Monday, 17 August 2015

McKimmin & Richardson - the Historic Corner

Known for many years as the “Historic Corner”, the site now occupied by the Cowboys Leagues Club at the corner of Flinders and Stokes Streets in Townsville was at one time the most valuable block of land in north Queensland.

The premises of McKimmin & Richardson, situated on the “Historic Corner” of Flinders and Stokes Streets, Townsville, 1915.
Photo: W.J. Laurie, held by CityLibraries.

Originally only comprising a quarter of an acre, the site was sold in 1865 at the city’s first land sale for £120 to a Mr J.A. McLeod.  It sold again in 1874 for only £50, but it was the sale to Mr John McDonald, of Charters Towers, in 1888 that earned the site its historic title.

Mr McDonald paid an astonishing £16 500 for the block, just 14 years after it had sold for £50. Even 50 years later, this was still the record highest price ever paid for land in Queensland, outside of Brisbane.

McDonald was a land speculator who hoped to cash in on the mining boom but when he went into liquidation, he had to sell the land for considerably less than he had paid for it. In 1895 the site sold to two enterprising Irishmen, Robert McKimmin and James Alexander Richardson, for £11 000. Together the pair built up a business that became the largest department store in north Queensland.

A disastrous fire in November 1932 caused £100 000 worth of damage but the business managed to rebuild.  At the request of Mr McKimmin, on the night of the blaze, firefighters concentrated their efforts on a concrete storeroom that housed the firm’s business records, which included lists of people who were indebted to the business. 

The business records were saved, but there was one setback.  On the night of the fire, that day’s list of purchases had not been secured in the storeroom.  A public appeal was made for those who had done business at McKimmin and Richardson’s that day, to come forward with their receipts.  Remarkably, they did.

Mr McKimmin was said to have been “thrilled” with the “sense of fair play” shown by his customers, at this act of honesty.  He felt sure that “not a single person indebted to the firm failed to render a full account of the credit that had been granted to him”.

By the time of the firm’s 50th anniversary in 1938, McKimmin and Richardson’s had grown to have a commanding presence in the heart of the city, with frontage of 100ft to Flinders Street and 198ft to Stokes Street. In 1939, after the death of the firm’s remaining founding partner, Robert McKimmin, the name of the company was shortened to McKimmins Pty Ltd.

As testament to the strength of the trading name, when McKimmins was purchased by Dalgety & Co. in 1949, they decided to carry on the business under the name of McKimmin & Co. 

In December 1960 the business was sold to David Jones. In 1966 David Jones spent £1 million remodelling and expanding the site, which included purchasing and demolishing neighbouring properties, the Queensland Hotel and Armati’s Chemist.

The investment by David Jones was a show of faith in the North’s commercial potential and the revamped department store boasted the first two escalators in north Queensland, which were each capable of moving 5 000 customers per hour.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

TAA - "The Friendly Way"

In May 1952, a record was set when the Trans Australia Airlines (TAA) DC-4 Skymaster John Eyre took off from Townsville with all of its 50 seats occupied. Though it was the biggest airlift of passengers in north Queensland at the time, it barely rated a mention in the local press.

Passengers board TAA’s first DC-4 Skymaster, the John Eyre, at Garbutt Airport, Townsville, 1952.
Photo: CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.

In the post-war years there were only two major domestic airlines in Australia. Australian National Airways (ANA) was a privately owned airline run by a shipping conglomerate, and had been operating since 1936. TAA was set up in 1946 by the Australian government and began its operations in Melbourne.

The first of four DC-4 Skymasters ordered by TAA from the USA arrived in Australia in early October 1946 and undertook its maiden flight from Melbourne to Perth in November. This aircraft was named the John Eyre, after the explorer who pioneered the crossing of the continent from east to west.

TAA’s next three Skymasters also bore the names of explorers and were christened Thomas Mitchell, John Forrest and McDougall Stuart. TAA continued to name its subsequent aircraft after Australian explorers, with one exception. The Skymaster John Gould was named in October 1951, after the Australian ornithologist of the same name. Gould is widely known as the “father” of bird study in Australia thanks to his book The Birds of Australia, first published in 1840.
TAA's DC-4 Skymaster, the McDougall Stuart at Townsville, 1950s.
Photo: CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.

In May 1952, TAA commenced operating a Skymaster service to north Queensland. A passenger could depart Brisbane at 2.20pm and after stopping at Rockhampton and Mackay, be in Townsville just five hours later at 7.20pm. The service then continued on to Cairns where it stopped overnight before returning to Townsville the following morning at 8.30am.

The travelling public welcomed the new service to north Queensland, as the larger aircraft could accommodate more passengers than its predecessors. This was particularly important during the tourist season, when an influx of visitors descended on the north.

In the late 1940s TAA advertising encouraged people to “Fly TAA to the sun with the luxury Skymaster ‘Sunshine Special’ to Northern Queensland,” with a promise that the TAA service was “as luxurious at it is inexpensive”.

“A holiday in Northern Queensland means escape from rain and cold to sea and sunshine!”
An advertisement for TAA's north Queensland flights from the Melbourne Argus in June 1947.
Source: Trove

When Ansett Airways entered the north Queensland market in May 1954, a flight from Brisbane to Cairns on TAA or ANA cost £18/19 shillings. Ansett undercut the big players by about ten per cent, setting its fare at £17/1 shilling, in a bid to get a share of the lucrative northern tourist market. Neither TAA or ANA felt particularly threatened by Ansett at this time, as they felt that people would still prefer to fly north on their larger, four-engined Skymasters, while Ansett was operating with smaller DC-3s.

In 1960, TAA found itself at the centre of Australia’s worst civil aviation disaster when one of its aircraft, a Fokker Friendship, crashed into the sea off Mackay, killing all 29 passengers and crew on board. Mackay’s airport was fog-bound so the plane circled for an hour and twenty minutes before it was cleared to land. At 10.30pm the Captain advised that he was beginning to make the approach to the runway, but the plane failed to make the landing.