Thursday, 31 December 2015

Meals on Wheels - Townsville

Townsville's first meals on wheels were delivered to an elderly couple, aged 86 and 84, when the service began operating in mid-September, 1964. Townsville Daily Bulletin photographer Alex Trotter captured this image of the first meals being loaded into a car, ready for delivery.
First meals on wheels being loaded, ready for delivery. From left to right are: Mrs W. Johnson (driver's assistant), Mrs R.W. Gerard and Mrs E.G. Besser (cooks), Mrs A.V. Greske (driver's assistant), Mrs C. Hotz and Mrs N. McKillop (drivers, holding food containers), Mrs K. Stephens (vice-chairman of the committee), Mr D. Thompson (supervisor), and the Rev. K. Stephens (convenor of the committee).
Photo: Alex Trotter, held by City Libraries Townsville.
On the 15th September, 1964, the Townsville Daily Bulletin ran a small report with the photo, that read:

"The service has been started by the St. Andrew's Meals on Wheels Committee, operating under the auspices of the Presbyterian Church.

The three course meals are cooked by voluntary workers at a central kitchen, located at the Presbyterian Church Hall in Warburton Street, North Ward. Each meal consists of soup, meat and three vegetables, and dessert.

The meals are then transported in private cars to elderly or sick people who are unable to prepare meals for themselves. A nominal charge of 2 /- is made for each meal.

Applications must be made for the meals, and each applicant must forward a medical certificate, which also serves as a guide for preparation of meals for persons on diets. Applicants are interviewed by a member of the committee, Mrs Underwood, a trained nurse.

The service is available to all needy people, irrespective of colour or creed.

Meals will be delivered to such people in any part of Townsville. The inaugural meals on Monday went to people in Garbutt, North Ward, Melton Hill and Railway Estate.

For a start, meals are being delivered three days a week - Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Later, as the organisation is developed, the service will extend to five days a week.

The food is carried in special vacuum containers, each holding five meals. At present the committee has two containers, and has another on order. This will enable it to serve up to 15 meals a day."
According to the City Libraries Townsville catalogue, the back of this photograph contains a notation that reads: "Day Meals on Wheels reached 100 meals a day". The photo is not dated.
Source: City Libraries Townsville
If you know the people in this photograph, please leave the details in the comments section below!

Monday, 21 December 2015

Cyclone Althea's Legacies

Cyclone Althea stole Christmas from the residents of Townsville in 1971 when it hammered the city on Christmas Eve with gusts of wind up to 200 km/h.

Boats washed ashore on Palmer Street during Cyclone Althea, 1971.
Source: Townsville City Libraries    
In the immediate aftermath of the cyclone, Townsville residents complained they had received inadequate warnings and information while cyclone Althea was bearing down on the city.

The manager of radio station 4TO, Mr Oost, told the Townsville Daily Bulletin in April 1972, that confusion and panic was caused by various radio news services broadcasting conflicting and sometimes out of date reports on the movement of the cyclone.

Mr Oost said that a Brisbane radio station had broadcast superseded reports of the cyclone’s position, and that those broadcasts had then been relayed to Townsville.

“At 10am, when the cyclone was actually over Townsville, one report said the cyclone was expected to cross the coast at noon, causing horror to many people who thought worse was yet to come,” the Bulletin noted.

“The wording of some early reports by the Weather Bureau had also confused people, and had given them a false sense of security,” Mr Oost said.
House at Yarrawonga damaged by Cyclone Althea, 1971.
Source: Townsville City Libraries.
He cited one report that gave the cyclone’s position as 500 miles north-east of Mackay, but neglected to even mention Townsville, with the result that some people thought that meant Townsville would escape the danger.

At that time, the Weather Bureau only had access to two satellite images per day – a far cry from the satellite technology at its disposal today. In response to the criticism the Bureau resolved to strengthen its cyclone warning chain. Automatic weather stations would be erected on Creel and Zodiac Reefs, between Mackay and Rockhampton and at other locations along the coast, while another was being considered for Holmes Reef, east of Cairns.

But the Commonwealth Director of Meteorology, Dr W.J. Gibbs, was adamant that there would be no move to establish a cyclone warning centre outside of Brisbane.

“The bureau has limited staff, and if we put a cyclone warning centre in each major city along the coast, we would have to duplicate staff,” Dr Gibbs told the Bulletin.

“We would need 30 or 40 people to run each centre, including some highly trained meteorologists, and we see no advantage in having one in Townsville,” he said.

“We believe that the warnings were available in Townsville from Brisbane just as often as they would have been given from a centre in Townsville.”

“The fact is that the people of Townsville did get 20 hours warning that they were going to get destructive winds.”
House and car damaged by Cyclone Althea, 1971.
Source: Townsville City Libraries.
Along with an inadequate system of weather updates, Cyclone Althea also uncovered serious deficiencies in building construction in Townsville.

Mr R.N. Bonnett, Federal Member for Herbert, told the Bulletin in late December 1971 that he thought “stricter supervision of construction” might have resulted in less damage to homes.

“Some of the houses I visited, which had lost their roofs and suffered wall damage, disclosed the fact that there had been a definite skimping in the usage of building materials, such as roofing nails and screws, anchor bolts, and reinforcement rods,” Mr Bonnett said.

But a report commissioned by the State Government into the effects of the cyclone attributed severe damage in Townsville generally to inadequate design, rather than poor workmanship. The report recommended the immediate amendment of building by-laws and appropriate specifications to meet structural requirements in cyclone-prone areas.
Houses damaged by Cyclone Althea, 1971.
Source: Townsville City Libraries.

Monday, 14 December 2015

Australian Institute of Tropical Medicine

The first medical research institute in Australia was established by the Commonwealth government in Townsville in 1910. Under the Directorship of Dr Anton Breinl, the Australian Institute of Tropical Medicine’s formal function was to further medical knowledge of tropical diseases and to study the effects of the northern Australian climate on the “white race”.

The Australian Institute of Tropical Medicine, in the grounds of the Townsville Hospital, was officially opened on 28 June 1913.
Source:  U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Austrian-born Breinl was highly qualified to lead the Institute, having conducted field research into tropical diseases in Africa and Brazil. While researching on the Amazon River, he contracted yellow fever and almost died. Additionally, Dr Breinl and a colleague were credited with developing a treatment for African “sleeping sickness”, a parasitic infection transmitted by the bite of the tsetse fly. Their treatment would become a building block for modern chemotherapy.

Breinl was at the height of his career when he arrived in Townsville on 1 January 1910. The Institute was set up in a modest, three-roomed building in the grounds of the Townsville Hospital that had formerly been a wardsman’s quarters.

Breinl, who described himself as a scientist, set about identifying the prevalence of diseases in north Queensland, and found that Dengue fever was common and hookworm infestation was prevalent, along with a certain amount of malaria. Other diseases such as typhoid fever and leprosy were also present.

With further backing from the Commonwealth government, plans for a new building were approved in 1912, and extra staff were appointed. Joining Breinl and his laboratory assistant were a parasitologist, a biochemist and a bacteriologist.
Official opening of the Australian Institute of Tropical Medicine in Townsville, 1913.
Anton Breinl is seated front row, second from left.
Photo: James Cook University.

The official opening of the Institute in June 1913 was attended by a veritable who’s who of the Australian medical profession. At this time, the White Australia Policy was still very much a driver of national policy, which accounts for Queensland Governor Sir William MacGregor’s remarks at the official opening:

“Tropical diseases, although important, occupy only a second place, and the main problem is whether conditions of heat and light will permit the establishment of a working white race,” Sir William said.

“The policy of reserving Tropical Australia as a home for a purely white race is one of the greatest and most interesting problems of modern statesmanship,” he said.

“A final proof of whether this is practicable, time alone will furnish.”

“It is a matter of common knowledge that a considerable number of white men have lived and worked for many years in inland Tropical Australia, and have enjoyed good health even under conditions that had been by no means favourable.”

However, not everyone was pleased to have the Institute located in Townsville. One of the medical men present at the opening of the facility, Professor Anderson Stuart, told the Sydney Morning Herald on his return from Townsville that while he supported the Institute, he felt that it should have been established in Sydney.

“I am still of the opinion I have always held, that Sydney would have been a better place for the Institute than Townsville,” Professor Stuart said.

“There are many scientific laboratories, libraries, and scientific men here, so that the facilities for the work of a scientific Institute would have been very great, whereas in Townsville there is nothing of the sort,” he said.

In 1930, the Institute closed in Townsville and became part of the University of Sydney, though it was re-established in Townsville in 1987 at James Cook University.

Friday, 4 December 2015

A City of Baths

In December 1930, the Townsville Daily Bulletin reported that Townsville seemed to be “a city of baths”. It was referring to the growing number of public swimming baths that were popping up all over the city.

One of the many public swimming facilities (known as baths) in early Townsville, the concrete basin of the City Baths on The Strand was built around 1910. The building visible in the photo contained dressing sheds and a refreshment kiosk.Photo: Townsville City Libraries.  
In that month alone, swimming baths opened at two separate locations. One was at Picnic Bay on Magnetic Island, while the other was in a more unlikely location – behind Queen’s Road, in Hermit Park.

According to the Bulletin, on Sunday 7 December, “hordes of residents made the trip to Magnetic Island, to see the Mayor open the baths at Picnic Bay”.
Picnic Bay swimming baths in foreground, with jetty in centre of photo, no date.
Photo: Townsville City Libraries.
The Mayor, Alderman W.J. Heatley, described the occasion as “a most eventful day for Picnic Bay,” but more importantly, he believed that: “bathing had been rendered safe from sharks, and an attraction had been created for tourists”.

About a week later, the banks of Ross Creek, above the Queen's Road crossing (known as Sandy Crossing) were packed with people “who had travelled from every suburb in the city to see the new Queen’s Road baths opened”. Up to 3,000 people attended the occasion.

“The portion of Ross Creek which constitutes the new baths is filled up to nine or ten feet by every high tide, and form a natural swimming pool, over a quarter of a mile long and 200 yards wide. There was only one thing that prevented people bathing there with safety, and that was the fact that sharks made a habit of patrolling up and down,” the Bulletin reported.

To combat the shark threat, a group of residents headed by Messrs. Garbutt Bros. (E.T., Jack and Arthur) banded together and formed a working bee, spending all their spare time erecting a substantial wire netting and post fence to ensure a shark proof area between the Queen’s Road bridge and the new barrier.

On the day of the opening, there was a “splendid high tide, with the sun shining brightly, and the people lost no time in taking to the water,” which was soon teeming with hundreds of bathers.

“Lads in their home made canoes paddled about, and a couple of speed boats raced about in whirls of foam and noise on the upper reach,” the Bulletin noted.

Alluding to the depressed economic climate, in a speech made on behalf of the working bee participants, Mr E.T. Garbutt said it was a lesson for the people of Queensland.

“In that working bee were all denominations, and all shades of political opinions pulling together, and if the people of Queensland pulled together and worked as they did, the clouds of depression which were hanging over them would soon disappear,” he said.

In officially opening the baths, Alderman Heatley praised those who had given up their free time so that others could enjoy themselves.

“The baths were free and that was something neither the Council nor the Government could give them; it could only be accomplished by a band of men, getting together, and giving their services free,” the Bulletin reported.

Perhaps spurred on by the success of the Queen’s Road baths, another public swimming enclosure was erected within just months, this time at Rowes Bay. It opened on 7 March 1931, and was another example of the Townsville community working together during difficult economic times.
Flooding at Sandy Crossing, Hermit Park, 1968.
Photo: Townsville City Libraries.

Note: I have not been able to find a photograph of the Sandy Creek swimming baths. If any readers have a photograph in their possession, I'd love to see it.