Monday, 27 July 2015

Original clock tower was "a thing of architectural beauty"

The former Townsville Post Office, with its imposing clock tower, is a well-known landmark in Townsville, and was built in stages between 1886 and 1889. 
The former Townsville Post Office, with its original clock tower, c. 1900.
Photo:  State Library of Queensland.

It was designed by the Queensland Colonial Architect, John James Clark, who also designed other buildings in north Queensland, including the courthouses in Charters Towers and Mackay, a hospital in Innisfail, and the Townsville Railway Station, which was completed in 1913.

The first stage of the two-storeyed, rendered brick Post Office was intended for use as a telegraph office and was completed at a cost of almost £6,000. The second stage of the building cost just over £8,000. This section of the building contained a post office and Postmaster’s room on the ground floor.

At that time, the staff of the post office consisted of just six employees. The top floor was a residence for the Postmaster and comprised five bedrooms, a kitchen, drawing room, dining room and bathroom. 
Post Office staff, Townsville, 1895.
Back row L to R.: J. Cuthbert, G. Fuller, J.Hone, C. Johnston, J. Nelson.
Front row L to R.: W. Foster, J. Mathews, D.C. MacPherson, E. Da'Costa (Postmaster), D. Ryan, M.K. Judge, A. Monteith.
Photo: CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.

The residence provided for the Postmaster was considered “palatial” at the time and drew criticism from local public spokesmen who often met outside at the corner of Flinders and Denham Streets to give politically motivated speeches. 

Questions were raised as to “why the glorified civil servants should be provided with such accommodation, whilst the wives and families of the orators had to put up with humble residences in South Townsville or any of the other distant suburbs”.

The building was completed in 1889 with the construction of an ornate clock tower at a cost of £245. The clock chimes were imported from England and were in use by 1891.

The post office clock proved quite costly to maintain. In 1913 the annual cost of repairs, lighting and winding of the clock was £54. The city council had looked into the costs the previous year and found that no one seemed to know exactly when it had been agreed to foot the bill for the clock, only that it had an agreement with local jewellers Horn and Petersen to wind and keep the clock in good order.

After the bombing of Darwin in February 1942, the clock tower on the Townsville Post Office was dismantled and put into storage. As a recognisable landmark, and a communications centre, it was considered a potential target for enemy bombs.

In March 1947 the Chamber of Commerce lobbied the Commonwealth Government for the restoration of the Post Office clock tower, arguing:

“With the surplus millions of the PMG Department, the Commonwealth Government could well afford to restore the town clock at the Townsville Post Office.”

The Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce, a Mr Lawrence, said that the tower encasing the clock had been a thing of architectural beauty, and he thought they should press for the restoration of the tower instead of having a clock installed anywhere else on the building.
Former Townsville Post Office, decorated for Jubilee Carnival Week, 1913.
Photo:  CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.
Disappointingly, only a month later, the PMG Department informed the Chamber of Commerce that it was “not the intention of the Department to re-erect the tower and clock on the Townsville Post Office building in the immediate future.”
Flinders Street, Townsville, 1969. The former Post Office on the left, has its post-war clock tower.
Photo:  CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.

It was not until the early 1960s that a new, modified clock tower was built, at a cost of more than £42,000.

The building remained in use as a post office until 2001.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Hervey's Range Road

The opening of Hervey’s Range Road in April 1933 was described as a “red-letter day” for Townsville and district, and particularly for the tobacco growers who lived on the Range. The long-awaited road was expected to relieve much of the difficulty and expense involved in getting their produce to market.
The Eureka Hotel, at the top of Hervey's Range, c. 1930.
Photo: State Library of Queensland.
During the official speeches, the President of the Townsville and District Development Association, Mr R. McKimmin, said that it was “one of the happiest days of his life” when he received word that the road up Hervey’s Range was gazetted. He believed that Townsville had been greatly neglected when it came to main roads, and that it had taken a lot of agitating to even get the few roads that they now had.

Just before the ceremonial ribbon was due to be cut by Mrs Wordsworth, the Shire Chairman’s wife, a man on horseback galloped out of the nearby scrub and slashed the ribbon with a knife. He then turned and made off back into the bush before anyone could apprehend him.

The Townsville Daily Bulletin noted that the man was a “well-known tobacco grower”, though didn’t give his name, instead preferring to call him “the bogus De Groot”. Other newspapers dubbed him “De Groot the Second”. This was a reference to Captain Francis De Groot who had caused a scandal at the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge a year earlier, by dashing up to the ceremonial ribbon and slashing it with his sword before the Premier could do it.

The official party at Hervey’s Range took the incident in their stride and promptly replaced the ribbon, which was then duly cut by Mrs Wordsworth.  The real De Groot never got off so lightly though - he was arrested and later fined.

It was the Chairman of the Thuringowa Shire Council, Councillor C.W. Wordsworth, who had the duty of declaring the road open.  In his address, Councillor Wordsworth noted that many of those present had travelled up the Range by car, but asked them to consider what it might have been like 70 years before, when there was no road up the Range, and when “every foot of the way was plodded along through clouds of dust and profanity”.
Hervey's Range Road, c. 1900.
Photo: CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.

In earlier days the track to the top of the range was steep and hazardous and took a full day for bullock drays to negotiate. The teams would spend one night at the Range Hotel, at the base of Hervey’s Range before negotiating the range the following day and reaching the Eureka Hotel at the top by nightfall.

One carrier’s wife, Mrs Margaret Fulford, remembered how arduous the journey from Townsville to the hinterland was, having made the trip in 1870.  She recorded in a memoir:

“We ascended the range, now known as Hervey’s Range, the road then being very rough and steep. I walked up carrying the child, taking my time and keeping in sight of the cart coming behind me. The horses could only pull the cart up a few yards at a time, on account of the steepness, and the black-boy had to carry stones to chock the wheels to keep the cart from going backwards each time.”

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Redex Trials - a "Mad Dash" across the country

The big event in Australian motor sport in the 1950s was an endurance rally that tested the mettle of both cars and drivers, in a race that took in most of the country and thrilled the nation.
The 1955 all-female Women's Weekly Redex team.
Source: Australian Women's Weekly, 24 August 1955.
Held in 1953, 1954 and 1955, the Redex Around-Australia Reliability Trials were designed to test the reliability of ordinary cars that could be bought at any showroom, against harsh, mostly unsealed Australian road conditions, which were considered at the time to be some of the worst roads in the world.

Trial organisers argued that it was not a race but a sporting event “in which the reliability of each competitor’s car is the only consideration”. Drivers were supposed to obey ordinary traffic rules, including speed restrictions.

In reality, the Redex trials turned out to be a “mad dash” across the country, which left many competitors’ cars bruised and battered. Teams lagging at the rear of the field joked that they needed no maps to navigate, because all they had to do was follow the trail of hub caps, shattered windscreens and wrecked cars along the route.

The inaugural Redex trial in 1953 attracted close to 200 participants, who set off on the 6,000 mile journey from Sydney and travelled north as far as Townsville, and then on to Darwin via Mt Isa. The route then took in Alice Springs, Adelaide and Melbourne before finishing back in Sydney.

Car No. 38 in the 1955 REDex Around-Australia Reliability Trial, passing the West End State School on Ingham Road, Townsville. This team, consisting of brothers Greg and Lloyd Kook and navigator Syd Braithwaite, finished the trial in sixth place.
Source: Christensen Collection, CityLibraries.

Only simple modifications to cars were allowed, including guards for the sump, lights and windscreen, extra fuel tanks and standard-type heavier shock absorbers. Each leg of the trial had a set time for completion, with demerit points awarded for infringements, including late arrival at control stops.

The trials attracted two distinctly different kinds of competitors. There were the teams entered by car manufacturers, who obviously wanted to prove that their cars were the most reliable, but there were also private motorists who entered their family car simply because they wanted an adventure.

Some of the best drivers in the country participated in the trials, such as Sir Jack Brabham, Ken Tubman, Lex Davison and a larrikin named Jack Murray, who earned the nickname “Gelignite Jack” because he liked to detonate sticks of gelignite along the route, to confuse other participants and antagonise the police.

The Redex trials were reported on enthusiastically by the national media, and a number of outlets including Brisbane’s Courier Mail, Sydney’s Daily Telegraph and the Australian Women’s Weekly, entered their own teams. The Women’s Weekly’s 1954 team were the only all-women team to finish the trial that year.
Source: Australian Women's Weekly, 24 August 1955.
Perhaps surprisingly, given the era, and in what was a predominantly male-dominated event, many women participated in the Redex trials, either as drivers, co-drivers or navigators. Age was no barrier either.

At 65, Mrs Charlotte Hayes, from Glebe, was the oldest female driver in the 1955 trial. In the 1953 and 1954 trials, 63 year-old Mrs Winifred Conway, a widow from Rose Bay, whose vehicle was an Austin A40, was known as the “Granny who stole the limelight” because of all the press attention she attracted. Mrs Conway was most definitely in it for the adventure, and was quoted in the Women’s Weekly as saying:

“My motto is never touch the engine. You always strike trouble when you start lifting the bonnet.”

Further reading:

Clarsen, Georgine W., 'The Flip Side: Women in the Redex Around Australia Reliability Trials':

'On Redex Roads' Australian Women's Weekly article: