th anniversary of the founding of the town of Cardwell brought on many commemorative projects, both within the Society and along with many in partnership with other community groups making this one of the most hectic years in their history.  This program began in January with the Landing Day function at which the Society held a Billy Tea & Damper morning tea in the Museum Precinct.  At another function, Premier Campbell Newman presented the 'Lady Bowen' porthole back to Cardwell and the Commemorative Quilt was hung in the Museum after its presentation to the community.  Another project the group has been involved with is the rebuilding of the local landmark, 'Sunbeam House' which was damaged by cyclone Ita.  In May, Colonel John Simeoni official launched their Viscount Edward Cardwell exhibition and at the same event, the Society was pleased to have been able to support Helen Pedley in the launch her book 'Streets by the Sea'.  A successful event was also held for the Wedding Dress Soiree and Exhibition which also entailed a number of Costume workshops for the members.  The Anzac Centenary Commemorative project that the group is now working on is the biggest yet in terms of funding and will result in a new facility for local residents as well as tourists, revealing the detailed histories of each of the numerous people from the district who served in World War One.  This project also has some immediate goals with a special display being mounted around the marble Honour Board for Remembrance Day in November.  After the annual meeting, the launch of Ed Healy's long-awaited book about the huge timber industry conducted in the Kirrama Range area was enjoyed by those in attendance along with a fine afternoon tea.  Unfortunately, the long-awited reopening of the Kirrama Range Road, which the Society has been pushing for, has been delayed yet again but hopefully an December opening can be achieved.  The meeting closed with the president calling for a focus next year on building the Society's membership and volunteer base as age is catching up to the hard workers of the group.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Cape York Goldfields

Local historian John Hay, best known for his many years of work and research on the history of the Palmer River Goldfield, has just released his seventh book.  Entitled 'Cape York Gold; The New Chum', this new publication concerns the gold fields of the Cape York Peninsula and is based on the life story of the later-day miner, David Cragg who arrived on the Cape in 1938 to manage the mines of his father's company.  The Nesbit River gold reefs were situated in rough and isolated rainforest covered hills where nothing resembling a road existed.  It took great courage for this middle-aged man from Sydney to come in and replace his older brother who had been beaten by the hardships.  It is almost heart-breaking to read this story of commitment and exhausting hard work which put David into an early grave some three thousand kilometres from his home.  The book also tells the story of the author's interest in these brave gold miners and the rediscovery of the area's heritage.  John has also interwoven into the story the details of the Cape York's history from the early explorers to the original prospectors and miners.  This book is a grand addition to the poorly recorded history of these small goldfields.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Day at the Museum

The long awaited day had arrived.  The new Australian Armour and Artillery Museum in Cairns was having its Opening Day event and I was heading down to check it out.  I have always had some interest in military history, particularly that which involve North Queensland and my own family.  The fact that someone was building a big military museum at Caravonica to house the largest collection of armoured vihicles and artillery pieces in the Southern Hemisphere had come as a bit of a surprise.  For many months I had been following, on their Facebook page, the development of the buildings and the collection and could hardly believe the extent and importance of the pieces that were to be put on display.  So it was with some excitement that I drove down to Cairns to spend a day at the new museum.

A bit of a surprise
The first sight of this new museum complex showed that these folk were damn serious about their passion for military history and were here to stay.  Although I had arrived at about 10.00am, the car park was already full and I had to park my car over in the Tjapukai Cultural Park and walk across to the museum.  Along the front of the building there were a number of stalls giving the event a bit of a festive look.  The Australian Military Forces had set up a recruitment display and the local military vehicle enthusiasts had brought in some of their jeeps and there were also some food stalls.  I walked up the steps and found a queue from the counter back out to the front doors.  It took a little while to get my ticket and as I entered I was surprised by what appeared to be a German SS Officer in full dress uniform walking pass carrying a maschinepistole sub-machine gun.  Yes, it looked like some members of the Townsville based North Queensland Historical Re-enactment Society had come up to join in the opening celebrations.  I strolled past the World War Two Japanese soldier in combat dress and entered the collection.  Oh Wow!

Part of the collection
The huge building was made up of two display areas with the larger front shed been filled with the artillery pieces and the more historic tanks.  I wandered about the dozens of old cannons, reading the excellently presented information panels which gave a good run down of the history and statistics of each piece.  I must admit that my favorite was the fine specimen of the infamous German 88 millimetre gun.  At the end of the building was probably the most important piece in the armored collection, a fine example of an Australian Sentinel tank.  One of only four left in existence from only fifty-six that were ever built.  It looked like it would have been the equal to any medium tank that was been built at that time.  Oh what could have been!  Soon after my encounter with the Sentinel, a rumble from my stomach told me that it was well past lunch time and as the entry ticket acted as an all day pass, I wandered outside to one of the food stalls.  A small eatery inside the complex might be something for the future, maybe combined in with the front counter.

Returning to the collection after I had satisfied my hunger, I found an old friend viewing the guns, Stephen Fowler.  Steve is the Officer in charge of one of the local Air Cadets units and is also the president of the Cairns Historical Society and a prominent local military history enthusiast.  He had been invited to the Official Opening held the previous evening and he gave me a rundown on the event.  He also pointed out that beneath the floor of the main building was a room with a fifty metre long shooting range and out the back of the museum was a large workshop where the vehicles could be serviced and maintained.  After chatting with Steve, I wandered over to the smaller wing of the complex where some of the more modern military vehicles were on display.  As I finished up my visit, I realized I had spent four hours at the museum, so I certainly got my money worth.  I think this centre, along with Beck's military museum and the War Birds aviation museum at Mareeba and a possible military museum at the old Rocky Creek igloo will create a wonderful circuit for those interested in our military heritage.  Mr Rob Lowden and his team have certainly put together something special here and I wish them well for the future.  
The new museum complex 

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Cairns Historical Society

Members of the Cairns Historical Society were excited to report that their discussions with the Cairns Regional Council had been successful with an agreement for a four-year funding program to provide for a museum manager and some operational funds, largely to meet the costs of air conditioning in the renovated School of Arts building.  They are continuing to work with the Council on the budget for the Fit Out of the new museum and are hoping for an agreement some time in the coming months.  The history trailer continues to be the major outreach program and under the leadership of Beth Pearson, the trailer has visited over a dozen schools.  The Society also participated in displays for Child Safety Week, Carnival on Collins and the Healthy Ageing Day event held on the Esplanade.  Pauline O'Keefe continues to be the person to see for information on the First World War in the Cairns region and she has been asked to join a committee for organising the centenary of Anzac Day event for next year.  We are also lobbying her to raise the possibility of a re-enactment of the Cane Beetles march of 1915.  Pauline is also keen to add to the Society's collection on World War One and is interested in exchange images between other Society in the area.

Eacham Historical Society

It has been a reasonably busy couple of months for the Eacham Historical Society, both at the Resource Centre in Malanda and at the museum at Millaa Millaa.  With the tourist season in full swing, the numbers of visitors to the museum have been very pleasing due in part to the 'grey nomads' who pass through town.  The improvement program at the museum is continuing with the concrete floor of the newer section having been painted at last and the room been rearranged.  The volunteers recently gathered to celebrate the 90th birthday of one of their members and the worry over the ageing and health of the volunteers have been relieved a little after a recent public campaign brought three new helpers onto the staff.  Public displays have been high on the Society's agenda recently, with stalls conducted at the annual Malanda Show and the Rocky Creek VP Memorial Day.  Both were quite successful although not as good as those of several years ago.  In order to attract new active members, a promgram of fieldtrips have been put in place with a remarkably successful trip made out about the tin fields and another organized for the Mount Mulligan area.  

Innisfail and District Historical Society

As this year's Innisfail Show was the 100th Show to be held, to commemorate this event the Society requested photos taken from previous shows and the group were pleased with the good response they received from the community.  The display of these imagines was very popular.  The museum's window display has been set up now commemorating the centenary of the beginning of the First World War and the Society has gathered a lot of artefacts that can be add to the display over the coming months to keep the interest going.  The volunteers have also been busy with working bees each month to deal with the ongoing challenge of maintaining the museum.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Douglas Shire Historical Society

As the Douglas Shire Historical Society was officially formed back in 1994, they have reached their twentieth anniversary.  Earlier this year, the group began investigating a First World War project to honour the service personnel connected to the district.  Recently, the project team leader, Ken Keith was able to announce that their application for a grant from the Queensland ANZAC Centenary Program for $13,360 had been successful.  This money will provide for the two mobile touchscreen units which will be programmed to present a multimedia insight into the impact of the 1914-1918 war on the volunteers from the Douglas Shire.  This project is to be unveiled at the Centenary Anzac Day of 2015 and it is envisaged that additional material would be added through to 2018.  The Douglas group is also thrilled to have been able to submit a tender for the shop at the Shire Hall in partnership with the Douglas Arts Base.  It is hoped this place will become the Mossman Heritage and Arts Centre and form the hub of the Mossman Cultural Precinct along with the surrounding Heritage-listed buildings.  The next meeting will be held a week later than usual, now on the 13 October, due to the public holiday.

Mareeba Historical Society

The Mareeba group has been asked to assist the Mareeba Shire Library with their First World War display and are just waiting on conformation of the starting date.  They are also involved with the THeN group who, along with other member groups, are planning to hold a two month long WWI display in Atherton's Old Post Office Gallery.  Recently, the Society received a most interesting family history of the Wilesmith family of Watsonville and also, from the same donor, was an inspiring letter from a First World War hospital in the UK which will be featured in a display.  It was reported in their last newsletter that their accession list has now past the 18,000 mark and has over 4,000 entries in the photographic database.  Thanks to the busy members working in this field, their library is growing into a impressive resource.  On a lighter note, it was realized that the tenth anniversary of the opening of their history research centre was upon them.  It was suggested that the group hold a 10th Anniversary Morning Tea and encourage the membership to come along and see the Society's home.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Heritage North Association

The last quarterly meeting of the Heritage North group, held at Gordonvale, was a very short affair as we wanted to get straight into the planned workshop.  After the usual matters arising from the previous meeting minutes, mostly concerning the never ending issue of insurance and the Treaurer's financial report were seen to, it was decided that the members reports would go straight to the Bulletin officer in order to save time.  It was also noted that the next meeting, to be held at the Cairns Historical Society in late November, would be the Association's Annual General Meeting.  With the business of the meeting out of the way, more that two dozen historians, representing some nine member groups, begin a workshop which was facilitated by the two northern Museum Development Officers, locally based Dr Jo Wills and Ewen McPhee from Townsville.  The purpose of the workshop was to help members to better display items in their museums and included the preparation and interpretive text for labels.  Jo and Ewen gave examples of simple and low cost methods using ready available materials with the intention of improving the overall presentation of the objects.  The general consensus amongst those in attendance was that the workshop was of some value with most believing they had learnt something of use.  The team at the Mulgrave Shire Historical Society was thanked for hosting the afternoon.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

El Arish History Station Museum

The little heritage group that maintain the small museum in the old railway station building at El Arish have been very busy lately.  The group's president, Marie Carman has just reported that they have finally received news that they have received a grant for about $24,000 for the Department of Veterans Affairs centenary.  They intend having a portrait and biography of each of the Generals that have streets named after them in El Arish posted on signs about the town.  The external anodized signage will match their existing signs.  Another project they are working on will see an addition to the station museum with the installation of the town's old police lock-up building.  This will give them another toilet and some badly needed storage or display room.

Mulgrave Shire Historical Society

The effort this group put into their Tea Cosy competition paid off well with about one hundred entries and a similar number of visitors attending the event.  It is hoped to continue with this competition and they are already working on some different categories for the next Tea Cosy event.  Unfortunately, the Society reported the lost of two more of their important members, local historian Clive Morton who wrote a number of books on the sugar industry and Josephine Saffioti who was an untiring worker for the group.  They will be missed.  Now that the part demolition of the town's water tower is complete, two storyboards showing many photos of the tower from the Society's collection has been put in place and the Council is working on restoring the old air raid shelter with fresh murals and upgraded storyboards which will feature information supplied by the Society.  Their Settlers Museum continues to attract a steady flow of visitors and Society members are been kept busy with requests from the many people who are now researching their family history.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Return to the Palmer River

It had only been a few months since our last trip up to the old Palmer River Goldfield but the echoes of its history was calling and as the road in was so good, another expedition was organized.  Once again, on a recent Friday afternoon and in a vehicle loaded with camping gear, we headed off for another four nights camping under the stars where the gold diggers of old chased the colours.  But this time, as we passed Biboohra, we made a stop at Jack Skinner's home to chat about old sites of interest that he had found over the many years that he had spent mining for gold on that field.  It was getting late when we left Jack's place and with a map covered with directions to locations to explore, we hit the road again.  Our goal for the night was Budda's old tin washing plant site where we were to spend the night.  We found our previous camp site with little difficulty and discovered the pile of firewood we left on our last trip still lying beside the fireplace.  This adventure was off to a splendid start.

Busy day in Maytown
The next morning, we drove into the Palmer Crossing where we met up with a friend from Chillagoe.  Wayne had travelled up to the Palmer through Palmerville and together we drove into Maytown to meet up with our old mining friend, Graham Burns of Herberton who was following an old dream to try mining for gold on the Palmer.  He was showing his family the goldfield and we all spent the rest of the morning exploring the ruins of Maytown together.  Graham had teamed up with a local miner Danny who owned Alf Munn's old shack site which was the only freehold block on the Palmer.  That afternoon we spent over at the Upper Gregory Creek area where we prospect with our metal-detectors in the area above the site of our previous trips camp on Gregory Beach.  Sadly, we found very little.  With dark coming on, we availed ourselves of Danny's hospitality and camped on the lawn of his home at Ida.  While sitting about Danny's fire pit that evening, he gave us the inside story of the recent cold-blooded murder committed on the Palmer from his point of view as a witness to the event.  A chilling account of what can happen when the authorities don't move to pull up a pair of gun totting psychos.

Pub site at German Bar
The following morning, we followed Jack's advice and checked out the area about the old Native Police Camp near Maytown.  Just below the butcher's old cattle yards, Duncan found a cluster of old Chinese artifacts which appears to have been hidden there in the old days.  How they came to be here would have been a great tale.  After lunch, we drove over to German Bar and found the site of the small village which was perched high on the bank of the North Palmer River overlooking the Chinese township where we camped on our previous trip.  Here, beside the road to Laura, we found several terraces that had been cut into the slope for buildings.  One of which was obviously a hotel site as we found, laying in the gully behind the site, a whole bank of broken green glass from many hundreds of old gin bottles.  Even after nearly one hundred and forty years since the gold rush days, there are still a lot of old artifacts laying about this site.  Coming down from the village site, we made a quick visit to Binnie's original gold mill site before heading back to Danny's place where we spent the evening about his fire pit in the company of a number of visiting mining men, talking of metals, mines and mining men.  An echo of what would have once been commonplace about these fields.

Our camp at Danny's
We woke the next morning to the sight of a flat tyre on the vehicle, it appears we must have hit an echidna that previous evening and had filled the tyre with a dozen spines.  That's one buggered tyre; like our previous trip.  Luckily, Duncan always carries two spare tyres on these trips.  After changing the wheel, we headed out to Milkmans Flat to meet the folk there who have built a wonderful home on the bank of the North Palmer River.  They have set up a small museum to display the many artifacts that they have collected over the years they had spent mining in the area.  I had never seen so many old case gin bottles in one place and Duncan was delighted with the range of old Chinese opium tins that these folk had found.  After spending the morning talking history, we had lunch under the big shade trees behind their bush house that overlook a long stretch of the river.  What a place to live, although it might be a bit of a worry in flood time.  On the way back to the camp at Danny's place, we called into some of the old time mining sites and spent the afternoon exploring the relics left from those olden-days.

It might sound a bit decadent, camping under a tree on a front lawn with a nice hot shower at the end of each day but it sure made for a comfortable expedition.  We spent that last evening sitting about the fire pit with Danny and Graham and talking about gold and Danny's plans for a little heritage business venture here at his Palmer hideaway.  We wish him well with his efforts.  The next morning saw us packing up and heading off homeward in the direction of Chillagoe.  I had never been down the Palmerville to Chillagoe road before so this was all new country for me and very interesting.  To begin the day, we called into the old Alexandra mine before heading down to Palmerville and on to Mount Mulgrave Station with a stop at the Mitchell River for lunch.  This road was in quite good condition and we made good time, hitting the main road near Wrotham Park Station homestead but still some hour or so drive west of Chillagoe.  This was now familiar country and afternoon tea was taken at Wayne's home in Chillagoe.  It was dark by the time we reached home, sore and weary and with heads full of thoughts of the Palmer's golden days.
Last mill built at Ida                                                              The Ida mine in 1912             

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Pioneering Margaret Parsons

About 120 history buffs attended the recent Pioneer Women's Day held at the small community shed in Watsonville where a booklet on the life of a northern pioneer woman is presented and launched annually.  The pioneering lady featured this year was Mrs Margaret Parsons nee Tobin who journey to the Palmer River Goldfield in 1903 and four years later married Percy Parsons.  Later she became the Post Mistress at the Maytown Post Office and ran it for thirty-one years until it closed in 1945.  During her forty years at Maytown, she raised a large family of fourteen children and this booklet, compiled by local historian Mrs Jane Chapman, includes a brief account of the children's lives.  These little booklets are aways a great read and can be obtained from the Western Progress Association.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Douglas Shire Historical Society

As many old-day residents of the Douglas district were buried on their farms, especially before the Mossman cemetery was opened in the 1930's, the Douglas Shire Historical Society recently conduced a field trip, led by Ken Keith, up to the Daintree area to research grave sites on private properties.  The group also proudly reported that they have been awarded a Queensland Anzac Centenary Grant.  Noel Weare and Ken Keith are to co-ordinate a team of members in researching the lives of people from the Douglas district who served during the First World War.  The findings will be put on a database to be displayed on two computers with touch screens which will travel about the Shire.  The Society's August meeting will be held at the Port Douglas CWA rooms with Mrs Miriam O'Shea as the guest speaker.  Miriam was 'Miss Cooper', the teacher at the little Cassawary State School during the Second World War.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Eacham Historical Society

Members of the Society again worked hard to assemble a great stall at the recent Malanda Show.  Following the success of the new display format tried last year, a mix of artifacts and photos was set up again this year but the smaller then usual crowd coming into the pavilion was a disappointment to the volunteers manning the stall.  What has been an enormous success for the Society is the new addition to the groups' computer social media program.  Along with its Facebook site, the group has now started a 'You know you grew up on the Atherton Tablelands when' facebook site which has already had some one thousand viewers sign up as members and is bring out numerous old photos of the district.  The members who volunteer at the Society's museum at Millaa Millaa have also been busy with the concrete floor of the newer section of the museum having been painted and the artifacts in that room been rearranged to produce a better display.  While at the history centre in Malanda, it has been pretty much business as usual with the Society assisting members of several prominent local families who are working on their family stories.  

Cairns Historical Society

The efforts of Pauline O'Keeffe were rewarded with the 'In Times of War' exhibition been a huge success.  It was reported that on the final day, which coincided with the Tanks market day, over 1400 people visited the display which was a record for the Tanks and this gave the Society some great public exposure.  The Society has been successful in attracting funding for a professional conservator to review the archival and photographic collection.  The timing is good as it will mean the group can start to plan for the storage of the collection in the renovated School of Arts building.  The latest on the renovation is that the Cairns Regional Council is calling for tenders now with work to start after the G20 Financial Ministers meeting in September.  It was also reported that a smaller crowd of members then usual attended the Heritage Festival activity which this year included a journey on the Kuranda Scenic Train.  Despite a heavy shower of rain early on the day, by arrival at the station, the sun was out and stayed that way for the rest of the day and overall it was a most enjoyable fieldtrip.  Sadly, it appears the monthly meetings have been again suspended for the time being due to poor attendance over recent months and the Management Committee will look at different formats regarding times and locations etc.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Innisfail and District Historical Society

The Innisfail Historical Society has seen a fairly busy time over the past couple of months.  To celebrate Queensland Day, the group put together an exhibition of early photographs of Innisfail which was displayed in the Central Arcade.  A new booklet of old photos was launched at the exhibition.  It was decided to print just one hundred copies of the booklet which will sell for $15 and so make a small profit on each one.  The Innisfail Show celebrated its 100th show this year and the Society put together a photographic display on the shows' history.  Another project the group is working on is in conjunction with the Returned Services League and the Cassowary Coast Regional Council to place a plaque at Wright's Park commemorating the volunteers involved in the chemical warfare studies.  Members are also hard at work putting together next year's Society calendar.  The theme of this new calendar will feature the local hotels from the Innisfail district and it is hoped to soon have the mock-up done and ready for the printer.

Mulgrave Shire Historical Society

The historians at Gordonvale must be congratulated on the launch of their Society's new website which will be a great complement for their well used Facebook page.  This new innovation will bring the group's computer social media up to the standard of the other big northern historical societies.  The other big project they are busy with at the moment is their Tea Cosy Competition which they hope will help to revive the old craft of tea cosy making as well as helping to promote the Society.  An information flyer and entry form for the competition is available for anyone keen to participate.  The group also reported that they had recently hosted a visit to their museum by a group of visually impaired people which was organized by Guide Dogs Australia.  It was with sadness that the Society learnt of the passing of one of their very earliest members with the recent death of Mr George Jago at the age of 93 years.  Over the years, George had contributed numerous photographs and history articles to the Society and he will be missed.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Tolga Historical Society

The historians at the Tolga Historical Society had a gala evening recently when three of the groups foundation members were granted life membership of their Society.  Mayor Rosa Lee Long attended the gathering and presented plaques to Mrs Lottie Hastie, Mr Dick Daley and Mr Frank Bass and commened them for their many years of tireless efforts for the group.  All three had been prominent in forming the Society and obtaining the old railway station building and relocating and restoring it to create a museum for the town.  Mrs Hastie was the group's first president, a position she held for 17 years with Mr Daley as the vice-president and Mr Bass, a registered builder been in charge of the museum renovations.  All were most deserving of this honour.

Heritage North Association

The last quarterly meeting of the Heritage North Association saw twelve historians in attendance representing five member groups.  That old quandary of affordable insurance for local historical societies was again the main issue brought up at this gathering.  The Mulgrave group has been investigating the Museums Australia's offer of volunteer insurance for their member groups which would be cheaper that the existing group system.  It was resolved to investigate the parameters of the Museums Australia insurance to see if it would be suitable for Heritage North members as a group.  It was also confirmed that the next meeting would involve a workshop to discuss hosting objects from each others collections and the exhibition or sharing of individual objects.  The next meeting will be held at the museum in Gordonvale.

Watsonville Pioneer Women's Day

The small community shed in Watsonville was again busy with about 120 history buffs attending the recent Pioneer Women's Day organized by the local Western Progress Association.  There was the usual singing from Sing Australia and various bush poets to entertain the crowd along with the bush lunch.  The pioneering lady featured this year was Mrs Margaret Parsons (nee Tobin) who travelled to the Palmer River Goldfield in 1903 and four years later, married Percy Parsons.  Later she became the Post Mistress of the Maytown Post Office and ran it for 31 years until the office was closed in 1945.  The feature story was again printed up in a small booklet which was available for sale on the day.  This little heritage event has become a regular annual outing for many and I hope it will continue for many years to come.

Monday, 30 June 2014

Following the Palmer Chinese

A general interest in the pioneering Chinese of the North and a particular interest in the local opium trade of the olden days was the impetus for a long weekend trip up to the Palmer River Goldfield; that fabled 'River of Gold'.  The main aim of this expedition was a quest to find old opium tins in order to discover just where the drug had been imported from and which companies were involved in the trade.  This information could be obtained from the 'chops' embossed into the lids of the tins like labels.  So on a recent Friday afternoon, in a vehicle heavily loaded with camping gear, the intrepid trio of Duncan, Robert and myself headed out of town for the long drive up towards Cooktown and then down the modern Maytown road in the dark to find a camp site.

Chinese cooking ovens
As our first exploration area was to be the Cannibal Creek tin field, we found a reasonable camp site at Budda's old alluvial tin washing plant where we made a quick camp and threw our swags down about a campfire.  The mosquitoes coming up from the still water of the plant's old dam gave us a hard time during the night but we were up early and raring to go.  We were not far from the site of the Chinese cooking ovens on the banks of Granite Creek which the Palmer River Historic Preservation Society had covered with small roofs.  A lot of tin with gold was mined here by both Chinese and European diggers although many of the old sites about here were destroyed by the tin mining of modern times.  We knew that many artifacts had been found about these ovens, so we crossed the creek and set to work with our metal-detectors which were soon howling.  The large number of rusty nails we unearthed here hinted that once a large complex of buildings had sat at this site and although this area would have been well scoured by artifact seekers over the years, we still managed to find a number of old Chinese coins and parts of several opium tins.  After a few hours of work, we had not found what we were seeking and decided to head back down the road a short way to have lunch at the Aboriginal rock art site.

Camp on Gregory beach
With lunch done and a short hike about the area in search of other art sites, we drove down to the nearby airstrip where we tried to locate the site of Ah Fat's market garden but we must have missed the correct track as we couldn't find any area that resembled a Chinese garden.  We had a quick look over the old village and mill site of Fountainville then continued on to the old Chinese market garden at Dog Leg Creek and spent some time exploring this site.  Our goal for the afternoon was Gregory Beach where we wanted to set up camp.  After finding the right track, we then travelled less that a hundred metres from the turn-off before there came the sicking sound of a tyre being staked.  They weren't really the right tryes for this sort of bush work but we made a quick change and then a very careful drive down to the banks of the Palmer River where we set up camp at the 'beach'.

Chinese artifacts
The next morning, after a Sunday morning sleep-in, we put together our day-packs and spent several hours hiking up along Gregory Creek looking for gold and any sign of the Chinese camps that must have been somewhere in that area.  We reached the site of a modern times gold washing plant were we had lunch on the bank of the old dam.  Having found very little sign of the Chinese miners and even less gold, we worked our way back to the river where we spent some time breaking up a slate bar to gain a sample of gold.  Later that afternoon, Duncan and Robert went off again to try to find the Chinese camp while I had a lazy time attending the campfire and reading.  With dark coming on, I guessed that the guys must have found something of interest which was confirmed when they staggered into the camp all excited as they had found the Chinese village site and it was just a couple of hundred metres up-stream from our camp.  Their excitement got the better of them and after dinner, with torches and metal-detectors in hand, it was back over to the settement site for a couple of hours of work in the dark.  Oh what enthusiasm!

The Comet mill

We were up early the next morning and after breakfast were back over to the site of the old Chinese village.  Numerous earthen platforms of hut sites were identified and many artifacts were found including several items related to the opium habit which was what we had come to find.  At the far end of the habitation area, we found a small creek which contained some fine examples of the stone pitching that the Chinese miners were famous for.  I dug out a load of dirt from below some large rocks along this creek but not a single colour of gold was found in the pan when I washed it back at the camp.  The efficiency of those Chinese miners of old is very impressive.  After morning tea, we broke camp and drove over to the tourist road about the old under-ground mines and mill sites.  I was quite impressed with the work of the members of the old Palmer River Historic Preservation Society in this area, especially at the Comet Mill where the old boiler and engine had been re-housed in a replica building.  This was just an example of what that Society could have accomplished if they had been able to continue with their efforts.  We visited several other old mine sites along this road before heading off to the North Palmer River to seek out another well known Chinese mining site.

Chinese cemetery
Our goal was the Chinese cemetery on the North Palmer that the Preservation Society had cleaned up and fenced back in the 1980's.  With the help of the road signs, we found the cemetery without too much trouble and after checking it out, we drove passed it and down the track to the river where it was obvious that many people had made their camps in the past.  After setting up camp, we explored the area and found we had almost pitched our tents on top of several Chinese graves.  There must be so many of them strewn about this remote country.  That evening we wandered along the river bank for a short distance and found the Chinese habitation area which was located directly below the cemetery.  The next morning, after breakfast, we spent several hours searching this area and found what appears to have been a public house site as the area was covered with the broken green glass of numerous cheap whisky bottles.  It was interesting to note how the hut sites were all clustered together in one small group on the edge of the river.  No doubt they were huddled there for protection.  After we broke camp and drove back up passed the little cemetery, I thought of how sad it was for those occupying the dozens of graves there.  Forgotten men lying in a strange land, in an isolated and lonely resting place and now long beyond memory of loved ones back in their homeland so far away.

What we were seeking
To finish the expedition off, we drove around to old Maytown and had morning tea sitting in the shade of a tree, growing now in what was once the main street of the capital town of this famous goldfield.  We visited the site of the old Chinese temple, the 'joss house' which once looked out from the high bank of the Palmer River and then spent some time looking about the site of the old Chinese owned shops that had lined the street of the old town.  I thought back to the first time I visited this goldfield, way back in 1980 and I came to the conclusion that we were really about thirty years too late for this sort of mission, as so many of the sites here had been scoured out over the years by artifact seekers and that there was little left to discover now.

With midday coming on, we drove back to the Palmer Crossing and had lunch before beginning the long journey back out to the Cooktown road and then homewards.  The trip had been somewhat of a success as we had found three different kinds of opium tins at the sites we had explored.  I was quite impressed with the condition of the road which was so good one could almost drive a conventional motor vehicle in with a little care on the creek crossings.  And as the recent cyclone had dump some good rain over the district, all the creeks had water flowing in them and the country was beautifully green and freash.  As we drove out, we found ourselves already planning for our next visit to the River of Gold.  What a wonderful trip it had been.
Main street of Maytown in the old days                                          The street today 
   

Sunday, 29 June 2014

New history of Cardwell

The 150th anniversary of the founding of Cardwell has brought forth the publication of a number of new books on the story of the town.  Another new book on the history of Cardwell has just been written using the street names as the springboard for the story.  'The history of the town is laid out in the landscape,' said Ms Helen Pedley, the Tully-based librarian, at the launch of her most recent book, 'Streets by the Sea; A Cardwell Chronicle'.  The book was released earlier this month at an event at the Hubinger Memorial Museum with 3 Brigade's Colonel John Simeoni as the guest speaker.  It was important to have a military presence at this event with the military connections of the town's namesake Edward Cardwell and as many of Cardwell's streets having been named after former defence personnel.  This was also relevant as the more recently built streets of Cardwell were named by the Council on the advice from the RSL.  During the creation of this book, Ms Pedley endeavoured to use original accounts from letters or newspaper articles to distinguish it from other memoir based histories of the town.  

Friday, 30 May 2014

Herberton Heritage Day

About 1500 visitors attended the recent Pioneer Weekend at the Herberton Historic Village.  The owners, Craig and Connie Kimberley said that this fifth annual event had been 'unbelievable' and a perfect time for the opening of the new John Deere Tractor Shed.  With traditional mining skills like tin panning and hand-steel drilling displays and wood chopping competitions and music from bush bands, this event is becoming a real folk heritage festival.  Craig and Connie were already looking forward to a bigger and better one next year.

Mareeba Historical Society

The latest newsletter from the Mareeba Historical Society reached my desk recently but it contained little news on the happenings within this group.  It appears the approaching centenary of the start of the First World War is the main project which is occupying their efforts.  Towards this venture, the group is applying for another grant to raise funds to employ the services of a conservator to explain how to conserve some related items in their collection.  Members were quite relieved that little damage was done to the Society by the recent passing of Cyclone Ita.  Their Centre had some water come in under the back door which was soaked up by the small carpet there, but that was all they suffered.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Eacham Historical Society

While looking back over some of the Society's old records the other day, it was realized that the history centre in Malanda had just reached its 20th anniverary.  The April 1994 meeting was the first official meeting to be held in the new Eacham Historical Resource Centre but any thought of some kind of celebrations of this event was overshadowed with the sad news of the passing of two of the Society's past presidents within weeks of each other.  The presidentships of Meryl Allen and John Bailey covered some of the most important years of the Society's development and these two remarkable history buffs will be fondly remembered.  This has highlighted the problem of the aging of the group's active membership and the declining attendance at monthy meetings is becoming a concern.  On a happier note, a member decided to share a windfall they received by giving a generous donation of $500 to the Society which will be used to upgrade the chairs at the Centre.  History papers presented at the recent meetings are still of the highest quality with recent bulletins covering the history of the early newspapers of the Atherton tablelands and of the story of the remarkable Malanda Jungle Tourist Venture which was years ahead of its time.  The members who run the Society's museum at Millaa Millaa have reported an increase in visitors coming through the doors and that they are busy getting the institution ready for the approaching tourist season.

Cairns Historical Society

The big news from the Cairns group is their 'In Times of War' exhibition held at The Tanks Art Centre which was launched to commemorate the approaching centenary of the start of the First World War.  The Society's usual April meeting was also held at the Tanks so members could view the exhibition which is based on the group's extensive collection of photos of soldiers and to listen to lectures on local Victoria Cross winner, Harry Dalziel and the Cane Beetles Recruitment March of 1916 and of the Kanowna Expedition which was the first Australian action of World War One.  The Society is also busy organizing their next big event which is the Heritage Week fieldtrip to be held in early May.  This annual Society trip, which is combined with the Cairns branch of the National Trust, will be a train ride up to Kuranda instead of the usual bus trip with a theme this year of 'Journeys'.  It was also reported that the Society museum's 'History on the Move' trailer has had a make-over with the interior having been remodelled for their visits to local schools.  The trailer project has been a great success for the Society having been visited by 1177 school children last year with the feedback received being very positive.  Their Research Officer, Nicky Horsfall has also been hard at work with her team of volunteers checking and correcting the new database and conducing their first ever stocktake of research books which was needed after the big move when some of the bookshelves were combined.  She is also calling for anybody who has overdue library books to return them as soon as possible so they can be recorded.  Good to see this group up and running again.

Douglas Shire Historical Society

The folk at the Douglas Society are certainly embracing the new computer media world with their new Facebook page which they have just recently launched as well as having commenced two new local history Blogs.  One of the new blogs tells the story of Christy Palmerston's 'Bump' Road while the other gives a short history of the old Royal Hotel of Mossman.  Two members of this group, Pam Burden who acts as their Media Liaison Officer and Noel Weare, travelled to Cairns to attend a recent seminar on social media conducted by staff from the Queensland State Library and it appears to have paid off for the Society.  Although, along with their recently up-graded website, they will certainly be kept busy sustaining this effort.  The Society was pleased to have assisted with the project to create the longest history mural in the North at the Mossman Woolworths' Shopping Centre.  Another major project which this group has started involves a long-term study of the pioneering Chinese community of the Douglas district.  This project began at the groups April meeting where members were asked to bring along any stories they had of the district's early Chinese people.  The group has also been busy with their Heritage month displays, one at the Coffee Club in Port Douglas and the other at the Shire Hall in Mossman.  The next meeting will be their AGM.

Monday, 31 March 2014

Yet Another Yasi Book

I had a quick flip though the pages of the recently published 'After Yasi' by June Perkins.  This must be the third or fourth book written about this severe tropical cyclone and in this case, it was compiled with the assistance of the residents of the Cassowary Coast area who had experienced the event.  Although there are some pictures of the damage done by the storm and a few descriptions of what happened, the main emphasis is not on the traumatic incident but on the recovery of the community afterwards.  This volume is not so much for the local historian as it is a social reflection of how the cyclone affected the lives of the residents and changed their attitude to life.  The poetry and artistic expression in this book will appeal to many readers and to those who are interested in how people coped with this kind of disaster.  Not really my 'cup of tea', but others might like it.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Innisfail District Historical Society

At a recent heritage meeting, I caught up with several members of the Innisfail history group who brought me up to date with happenings at their Society.  They are busy with planning for a number of projects, one of which is the approaching annual 'Taste of the Senses' festival which they support with a display at their museum and a stall out the front of the building.  Another project the group are occupied with is the publication of a booklet of old photographic images of the distrct which will raise needed funds.  This year is the 100th annual Innisfail Show and some thought is already been given to a special history display for the event.  They received some good news recently when the Society learnt that they had been successful in obtaining a grant of $900 to appropriately copy three editions of a historic local newspaper that was donated to the group.  They also brought us up to date on the work been done with the new book on the history of the Mission Beach district.

North Queensland Mining History

The mining history enthusiast gathered recently at the Herberton Mining Centre for their first quarterly meeting for the year which started with the long awaited news that the problem of searching for some affordable insurance for the group had been resolved.  A few updates were given on research been done by members and a project for next years' centenary of Anzac was discussed with some ideas on recording the local miners who joined the Tunneller Companies.  This was followed by a brief discussion on the risk to mining heritage from the Government program to fill in old mine shafts and the lost of old mineral collections and geological libraries.  The speaker at this meeting was Col Robinson who gave an excellent lecture on his research into the history of the northern tin dredging industry.  Hope to see this turned into a book some day.

Heritage North

Ten local history buffs representing four member groups attended the recent quarterly meeting of the Heritage North Association which was hosted by the Eacham Historical Society in Malanda.  After the reports from the different Societies, a brief discussion was held on the personal accident insurance policy for museum volunteers and it was resolved to look into the policy to ensure that it is suitable for today's requirements.  That was followed by a talk on the need to produce a new tourist brochure to promote the north's museums as the previous one is now some twenty years old and the few that is left are quite out of date.  Also discussed at the meeting were ideas for training workshops for the current year and the need to restart the Association's newsletter to keep the more isolated members, who find it difficult to attend, informed of goings-on.  The Innisfail Society will host the next meeting in late May.

Atherton Family History Group

Gwen and the history buffs who conduct the little family and local history group at the Atherton Library has been busy and have drawn up a draft schedule for this year.  The theme of the last meeting was Names and as the next meeting will be held before Anzac Day, the theme for the April meeting will be Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen.  The upheaval caused by the de-merger of the Shire Councils has been sorted out with the group moving their history centre into the room previously used by the Children's Activities group.  The group gather at the Meeting Room in the Atherton Library on the first Thursday of the month at 10am.  For a copy of the schedule or more information on this group, contact Gwen at the library.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Echo of a Chinese Temple

A couple of years ago, I came across a short newspaper article from a 1932 paper which described the last days of the old Chinese Temple at Herberton.  The piece told how the Chinese population of the area had diminished until at last, the Celestials had practically all departed but for an old feeble few who were left to meet the rates on the temple.  As the rates were accumulating and the be-tinselled roof of this 'Joss house' was all but collapsing under this added burden, action was taken under the Local Authorities Act and the worshipping place of the Sons of Heaven was sold by tender.  (What the hell was the Herberton Shire Council doing charging rates on a place of worship?)  The buildings were bought by Messrs Day and Ross for 20 pounds and were carted off to make a tobacco curing shed and the temple furniture, which included the two profusely ornamented Josses was also sold and realized a pitiful sum when their lustrous history was considered.  For nearly fifty years those ornaments had presided over a host of worshippers and were purchased by a Presbyterian clergyman, Rev. Porter Young and were sent off to spend their sad unofficial existence in a British museum.

Characters from above the door
I had not even known that there had been a proper Chinese temple in Herberton and a discussion with local Herberton historian, Mr Ivan Searton revealed a desperate lack of information on this subject.  He could not even find a photo of the temple and as it was demolished back in 1932, knowledge of the temple had faded from living memory long ago.  Ivan discovered that the temple had stood on a allotment which is now owned by Artie and Pat Day and my mate Duncan had learnt that the buildings had been taken out to Watsonville to an old tobacco farm which was now owned by an old friend, Craig Terrens.  On the off chance that something might remain of the buildings, Duncan made a quick visit and found the foundations of the tobacco shed still in existence and to his amazement, embedded into the concrete, were Chinese characters.  They had used the panels from the front of the temple as formwork for the concrete walls.  In an effort to record this writing, the intrepid trio of Duncan, Robert and myself, along with our friend Xiao Hu (Frank), were soon off on a little archaeological expedition, although no doubt, our techniques would have sent shutters of dismay through the members of Time Team.

Outlining the characters
After driving out to Craig's place, we made a quick review of the site and concluded that those who built the tobacco shed had used the panel from above the temple door and another from beside the door in the formwork.  Both had been used several times, once during the construction of the front half of the foundations and again on the back half.  We hoped this duplication would help with the interpretation of the calligraphy, as after nearly eighty years, the writing was badly worn and it was difficult to determine the precise shape of the individual characters.  After painstakingly outlining each character the best we could with white chalk to assist with the examination, we were able to gain some half decent photographic images which we will be able to reverse in order to get an analysis of the writing.  Our companion on this outing was young 'Frank' (as he likes to be called) who had a working knowledge of the Chinese language, as both of his parents were from southern China.  He concluded that the script was in the old traditional language which he had little understanding, although he could translate several of the characters.

A small structure had been built beside the tobacco barn and the floor stumps were still in place.  Robert gave the whole site a good going over with his metal-detector in the hope that something of the old temple might have been brought out and had survived, but too no avail.  Meanwhile, Duncan attempted to gain plaster casts of some of the writing but this was not very successful and Frank and I took measurements of the foundations and then cut away trees and shrubs that endangered the structure.  Photographic images of the characters were later sent to another friend of Chinese descent, Kwan Chan who hails from Hong Kong where a more tradition script is still used.  Preliminary indications are that this was the original Hou Wang Temple of the district with the Atherton Hou Wang Temple been built some twenty years later after the decline of the Herberton Chinese community and the rise of the Atherton Chinatown as the main centre for the local Chinese folk.  This had been a grand exercise and the story of this lost temple was presented at the 2014 CHINAinc conference in Cairns.  The search for information and photos of this now forgotten temple and community continues.
The old shed foundations                                                     The only known photo of the old tobacco sheds


Friday, 28 February 2014

Tumoulin Racetrack Revisited

It had been raining off and on all week and a little 'cabin fever' was starting to set in.  A decision was made to head out towards the west to escape the damp weather and an old idea was brought up.  Why not go out to Tumoulin and find the remains of the old race course?  After the First World War, the local community at Tumoulin had pooled their resources and built a racecourse with a grandstand on a reserve behind the town.  During the Second World War, race meetings were attended by locals along with up to five thousand soldiers at a time who were stationed in the district.  But by the 1950's the town had declined and the race meetings were discontinued and the high grandstand was eaten out by white ants and dismantled.  As for the circular track, Google Earth images show that it remains to this day and it was hoped that something might remain of the old infrastructure.

The track through the trees
With a couple of metal-detectors and a file of old photographs in hand, the intrepid trio of Duncan, Robert and myself, along with our old friend John, was off on another Sunday excursion.  With so many soldiers attending the race days, we hoped that some interesting items might be turned up, as long as the grass was not too high and thick.  But no, we could not be that lucky.  On arrival, we found that the reserve was quite over-grown but the circular track was still very well defined and it would only take a few hours of work with a tractor and slasher to clear the grass to run horses on the course again.  We started to walk around the track in an effort to locate the general area of the grandstands and stalls but the first thing we found was a very large black snake that didn't like the look of us and disappeared into the long grass.  A rather ominous start to our quest.  The metal-detectors soon began to howl and several horse shoes were dug from the wet red dirt.  But what else would you expect to find on an old racecourse!  We then found a few rickety old wooden posts and after a walk right around the track, there was little else to discover.

The old posts
After studying the old photos, we determined that the stands and stalls were in the vicinity of the old posts and we returned to that site.  We came to the conclusion that the clusters of posts most probably marked the finish line and from that we were able to work out where the grandstand must have stood.  Soon we were detecting numerous old rusty nails, which no doubt came from the demolished building.  But no evidence could be found of the rails that once marked the side of the track as were shown in the old photos and nothing of the smaller stand built by the Army could be found.  The area behind the site of the grandstand, where the bar and food stalls would have been positioned, was so over-grown that we gave up any hope of been able to use the metal-detectors there.

With more rain threating to wash our expedition out and the wet red soil making things defficult for the metal-detectors, we decided to end our efforts for the day and head for home.  We resolved to wait until a bush fire passed through the reserve to clean in up before we made another attempt to explore this old site.  I was quite amazed at how quickly the landscape can alter back to a more natural state, leaving little trace behind of its former tenants.  On the way home, we called into the old Herberton racecourse site but could find no trace of that old historic track what-so-ever.  Maybe we were looking in the wrong place!  I will leave that for another trip.
Google Earth view                                                A race day at the old track

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Two Amazing Doctors

A friend introduced me to a recently published book entitled 'Two Enquiring Minds', written by the retired ex-Mareeba dentist, Geoff Grundy.  It tells the remarkable story of two exceptional Queensland doctors who had a profound impact on the development of the Tablelands, Dr L J Jarvis Nye and Dr Patrick (Pat) Flecker.  The folk of Cairns may have built a monument to the memory of Dr Koch but Atherton should have built one to Dr Jarvis Nye so great is the debt the town owes this man.  I was astonished to learn that not only did he help to raise the funds to build at Atherton one of the most modern public hospitals in country Queensland with the only x-ray equipment and pathology laboratory north of Townsville and was giving blood transfusions before Brisbane was, but that he also built and run his own private maternity hospital in Atherton which had some of the most modern techniques in the country.  The book also tells of his amazing work within the community where he was patron of nearly every sporting body in town and was the man who started the Atherton sub-branch of the R.S.L. and the local dramatic arts society.  Why doesn't every citizen of Atherton know of this incredible doctor!  The other story told in this book concerns Dr Pat Flecker who was the son of the famous Cairns doctor, Hugo Flecker.  Pat became the Resident Medical Officer at Mareeba just after the Second World War and the conditions he encountered while working in this district during the 1950's is a story that people of today should know.  He too became deeply involved in the local community through the Rotary Club of Mareeba and by helping to start off the Tinaroo Sailing Club.  The story of these men's medical careers make a fascinating read and Geoff has produced a book that I am sure would find a place on every local history buff's book shelf.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Tableland Heritage Network

Discussion on projects for the approaching centenary of the beginning of the First World War dominated the reports from the different member groups at the last meeting of the THeN organization.  These projects mostly concern research into the veterans who had enlisted from the local communities.  Thoughts on grants to raise funds for these ventures were discussed and then a few problems arising from the de-amalgamation of the shire councils were brought up.  The second part of the meeting was a workshop on planning for the involvement of young school children in the museum and a talk on ideas on how to make class visits to museums attractive to local school teachers.

Eacham Historical Society

It has been business as usual for the Eacham Historical Society with the museum at Millaa Millaa reporting a regular flow of a couple of hundred visitors per month for the past few months and work at the history centre in Malanda picking up with new inquiries from the public.  Some assistance was given to Mr Bob Prince who is writing up the Prince family history and to Mr Jim Curry of Lake Barrine who is writing a history of his family and their time at Lake Barrine.  Some thought has been given to ideas for a suitable project to mark the approaching centenary of the Anzac campaign but nothing has been decided upon yet.  It has also just been realized that the twentieth anniversary of the opening of the Society's centre in Malanda is coming up in April and some kind of celebration will need to be considered.  Members were surprised at the last meeting when a fellow member presented a donation of $500 to the Society and then a paper was read at the meeting which gave a brief history of the early newspapers of the tablelands.  The Society will be hosting the next quarterly meeting of the Heritage North Association in early March at which it is hoped to get information for a badly needed upgrade for the photography database.

Cardwell Historical Society

Member of the Cardwell Historical Society were in fine form for the first events to celebrate the town's 150th birthday.  Some three hundred people gathered at the Bush Telegraph historic precinct for a traditional welcome with billy-tea and damper to mark the anniversary of the arrival of the Dalrymple expedition to start a new settlement in 1864 and to listen to a number of speakers looking back on the history of Cardwell.  Members of the Society wearing period costume then unveiled a large quilt commemorating this anniversary which was made by the Seaside Quilter Ladies.  The next big public event will be a tree-planting in which one hundred and fifty Flame trees will be planted along Bowen Street.  One to mark each of the years of settlement of the town.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Cairns Historical Society

After having the new Research Centre closed for several weeks to give the workers a well earned break after the big move, the volunteers at the Cairns Historical Society have sorted out their temporary premises at the old Grafton Street Post Office building and have settled in.  The research computers are now set up and the library is ready to go and the general work of the Society is getting back to normal.  With it been some twelve months since the group's general meetings were suspended for the relocation, the Management Committee has decided it is time to reinstate the monthly meetings with the general business been handled at a management meeting just prior to the general meeting.  The first meeting will be held on the second Thursday of March at the usual time with Jan Wegner presenting a research paper on the history of weeds in Cairns.  The Society is also calling now for nominations for this year's S E Stephen History Award which close at the end of March.

Douglas Shire Historical Society

The historians at the Douglas Society are back up and running with their first project for the new year being the scheduled annual maintenance on their museum at Port Douglas which has been closed for the whole month of February while the work was carried out.  The museum will be reopened to the public on the first Sunday of March.  Also at the beginning of March will be their next meeting to be held at the Mossman Community Centre with Ruth and Paul Grischy as guest speakers.  They will be remembering the life of long-time Port Douglas resident Mrs Jean Allen, who passed away recently at the ripe old age of 98 years.

Friday, 31 January 2014

Artist's life in Sketchbooks

Late last year I picked up a recently published book which presents local history from a rather unusual perspective.  The book entitled 'Sketchbooks; An Artist's Life on the Tableland' by Ellen Danaher uses the sketchbooks of well-known artist Val Russell as a basis to relate Val's life story while at the same time telling the story of Atherton's development as Val saw it through her lifetime.  Val Russell (1925 - 2009) arrived in Atherton, with husband Eric, in 1946 only intending to stay for about a year but the town was to become their home for almost sixty years.  During that time she sketched and painted throughout North Queensland, producing almost 1200 quality works of art.  Although most were sold and dispersed across the country and some overseas, her original sketchbooks survive as an intact collection.  These thirty-nine books, which span almost forty years of work, contain over 900 pencil sketches, all works of art in themselves.  They represent a unique pictorial record of North Queensland as it used to be and is the basis to tell this story.  The story is very much a personal history which follows her life through her artistic achievements and her long involvement in the development of the local arts community in which she occupied a central position.  I enjoyed this book as I had personal involvement in many of the events written about and many of her sketches of long vanished buildings brought back memories from my carefree childhood in that long past Atherton of the 1960's.
 

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Looking for lost Closhey

While driving home from Cairns recently, it was noted that the annual bushfires had passed through the area about Davis Creek and this brought up the notion to look for any remnant of the long lost village of the Closhey River goldfield.  The intrepid trio decided to set a Sunday to made a little expedition down to search for relics of this short lived community.  Duncan had earlier discovered that very little had been written about this township but still managed to find a short paper on the subject published in the journal of the Australian Mining History Association but little else could be found.  I had always been interested in finding the lost grave of the first burial on this small goldfield, that of the respected mining man Mr William Hooley who died there in 1895.  And Robert, he needed no excuse to get out and fire up his metal-detector, so on a bright and sunny Sunday morning, it was off to seek out the old gold mining town of the Closhey.

Row of slabs
We drove down towards Kuranda and turned off the main road just pass Goldmine Creek.  From the journal article we had learnt that the Main Roads had used the area as a depot back in the 1960's when they had rebuilt the road between Mareeba and Kuranda but we hoped something might remain of the old village which in 1894 consisted of Sandiland's little bush hotel, a couple of shops (one owned by Hooley) and no doubt, an assortment of miner's huts and shacks.  A quick look over the bare burnt off site brought on a feeling of disappointment as it was apparent that the area of the village of Closhey was either under the new highway or had been bulldozed to make way for the Main Roads depot.  We soon found a neat row of small concrete slabs which was most probably the site of a number of road workers accommodation blocks.  All that we could find after an hour or so of searching for the old village was a few shards of old green beer bottle that might have come from the gold mining days, and little else.  We had better luck with the old gold battery site.

Bank of tailings
The mill of five stamps was erected in 1894 but only worked for a few years and we hoped something of it would remain.  We were to be pleasantly surprised with what we found.  After our fruitless search of the town site, we dropped over the bank and walked along the edge of Davis Creek looking up for any remnants of the battery.  Back towards Goldmine Creek we came upon a large bank of fine quartz sand, part of which must have been washed away over the years by floods coming down Davis Creek.  This was obviously the tailings from an old battery.  Looking up from the tailings, we could see where a mill site had been cut into the bank.  We quickly climbed up and found the remains of the five-head stamper battery that had been brought down from the Palmer Goldfield to crush the local ore.  There were still a couple of old shed posts in place as well as a couple of concrete foundations blocks for the mill machinery and a little scrap metal lying about.  A small terrace had been cut into the bank on the southern side of the mill, no doubt for a workshop.  This was a lot more that we though we would find considering the mill was purchased and removed back in 1898 by a Bowen syndicate.

Then in hope of finding some old miners hut sites or the site of William Hooley's grave, we crossed Davis Creek and climbed into a small valley where we soon found an old habitation site.  Robert gave the vicinity a good going over with his metal-detector while the rest of us scoured the site for any relics.  A good assortment of household residue was found showing that this was definitely a home from the gold mining days.  The small gully that drained through this valley had the appearance of a creek that had been worked out for alluvial gold.  A decision was made to return to this creek during some wet season with prospecting-dishes to test this theory.  A good search of the rest of the valley failed to show any further signs of habitation or any evidence of Hooley's grave which was supposed to be sited close to the village.  Another trip to this area for a wider search might be needed but for the time been, this little expedition had come to an end and we called into the Emerald Creek Ice Creamery on the way home where we had a late lunch of fresh ice cream followed with an iced coffee to end all iced coffees.
Site of the Closhey township                                  The old battery site