Annually on 6 June we celebrate Queensland Day which marks the official separation from New South Wales as an independent colony since 1859. For over 157 years Queensland Museum Network has been collecting objects and items to document the past, and today we’re taking a looking back at items in the State Collection that relate […]
For Brisbane children, gullies are places of adventure. I grew up next to one myself, off Priory Street, Indooroopilly; and I loved it.
Indooroopilly translates from the local Yugara language as Gully of Leeches. The Priory Street gully is the one the name refers to.
The Priory is an elegant nineteenth-century house on a hill in Indooroopilly, looking down over the four bridges that cross the Brisbane River here: the road bridge, two rail bridges and a cycle and pedestrian bridge.
The house was built in the 1880s, on a large piece of land which included a deep, scrubby, rain-forested gully running down to the river. The first railway bridge had already been built here, linking Brisbane to Ipswich and beyond, and opening up all the land along the line to development, and to the building of expensive riverside residences.
The back driveway of The Priory crossed the gully on a wooden bridge and curved up to join Priory Street. When part of the Priory land was subdivided and sold off, my parents built a house here – a small brick house built looking down on the gully, on what had been the end of that old back driveway.
For my two younger brothers and me – especially my brothers – our gully was an endless source of amusement. Last week, as we enjoyed a social distancing takeaway coffee in a Tarragindi park, they reminded me of the things they got up to there as boys.
There’s a special time of fun for children, once they are old enough to go out and play alone, and before the start of high school and puberty: between about eight and twelve. I still remember the fine games we played then: Cowboys and Indians, Cops and Robbers, exploring, trolley (aka billycart) riding down our then-gravel street, and a game we invented, called coffee tin and walking stick. It was a lawless kind of hockey, played with an International Roast tin and a couple of old walking sticks, in the front yard of that little brick house. No wonder the neighbours complained to our harassed mother about our noise.
After talking to my brothers, I went back last week to see the gully. It hasn’t changed much, except there’s more rubbish in it. It has a darker, more menacing air now.
It’s still deep, and clogged with vegetation – bamboo, palms, trees draped with cat’s claw creepers. A smelly creek runs down it. It was always a bit smelly, with run-off from storm water and the greywater sullage that seeped through our back yards in those pre-sewerage days, but as kids we didn’t care.
At the upstream end of the gully there is a large storm water pipe coming from the darkness under the Rankin Street Park. One day we kids screamed “Help!” into it, just to hear the reverberation. All the neighbours heard it and rushed out to investigate. I tested it, and I was pleased to discover it still echoes.
At its lower end, the gully flows under the road in more large pipes. They were big enough for us kids to crawl through, but it was dangerous. They opened out on to a slimy concrete slab hanging above the river, and if we’d slipped, depending on the tide level we’d have gone either straight into the river or on to the rocks below.
Just downstream from the gully outflow was an old boat ramp, in our time used by a water-ski club, but possibly built for the ferry that crossed the river here before 1936, when the Indooroopilly Toll Bridge with its distinctive white towers was opened. Now there’s major construction underway round this curve of the river: an impressive new river walk way and bike path.
My brothers knew every inch of the gully, and of the surrounding streets and parks. They knew the overhang where some older kid had left cigarettes and matches and a Playboy magazine; where to find stinking roger weed to make arrows for their home-made bows; where to stand to throw rocks on the roof of the water ski clubhouse; how to pull loose boards from the base of the bridge cables and climb in among them, those huge steel cables left over from the building of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. They could light a double bunger in one of those useful coffee tins, jam the lid on and throw it so it would explode just before it hit the river. That takes careful timing.
In a hilly place like Brisbane, there are gullies everywhere, and most kids have access to a bushland reserve, rainforest gully or rocky creek bed not too far from where they live.
In nearly every wild spot there are signs of children having fun: cubby houses, rope swings, hand-made mountain bike jumps, rocks piled up to dam the creeks, boards and branches laid across them to make bridges.
Some gullies are dry, many are built over, and others have small, permanent creeks in them, fed by rain and by storm water drains carrying run-off from people’s roofs and gardens. Many gullies and areas of bushland are cared for by enthusiastic volunteer bush care groups, supported by the City Council.
That hasn’t happened in the old gully that gave Indooroopilly its name. This hilly suburb is a wonderful mix of old timber houses both fine and humble, restored to splendour or resting quietly under their gnarled frangipanis and poinsettias; but it is also being subjected to the rampant building of apartment blocks – even, it seems, around the beautiful old Priory. Priory Street itself is full of them, and where our little house once stood there are two modern houses now. Perhaps the apartment dwellers are busy professional people, or the elderly, or students – not people interested in restoring bushland. The cat’s claw creeper that infested the gully when we were kids is taking over on every side now.
I live on the side of a Brisbane gully that is now a street, a rat-run between two busy roads, and the sound of the television is sometimes drowned out by the roar of a speeding car or motorbike. Every so often, though, after heavy rain, the creek that once ran here re-asserts itself, flowing down from the hillsides and up from the stormwater drains, draining other, smaller gullies to flood the road. My street still wants to be a Brisbane bushland gully of ferns and fig-trees, eucalypts and wattles; but on this dry side of town, I doubt if it was ever a gully of leeches.
The Lynd Junction and its roadhouse lie in the hard, dry Great Dividing Range country north-west of Charters Towers. North west from The Lynd, the Gregory Development Road is unsealed gravel, with corrugations, and bull dust.
It’s over forty years since I drove on a road with corrugations, and I’m actually enjoying it. I can feel the shudder of the corrugations through the steering wheel, and I remember the need to moderate my speed on banked corners to avoid juddering across the road and into the ditch. I watch out for bull dust holes.
We’re driving our Forester through the small towns of Einasleigh and Forsayth to visit Cobbold Gorge, eventually to end up back on the coast, visiting family. Finding different routes to Far North Queensland is a pleasant challenge.
The first time I drove on a corrugated gravel road, I was on the way to Camooweal, and it was not all fun.
Camooweal is a small town on the Barkly Highway, just twelve kilometres from the Northern Territory border but within the Mount Isa City Council jurisdiction. The 188 kilometres of highway between the two is referred to locally as the world’s longest Main Street.
Last year, police were stopping vehicles here to make sure they weren’t bringing fireworks, legal in The Northern Territory, into Queensland, where they’re illegal for private use.
As part of the state’s corona virus measures, there’s currently a checkpoint at Camooweal, manned by police and army, stopping people from crossing into Queensland.
It was in 1973, having lived in the Gulf Country for just six months and unused to local driving conditions, that I drove to Camooweal from Burketown and experienced my first corrugations. There was no highway.
This was a seven-hour trip of 340 kilometres, north to south, entirely on dirt roads; partly smooth, well-graded gravel, but for much of the way consisting of corrugations and bull dust. The last ninety kilometres into Camooweal, known locally as the “short cut”, is still notorious today.
Corrugations are unpleasant to drive on, especially if you’re not used to it, or if you’re in the wrong kind of vehicle, such as our HR Holden.
There was also the bull dust. When vehicles drive these roads in the wet season, sometimes getting bogged, they leave deep ruts in the mud. These ruts dry out after the Wet and set like concrete. In the Dry, they fill with fine, dry dust, often making them invisible to the driver. Hitting those hard ruts at speed is nasty, and dangerous.
You can also be bogged in bull dust beside the road – as I found out.
It was July, the middle of the dry season, and the Border School Sports were on, at Camooweal State School. School groups were coming from an area the size of Victoria – from Dajarra to Burketown, as well as tiny Northern Territory communities such as Lake Nash.
Con was the principal of Burketown school, and he and his assistant teacher and a group of parents were taking most of the school’s seventy-odd children to the Border Sports. Many of the kids travelled that rough road sitting on mattresses in the back of a truck – in my memory, a council tip truck. Between Burketown and Camooweal, the only oasis, apart from the occasional dirt track leading to a cattle station, was the Gregory Downs Hotel, 120 kilometres down the road.
I drove our car. With three-year-old Matt and seventeen-month-old Lizzie, and a grade one child from the school who suffered from epilepsy, I set off ahead of the truck. That way, if I came to grief, the people in the truck would be able to rescue me.
We must have stopped to eat along the way, but I don’t remember that. I just remember that somewhere down the road, and quite a long way ahead of the truck, I pulled off for a toilet stop and got bogged in bull dust.
I knew that when the truck came along and saw me bogged, I would be teased for getting stuck, so I determinedly set about pushing sticks and bark down in front of the wheels to provide some grip. Eventually I was able to easy the car out of the bull dust and back on to the road. I was proud of myself.
Unfortunately, it happened again, further down the road, and this time I couldn’t get out before the truck came along. And they laughed at me, of course, before towing me out of the bull dust bog.
By the time the long-suffering kids in the truck reached Camooweal, they were coated in dust. Parents who came with us cooked up saveloys for dinner, and the kids took the mattresses out of the truck and spread them on the floor of the classrooms to sleep.
It was cold. These were coastal kids, not used to desert country in mid-winter. Next morning after their porridge breakfast they huddled together like brolgas in the cold as they lined up for the march past.
The sports went all day, and the Burketown kids did well. One more sleep, and we set off for home again. This time, to my relief, our convoy avoided the “short cut”. We drove the first seventy kilometres on the Barkly Highway’s bitumen, before heading off on the dirt road north to Burketown.
By the time Con and I left Burketown we’d had lots more road adventures: breakdowns, a cattle strike, wet bogs, dry gullies, rough surfaces and bull dust. Of course, this is everyday life for the people of the West. They know these lonely roads better than I know the Bruce Highway. The roads have improved, though; and vehicles are more comfortable.
And these days, kids probably don’t go on school excursions in the back of council tip trucks.
Beyond the reef
Where the sea is dark and cold,
My love has gone,
And our dreams grow old.
There’ll be no tears,
There’ll be no regretting.
Will she remember me,
Will she forget?
I’ll send a thousand flow’rs
When the trade winds blow….
My mother Pat got her motorbike licence on Thursday Island. The bike was a 50cc Honda step-through she’d bought for getting around the island. Thursday Island is only 3.5 square kilometres in area but is sometimes very hot and humid – not comfortable for walking.
Nervous about the test and delighted that she’d passed it, Mum got back on the bike, started it while it was in gear, lurched forward into a ditch, broke her wrist, and never rode it again. That story became part of our family mythology.
Mum was an artist, and wherever she and Dad went, on T.I. and on the other islands of the Torres Strait, she revelled in the colours of sea and sky and island life.
My husband Con had been a teacher on Thursday Island, too, and he’s never grown tired of talking about the place: the amazing blue of the sea; turtle feasts; sharks under the wharf; the thrilling harmony of the singing in church. It seems music is life in the Torres Strait. Con talks about children who sing like angels and love to laugh, about the expressive Torres Strait Creole, or pidgin English as it was known; and he’s described the island itself to me.
Thursday Island (Waiben to the locals, or “place of no water”) is the administrative centre for the Torres Strait Islands. Many of them are idyllic coral islands, with lush greenery, coconut palms, golden beaches and reefs; but T.I. is like a dry, rocky extension of the mainland. All the same, because of its lack of reefs Thursday Island became the port and main town for the Strait.
The Torres Strait links the Arafura Sea and the Coral Sea; the Indian Ocean and the Pacific; and its islands are Queensland’s most northerly communities – some within eyesight of Papua New Guinea.
Torres Strait people mix local Melanesian culture with Malay, Japanese, Papua New Guinea, Chinese, Aboriginal and European influences. Visitors come from far away: scientists, media personalities, adventurous travellers, celebrities looking for something unique.
My parents lived on Thursday Island for three years in the mid-1970s, and Mum loved it, in spite of the isolation, cyclones and hot, wet summers. She wrote about it to her god-daughter Nadine, in Sydney – a world away in culture and lifestyle.
“I’m writing this early in the morning in bed. I can’t see much point in getting up, as it is teeming with rain – just pouring straight down. It’s the monsoon, and our back yard is one huge expanse of water. Everything is green outside, and many shades of grey inside, with a fine covering of mildew all over the walls, our shoes etc. Our clothes smell like mushrooms.
“From April to December there is almost no rain; then the south-easterly Trade Winds stop, the wind moves to the north west and the monsoon season begins. For nine months it is dry and brown and dusty, but when the Wet starts, everything starts to grow and the whole place becomes wonderfully green.
“We’ve just come back from a fortnight at St Paul’s Community on Moa Island, about thirty miles north of here. Where we stayed, the ceiling is made of beautifully plaited bamboo strips with huge unsawn logs across it and holding up the walls. There are full-length louvre windows, and mats plaited from coconut palm leaves covering the floor. Coloured glass floats in rope covers hang from the ceiling beams, and draped on the walls are old fishing nets with brightly coloured shells hanging in them.
“There are coconut palms everywhere. Every now and then there is a great “thump” and down comes a coconut. I don’t understand how people aren’t killed by them. The trees are so high and the nuts so big!”
Established artists have painted the beauty and colour of the Torres Strait Islands.
There is also a great blossoming of local artists, working in paints, sculpture and distinctive black and white lino prints, depicting the history and culture, pearl diving, dugongs, turtles, and above all the life of the sea, the weather, and the islands.
Men from Torres Strait are famed as railway fettlers. They helped build the railways throughout Australia. Their descendants live all over the country, and many Islanders still move to the mainland for education and work; but a longing for the life of turtles and palm trees, the sea and fishing, of family feasts and singing and traditional dancing is always with them, it seems. Neil Murray wrote the iconic “My Island Home” for the Warrumpi Band, about living in Central Australia and longing for the islands of the Northern Territory; but in the version sung by Christine Anu it’s a city girl longing for the Torres Strait:
I close my eyes and I’m standing
In a boat on the sea again
And I’m holding that long
And I feel I’m close now
To where it must be
My island home is a-waitin’ for me
Con still likes to sing the sentimental favourites, such as “Old T.I.”:
Old TI, my beautiful home,
That’s the place where I was born;
Where the moon and stars that shine
Make me longing for home.
Old TI, my beautiful home.
Take me across the sea,
Over the deep blue sea,
Darling, won’t you take me,
Back to my home TI.
He tells me that there were four pubs on Thursday Island when he was there – the Royal, the Grand, the Federal, and the Torres Straits. He swears that at any time, day or night, there would be someone in one of those pubs singing “Beyond the Reef”.
Someday I know
She’ll come back again to me.
Till then my heart will be
Beyond the reef…
When the world has gone back to as close to normal as it ever will after COVID -19, and we can travel again, I want to go to Thursday Island. To get there, you can drive up to the tip of Cape York in a 4WD, then catch a ferry. Lots of hard, dry cattle country, crocodiles-infested rivers and corrugated roads, but exciting and interesting.
Perhaps fly from Cairns, over the beautiful Great Barrier Reef, land at nearby Horn Island and take a ferry. Boats are everything in the Strait.
I think it would be more romantic to take the MV “Trinity Bay”, the passenger carrying cargo boat sailing every week from Cairns, up through the reef and the islands.
Back to the place my family has never forgotten.
Nice Brisbane wildlife story from Mt Gravatt Environment Group.
By: Michael Fox
I’m lucky to be able to get my exercise exploring the wildlife of Mt Gravatt Conservation Reserve.
Squirrel Gliders Petaurus norfolcensis are good at staying home even if they are not into social isolation. Glider families typically occupy a number of different nest boxes going out at night and sleeping during the day.
Butterfly and moth caterpillars are typically selective feeders able to digest only a very limited range of plant species.
So I was interested to find the White Tangle moth caterpillar Callopistria maillardi which feeds on ferns like the invasive garden escapee: Fishbone Fern Nephrolepis cordifolia.
Moths often have to most interesting and colourful caterpillars like this Transverse Moth Xanthodes transversacaterpillar I found feeding on the Native Hibiscus Hibiscus heterophyllus planted by a National Tree Day team.
There are some impressive adult moths Erebus…
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The Inlander to Mount Isa is not running: service is suspended because of the coronavirus. It’s the same for The Spirit of the Outback, the Westlander, Kuranda Scenic Railway and the Gulflander.
Reduced services on the Spirit of Queensland to Cairns, and Tilt Trains to Rockhampton and Bundaberg.
As I have no current train stories available, I’ve asked Con for an old one. He tells me it’s all true.
Con’s Inlander story
When I was eighteen, Mum and I caught the Inlander from Townsville to Mount Isa: a 24 hour trip.
We booked sleepers, but Queensland Railways decreed that a man could not share a sleeping compartment with a woman unless they were married; not even mother and son. Each second-class compartment consisted of three single berths, so Mum would share a compartment with two other women at one end of our carriage, and I was to share with two men at the other.
At the fine old Townsville Railway Station, we boarded our train early and I sat alone in my compartment, wondering what my travelling companions would be like. Just as I was resigning myself to a solitary journey, I saw a stocky male figure walking along the platform, lugging a suitcase.
“It must be heavy,” I thought. “He’s staggering under its weight. No, he’s drunk. Oh Lord – he’s coming into this carriage.”
Like a homing pigeon he wobbled into my compartment. He frowned at me with eyes like boiled lollies. “I’m Frank,” he slurred. Accent not Australian – something European. I later found out it was Hungarian.
We exchanged hellos, while his beery breath and his sweat fought hard to dominate the air-conditioning. He told me he worked as a miner in The Isa. In those days, lots of new arrivals went to Mount Isa for work.
A commotion in the doorway heralded the arrival of two more blokes, dressed like stockmen or drovers – broad-brimmed hats, checked shirts, boots – lugging battered leather carry-alls. Steve and Steve, they told us. They’d been at Magnetic Island and were on their way back to their droving base the other side of Dajarra.
There were three sleeping berths and four of us. The taller Steve told us when they went to buy tickets, only one berth was available. They bought it, plus a ticket for a second-class sitter.
“One of us will sleep on the floor here, if you blokes don’t mind.”
I didn’t mind. Frank grunted, and the Steves took this for agreement. Steve and Steve had also had a few beers before boarding the train, and this had made them noisy and cheerful, in contrast to Frank whose drinking had made him surly and argumentative.
The train pulled out of Townsville and before we got to Stuart, only a few miles out of town, there was an argument. Steve and Steve wanted everyone to be happy. Frank seemed to enjoy being gloomy, and when the Steves produced bottles of warm beer to share around, Frank said he wanted to go to sleep. He climbed up on the top bunk and lay there, staring unsmilingly at the roof.
In those days, sing-a-longs were more common than they are now; and so we started to sing to pass the time. The Steves sang along enthusiastically, banging on their swags to keep the beat.
We sang Waltzing Matilda, Click Go the Shears, Red River Valley, and Santa Lucia. Frank recognized this last one and climbed down from his bunk to join in. He drank some warm beer, and during a break in the music he told us of songs his mob would play and sing out in the bush in Hungary, and how beautiful the stars were out there, away from the smoke and lights of the city.
“It must be like the skies at night out in the West,” said a Steve. Frank told us that the skies in Hungary were the same as Australian skies, but upside down, like all the skies north of the Equator. The younger Steve couldn’t get hold of this concept. Frank patiently explained it, but Young Steve furrowed his brow and thought hard, still confused.
Big Steve suggested that on their next cattle drive, young Steve might stand on his head and look up at the sky full of stars that way, to give him an idea of how the sky in Hungary might appear.
Steve the Elder and I went along to try to buy some beer from the dining car. The lady in charge told us that she would not sell us any alcohol because a) consumption of alcohol was permissible only in the dining car, and it was now closed; and b) we had obviously been drinking already and were not sober enough to purchase more. Steve became agitated, questioning the lady’s parentage and her morals. I apologised and took him back to our home on the range.
“What about another song, Con?”
After the song, Frank gave out cigarettes and lit them for us. Steve the Elder squinted through the smoke at him and said with sincerity, “You might be a wog, mate, but as far as Steve and I are concerned, you’re fair dinkum.”
Frank clasped his hand in a fierce grip. “We are now true friends,” he proclaimed.
“That is so beautiful,” sobbed young Steve, “I think I’m going to cry.”
All four of us were singing “We’ll Meet Again”, holding each other’s hands and with tears in our eyes, when the conductor hammered on the door. He was accompanied by the lady from the dining car. “That’s them!” she snapped, “and that one (indicating Steve) has a foul mouth.”
The conductor told us that we weren’t allowed to drink in our compartment and to watch our language.
When the train stopped at Charters Towers, Frank got off and went to the Railway Refreshment Room, returning with a large paper bag containing half a dozen bottles of Abbott’s Lager. He’d also bought more cigarettes in case we ran short.
Taking the precaution of closing the door and pulling down the window blind, we continued our journey with songs, smokes, and warm Abbott’s beer.
Just after midnight, when I was standing up with a bottle of beer in one hand and a smoke in the other, belting out Stand Up and Fight with passion, we were interrupted by a knock at the door. Fearing the worst, we attempted to hide the empty bottles, spilling beer over the floor.
I opened the door, and there was Mum.
“Connie, you haven’t got your ‘jamas on yet.”
She looked at the three drunks sprawled around the tiny sleeper compartment and commented that we looked to be having a good time but shouldn’t stay up too late or we’d be tired in the morning. She gave me a good night kiss and left.
Frank insisted that young Steve take his sleeping berth while he himself camped on the floor. Young Steve became emotional again, declaring us to be mates for life as he scrambled up to the top berth.
At 8 a.m. we pulled into Hughenden. Frank bounced up from the floor, charged out of the compartment, and walked briskly along the platform to the small Refreshment Room.
“If he comes back with more beer I’ll faint,” moaned Steve the Elder. He didn’t. He came back with more smokes. We couldn’t face them either.
I went off to have breakfast with Mum. She asked if I’d slept well, and I told her the rhythm of the train had lulled me to sleep as soon as I lay down.
Back in our compartment, we were all subdued, even Frank. The long day wore on, as we talked vaguely and slept. Arriving at The Isa in the late afternoon, we shook hands and wished one another good luck.
I never saw the Steves again, but I caught a glimpse of Frank in the street a few days later. He gave a friendly wave but didn’t stop.
Perhaps it was just as well. But for one night, despite an awkward beginning, we four – the drovers, the miner and the young schoolteacher – had a train trip to remember.
Drunks on a train – it still happens, and not just in Queensland. On an AMTRAK train in the USA a few years ago, we heard an announcement over the public address system, warning everyone that drunks would be put off the train. “Remember: Bud does not make you weiser!”
Queensland trains are more sophisticated now, and seat-back screens provide entertainment for those long, long journeys. There are no sleeping compartments or dining cars any more, and Railway Refreshment Rooms have all but disappeared. Smoking would probably have you put off the train.
I wouldn’t want to travel on a train full of drunks; but I doubt if travellers today will have such good stories to tell their families in years to come.
Empty wool sacks were stacked high in the huge, corrugated iron wool shed, returned from wool stores in the city and ready to be refilled next shearing season. When their father, Fred, took the kids with him on a visit to the shed they would play on the piled wool sacks, jump on them, hide under them, put them over their heads.
Fred was the manager of Tara sheep station, outside Barcaldine. It was 1929, and his second child, my mother Pat, was nine years old.
Wool prices were strong. Later that year, Wall Street would crash and the Great Depression would loom. Life would change suddenly for millions world-wide; but for now, Fred’s four children enjoyed a fine and privileged childhood, with a big homestead and garden, dogs and ponies, peacocks, a billy goat cart, fresh meat, milk, vegetables and fruit produced on the station, and the occasional visit to town, a few kilometres away.
Living on a sheep station in central western Queensland, where the air is dry, populations are small and distances are huge, the children were healthy, rarely suffering so much as a common cold.
Then Pat caught diphtheria.
Before effective and widespread vaccination, this was a dreaded disease, especially among children. According to Queensland Health,
With respiratory diphtheria a person can experience a sore throat, fever, enlarged lymph nodes and swelling of the soft tissues on both sides of the neck sometimes referred to as a ‘bull neck’. Within two or three days a membrane (a white or grey film) forms over the throat and tonsils that can make it difficult for the person to swallow and breathe.
This is a bacterial disease, and that grey film is toxic.
There were vaccines, but they could be problematic. In 1928, there had been a tragic occurrence in Bundaberg when a batch of the diphtheria vaccination had become contaminated, and twelve children died.
Dangerously ill, Pat was admitted to the isolation ward of Barcaldine’s Victoria Hospital, along with three other infected children.
One evening she or one of the other children reached a crisis, and Dr James Cook, who had been the hospital superintendent since 1898, was called urgently to the isolation ward. According to the local newspaper: …in going across to the isolation ward in the dark about 8 p.m. the doctor fell over a form or some other obstacle and sustained a severe wrench or dislocation to his hip. The Doctor is now an inmate of the hospital.
Dr Cook was months in hospital in Brisbane and never returned to work.
As Pat recovered, the family could only wave to her from outside the hospital fence. Her mother sent baskets of fruit and vegetables to the hospital from the Tara gardens. In time she was well enough to go home, but her heart muscle had been strained.
In 1976, and because her heart had weakened by her childhood diphtheria, Pat died of a heart attack, aged just fifty-six.
The isolation wing at Barcaldine’s Victoria Hospital had been built in 1921, after the Spanish Influenza viral epidemic swept the world.
In mid-1919, ten years before Pat had her battle with diphtheria, the ‘flu had come to Barcaldine. Her grandfather Frank, manager of the Queensland National Bank in Barcaldine, caught it, along with his wife and son. Frank died. According to the family story, Frank was already ill with kidney disease – a “pre-existing condition”, in our current language. Pat’s father Fred, Frank’s son-in-law, wrote to his brother about the death.
…he died about 11.15 on Wednesday night, and from what I can understand, just previous to dying he suffered great agony. I believe the cause of death was heart failure as at the latter end only half of his heart was working.
A report in Barcaldine’s newspaper, The Western Champion, seems familiar today, as we again face a world-wide epidemic.
A proclamation was issued by the Government on Friday, ordering that, from the 30th of May and until the 31st of July next or such later date as may be prescribed every Church, Sunday school, school, or college, place of public amusement or resort, theatre, hall, dancing room, gymnasium, or other place or premises where people regularly or occasionally congregate for worship, education, meeting, amusement, entertainment, dancing, physical culture, or athletics shall be closed to the public.
In Barcaldine alone there were over one hundred sufferers. Anyone with symptoms was told to report to Dr Cook, and if deemed to have the ‘flu they were put into isolation in their own homes or in the isolation hospital established in the Shire Hall. Patients were urged to strictly obey the doctor’s orders.
The Queensland public were reassured that the epidemic would run its course and if they followed instructions the effects would be minimised.
All so familiar to us now, a century later. The media of communication have changed, though, and this week on the Barcaldine Regional Council’s Facebook page, C.E.O. Steven Boxall has been speaking via YouTube about washing hands and safe distances, local closures, and new procedures at the airport.
Typhoid fever, scarlet fever, measles, diphtheria, the plague, polio, tuberculosis, influenza: Australia has had to cope with many epidemics, and quarantine stations were set up in every state to prevent both the arrival of diseases in the country and their spread.
This year’s COVID-19 epidemic is another in a long line. Who knows what it will bring in its wake?
They never found out how Pat caught diphtheria, out on that isolated property. Perhaps it was a visiting carrier. Throat swabs of suspected carriers were carried out frequently.
However, according to the Queensland Health website, while the disease is known to be spread in “respiratory droplets or direct contact with respiratory secretions or infected exudate of infected person or carrier”, it can also be spread through “contact with articles soiled with discharges from lesions of infected people.”
According to the family, it was in the wool sacks.
 The Western Champion, 18 May 1929.
 The Western Champion, 7 June 1919
Big Ben, Eiffel Tower, Tower Bridge, the Great Pyramid of Giza: between Nambour and Gympie, nestled in a wide bend of the road and standing out of the long grass, there was once a group of these metre-high “Famous Sights”. As we passed on the highway I would look out for them, huddled there incongruously in the paddock.
Someone’s hopes and energies went into casting the concrete, welding the steel, painting the details. Like other would-be tourist attractions along the highways – a life-sized dinosaur at Palmwoods, concrete teepees near Slacks Creek, a Big Pineapple beside a Gympie service station – the Famous Sights are long gone now.
Instead of winding up and over the way it used to, with traffic backed up behind slow caravans and farm trucks on the steep curves and blind corners, the modern highway to Gympie cuts through these beautiful, productive green hills north of Nambour, typical of southern Queensland’s coastal hinterland.
The Famous Sights are bypassed; or maybe the new motorway was built over the top of them. Perhaps a bulldozer crushed them under its tracks – an apocalyptic sight worthy of a movie.
“It’s easier to get to Gympie these days,” Con says. “Not like when we came in the Galloping Ghost.”
In the late 1960s, when we were engaged, Con and I drove to Gympie for a weekend Apex Conference at which he was to make a speech. We went in Con’s car, the Galloping Ghost, a 1956 Austen A90, the first car he’d ever owned.
We’d arranged to stay with Con’s elderly Uncle Jack. Jack ushered me to his sister’s bedroom, where I was to sleep. Holy pictures adorned the walls and the old-fashioned dresser.
After the Saturday evening event, it seemed tame to just go back to Uncle Jack’s place.
“Let’s go down to Rainbow Beach,” said Con. “It’s only an hour’s drive.”
We parked in the dark near the surf club, looking out over the sea, and went for a walk on the beach in the moonlight. There was some cuddling, then Con started the Ghost to drive back to Gympie.
That’s when we discovered that we had parked in sand, blown up into the club’s carpark. We were bogged to the axles, with no way of extricating ourselves. We spent the night in the car, and at daybreak Con, still wearing his suit, pounded on the door of the surf club. Two sleepy lifesavers came out, grumbling, and pushed us out of the sand.
Uncle Jack looked at us with silent disapproval when we sheepishly got back to his place, still in our party clothes.
Gympie, with its history and its heritage buildings, reminds me of other gold-mining towns I’ve visited. Although not as grand as Ballarat and Bendigo, it has charm; and it is promoted as “the town that saved Queensland”. Until gold was discovered here in 1867, Queensland, with its long distances, small population and agricultural economy, was broke. Gympie gold made all the difference. Railways were built to open up the inland, and impressive government offices arose in Brisbane, including the massive Treasury Building, now the Treasury Casino.
People who live and work in modern Gympie don’t have it easy. Unemployment rates are high, and every summer, it seems, the Mary River floods the lower parts of town, and business people have to hose mud out of their premises.
A few years ago, we revisited Gympie to go to the races. The O’Brien Cup, in fact. There are lots of Irish in Gympie. Irish communities everywhere, even fifth and sixth generation Australians like these, love horseracing, and they love to celebrate their Irish background.
The night before the races we drove two hours from Brisbane after work, checked into a motel, and then wondered where to go for dinner. That’s a common issue for travellers in country towns. And there is a common solution.
“The R.S.L. Club has a Courtesy Bus,” said the motel manager. “I’ll give them a ring. What time would you like to be picked up?”
Locals know where to find good places to eat, but clubs are easier for a tired newcomer, with guaranteed cheap food and cold drinks, and no need to book ahead; and these days it’s not just Fisherman’s Basket or Roast of the Day, eaten to the sound of the pokies.
And there’s always a Courtesy Bus.
That evening in Gympie, the R.S.L. bus picked us up from the motel and delivered us soberly to the Club, in Mary Street, with its old pub buildings and Federation-era facades. An elegant 1880s building has on one corner of its roof the figure of a kangaroo holding the Australian coat of arms, and on the other, an emu.
We had a typical club dinner and listened to a duo playing old songs, then went out to catch the bus home.
This ride was more interesting. Everyone was cheerful and relaxed, and there was singing, laughter and craic all through the dark suburbs of Gympie, people dropped off at their front doors, yells of “Ta mate!” as they left the bus. Irish all the way.
As a young man, Con’s father came to Gympie in the 1920s, cutting timber. An old photo shows him grinning at the camera, arms folded, sitting on an upturned packing crate on a railway station platform. In the background logs are stacked ready for the mill, and beyond is the scrub.
He and his two friends are wearing work boots, long pants and braces, crisp white shirts with the sleeves rolled up, their hair slicked down. They’re probably waiting for the train to town – to Gympie. The sign on the station building says “Amamoor”.
Nowadays Amamoor, twenty kilometres south of Gympie, is famous as the home of the Gympie Music Muster, one of Australia’s biggest Country Music festivals, held on the banks of Amamoor Creek, surrounded by the hills that produced the timber that Con’s dad helped to fell.
A couple of years ago we turned off the Bruce Highway to search for the site of the photo. The tall timbers have disappeared; but the small station building seems unchanged after nearly a century, and the sign still says “Amamoor”.
For many of us travelling up the Bruce, Gympie is just a place to get through with the minimum of hold-up, and usually all we see is the busy highway. But like every town along the way, there’s more to it than service stations and speed zones.
If you should drive down to Rainbow Beach in the dark, though, be careful where you park.
Another thing about Queensland…!