I acknowledge the Traditional Owners on whose land I walk, I work and I live. I pay my respects to Elders past, present and future.

Monday, 18 March 2019


Was Mercer Lane, like Mount Mercer now known as Warren’s Hill, named for John Mercer who is recorded as being the district’s first overland mail contractor? He was a pioneering homesteader who together with his wife Rebecca took up land on the south bank of the Herbert River.  Their first child, John, was born in 1870 and was the first European child born in the Lower Herbert, now Ingham area. 
It is possible that Mercer Lane was also named after John Mercer. Mercer Lane was once a laneway accessible for vehicles to the off street car park which is situated between Palm Creek and Lannercost Street. In 2009 a substantial amount of money was approved by Government to upgrade and improve Lannercost Street. The improvement included a closing of Mercer Land to vehicular traffic and construction of a 60 metre covered walkway the length of the Lane.
Today the laneway houses 42 metres of mosaic art panels depicting the history of the sugar cane industry of the Herbert River district. The concept was the brain child of local business woman Karen Venables and conceived by artist Kate Carr as an Artslink Queensland community public art project.  Community enthusiasm for the project is reflected in the funding provided by individuals, clubs, council and local businesses and the contribution of labour by over 2 000 locals and visitors. The medium of mosaics was used because it is an artistic form that can be quickly learned, and also because it is associated with the artwork of ancient Italy and Italians who to this day, make up a significant percentage of the local population.
The panels not only depict the sugar industry in all its phases, historically and industrially, but also the people who were affected by and contributed to the industry. The progression of the industry from hand held and horse drawn implements, to the mechanization of field work has been graphically detailed. The life style of a time long past when farmers could only attend meetings on a night when the full moon would light their way, to children dancing in a shower of cane fire ash or ‘black snow’, to a farmer’s wife carrying smoko to the paddock to a tired, dirty, hungry gang, all jump from the mosaic in life-like reality.
The representation of the historical events was drawn from research provided by historian, Bianka Vidonja Balanzategui and brought to life by the artistic interpretation rendered by Kate Carr. Interpretative story boards enable the viewer to appreciate the panels as both story and art work.    
Furthermore local families sponsored ‘tiles’ on which have been superimposed the story of their family’s contribution to the Herbert River sugar industry. In this way from cane cutter, to farmer, baker to shopkeeper, miller to inventor all those who have contributed to the industry that still sustains the Herbert River district are recalled.
Mercer Lane circa 1971. Source: http://www.cbcbank.com.au/images/Branches/QLD/QLD%20country%20I-L.htm

Mercer Lane 2019.

Dancing in the 'Black Snow'. Source: Photograph taken by Christopher Parry

Interpretative Plaque. Source: Photograph taken by Christopher Parry

Monday, 4 March 2019

Kelly's Brigade

Did you know that the Ingham Picture Theatre was the former J.L. Kelly Memorial Public Library building dedicated to James Lawrence Kelly?  Who was James Lawrence Kelly?
James Lawrence (Larry) Kelly was a very popular Shire Chairman who followed another popular chairman, Frank Cassady. He was only 26 years old when he was elected to the position.  Kelly’s terms were 1936 till 1943, and again from 1946 until his death in 1952 at the age of 42.  He was born in Ipswich and educated by the Christian Brothers. His first job was as an accountant with the Taxation Office. He came to Ingham and worked for Hardy and Venables. He had political pedigree being nephew of Edward Michael Hanlon, Premier of Queensland (1946-1952). As an executive member of the Ingham branch of the Labor Party (and President from 1944) he attempted to enter parliament at both the State and Federal levels without success. In his roles as Shire Chairman, citizen and parishioner of St. Patrick’s Catholic Parish he was popular, conscientious and active though his detractors accused him of dominating the Council. He served on many committees and boards.
Given recent flood events and discussions about low lying land a little story told in Janice Wegner’s thesis “Hinchinbrook: The Hinchinbrook Shire Council, 1879-1979” is worth recounting. Wegner shows Kelly to be fair-mined, compassionate and sensible. An example of his good sense was when there were plans to build a fountain. The site chosen for the fountain was criticized because it would be "in a semi-swamp below flood mark, confronting the remains of the old Ingham Chinatown" (Wegner, 444). Kelly pointed out, flood-prone areas were the most logical choices for parks! On a more serious note, his good sense and compassion were visible in his support of Councillors Frederick Hecht and Giuseppe Cantamessa in 1939 on the outbreak of WW2 when others doubted their loyalty. He reminded those doubters of how much Hecht and Cantamessa had contributed to the district.
Kelly is credited with many achievements despite having to work within wartime restrictions. Under his leadership the Council was able to construct a new aerodrome of a sufficient standard to attract services from the two airlines, A.N.A. and T.A.A.; take over the Showground and make substantial improvements; build a municipal library for Ingham and establish another in Halifax; construct with the Main Roads Commission, a new jetty at Dungeness; commission a town plan for Ingham and take over the picture theatre in the Hall. (Wegner, 470-1)
Dan Sheahan refers to those achievements (somewhat tongue in cheek) in his poem “Vote Kelly’s Brigade”:
            Now gaze around and think of what Labour has done
            The networks of roadways that shines in the sun.
            The fountains that sparkle, the concrete tower
            Symbols of beauty and progress and power” (Sheahan, 94)
Kelly died as the new library was being completed. Consequently, the J.L. Kelly Memorial Public Library was dedicated to him when it was opened on June 13, 1953. Prior to that library the School of Arts established in Ingham in 1895 and another in Halifax in 1898 conducted libraries.
The Library relocated to Lannercost Street when office space was needed pending the construction of a larger Hall and office complex to replace the then Shire Hall (opened in 1963). In 1987 the Shire Picture theatre, which had formerly been in the Shire Hall, was relocated to the J.L. Kelly Memorial Hall. Again the library was relocated to Lannercost Street. In 1999 it moved to the purpose-built building shared with TAFE. It then moved to its present location in the TYTO precinct.
Libraries are welcoming spaces whose value is measured not so much as economic capital but as social capital. James Lawrence Kelly would no doubt approve, that today the Ingham Picture Theatre, housed in his building, is a social venture of the Ingham Disability Support Services.
Opening of J.L. Kelly Memorial Public Library, 13 June 1953. Source: Hinchinbrook Shire Council Library Photograph Collection

James Lawrence Kelly, Ingham Shire Chairman. Source: Hinchinbrook Shire Council Library Photograph Collection

Dignitaries at the opening of the Ingham Aerodrome, 1939. 

Sheahan, Dan. “Vote Kelly’s Brigade.” In Songs from the Canefields. Ingham: Josephine R. Sheahan, 1982 reprint.
Vidonja Balanzategui, Bianka. Portrait of a Parish: A History of Saint Patrick’s Church and Parish Ingham 1864-1996. Ingham: St Patrick’s Parish, 1998.
Vidonja Balanzategui, Bianka. The Herbert River Story. Ingham: Hinchinbrook Shire Council, 2011.
Wegner, Janice. “Hinchinbrook: The Hinchinbrook Shire Council, 1879-1979.” Master’s thesis, James Cook University, 1984.

Sunday, 24 February 2019


“The Herbert is also a first-rate place for teamsters to spell their bullocks. There is one public-house and another promised, where good entertainment for man and beast is guaranteed.”
Much of Ingham’s story is that it is on a path to somewhere: to pasture lands for stock, to the gold fields, to urban centres and battlefields north. The Telegraph Hotel was established in 1874 on the Camping Reserve, later Town Reserve, to take advantage of the Palmer gold rush trade. It only traded for a year and then reopened later as the Day Dawn Hotel, today known as Lee’s Hotel.
The hotel is deservedly famous as the birthplace of the poem “A Pub without Beer” penned by bush poet, Dan Sheahan, adapted by Gordon Parsons to become “A Pub with no Beer’ sung by Slim Dusty. But the story of the Day Dawn Hotel and it’s reincarnation as Lee’s Hotel is equally an intriguing tale. At its centre are the intrepid Chinese men and women who came to work the northern gold fields and an architect whose “design philosophy was very much about honest expression of structure and response to climate”. 
Rupert Lee (Snr)’s father toiled on the Palmer gold fields, married a woman of mixed Irish and Chinese descent and together they had eight children. She returned to China with the children and later at only 12 years of age Rupert Lee (Snr) returned to Australia and to Ingham. He worked the steam trains at Victoria Mill, borrowed money and opened a baker shop and then a grocery store. When he purchased the Day Dawn Hotel in 1958 it was so far gone restoration was impossible and it had to be demolished, though local folklore has long had it that it was burnt down.  Rupert then engaged a young fledgling architect, Ian Ferrier, to design a modern hotel, Lee's Hotel, which opened in 1960.
Ian Ferrier became renowned for his designs which incorporated innovative adaptions to the tropical climate like completely openable walls of doors to allow cross ventilation. While countless schools, commercial buildings and homes across Queensland and northern Australia bear his inimitable imprint, cathedrals, churches and chapels became a speciality amongst them the Cairns and Darwin Cathedrals. His notable, local achievements are St. Peters Church in Halifax and St. Patrick’s Church in Ingham.  
“Herbert River,” The Queenslander, September 25, 1875, 7.
Ferrier Baudet Architechts, http://catherine-baudet.squarespace.com/history/.
 “Slim poured a Legend,” news.com.au, November 2, 2007, http://www.news.com.au/news/slim-poured-a-legend/story-fna7dq6e-1111114967360.
Day Dawn Hotel, 1919. Source: Hinchinbrook Shire Council Library Photograph Collection.

Postcard, circe 1970. Source: Centre for the Government of Queensland. Publisher: ACP.

Monday, 4 February 2019

The Herbert River Valley - home of the 'Queenslander' house

Mauritian planter Charles Leon Burguez in front of his Gairloch home, 1880. (Source: Hinchinbrook Shire Council Library photograph collection)
Bachelors' Quarters, Stone Hut 1865. (Source: Hinchinbrook Shire Council Library photograph collection) 

Why have Queenslanders living in areas prone to floods and mosquito born fevers abandoned the ‘Queenslander’ house?
Wherever Europeans built homes and even businesses in tropical areas in colonial times a noticeable adaption was to raise the structure on high stumps or piles and encase it in verandahs which provided a covered walkway around the entire structure. Interiors were accessed from the verandahs via French doors and adjustable sash windows provided additional ventilation. Kitchens were detached in order to keep the heat and danger of fire away from the main structure.
 In Queensland this came to be called the “Queenslander.” The intent was to not only raise the house out of the miasmas that were thought to cause fevers (particularly malaria) but above the threat of high flood levels. It also afforded the best way to syphon breezes through the house assisted by ‘whirlybird ventilation vents’.  Even if later more economical houses were built lower and without the enfolding verandahs they were still built on stumps.
Alan Frost who has written on the Queenslander observed that our northern sugar lands gave rise to “quintessential Queensland feature”: the Queenslander house. He goes so far as to assert that “It was on the banks of the Herbert River that settlers first set their houses high.” He claims that they did this for one particular reason: “their medical knowledge told them that they might avoid malaria by sleeping off the ground.” On the Herbert they started out on two foot stumps and not enclosed with verandahs, but with Henry Stone’s Stone Hut the trend started in the district to build houses on seven to eight foot stumps until by 1875 it was observed by a visitor to the Valley that houses “on high piles [was] a peculiarity …everywhere noticeable.” Those first Queenslanders were also built on the highest ground and away from large trees where pools of stagnant water would provide a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Bats inhabited the ceilings, eating the mosquitoes while breezes blew the mosquitoes away from the house.
As Tony Raggatt wrote in his opinion piece in the Townsville Bulletin (February 2, 2019, 39) of the high-set Queenslander he lives in: “Not only are they cooler for the ventilation they provide under the home and are raised above the jaws of the armies of termites that patrol the garden, they are designed to allow floodwaters to flow underneath them.” He observes that if the houses have not been built under there is little to be lost from water damage.
We watch with dismay the disaster unfolding in Townsville this February 2019. Ingham, this time, has not been inundated to the extent feared. Every summer we wait in trepidation knowing so well the nature of the Herbert River in flood and the havoc it causes.
Fortunately, because of a civil society, efficient government, strict structural building standards, and numerous bodies to call on for emergency services we have not witnessed in Townsville the scale of property destruction, mayhem and death that occurs when such disasters hit in less developed countries. Yet the property loss and damage, and the fear, distress and discomfort experienced by Townsville residents during this event cannot be made light of. The physical recovery will take years, and the psychological scars will linger forever.
While it is being called a one in one hundred year event it still does beg the question about where councils have allowed homes to be built, the failure of land developers to site houses responsibly and ergonomically and the style of housing that we have come to favour because of taste or economics: low-set brick or concrete boxes lined with non-durable materials such as gyprock; stifling in summer, freezing in winter, walls exposed to blazing afternoon sun, ill-placed to catch passing breezes and only bearable to live in with air-conditioners full-bore.
Whatever the answer to why Queenslanders have abandoned the ‘Queenslander’ house — why they generally fail to site houses ergonomically, continue to build low-set homes in areas prone to floods and mosquito born fevers (ie: as on the flood plains of Ingham) perhaps it is time this “quintessential Queensland” architectural style originating in the Herbert River Valley is re-evaluated and appreciated anew.
Source: Frost, A. “The Queensland High-Set House. Its Origins, Diffusion, Refinement and Sociology.” Unpublished paper, 1992.
Frost, Alan. East Coast Country: A North Queensland Dreaming. Carlton: Melbourne University Press, 1996.

Thursday, 3 January 2019

Sugar dreams

Though government legislated for the use of indentured Melanesian labour in Queensland sugar cane fields that use was not universally approved of. White workers resented the presence of a cheap, non-white labour force while other people objected on humanitarian grounds. The Herbert district used indentured Melanesian labour and the Herbert River planters were the brunt of much criticism. A poem published in 'The Worker' on 23 April 1892 expressed a mixture of sentiments critical of the use of Melanesian (Kanaka) labour, with the criticism directed at the Herbert River planters.

Even after the use of indentured labour had been stopped white workers did not want to cut cane either. It was hard, dirty work and was seasonal. They preferred to work nearer the cities or in the mines. A poem written by local poet Dan Sheahan published in 'Songs of the Canefields' in 1972 by his daughter Josephine Sheahan, was reminiscent of the above poem and titled The Canegrower's Dream. It talks of a farmer's dream of a harvesting machine and of cane cutters who liked to cut cane!

First of the white cane cutters in Ingham, 1904. (Source: Hinchinbrook Shire Council Library Photographic Collection)

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Planters, farmers and Premiers

When Jonathan Pavetto went to personally petition government regarding the proposed bypass it was an easy trip by plane. In the days before farmers could travel to the southern capitals to petition Premiers or Prime Ministers the latter would travel by steamer to the north and farmers were invited on board to present their petitions. And just as today, candidates would come north to canvass for votes.
Samual Griffith (later Premier) came to the Herbert River Valley on an electioneering tour in 1883 it was a plantation stronghold though the small farmers had just formed the Herbert River Farmers’ Association (HRFA) and were hoping to supply the newly opened Victoria Mill. He had to convince the planters and small farmers that he would look after their interests. He met with businessmen, small farmers, planters and plantation managers. A photograph was taken to mark the event.

Samuel Griffith on an electioneering tour to the Herbert. Pictured with local landowners and businessmen including Lewis and Alfred Cowley, Frank Neame, Farrand Haig, and Charles Watson (a member of the HRFA), 1883. (Source: Hinchinbrook Shire Council Library Photographic Collection)
In 1890 when CSR threatened to close down Victoria Mill the HRFA wrote the Premier a ‘strong’ letter urging the continuance of Melanesian labour which the Association argued would keep CSR Company in the district. The Premier replied the he was planning a visit to the north and that the farmers would be advised when he was to visit Halifax. Sir Samuel Griffith sailed up the coast in the Government steamer, the Lucinda in December 1890. On the afternoon of the second day of his visit to the district, 25 December, the farmers presented to him the papers they had prepared. Griffith returned two weeks later, docked at Dungeness, and again invited farmer representatives to meet with him again on board the Lucinda. Those who met with him were August Anderssen, A. W. Carr, N. C. Rosendahl and John Alm, stalwarts of the HRFA.

In his memoirs, John Alm gave a first-hand account of that meeting. After general conversation, “the private Secretary, Mr Bell, appeared and informed the party that there were refreshments waiting below. They found a table neatly set in the saloon. The Premier sat down with the party, and the private Secretary acted as waiter. Sir Samuel was in excellent humour. He continually told the visitors not to be afraid of his whisky; stating it was good - no doubt it was, but it had the trick of mounting to the head; so they had to be careful, as they had a couple of hours work ahead of them, pulling their boat home.”

The Lucinda pictured on the city side of Brisbane River, opposite South Brisbane Wharves, n.d. (Source: State Library of Queensland. Lucinda (ship). (2004). Image number: 51548)
In May 1894 a farmers’ deputation again was brought to the steamer the Palmer when it docked at Dungeness where it was received by Premier, the Hon. H. Nelson. John Lely, Secretary of the HRFA, presented the farmers’ petition about the need for labour for the cane fields. A photograph of the steamer was taken by Harriett Pettifore Brim when she was a photographer in Ingham.

Steamboat the Palmer, Queensland, circa 1890-1900.(Source: Harriett Pettifore Brim, photographer on the Herbert River 1894-1902. State Library of Queensland. Image number: 31054 Harriett Brims collection 1890-1930)
Bianka Vidonja Balanzategui, “The Herbert River Farmers’ Association:  'clique of insignificant cockies' or 'agents of change'?” (PhD manuscript, James Cook University).
John Alm, Early History of the Herbert River District: Being "The Memoirs of the Early Settlement of the Lower Herbert and the Start and Progress of the Sugar Industry in the District (Aitkenvale: Terry Lyons, 2002, original edition published in Herbert River Express, 11th October 1932 to 20th January 1934), 59.

Friday, 23 March 2018


Today the historian's task is made so much easier because the digitization of sources is advancing at a fast rate. One of those valuable digitized sources is TROVE where digitized newspapers are to be found courtesy of the National Library of Australia. Unfortunately old editions of the Herbert River Express have not been digitized, and may never be, but a large number of current and defunct newspapers  are. During a search on another subject I found this obituary of EMMANUEL MARTIN. He is a lesser known pioneer of our district. He was one of the first European suppliers of Ripple Creek Mill (formerly Ripple Creek Mill had only been able to attract Chinese tenant farmers because it could not pay the prices for cane the CSR did) and the property he farmed in 1905, BUSHFIELD, was an historic one, having been selected in 1871 by Francis Cashel Gardener. It was from Gardner that WILLIAM BAIRSTOW INGHAM had arranged to buy 700 acres for his INGS Plantation. The other properties that he farmed were also historic ones: FARNHAM which was a selection taken up by James Atkinson in 1870 and COWDEN (not Cowder) which had been taken up by George Wickham in 1872.
His obituary (sourced from TROVE) shows how enterprising the first European pioneers were:

Townsville Daily Bulletin (Qld. : 1907 - 1954), Monday 3 July 1950, page 2

Another link with the past was broken when Emmanuel Martin died last Saturday. One of the old pioneers, he left his blrthplace, Newcastle on Tyne, County of Durham. England, In the year 1883, arriving at Townsville in January 1884, in the steamship Duke of Buckingham. The late Mr Martin, after reachingTownsville immediately proceeded to the Herbert River district, where he engaged in his own trade of grocer with Reggazoli and Redman, general storekeepers, of Cordelia, Herbert River. After severing connections with Rcggazoli and Redman he took a mail contract delivering from Dungeness to Ripple Creek, Gairloch and lngham. (Dungeness was later destroyed
by a hurricane). He later turned to his old trade, opening the first General store at Seymour, Herbert River, which is now known as Bemerside, and which he conducted for several years. In 1905 he turned his hand to farming, on property known as Bushfleld, North Gairoch, supplying cane to Wood Bros, and Boyd. Ripple Creek Mill.
Later he also farmed properties known as Cowder and Farnham, on the Halifax Road near Ingham,cane from which was supplied to the Victoria Mill, near Ingham. In 1917 he purchased a cane farm from Mr. A. Barnes, North Gairloch, supplying cane to the Macknade Mill, which he retained up to his death. He retired from active farming and came to reside in Townsville in August 1934. In 1885 the late Mr. Martin married Miss Woods and reared a family of three daughters and six sons, the daughters being Mrs. Humphries (Townsvllle). Elizabeth Martin (Townsville). and Mrs. Tucker (Mt Isa), and the sons, Robert S. (Cairns). Hugh T. (Gordonvale) Ernest (Townsville), Michael T. (Ingham) and Matthew W. (Townsville). His eldest son, George R. died six years ago.
Ripple Creek Mill 1882. Source: Hinchinbrook Shire Library Photographic Collection

First ANZAC Day dinner Ingham 1920. Source: Hinchinbrook Shire Library Photographic Collection. G. Martin is back row, 11th along - tall man wearing a 'bow tie'.