Saturday, 30 May 2015

Fantome Island

In January 1940, a train carrying 49 people who were afflicted with leprosy arrived in North Queensland in a transfer from the Peel Island lazaret (or leprosarium) in Moreton Bay, to Fantome Island, near Palm Island. 
Fantome Island Lazaret, c.1940.
Photo: Father Tom Dixon, in "From the Frontier: A Pictorial History of Queensland"

They were moved because medical and government officials of the day decided that Peel Island should only be used to treat “white” patients with leprosy, and chose Fantome Island as the location to isolate “coloured” patients suffering from the disease.

The majority of these “coloured” patients - as they were referred to - were of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Island origin, although some were South Sea Islanders or Chinese.

There were already 25 Indigenous patients at the hospital when the Peel Island group arrived at Fantome Island, which meant the new lazaret had to cope with 74 patients, all before it was even fully completed.

Remarking on the transfer to Fantome Island, the State Government Minister for Health, Mr Hanlon, said that now that only white patients (26 of them) remained at Peel Island, he would be able to make big improvements to the lazaret there, “which obviously could not be undertaken while mixed races were there.”

The improvements intended for the Peel Island facility meant that, “all the minor privileges of civilised life – electric lights, reticulated water supply, radio, and other entertainment facilities on a broader scale – could be provided.”

Establishing a lazaret on Fantome Island was touted as an “important step in the investigation and treatment of leprosy” among the Indigenous population. At this time, Fantome Island was already in use as an isolation hospital for treating Indigenous patients with sexually transmitted illnesses. The leprosarium was to be located on the opposite side of the island.

Queensland Director-General of Health and Medical Services, Sir Raphael Cilento’s official view was that as the majority of the “coloured lepers” from Peel Island were originally from the North Queensland region, it was in their own best interests to be moved to Fantome Island, nearer to their “tribal origins”.
View of Fantome Island, no date.
Photo: CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.

In truth, Cilento believed that moving the Indigenous “lepers” to Fantome Island would save the government money. At Peel Island the cost of caring for a leprosy patient was £70 per annum, whereas Cilento anticipated that patients at Fantome Island would only cost the government £12 - £15 per annum.

In February 1940, four nuns from the Catholic missionary order of Our Lady Help of Christians arrived in Townsville by train, en route to Fantome Island, to commence work at the lazaret.  Mother Peter, Sisters Agnes, Catherine and Bernadette spent several months at Peel Island undergoing training in the treatment of leprosy before travelling north.
Fantome Island, no date.
Photo: CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.
The Peel Island patients arrived at Fantome Island with a police escort and were also accompanied by Matron O’Brien from the Peel Island lazaret.  Matron O’Brien was appalled at the poor quality of the food provided to the patients when they arrived, and complained in a report about her trip that the patients had not been fed any green vegetables during her month-long stay.

This does not seem to have been a concern to the Superintendent, Mr F.H. Julian though, and poor nutrition may well have contributed to the 14 deaths that occurred at the lazaret on Fantome Island by the end of 1940.

The lazaret remained in use until 1973.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Townsville's Cultural Coming of Age - The Civic Theatre

The idea for a cultural precinct for Townsville was first raised almost forty years ago, when the City Council built the Civic Theatre at Reid Park.
The vision for a cultural complex alongside the Civic Theatre, first put forward 40 years ago, that was never built.
Photo: Trisha Fielding.

The Council hoped to develop a facility alongside the theatre that within just ten years would include a large restaurant, coffee shop, cocktail lounge, rehearsal rooms, teaching studios, meeting rooms and theatre workshops.

Although the ambitious plan never came to fruition, when the Civic Theatre opened on 31 March 1978, it was seen as a mark of Townsville’s cultural coming of age. Widely considered to be one of the most advanced, versatile and best equipped theatres in Australia, city leaders dubbed it the “People’s Theatre”.

The Townsville City Council’s City Architect, Mr Nigel Daniels was appointed in April 1973 to design the theatre and research visits were made to other theatres in capital cities and provincial centres in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and the ACT.  In October that same year, the site at Boundary Street, adjacent to Ross Creek, was selected.
Alderman Sheila Keeffe addressing visitors during construction of the Civic Theatre, 1977.
Photo: CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.

It was November 1975 before tenders were called, and in February the following year, the quote of just over $2.9 million from John Holland Constructions Pty Ltd was accepted. Overall, the whole project - including consultants’ fees, preparation of the site, landscaping and provision of car parking facilities – cost $4.5 million.

Daniels’ theatre design could seat 1,066 people when seats were placed over the orchestra pit, or 1,004 if the pit was in use.  At the time it was a truly modern, and compact design, with no dress circle or gallery, and no aisles either. Daniels’ other design work included the Long Tan Memorial Swimming Pool and the Flinders Mall.

It was hoped that the Civic Theatre would create larger audiences, better presentation standards and greater opportunities for local writers, directors, actors, singers, dancers and musicians. 

With those goals in mind, the theatre was built to satisfy presentation needs in two specific fields.  First, as a training and performing centre for local groups to present drama, ballet, pop, choral and classical music concerts and band shows; and second, as a top venue for national and world class professional companies touring from the capital cities and overseas.
Civic Theatre, Townsville.
Photo:  CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection. 

But the theatre also represented a milestone for Townsville - the moment where Townsville’s cultural life would no longer be stunted by its isolation from the capital cities with larger facilities.

On the day of its opening, the Townsville Daily Bulletin reported that, “Local people and visitors, with some justification, see the Civic Theatre as a further symbol of Townsville’s growing status as one of the most rapidly developing and progressive provincial cities in Australia.”

Proof of the new theatre’s potential popularity was obvious on opening night, when Brian May and the Melbourne Show Band played to a full house.

The Bulletin reported that, “Townsville people, with a reputation for being conservative with their applause went wild for the Showband and clapped like they rarely have before.”

Townsville Mayor Alderman Perc Tucker said of the Civic Theatre, “It is pleasing to realise that it will be a source of enjoyment, pleasure and pride, not only for Townsville people at this time, but also for generations of citizens in the years to come.”

Monday, 11 May 2015

Sugar Shed Fire, 1963

A spectacular fire that burned for nearly five days at the Townsville Bulk Sugar Terminal in May 1963 caused £6 million worth of damage and revolutionised the Queensland Fire Service.  It was dubbed the most disastrous fire in Queensland’s history at the time, and was the most expensive fire in the history of Australian insurance.
Firefighters attending the sugar shed fire, Townsville, May 1963.
Photo: CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.

The fire broke out around 8pm and was reported by a Harbour Board night watchman on the jetty wharf, who saw what he thought was a light burning inside the sugar shed.

The storage facility, built only a few years earlier measured 1,000 foot, and housed a mountain of raw sugar 500 foot long by 150 foot wide and standing at 90 foot high. At the time of the fire, the 77,500 tons of sugar stored in the shed had been sold to Japan and was awaiting export.

As the fire took hold thick smoke blanketed the city and a sticky, molasses-like mixture that was three inches deep, poured out of the interior of the shed, much of it spilling into the harbour.

The Townsville Daily Bulletin told of the valiant efforts of the local firemen.

“It’s hell in there. The heat near the sugar stack is tremendous,” Townsville fireman Alex Bull said.

The acting Chief of the Townsville Fire Brigade, Mr Eric Potter, worked non-stop from the time the fire broke out on the night of Thursday, 9 May, until 2.30pm on Saturday, 11 May.

Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of local fire fighters – which included civilian, RAAF and Army fire fighters – the sheer intensity of the blaze meant that reinforcements were crucial.  Fire tenders were brought from the Ayr-Brandon Fire Brigade and the Ingham Fire Brigade, and a visiting United States destroyer, the USS Somers offered 15 crewmen and the use of three pumps to help control the fire. 
Hosing down after the fire at the Townsville Bulk Sugar Terminal, May 1963.
Photo: CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.

The Harbour Board tug Lalor was pressed into service and pumped 1,500 gallons of seawater a minute into the fire at one end of the sugar shed.  The Townsville Regional Electricity Board (TREB) provided one of its circulating pumps at the Ross Creek intake works, which pumped over 16,500 gallons of water per minute for the fire fighting effort. Teams of volunteer firefighters came from the Inkerman, Kalamia and Pioneer mills.
Damage to the Townsville Bulk Sugar Terminal, caused by the fire, May 1963.
Photo:  Christensen Collection, held by CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.

But when fire-fighting units from Cairns, Innisfail and Proserpine arrived to assist, they found that their hose and pump fittings weren’t compatible with the equipment in Townsville and they lost valuable time re-fitting all of their connectors.

After the fire at Townsville, fire authorities throughout Queensland worked towards standardising all fire equipment in the state and fire fighting equipment was installed in sugar storage terminals in the hope that such a disaster would never be repeated.

Authorities blamed the catastrophe on inadequate planning.

“The fundamental reason why the fire burnt for so long and at such cost was the thought among sugar people that the sugar would not burn,” Brisbane’s Fire Chief, Mr George Healy said.

“There was not one single fire precaution in the whole of the terminal,” he said.

“The problem basically was that no one thought any precautions were necessary”.

“They spent an enormous amount of money proofing that terminal against cyclones, and did not spend a penny protecting it against fire”.

Friday, 8 May 2015

Charters Towers Pioneer Cemetery

We continue our journey through another of North Queensland's Pioneer Cemeteries. This post is about the Charters Towers Pioneer Cemetery. Between 1872 and 1895 over 5,000 people were buried in this cemetery.
Headstone in the Charters Towers Pioneer Cemetery, at grave of Maggie Kirk, died October 1886.
Photo: Trisha Fielding, 2012.
One of the most imposing headstones still standing in this cemetery is an ornately carved marble statue erected in memory of Maggie Kirk, who died, aged 38 years, in October 1886.  I'm not sure of her cause of death, but this headstone would have cost Maggie's husband James a small fortune.  The verse on the inscription reads:

I stand unmoved without a tear
Beside thy grave, ah, why is this?
Because I know thy ransomed soul
Is smiling in eternal bliss.

There are some really interesting symbols in this cemetery, many of which denote affiliation with Masonic lodges or Friendly Societies. The photo below is a headstone which is laden with symbolism.  It includes the heart in hand symbol denoting the Independent Order of Oddfellows - a mutual benefit society that provided aid to members in times of sickness and unemployment. I saw a few different examples of this symbol the day I visited. This headstone also shows the Eye of Providence - or, the all-seeing eye of God - an eye surrounded by rays of light, usually inside a triangle, as it is here. In this case, it is likely to be denoting Masonic membership. There's also a Pentagram (or Pentacle). If this symbol was meant to denote the Order of the Eastern Star (a branch of Freemasonry for women) it would have been inverted, that is, showing two points at the top of the star, so not sure about the meaning of this symbol here. I'm also not sure about the symbol on the left.  Happy to hear from anyone who knows what it means.

A fallen headstone in the Charters Towers Pioneer Cemetery.
Photo: Trisha Fielding, 2012.
This marble obelisk has fallen from its pedestal, but contains iconogaphy representing Freemasonry (compass & square) and the Independent Order of Oddfellows (heart in hand)
Photo:  Trisha Fielding, 2012.
If you're going to take a look at this cemetery, just a warning, there are millions of bindi-eyes all over the ground here, so wear closed in shoes and be sure to thoroughly brush them off before you get back in your car!

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Eight Hour Day Parades

The first Eight Hour Day procession ever held in Townsville was on 6 May 1909.  Described as “absolutely the finest show ever seen in Townsville”, it attracted 400 unionists who marched along Flinders Street with 24 horse-drawn floats showcasing elaborate banners and working trade displays.
Participants in the Eight Hour Day parade, outside Osler House in Sturt Street, circa 1915. At the top of the float sits “Britannia”, with her helmet and trident, flanked by two boys either side representing both the Army and Navy.
Photo: CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.

The Eight Hour Day parade, or “demonstration” as it was called, was a precursor to later Labour Day parades and was just as much about unionist’s displaying pride in their trade or occupation as it was about a show of industrial solidarity.

Trade organisations paraded behind a mounted police escort, accompanied by several brass bands, and the parade culminated in a sporting competition at the Showgrounds.  Here, cash prizes were awarded for the best floats, with prize money often amounting to more than double the average tradesman’s weekly wage.

The Eight Hour Day procession in Townsville in 1915 was a little different to the usual parade, as it took a decidedly patriotic turn owing to the war situation.  Proceeds from the event were to be donated to the Patriotic Fund and the parade was led by a tableau representing Britannia and Australia.

The image of “Britannia” - a young woman wearing white robes and a helmet and holding a trident and shield emblazoned with the Union Jack – represented the might of the British Empire, and was a powerful symbol during times of war and conflict.

Britannia’s tableau, pulled by two grey horses supplied by local firm Cummins and Campbell, was followed by naval units, military units, civic authorities, Friendly Societies’ Unions, Typographical Association, Boilermakers, Shipmasters, A.W.U., Railway Union, Federated Engine-drivers’ Association, Waterside Workers, Lorrymen and Carters, Amalgamated Society of Engineers, Operative Plumbers and the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners.
Float of the Protestant Alliance Friendly Society of Australia, in the Eight Hour Day Parade, c.1915.
Photo: CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.

The Townsville Daily Bulletin described some of the floats, including the Britannia and Australia float, which included representations of national symbols the kangaroo and emu.

“The fact that the kangaroo was a wallaby, and the emu was in reality a cassowary did not interfere with the tableau,” the Bulletin assured its readers.

The Boilermakers Society was the first union float to be represented, and featured a large acetylene gas generator, with men giving a practical demonstration of cutting and welding by the oxy-acetylene gas process.

“The banner of the Shipwrights Union followed, with the representation of a ship on a strong sea and the motto ‘Prosper, Provide, Persevere’.”

According to the Bulletin, the Waterside Workers’ Union displayed the “finest banner in the march”.

“On the front was a representation of Brittania, with two stalwart workers as supporters, and the motto ‘Navigation, Commerce and Industry’, whilst on the back was a big steamer in the centre, and representations of various forms of wharf work.”

“The Carters’, Lorry Drivers’ and Draymen’s Union banner followed, with its representations of various methods of handling goods in transit.”
Float of the Waterside Workers Federation, Townsville Branch, c.1915.
Photo: CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.
On arrival at the Showgrounds the procession circled the outer ring and judging took place.  The Boilermaker’s took out the prize for the best trade display, winning five guineas and a silver cup, with the Carpenters and Joiners taking second place, winning two guineas.