Monday, 11 July 2016

Empire Parliamentary Delegation - 1926

A visit to Townsville by a group of political delegates from throughout the British Empire in 1926 had the city’s dignitaries in a spin over the opportunity to promote north Queensland as the ideal place to settle British immigrants.

Empire Parliamentary Delegation, outside Townsville Railway Station, 1926. Mayor Anthony Ogden is seated towards the front in the white suit. On his right is the Marquis of Salisbury, Chairman of the Delegation.
Photo: Townsville City Libraries. 
Delegates from the parliaments of the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand, Newfoundland, India and Malta were on a tour of Australia, and their visit to north Queensland included a brief stop in Townsville, before moving on to Cairns and the Atherton Tablelands. The main aim of the tour was to discuss “numerous questions of common interest to the members of the British Commonwealth of Nations”.

One of those issues was immigration, and Townsville Mayor, Anthony Ogden, told the assembled delegates at a function held in the town hall, that the region offered opportunities for settlement that could not be found anywhere else.

“In no part of the world has such a good attempt in the settlement of the tropics been made than that contributed by Australia,” Alderman Ogden said.

The Mayor assured the gathering that there was “room enough here for any number of representatives of the British race to settle and live comfortable and happy lives”.

The Chairman of the Harbour Board, Mr J.E. Clegg, told the delegation he believed that Townsville had never in its previous history been honoured by a gathering of men of such importance from all over the Empire.

With great pride, he told the assembly that Townsville was a port of considerable note. To illustrate, he explained that in the previous year, the value of trade through the port had exceeded £6 million, and the railways which Townsville served, extended 600 miles into the west. However, he thought that if the area was to continue growing, there needed to be more British immigrants in the region.

Mr J.N. Parkes, the Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce, continued in a similar vein, stating that Townsville’s principal exports were wool, meat and meat by-products, sugar and minerals; and in the previous year 120,000 bales of wool had been exported, with a value of £3 million. He also noted proudly that Townsville, with a population of 28,000, was home to six primary schools, a technical college, Grammar School, and eight State schools.

One of the visitors, Mr Arthur Henderson, who was secretary of the British Labor Party, told a local reporter why north Queensland had been included on the agenda.

“We have come with the intention of getting all the information we can regarding the problems of the Commonwealth, and its development,” Mr Henderson said.

“Recognising that this can only be carried through by a considerable increase in the man power essential to development, the question of migration has been receiving our most careful consideration,” he said.

“We have come north because the people were very anxious to show they are developing the tropical portions of the Commonwealth with white labour, and there is a very natural desire for white population, and preferably that increase should be from British stock.”

But the party only spent two hours in Townsville, much to the disappointment of the Townsville statesmen. The editor of the Townsville Daily Bulletin noted bitterly, “the Empire Parliamentary Delegation yawned over the couple of hours it spent here, after three days of sightseeing in another district”. 

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Early Sideshows Proved Popular with Townsville Show Patrons

The Townsville Show has been running since the 1880s, when its primary focus was to showcase North Queensland’s pastoral and agricultural industries. Sideshows, which are now a staple of the modern show circuit, were discouraged because they might attract a disreputable crowd.

Sideshow alley, Townsville Show, 1956.
Photo: Christensen Collection, Townsville City Libraries.
(This image is copyright. Used here with permission)
By the early 1920s, the show’s organising body - the Townsville Pastoral Agricultural and Industrial Association - was under increasing pressure to allow sideshow exhibits. One of the earliest sideshow attractions in Townsville, and one of the most successful, was Jimmy Sharman’s Boxing Troupe, which first appeared at the Townsville Show in 1924.

Sharman was a boxer and showman from New South Wales who was famous in Australia for his travelling troupe of boxers and wrestlers. With catchphrases such as: “who’ll take a glove?” and, “a round or two for a pound or two”, Sharman invited locals who fancied themselves as fighters, to challenge his boxers in the ring and win some prize money.

Jimmy Sharman's Touring Stadium, New South Wales, 1959.
Photo: National Library of Australia.
In 1926, 177 showmen from throughout Australasia banded together to form a showman’s guild and elected Jimmy Sharman as their president. The move served to put an end to the reputation of untrustworthiness that had previously tarnished many travelling showmen, and gave the group an air of respectability. This meant that country shows began to allow them to have their sideshows closer to the main show ring, instead of expecting them to be on the fringes of the grounds.

Sideshow attractions quickly grew to be very popular with Townsville show-goers, and the Townsville Daily Bulletin reported in 1929 that the sideshows “were never so numerous as at this show.”

“In the silo-drome the Fearless Jacksons trifle with death, and defy the laws of gravitation. The combination comprises Miss Jackson and two brothers, who undertake daredevil rides on Indian motorcycles. Attaining a speed of a mile a minute they ride up and down spirally, a perpendicular wall, driving and ascending at will, and flying at break neck pace around the round top of the drome, at times taking their hands from the handles of the cycles. Apart from the defiance of gravitation, this is a most thrilling performance,” the Bulletin reported.

Another “attraction” was Jolly Ray, a 22 year-old American woman who was billed as “the fattest girl in the world”, weighing in at 260kg. Early sideshows commonly exhibited people like Jolly Ray, or those with disabilities or genetic malformations, as “freaks of nature”, that show patrons all too willingly paid to leer at. 

Others, such as Elsia Baker, whose claim to fame was that she was “genuinely half woman and half man”, were an obvious fake, but attracted large crowds nonetheless. The left side of Elsia’s body was presented to crowds as female in appearance, and the right side as male. Using her right arm, Elsia could lift a man weighing 82kg, completely off the ground.

There were also firewalkers, performing pigs, and a monkey named “Cannon Ball Joe” who drove a car around a silo-drome.

Jimmy Sharman’s Troupe was there again that year, with boxers Reggie Dodd (featherweight) and Vic Stevens (Queensland champion bantamweight) among the local contenders prepared to take on Sharman’s fighters.

An advertisement from the Townsville Daily Bulletin, July 1933, advertising boxing matches between local boxers and Jimmy Sharman's boxers, including Vic Stevens. Queensland champion bantamweight.
Source: Trove.
One happy customer told the Bulletin after seeing a wrestling match in Sharman’s tent, that it was “the best two-bob’s worth” he’d ever seen.