Saturday, 25 April 2015

Old Coles Building Takes Many Memories With It

Once developers have finished their demolition work, the former Coles building in Townsville’s central business district will be little more than a twisted pile of rubble and steel on a vacant city block.
Former Coles Building, Sturt Street Townsville, 1959.
Photo:  CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.

The erasure of this building from the cityscape takes 80 years of Townsville’s commercial history with it, but in the hearts of many, the memories of the building’s early life will live on.

Occupying a block of land with frontage to both Flinders and Sturt Streets, the site has been home to a number of commercial tenants over the years, including Burns Philp & Co. Ltd, Penneys Ltd. and Coles Pty Ltd.; but it is the original occupants - the Heatley family - that are remembered with fondness by many north Queenslanders.

The three-storey building was constructed in 1935 for F. Heatley & Sons Pty Ltd in order to cater for the significant growth the firm was experiencing.

The patriarch of the Heatley family was an Irishman named Francis Heatley, who settled in Townsville in 1880 and later that decade started a small business manufacturing and selling household furniture, with a branch of the business devoted to undertaking.
F. Heatley & Sons building, Flinders Street frontage, 1943.
Photo: CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.

The Flinders Street frontage of the Heatley building was a furniture emporium with no less than eleven display windows, which perfectly showcased the firm’s expertly crafted furniture, all of which was built from north Queensland silky oak and maple.

In 1936 the employees of F. Heatley and Sons Pty Ltd held their first staff dance in the recently completed building. Held on a Wednesday night in May, the dance was attended by about 300 staff and guests, who assembled in an upper storey of the new building for the function.
F. Heatley & Sons staff dance, 1936.
Photo: Townsville Daily Bulletin.

According to the Townsville Daily Bulletin, the “spacious ballroom” was a sight to be seen, and had been “gaily decorated” for the occasion in shades of gold and red, the official colours of the Heatley firm. 

Streamers were draped in canopy effect from each end of the ballroom to the centre and “multi-coloured balloons were clustered around each massive pillar, flags draped the end walls, and myriads of tiny coloured lights were suspended around the hall”.

“Vic Foley’s Arcadian Orchestra of five players supplied the dance music, which was enjoyed by all.”

“A dainty supper was arranged at the end of the building, the centre of the tables being decorated with vases containing flowers of gold and red.  Altogether the scheme of decorations and the arrangement of the supper reflected great credit on the committee responsible.”

In a speech on the night, Mr W.J. Heatley, who took over as head of the family business after the death of his father Francis in 1928, said that “what particularly pleased him was the harmony which was displayed between the members of the staff, both shop and factory”.

“All had worked harmoniously in making the dance worthy of their firm, each realising it was their own dance in their own buildings, and priding themselves on this fact,” Mr Heatley said.

After the speeches were over, the dancing continued until 2am, when the evening ended with a rendition of “Auld Lang Syne”.

The building was a popular dance hall in the late 1930s and throughout the Second World War.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

West End Cemetery Pioneers - Thankful Willmett

Next up in my series on our pioneers buried at West End Cemetery - Thankful Percy Willmett - who arrived in Townsville in 1870 and within a few years had started a long-running business supplying stationery, and providing printing and book-binding services.  Thankful also served on the Townsville Council for ten years, and served as Mayor in 1880, 1881, 1883 and 1884.
Headstone in the West End Cemetery, Townsville, for the Willmett family, including Thankful Willmett.
Photo:  Trisha Fielding, 2012.

This from the Townsville Daily Bulletin, Thursday, 22 August 1907.


Another link between the past and present history of Townsville was severed by the death on Wednesday evening of Mr Thankful Willmett at the ripe old age of 76 years.

The late Mr Willmett throughout his long association with Townsville played a prominent part in the admin- istration of local government affairs. Born in London in 1831 within hearing of the chimes of the Bow Bells, the deceased at an early age entered into maritime pursuits, and during the Crimean War was one of the crew of a transport engaged in conveying British troops to Balaclava Bay where he heard the roar of the guns of the combatants. Subsequently joining an emigrant ship as an officer he came to Australia, and it was then he first met the lady destined to become his wife. Returning with the ship to England he resigned, came out to the Central district of Queensland, where he entered the ranks of the benedicts and spent 10 years between Rockhampton and Nebo.

Attracted by the Cape diggings rush he came to Townsville in 1868, and two years later established the business with which he was associated up to the time of his demise. Shortly afterwards he entered civic life, and his ability was not long in being recognised. In 1880 the Aldermen showed their appreciation of his worth by electing him Mayor, a position he filled on four subsequent occasions. The separation movement next claimed his attention and for a number of years he occupied the post of president of the North Queensland Separation Council, devoting with enthusiasm his ability in the struggle to free the north of the fetters linking it with the south.

In other local public bodies he was also a prominent figure, one of the notable charitable functions he performed being the laying of the foundation stone of the Townsville Hospital. While holding the position of Mayor it fell to his lot to preside at the function organised in connection with the opening of the Northern Railway line as far as the Reid River. Some years ago he entered the political arena, but suffered defeat by Mr A. Ogden, in the contest for the seat in the State Parliament rendered vacant by the death of the late Mr G. Burns.

Of late Mr Willmett had sought retirement from public affairs and left the management of his business pretty well in the hands of his sons Fred and Percy. Of a genial disposition the deceased had a wide circle of friends, whose sympathy will go forth to the family in their bereavement. His wife predeceased him some six years ago but he is survived by two sons and three daughters.  Messrs Fred and Percy manage the Townsville business, and Miss E. Willmett controls the Charters Towers branch. Another daughter (Alice) who married Mr R.B. Taylor, is now in England, while a third is resident in Townsville. The funeral takes place at 4 p.m. today moving from his son's residence, The Avenue, Hermit Park, for the old cemetery.”
Mr Thankful Percy Willmett, of the Townsville Council, 1887
Photo: CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.
Willmett & Co.'s Stationery Warehouse and Printing Works, Flinders Street, Townsville.  Most likely taken in 1913.
Photo: CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Darkest drought in the Ross River watershed

In 1935 Townsville was in the grip of an unprecedented drought. The Ross River had stopped flowing, and water had to be brought to the city by special trains, at considerable cost.
Black Weir, on Ross River, under construction, 1933.
Photo:  CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.

Described as “the darkest drought ever known in the Ross River watershed”, by December the city had only received 218mm of rain. This was the lowest rainfall on record since 1870.  Most of this rain fell in the early months of the year, and between July and the end of November, only 8.5mm of rain was officially recorded.

But the city’s 27,000-strong population was drawing over 750,000 gallons a day from the town’s wells, which meant the underground supply was rapidly diminishing. In one week at the end of November, the City Engineer reported to the Council that 4.75 million gallons had been pumped into the city’s reservoirs from the underground supply, but that the city’s consumption that week had exceeded 5.34 million gallons.

Water restrictions were in place that prohibited the use of garden hoses, and only permitted the watering of plants for one hour on one night per week.

The City Engineer estimated that at the current rate of consumption, and if water continued to be used for gardening purposes, it would only be a few days before people ran out of water. 

Only two years before, the city council commenced construction of a weir on the Ross River at the Black School, (now the Weir School) which was expected to hold two years’ worth of water in reserve, but there had not been sufficient rain to fill it since its completion.
Black Weir, on the Ross River, 1936.
Photo: W.J. Laurie, held by CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.

The Council had to resort to paying to have water brought in from wherever it could get it.  On the afternoon of November 21, the first water train pulled in to the station in Townsville, carrying 45,000 gallons of water drawn from the Burdekin River at Macrossan.  The train then proceeded to the Hubert’s Well, where the water was pumped into a concrete cistern before being chlorinated.

The first three months of 1936 saw the return of a good wet season, with over 1,300mm of rain restoring the city’s water reserves.

With the influx of military troops during World War II, the city once again experienced critical water shortages.  Severe restrictions were in place, with water only made available to households during limited hours each day.

In October 1943, Townsville was just months away from running out of water.  A deputation of city leaders told the visiting Queensland Premier, Mr F.A. Cooper, that if no rain fell, the city would be without water by mid-February, 1944.

The city’s backup plan was a pipeline to Mt Spec that could be erected at a cost of £300,000, which could deliver 1 million gallons of water a day. The other option was Keelbottom Creek, where they believed water could be impounded to supply 4.5 million gallons daily, but the cost for this scheme was considerably higher, at £1 million.

An appeal to the Federal Government for help elicited this response:

“The Commonwealth realises that the demands of the forces and incidental war activities around Townsville have thrown a heavy drain on the water supply system.”

Under the circumstances, the Federal Government was willing to make a fixed contribution of £75,000 towards the Mt Spec scheme.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Soldiers' Memorial Gate

The staggering loss of life suffered during World War I, and the national grief that followed it, sparked an ever-increasing trend towards the public memorialisation of our war dead, and the memorials that were erected to honour soldiers who served and died in the Great War became sites of shared mourning.
The opening of the Soldier's Memorial Gate, Townsville West State School, Townsville, December 1921.
Image: State Library of Queensland.
In Townsville, the first public memorial to local soldiers who served in World War I was erected not on public property, but on the grounds of a local State school, in December 1921.

The Soldiers’ Memorial Gate, at the former Townsville West State School on Ingham Road was built to honour the former students of the school who served in the Great War.  Designed by architect Stephen Harvey, and built by Messrs Melrose and Fenwick, the Memorial Gate cost £430 to erect, which was a substantial sum for that time.

Standing at close to five metres tall, the free-standing masonry archway contains marble tablets inside the supports of the gate that are inscribed with the names of 200 former pupils that enlisted for the war.  Of this number, 20 died in the service of their country, 31 were wounded, two were gassed and one was taken a prisoner of war.  On the cornice of the masonry gate, are the words “Their Name Liveth For Ever”, and the dates 1914 and 1919 appear on opposing piers.

The Memorial Gate was officially unveiled in front of a large crowd by the Mayor, Alderman W.H. Green, who, according to the Townsville Daily Bulletin gave an “impressive speech”, in which he attempted, probably unnecessarily, to justify the need for such a memorial.

Alderman Green believed that “from time immemorial it had been a custom amongst all people to set up tokens of remembrance - in the stately monuments, arches, statues of magnificent edifices in order to commemorate and have in remembrance the glorious deeds, remarkable achievements, enduring courage, noble sacrifices and nobility of character of their sons and daughters.”

With regard to this Memorial Gate, Alderman Green said the community was “well proud” of the 200 “brave lads” who had been connected with the school and that he personally felt proud to have been associated with the first committee who put forward the idea for “such a worthy monument, the first public memorial monument erected in Townsville.”

And in a touching tribute to the mothers of the soldiers who had been memorialised, Alderman Green went on to say that they “could not fail to perceive in the memorial a recognition of the sacrifices willingly and ungrudgingly borne by the noble womanhood of this Commonwealth of theirs – sacrifices often times overlooked, frequently unrecognised but none the less magnificent for all that.”

“They did not sorrow without hope, they did not weep with regret and despair, for the sorrow and tears were overwhelmed with the sense of pride and admiration,” he said.

The memorial at the Townsville West State School pre-dated the Soldiers’ Memorial (now more commonly called the Cenotaph) on the Strand by two years, although planning for the Soldiers’ Memorial was underway from as early as 1918.
ANZAC Day ceremony, Townsville West State School, April 1971.
Image: CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.
The types of war memorials that have been dedicated in north Queensland since the early 1900s up until the present day are many and varied. They include: memorial gates, arches, fountains, flagpoles, gardens, swimming pools, trees, sports ovals, halls and public buildings.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Murder at the Family Hotel - 1908

** This article, along with all others on this blog, is Copyright to Trisha Fielding**
The true motive behind the murder of a young waitress at the Family Hotel in Flinders Street in 1908, remains one of Townsville’s enduring mysteries.
A sketch of the Townsville Family Hotel (later called the Family Hotel, and later still the Carlton Hotel, c. 1887.
Image is from the Townsville Herald Supplement, 24 December 1887.

Early on the afternoon of Thursday, 23 July, shots rang out from the kitchen of the Family Hotel in Flinders Street West.  Soon after, a laundress named Tessie Brennan found the bloodied bodies of two of the hotel’s employees – 35 year-old “Charlie” Tanaka, the cook, and 18 year-old Maggie Gallagher, a waitress.

Miss Gallagher was filling an enamel water jug in the hotel kitchen, when the cook followed her into the detached building and fired a single shot from a revolver at point blank range, into her right temple. Tanaka then promptly turned the gun on himself and was found slumped against a wall just a few feet away from the young woman.

Tanaka, whose real name was Temesabro Shintani, was a Japanese national and had been a cook at the Family Hotel for two years. The hotel’s publican, John Schau said that Tanaka was a steady worker and a good cook, but that he had a temper and was prone to bouts of heavy drinking.

Maggie Gallagher had also worked at the hotel for about two years, and was described by Mr Shau as a “bright, inoffensive girl, and a general favourite”.

As for a motive for the murder, a jealous nature and a bad temper seem to be the only explanation that could be found.  Apparently, Tanaka had taken a liking to the young woman, but she did not return his feelings.

According to witness testimony at an inquest into the murder-suicide, Tanaka had threatened, on more than one occasion, to kill Maggie Gallagher and her younger sister Lizzie.

Hotel staffer, Mrs Maurice, said that a couple of weeks before the shooting, Tanaka had been “strange in his manner”, and more excitable than usual.

Then about a week before the shooting, Tanaka reportedly told both Mrs Maurice and Miss Brennan in the hotel laundry that, “If Maggie and Lizzie go to the play I'll shoot them”.

Tanaka also told them he had received a letter from Japan, and that if he went home he would be shot for deserting the army.

“I don't care now. I want to die. I will kill all you girls. I will kill somebody before I die,” Tanaka is reported to have said.

Apparently at this, the two women laughed at him, thinking it was some kind of idle threat.

“You laugh, but I mean it. There will be blood in this hotel before a month,” he said.

Mrs Maurice testified that she then told Maggie Gallagher about Tanaka’s threats, and said she would tell Mr Shau.  But Miss Gallagher reportedly didn’t want Mr Shau told, nor did she want Mrs Maurice to worry her mother with the information either.

The story was covered in newspapers throughout the country.  Even Sydney newspaper The Catholic Press reported on the tragedy.  The paper’s Townsville correspondent described the anti-Japanese sentiment, after the tragedy.

“The Japs are largely employed here as cooks, yardsmen, and even as domestic servants, and as this is the third tragedy of a similar nature perpetrated by these yellow barbarians in North Queensland during the last couple of years, it is not surprising that white girls should have a feeling of unrest where the ‘Jap’ is included as a fellow servant.”