Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Captain Romer - Townsville Harbourmaster

When the First World War broke out in 1914, Townsville’s harbourmaster, Captain Romer, who was of German origin, found himself labelled an “enemy alien”, and he was removed from his position lest he become a security risk to the nation.

Captain Walter Christian Romer.
Photo: Townsville City Libraries.
Captain Walter Christian Romer joined the Marine Department at Townsville in 1882 as a boatman. He was later made coxswain, master of the government schooner and assistant pilot, then pilot, acting harbourmaster, and eventually harbourmaster and pilot.

In those early days, the city’s principal wharves were all in Ross Creek: Clifton and Aplin’s wharf at the rear of Howard Smith’s, Burns Philp and Co.’s wharf, Rooney’s wharf, and wharves at the rear of the railway station. Cargo from steam ships had to be brought in to the wharves by the lighters Emu, Sampson, Electric Light and Star of Hope.

Ship docked at Clifton & Aplin Bros. wharf, Ross Creek, circa 1875.
Photo: State Library of Queensland.
After the outbreak of World War I, even though Captain Romer had been living in Townsville for more than 30 years, he was classified as an “enemy alien”, and removed from the position of harbourmaster.

Considering he was in charge of three light and signal stations, Captain Romer’s removal was probably a matter of routine. His replacement - Captain Rhodes, from Cairns - later enlisted for war service, but when he returned to Townsville after the war, was transferred to Rockhampton to make way for Captain Romer’s reinstatement.

A vocal minority felt that Captain Rhodes’ status as a returned serviceman should override Captain Romer’s right to resume his position as harbourmaster and this caused a good deal of controversy.

Appeals were made to the Queensland Governor from the Returned Sailors and Soldiers’ Imperial League, the Queensland Naval Association, the Waterside Workers Federation, and the Townsville Chamber of Commerce.

The latter were “emphatically protesting against the removal of Captain Rhodes from Townsville to make way for an appointee of enemy birth,” believing “his war service should protect him in his senior position.”

Since there had never been any suspicion of disloyalty on the part of Captain Romer, and considering his long years of service to the government, the Queensland Treasurer noted in parliamentary proceedings that:

“It would be regrettable to pursue a vendetta against a man such as Captain Romer, even though he happened to have been born in an enemy country.”

“Captain Romer had two sons who served honourably at the (western) front,” he said.

Captain Romer doesn’t appear to have held a grudge about his treatment during the war years and when he retired at age 65, in 1923, he left on good terms, with the praise and good wishes of his colleagues ringing in his ears.

At a presentation for Captain Romer, Mr McDonald, the Marine Department’s engineer surveyor, noted that the Department would find it difficult to replace Captain Romer, considering his experience and abilities.

“To carry out the duties, a man had to have a good deal of local knowledge, had to handle deep draught ships, and in case of distress, as in the case of the Bombala, had to go out and bring people in with small vessels,” Mr McDonald said.

(The Bombala ran aground on Salamander Reef in December 1919 and 171 passengers had to be transferred back to Townsville.)

Captain Romer died in Townsville in 1935, at the age of 77.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Victory Day Parade - 1946

On 10 June 1946, cities throughout Australia officially celebrated Victory Day - the end of World War II – with public processions and celebrations attended by record-breaking crowds. In Sydney, 750,000 people packed the parade route, 300,000 jammed the streets of Melbourne, and Brisbane’s celebrations ran from morning until midnight and attracted 150,000 people.
Crowds pack the route of the Victory Day parade, outside the Railway Station, Townsville, 10 June 1946.
Photo: Private Collection of Trisha Fielding.
Townsville, which had played a significant role as a strategic base for the Allied war effort in the Pacific, celebrated Victory Day with a full day of activities, including a parade and a special luncheon for 700 ex-servicemen.

The Townsville Daily Bulletin reported enthusiastically on the “Spectacular Parade in Townsville”:

“On Monday, Australia celebrated the triumph of the Empire and Britain’s allies in their victorious struggle against the Axis powers’ bid for world domination. It was a day of demonstration and rejoicing throughout the nation in every city and town.
Floats in the Victory Day Parade, 10 June 1946, passing the Queens Hotel, The Strand, Townsville.
Photo: Townsville City Libraries.
“Nowhere in the whole of Australia could the people have entered more wholeheartedly in the celebration of Victory Day than in Townsville. The procession through Flinders Street, the attractions at the Show Grounds, and the illuminations in the city attracted the greatest concourse of people ever seen in Townsville.

“It was Victory Day, and the people of our city, remembering particularly the grim days of 1942, were out to celebrate and forget the anxieties of the war, happily now past.”

Well in advance of the procession’s start time, people streamed into the city from all suburbs, eager to occupy the best vantage points along the route.
The float of Samuel Allen & Sons Ltd., in the Victory Day Parade, 10 June 1946, passing the Criterion Hotel, The Strand, Townsville.
Photo: Townsville City Libraries.
“The procession was representative of the three armed services. Ex-servicemen and local bodies marched and numerous appropriate floats went to make up probably the greatest spectacle we have ever seen. Essential services which functioned so well in the war, were represented.

“At the Show Grounds sports, a fireworks display, a concert, and community singing entertained large crowds throughout the day and evening. In the vicinity of 700 ex-servicemen who joined the colours from Townsville, were entertained at a luncheon in the grounds.”
The Townsville Sea Scouts' float, with a model of HMS Victory, in the Victory Day Parade, 10 June 1946, Townsville.
Photo: Townsville City Libraries.
The Mayor, Alderman J.S. Gill, officiated at the luncheon, which had been catered by the city’s Women’s organisations.

“Today we are gathered here to commemorate Victory Day, a day that will be long revered and remembered by our people, and those of the Empire, as one of the most important in our history,” Alderman Gill said.

“It is a very great pleasure for me to be here today, and on behalf of the Council and the citizens as a whole, to be able to welcome the members of the services back to their homes and families,” he said.
The Townsville General Hospital Maternity Ward float, in the Victory Day Parade, 10 June 1946, Townsville.
Photo: Townsville City Libraries.
“I am confident that the spontaneous welcome exhibited throughout the entire route taken by the procession today, expresses to the full, the wholehearted and unbounded gratitude of our citizens to you all.”

In concluding, Alderman Gill thanked those who fought, for their contribution to victory, and on behalf of the citizens of Townsville, extended a sincere welcome home.

“Vast throngs paced Flinders Street at night to see the city’s illumination, which did Townsville credit. In addition to the fireworks display in the Show Grounds there was also a very effective display on the top of Castle Hill,” the Bulletin reported.