31 December 2017

A 2017 Cemetery Tour Gallery

It has been a big, big year for the Friends of South Brisbane Cemetery. I'm reluctant to say the biggest ever, because back during 2005-10 the group was made up of just three women who tidied, photographed and recorded every single grave in the cemetery, and then successfully lobbied to get removed headstones returned, all of which amounts to one of the Labours of Hercules.

The last few years have been very quiet on the cemetery front, but back in May we incorporated the group and commenced a new range of night tours, once a month. They got bigger and bigger, and we ended up with six in six weeks, all sold out.

Mixed in with all this were a few other events, including our 'Midwinter Family Day' in June, 'Tombstone Folk' in September, and 'Graveyard Explorer' in October.

Here are a few images from this year. So many good memories for us. Thanks to everybody who visited the cemetery with us this past year - we hope to see you again in 2018!

'Midwinter Family Day', South Brisbane Cemetery, 18 June 2017. (FOSBC)

'A Cemetery by Torchlight' tour, South Brisbane Cemetery, 28 July 2017. (FOSBC)

'Gruesome Graveyards' tour, South Brisbane Cemetery, 25 August 2017. (FOSBC)

'Tombstone Blues', South Brisbane Cemetery, 22 September 2017. (M. Wilson)

'Tombstone Blues', South Brisbane Cemetery, 22 September 2017. (FOSBC)

'Hangman's Walk' tour, South Brisbane Cemetery, 13 October 2017. (FOSBC)

'Gruesome Graveyards' tour, South Brisbane Cemetery, 27 October 2017. (FOSBC)

'Graveyard Explorer', South Brisbane Cemetery, 29 October 2017. (FOSBC)

Private group tour, South Brisbane Cemetery, 10 November 2017. (FOSBC) 

'Hangman's Walk' tour, Toowong Cemetery, 12 November 2017. (FOSBC)

'Ghosts of South Brisbane Cemetery' tour, South Brisbane Cemetery, 24 November 2017.

'Ghosts of South Brisbane Cemetery' tour, South Brisbane Cemetery, 1 December 2017. (FOSBC)

Private group tour, South Brisbane Cemetery, 15 December 2017. (FOSBC)

15 December 2017

Cleveland Point, by John Dunmore Lang (1854)

Cleveland was proclaimed as a township in 1850. While it is a quiet suburb today, during the 1850s there was discussion of making this area the capital of the future colony of Queensland. There was shipping access there, but of course Cleveland eventually lost out to Brisbane. The following letter highlighting some of the logistical problems facing Cleveland at that time was written by prominent Queensland development advocate John Dunmore Lang in 1854.

Moreton Bay Courier, Saturday 26 August 1854

'AUDI ALTERAM PARTEM ('listen to the other side')


To the Editor of the Moreton Bay Courier.

Sir, - Having been one of a small party of the democracy, or, as our fallen friends delight to call us, the rabble and the mob, who made an excursion to the township of Cleveland during the present week, I beg to trouble you... with a few observations on that locality, first, as the site of a town, and secondly, as a rival shipping port to Brisbane and Ipswich.

I have no hesitation, therefore, in acknowledging that the impression produced upon my mind by the view of Cleveland Point and its vicinity was decidedly favourable. The locality is not only well chosen as the site of a town, but is highly interesting and romantic; its principal feature being a point of land, considerably above the water level, projecting into the Bay, and shooting out into its waters a long narrow spit of land, like the bony projection from the head of the fish called the Snapper. This spit of land has evidently been a reef of rocks on which the soil has accumulated on both sides in the course of ages from the washings up of the sea in northerly and southerly gales, the direction of the spit being east and west; and it is equally evident that, at no distant period, it has been one of the numerous islands in the Bay, the narrow neck that joins it to the mainland being scarcely elevated above high water mark. From the point already mentioned, as well as from the narrow spit, the view is singularly beautiful ; the numerous islands, and lightly wooded shelving shores of the Bay, with Moreton Island and the Glasshouses in the distance to the northward, forming a picture on which the eye delights to rest.

Cleveland, 1885. (BCC, Brisbane Images)

To the south-ward, the channel between Stradbroke island and the mainland reminded me of Long Island Sound in the Bay of New York, although it is consider-ably wider than that narrow Sound. And one can scarcely gaze on such a scene without anticipating the time when a numerous agricultural population will be settled all along the shores of the Bay, and numerous steam-boats will be paddling along the now silent waters of this in-land sea, and maintaining a perpetual intercourse between the small towns and villages on its shores and the capital of the province.

There is much good land along the shores of the Bay, and as the principal object of my visit was to ascertain the general capabilities of this part of the country for the settlement of an agricultural population, with a view particularly to the cultivation of cotton, I was gratified to find that my anticipations on the subject were much more than realized. Besides the land at present available for agriculture around the Bay, there is a vast extent of land in all parts of it in process of formation, from the gradual deposits of sand and mud from the waters of the Bay in the numerous mangrove swamps that line the coast in all directions ; and there is also much land originally of the same character, now permanently abandoned by the sea, but still so strongly impregnated with saline matter as to be utterly useless at present either for man or beast.

Now it is precisely this description of soil - land on the sea-coast and strongly saturated with salt - that the cotton plant chiefly affects, and that produces the finest description of cotton. And I have no doubt whatever that when this species of cultivation becomes general and extensive, as it is sure to do in a few years hence at farthest, in this district, the salt marshes along the shores of the Bay will be in great requisition, and a numerous agricultural population, cultivating the cotton plant, and exporting the produce in as large quantities as the present export of wool, will be settled all along the Bay. For such a population - in the southern portion of the Bay - a town on Cleveland Point will be indispensably necessary, and such a town will accordingly grow up with the surrounding population as a matter of course. The proprietors of allotments in this township may there-fore rest assured that they will come into use and prove valuable at no distant day.

But to force up a town into premature existence, like a hot-house plant, in any locality whatever, when there is no country population within a moderate distance either to require or to support it, is the grandest absurdity imaginable. But this is precisely what has been attempted at Cleveland, and it only shews with how little wisdom the squatting world, including although it does the veritable aristocracy of the country, is governed.

The first indication of civilization and refinement, in approaching the township of Cleveland, is a brickfield, belonging to a practical brickmaker, who it seems has hitherto supplied all the material of that kind required for the construction of the city of Cleveland; and it is worth mentioning, for the comfort of all who are in any way interested in the stability and permanence of the future city, that the bricks made in that locality are of a very superior quality, and are worth at least a pound a thousand more than those made in certain other localities. At some distance from Mr Maskell's brickfield, (the intervening line of bush-road leading through a beautifully wooded and richly grassed country that might almost be mistaken for the vicinity of a Ducal palace in the old country,) appears the first house in the town of Cleveland. It is an eight-roomed, substantial, commodious, brick-built, verandah cottage, with all the requisite appurtenances of a kitchen, and other outbuildings for the Democracy, on a much lower level towards the Bay ; the cottage itself being situated on the elevated point of land already mentioned, and commanding a beautiful view of the Bay with its fine scenery all round.

But every leaf was at rest, and I heard not a sound from the uninhabited mansion. It looked like one of those haunted houses that one sometimes sees in England, and that nobody will occupy for fear of "the ghost"; and when we reflected that it would probably cost from £1,500 to £2,000 to erect such a cottage, with all its appendages, in Sydney, and that it would rent, if there, at £200 a year, our party named it "Bigge's Folly," and rode on. At short distances towards the Point, we passed two other substantial brick cottages, each intended for two or more families of the Democracy, but both uninhabited like number one. We then crossed the low neck that joins the narrow spit to the mainland and rode onward to the jetty, where we found a whole suite of buildings for the future town, including a well built, substantial, capacious store, to which, as it was quite empty, our party gave the name of "Bigge's Vacuum.' Before the era of the Italian Torricelli, European philosophers used to tell us that "Nature abhorred a vacuum"; but here was a proof of the contrary, the capacious store at Cleveland Point being " a perfect vacuum," and no mistake. It was not very kind, however, in our friend Mr.- when contemplating this uninhabited town, (which really reminded one of the enchanted city in the Arabian Nights' Entertainments), to say that "a fool and his money were soon parted." An Englishman has a right to do what he will with his own ; and if any Englishman who has made his money at the public expense in the easy way the Squatters make theirs, chooses to build an uninhabited town in any part of this territory, what is that to Mr. -? Every Squatter, without exception, has "a preemptive right" to indulge in all such follies without let or hindrance.

Cleveland will never compete as a watering place for Brisbane and Ipswich, or for the inhabitants of the interior generally, with Sandgate, to which the access from Brisbane is so much more easy. Around Cleveland Point the shores of the Bay are generally muddy and the water very shallow ; the tide ebbing a long way out, and leaving a great extent of dry land, from which unpleasant exhalations arise, at low water. I was told indeed at Charleston, in South Carolina, in America, that the exhalations arising from land left dry by the efflux of the tide, did not constitute malaria, and were not prejudicial to health. But it would be quite as well for people visiting the coast either for health or for pleasure, not to make the experiment. At Sandgate, which I happened to visit in 1851, the shore is shelving and perfectly free from mud, the beach being composed in some places of sand, and in others of shingle. It is beyond all comparison a more suitable locality for a watering-place, such as will be indispensably necessary in this warm climate by and by ; and the building ground being situated much higher above the sea level and fronting the widest part of the Bay, it will be still more favourably situated for the sea-breeze. A good road from Brisbane to Sandgate, and the erection of a hotel, for families and invalids from the southern colonies, in that locality, are desiderata at present in this part of the territory.

As to Cleveland being ever a rival shipping port, competing for preeminence with Brisbane and Ipswich, the idea is absurd. Beautiful as the situation confessedly is for a subsidiary town, it affords no protection for shipping, and no facilities of any kind for the loading or unloading of vessels. The Bay, it must be recollected, is not less than sixty miles long, and twenty broad to the northward; and vessels lying off the Point are exposed to the full force both of the northerly and southerly winds that are frequent in the Bay, the only protection being from easterly or westerly winds. Besides, the water is very shallow, and the navigation, from rocks, and sand or mud banks, very intricate. Although I do not pretend to be an authority in such matters, I am confident, from what I saw at Cleveland Point, compared with what I have myself seen effected for the navigation of the river Clyde in Scotland, that it would take at least four times the amount to form anything like a proper harbour for shipping at Cleveland Point that it would take to remove every obstruction at present in the way of the navigation of the Brisbane River, and to render that river navigable for the largest vessels. Besides, there are whole miles of natural wharves already formed along both banks of the Brisbane River, whereas it would take an enormous outlay to construct anything of the kind at Cleveland Point. The Jetty at that Point, if carried out for about a hundred yards farther, towards the deep water, as is proposed, would form a very good landing place, both for passengers and goods, for small coasting steam-boats trading between the Bay and the Capital, although even for such vessels it would scarcely be available in bad weather; for I have been told that in such weather, the sea makes a complete breach over the present Jetty, and if carried out farther, it would only be the more exposed. No doubt if a few millions sterling were to be expended in the construction of a harbour at Cleveland Point, and if a Tram-road were formed between Cleveland and Ipswich, "the Squatters' Mistake," (for that I think ought to be the proper name for Cleveland), might compete with Brisbane as a shipping port. But these ifs are very awkward conjunctions; and the Squatters, who are interested in upholding the character of Cleveland should recollect the sage advice of the authoress of the famous Work on Cookery, "first catch your fish."

These remarks, which I trust will not prove altogether valueless in certain quarters, will doubt-less be received the more willingly by the intelligent and candid reader, when I add that I was myself strongly prepossessed, on my first visit to this district, nearly nine years ago, with the idea that a shipping port and commercial capital for the Moreton Bay country should be looked for either in the northern or in the southern part of the Bay - either at Toorbul Point, opposite Point Skirmish on Bribie's Island, where Flinders found a land-locked harbour, or at Cleveland Point. I am satisfied now, however, that Brisbane is destined to be the future Capital of this district, both commercially and politically; and the sooner the question is set completely at rest, the better will it be for all parties concerned. The blundering and delays of our incapable Governments - for the evil is of old standing, and by no means peculiar to the present regime - in the laying out of the sites for towns, and in the adoption of the requisite measures for carrying out proper plans, in this important particular, when once resolved on, have occasioned incalculable inconvenience and loss to the inhabitants of these colonies, from Geelong, in Port Phillip, to Moreton Bay; and the procedure of the authorities in this respect will remain a monument of folly to future generations. At Maitland there are three towns where there ought only to have been one. So are there also at Geelong, and so are there here. In all the three localities, it would have been perfectly easy for the Government to have formed one noble town in the proper place, and to have prevented the erection of a single house any where else in the neighbour-hood till that town had been fairly formed.

About a hundred and twenty years ago, old General Oglethorpe, a philanthropist of his day, formed a colony in Georgia in America ; and the cities which he formed - one of them a hundred miles up the Savannah River, - are built upon his original plans to the present day; having broad streets with lines of trees along the pathways, and noble squares at proper intervals throughout. What a wretched contrast most of our Colonial cities and towns present to this noble idea, and how indignant our posterity will feel at their forefathers entailing upon them inconvenience and disease from the faulty construction of our cities and towns ! For as the democracy will then have obtained a good government of their own, our posterity will scarcely know how to put the saddle on the right horse in these matters.

I am, Sir,
Yours, &c.,


Brisbane, 17th August, 1854.'

13 December 2017

My Writing

I am experienced in writing for such formats as books, journal and magazine articles, museum exhibitions, newspaper columns, tour scripts, and website content, and can provide paid writing services if you are looking for an author for your history-related projects.

Please contact me if you wish to discuss your project requirements.

0432 554470 (business hours only)

The following is a selection of my completed work:

Books and Booklets
  • A Pit of Shame: The executed prisoners of Boggo Road (2005, second edition 2010) 
  • Last Prison Standing: A short history of Boggo Road’s No.2 Division 1903-1989 (2005) 
  • The Houdini of Boggo Road: The Life and Escapades of Slim Halliday (2005) 
  • Escaping Boggo Road (2005) 
  • The Prisoners of Toowong Cemetery: Life, Death & the old Petrie Terrace Gaol (2006) 
  • Absolute Fairyland: Heady Days in Dutton Park (2006) 
  • The Illustrated Boggo Road Dictionary of Prison Language, Slang, & Flash (2007) 
  • Boggo Road Heritage Walk (2007) 
  • Dirty Dozen: Hanging & the Moreton Bay Convicts (2007) 
  • The One & Only Boggo Road: The history of a unique suburban street (2008) 
  • Rock of Ages: South Brisbane Cemetery Symbolism (2008) (with T Olivieri) 
  • Intemperance & the Train of Evils: Life on the wrong side of the tracks in colonial Brisbane (2008) 
  • The Hanging at the Brisbane Windmill (2009) 
  • Brisbane Beginnings #1: Dutton Park (2009) (with T Olivieri) 
  • Shovelnose: Tales of the Brisbane River sharks (2009) 
  • That Gingerbread Structure: The trials and tribulations of the Queen Street gaol (2010) 
  • No Ordinary Run of Men: The Queensland executioners (2010) 
  • Brisbane Beginnings #2: Fairfield (2010) (with T Olivieri) 
  • Shivs, Bongs & Boob Guns: Made in a Queensland prison cell (2010) 
  • Swinging in the Sixties: Hanging around colonial Queensland (2011) 
  • In Heavenly Garb: Headstones of the Ipswich General Cemetery (2012) ( with T Olivieri) 

Articles and columns
  • ‘The Dead Outside the Fence: Burying executed prisoners in Brisbane, 1830-1913’, Queensland History Journal vol. 20, no.8 (November 2008), Royal Historical Society of Queensland.
  • ‘What’s in a name? The rise, fall and comeback of Boggo’, Queensland History Journal, Volume 21, no. 4, November 2011.
  • 'South Brisbane Cemetery', Trust News, Autumn 2012, National Trust of Queensland, 2012.
  • 'Voracious monsters: People, sharks and the Brisbane River', Queensland History Journal vol. 21, no.10 (August 2012), Royal Historical Society of Queensland.
  • 'The Evolution of Execution in Queensland', Queensland History Journal vol. 22, no. 3 (November 2013), Royal Historical Society of Queensland.
  • '1884-1904' (book chapter), Dutton Park State School 2009 to 1884: A Journey (2009)
  • 'The Fair Fields of Fairfield', Stories of Stephens: A History of Annerley and the Surrounding Suburbs, Annerley-Stephens History Group, 2017.
  • 'Stone walls do a prison make: law on the landscape', Queensland Historical Atlas, 2011.
  • Individual site information, Mapping Brisbane History
  • 'A Thoroughly Modern Hanging', essay for the Queensland Supreme Court exhibition Path to Abolition: A History of Execution in Queensland, June 2014.

Exhibitions and displays
  • 'The Gallows of Boggo Road', Boggo Road Gaol Museum, Brisbane, 2005 
  • 'Life in Boggo', Boggo Road Gaol Museum, Brisbane, 2005 
  • '100 Not Out: A century of escapes from Boggo Road', Boggo Road Gaol Museum, Brisbane, 2003 
  • 'Clink Ink', Anthropology Museum, University of Queensland, St Lucia, 2002
13 October 2017

The Strangest Argument Ever Made Against Capital Punishment

Queensland was the first part of the old British Empire to abolish capital punishment. This happened in 1922, with the simple addition of this one sentence to the Criminal Code: ‘The sentence of punishment by death shall no longer be pronounced or recorded, and the punishment of death shall no longer be inflicted’.

The road to abolition was not so simple, however, and this was the second time that a Queensland Labor government (we also had the world's first Labor government, by the way) had tried to pass the bill. The first attempt was in 1916, and parliamentary debate featured a range of arguments in favour of and against the idea, including what has to be one of the most left-field cases ever made against capital punishment.

Dr William Frederick Taylor, Queensland MLA (John Oxley Library)
Dr William Frederick Taylor. (John Oxley Library)

Speaking against abolition, the Opposition Queensland Liberal Party contended that the issue was unimportant as there were more pressing concerns at hand, such as World War I. Their main line of argument was that capital punishment was a deterrent to crime, and that the absence of the death penalty would result in the rise of ‘lynch law’. The Old Testament sentiment of ‘an eye for an eye’ was raised on numerous occasions.

The arguments in favour of the bill included the religious (a prisoner would be deprived of the full opportunity for repentance); medical (murderers sometimes had ‘mental disease’); practical (hanging failed to act as a deterrent); judicial (even though mistakes had been made in the past, the sentence was irrevocable); and moral (the punishment does not fit the case nor effect the reformation of the offender). It was left to Dr William Taylor to bring an entirely new perspective to the debate.

As the official parliamentary records show, Taylor argued from a spiritualist viewpoint, asserting the existence of telepathy and astral planes, and that the death of a criminal only serves to release his consciousness into the astral plane, which would cause more harm than good:
By killing the body you free the mind of the individual, and his consciousness is much more capable of influencing others than it was before. That is the great argument against the death penalty… by killing the body, you liberate the criminal, who will do more mischief than he could possibly do if you keep him in his body, it is a mistake to kill him... 
If you kill the body with its five senses, the vehicle for the ego, or consciousness, to manifest through on the physical plane, you do a very stupid action, for the evil-disposed man can from the astral plane influence more easily the minds of dwellers on the physical plane than he could do while in his physical body.
Having introduced an angle that nobody saw coming, Taylor then flipped his argument around, saying that although he preferred imprisonment for murder, even inside a prison cell the prisoner may still be able use telepathic powers to influence others into committing crime:
We all know that such a thing as telepathy exists, and if you can concentrate your thought sufficiently you can transmit that thought to some other individual who will receive that thought and act on it... If you shut him up in a cell he is powerless to do any evil, unless he has a sufficient mental power to concentrate very strongly, and even then there is not much possibility of his doing any evil.
To be fair, Taylor was in many ways a great man, having a brilliant medical career and being an early advocate of such causes as female suffrage. Like many others he turned to Spiritualism during the carnage of World War 1 (in which he lost a son). However, this was probably one of the strangest arguments ever presented on the floor of the Queensland parliament.

After a short debate the bill was defeated, but the Labor government made a second and successful attempt to pass the abolition bill in 1922. William Taylor entered the astral plane in 1927, and has probably been influencing the minds of unsuspecting Queenslanders ever since.

10 October 2017

Citation Needed: Evil-Clown Fakelore in Brisbane

The release of the movie ‘It’, based on the Stephen King novel, has the 'evil clown' theme in circulation again, and - as often happens at times like this - there are some paranormalists who jump on the bandwagon and attempt to blur the line between pop culture and the real world.

Bad history make clown sad. (Steven Ponsford)

Example: A Wikipedia article on ‘evil clowns’ was amended in July 2017 to include several paragraphs on a fictional ‘evil clown’ in Brisbane. While the story contained many obvious falsehoods from the first sentence to the last, what is surprising is the amount of effort that the anonymous author had put into making this seem like a real story. After all, Wikipedia do not take kindly to people filling up their pages with fiction.

What I will do here is run through the story and debunk each bit of misinformation in turn to show how this story is ‘fakelore’ - that is, fabricated folklore.
'There is a popular urban legend in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia in which the fiendish entity at the centre of the tale appears to be an early representation of the odd crimes and violent behaviour of a mentally disturbed vagrant in the city parks of Brisbane Australia in the late 1930s.'
To begin with - there is no such ‘popular urban legend’ in Brisbane. There is no record of this story even existing before the Wikipedia entry appeared in July. However, the use of the phrase ‘urban legend’ is interesting because the author then starts making claims of official records to back the story up, even though none of these alleged records are ever cited. Just about every paragraph in this story ends with the standard Wikipedia warning of 'citation needed'.
'Queensland Police records details of a handful of petty assaults in which various women and children were set upon by a fiend who resembles the modern idea of the evil clown. The victims were pushed around and subjected to a tirade of taunts and bawdy humour by a man dressed as a clown. The assaults which lasted only a few minutes saw the victims pinched, pushed and barraged with taunts by a painted joker. The man behind the makeup was dock worker Franklin Smith.[citation needed] 
Smith, a notorious drunk and thief, was well known to the local constabulary. The case turns strange when arrest records show that Smith refused to take off the clown outfit he was wearing. Smith stated that it was gifted to him by a dying gypsy woman and had been reported to be the very same outfit worn by a jester clown who had murdered a Romanian King due his amorous intentions for the victims Queen. Whenever constables tried to remove the garments Smith became violent and animalistic. Refusing to be quiet at his trial and mocking the presiding magistrate with foul humour and ridiculous gestures Smith was sent to what was then known as the Goodna Insane Asylum. 
The events which led to the institutionalization of Franklin Smith were further compounded by the hospital records of another inmate whose detailed sessions bear witness to Franklin reportedly talking to the clown suit at night.[citation needed]'
No evidence is provided to support these claims, and no records of any incident like this seem to exist. The absence of dates is telling, as is the fact that the author starts the next bit of the story with ‘legend says’ before again referring to detailed records. Which is it - urban legend or historical fact?
'Legend says that even the staff of the asylum could not force or convince Smith to remove the jester garments. However, fellow inmates swear that he would often take the suit off in the dead of night. Hanging the outfit on his cell wall he would converse with it like a second party. One inmate claims that he had heard the suit answer back. The myth became even more mysterious in light of the actions that led to Franklin's death. Smith was feared and despised by all the other inmates despite him never having spoken or interacted with any of them. The hospital medical examiner records in great detail that Smith was attacked by a vast number of inmates when undertaking his routine bath. A senior guard at the hospital diarised the event and made note of a second group of inmates banding together to ensure the cell holding the clown suit remained locked while the mob lynched Smith in the bath house.[citation needed]'
That is quite a sensational event. Fortunately, it never happened. No proof is provided in the story, even though such events would have been reported upon quite prominently at the time, as were four suicides at the asylum during 1937-38 and an accidental death there in 1941. Any murder there would have also prompted a criminal investigation.
'According to hospital records the clown suit was fitted within a state issued body bag of the times and transferred to the Dutton Park mortuary for internment in the lower section of the Dutton Park Cemetery. Mortuary documents reveal a complaint to the State government health board over the apparent gluing of a clown outfit onto the cadaver of Franklin Smith.[citation needed]'
Once again, no evidence or reference is provided for these claims, and - even more telling - there wasn’t even a mortuary at the cemetery!
'State government investigations further detail a war of letters between the hospital and the funerary staff with hospital staff oblivious to how the clown suit had even been transferred along with the body let alone glued to the corpse. Enraged by the complaints, hospital official Dr Basil Stafford sent his head of staff Dr Peter Novel to view the body. Correspondence between the two doctors reveals a perturbed account from Dr Nobel who confessed that not only was it the suit that Franklin had worn but it was in fact glued or somehow tarred to the body of the murdered thief come jester.[citation needed] 
Dr Nobel further added that attempts to remove the costume were only successful in tearing away large chunks from the corpse and the decision was made to bury the infernal thing with the body. Franklin Smith was buried in an unmarked grave in Dutton Park Cemetery in 1941. The cemetery was made famous by the 1974 Brisbane floods in which a large section of the graveyard was washed away with some coffins still unaccountable. Further scandal over the council allegedly tampering plot records and using headstones for landfill have also brought the cemeteries name to the news headlines.[citation needed]'
Lots more allusions to the existence of records here, but still no citations of evidence. The cemetery paragraph is particularly misleading. There is no record of a Franklin Smith ever being buried in any Brisbane municipal cemetery, and there is not even a Frank Smith buried around that time. Also, ‘a large section of the cemetery’ was NOT washed away in 1974 (or ever), and so there are no ‘unaccountable’ coffins. There was also no ‘scandal’ with ‘tampering plot records’ (mistakes were sometimes made in record-keeping, but there was no ulterior motive). I suspect this was only raised here to provide cover for the fact that the burial records contradict the story.
'It is however the growing number of sightings and accounts of people being pushed or prodded by an invisible assailant and various sightings of a creepy phantom clown at the cemeteries river edge that are sparking news interest and growing the legend. If local historians are accurate the site of this spate of phantom clown activity falls right at the area in which Franklin Smith was interred 12 feet down at the request of the then commissioner Johnathan Lairborne.[citation needed]'
Again we go back to the story being a ‘legend’, as if the author can’t remember if this supposed be real or not, even though they continue to allude to official (and conveniently unreferenced) records of these events. We also have claims of a ‘growing number’ of sightings of a ‘creepy phantom clown’, although there is no record of any such sightings prior to this article appearing in July 2017. And as for ‘news interest’ - the story has never been been mentioned in any news outlet. Also, which 'local historians' have researched this? None that I or anyone else in the 'Friends of South Brisbane Cemetery' know of.

A perusal of the history of edits of the article (all detailed on the Wikipedia ‘view history’ facility for that page) reveals little. The story first appeared on 16 July 2017 and underwent several editing changes over the next few weeks. At a couple of early points the editor provided citations before quickly removing them. One of those citations went up on the 16 July and linked to a now-removed page on the Brisbane Ghost Tours website. Another citation was added on 20 July, this one linked to a 'hauntedbrisbane.com' address that redirected to the same Ghost Tours site. Another short-lived link went to the clearly-irrelevant National Trust of Queensland homepage. Although the editor promised on 22 July that ‘state archive documents to support article will be published August 15th 2017’, nothing like that has yet to appear.

This of course raises the question of who wrote the story, although it appears that the author was making an effort to remain anonymous. Their style is amateurishly affected and often cringe-worthy, while the plot reads like a rejected Scooby-Doo script, but all the mentions of unnamed official records show that they clearly fancy themselves to be a historian. It may be that the author and their alleged sources are never identified, which is quite strange as they claim to have done so much in-depth ‘research’ into this story. If the information they present is true, why would they not step forward and argue their case? That question is, of course, rhetorical.

So none of the history in this story holds up, and no citations of evidence are provided. Somebody is trying to invent a non-existent ‘urban legend’, but we can safely dismiss this as a piece of fakelore, planted on Wikipedia for who-knows-what motive. Brisbane has a problematic history with this kind of thing, as these examples from various debunkers show:
A big problem with this sort of fake history is that it creates a genuine threat to the cemetery. It distracts people from the real stories of real people interred in there, and undermines the spiritual values of the place. The graves are consecrated, effectively rendering this as sacred space that has strong personal meaning to many of the people who visit there. Stories about evil clowns just present it as a novelty paranormal sideshow attraction that attracts gullible clown-spotting paranormalists to trespass at night time. The dangers of this were made clear in August 2009 when a group of people with interest in the occult vandalised 82 graves at Toowong Cemetery. The court heard that one of the group had bragged about inverting headstone crosses because it ‘had meaning to Satanists’.

I edited the Wikipedia page to remove the fake story from the ‘evil clown’ page. No doubt it will reappear again, and I suspect the author will continue to hide their identity and their 'sources'. This, sadly, is all too often the nature of the beast when it comes to dealing with paranormalists, for whom 'citation needed' seems to be a mandatory modus operandi.

24 September 2017

An 1860s Look at the Gulf Country

This description of life around the far northern settlements of Cloncurry and Normanton is taken from the Queenslander, 2 October 1869:

'Norman, July 16.

The Gulf, in Southern minds, is still connected with sickness. Every traveller's yarns, they say, should be taken cum grano salis, and this is more especially the case with regard to Gulf travellers. I have frequently heard men tell the most unblushing lies of the horrors they have seen out here, things that never existed, to my certain knowledge, except in their own fertile minds; imagining, I suppose, that by so doing they render themselves heroes, and no doubt they succeed in gaining the congratulations of their friends for having had such miraculous escapes.

Bachelor quarters in Normanton, ca. 1885. (State Library of Queensland)

The subjoined statement of the disorders prevalent out here has been furnished me by Dr. Fotheringham, M.R.C.S., London. The disorders most prevalent out here are:- ‘Bilious attacks, always prevalent in tropical climes and aggravated by the too free use of alcohol in every form; bilious fever is but rare; remittent fever, with its concommitants ague, &c.; low fever, sometimes approaching to one of a typhoid character, coming under the term of complicated fever; sickness brought on by the abuse of calomel, ignorant people taking enormous doses for the purpose of treating slight derangement of the liver; the too frequent abuse, also, of quinine, which is frequently taken by the half handfull a day, producing nervousness, headache, stupidity, and general prostration of the nervous system. Since January, 1867, to date, no fatal cases of the tropical fevers alluded to, and dependent upon malaria, &c., have come under my notice. Kanakas are subject to dysentery and general debility, and no heart to bear up against the slightest attacks of any disorder.’

The great stumbling block to the Gulf progress has been the number of ports and towns that have been started, whereas one town was quite sufficient. Originally Burketown was the port, and would now doubtless have been a flourishing town; but just as people had started and had made their improvements, &c, an agitation was started in favor of the Norman, and soon after a stampede set in for that place. The consequence was, of course, depreciation in the value of Burketown property, and ultimately the ruin of most of the Burketown residents. The Norman, I thought, would prove a failure, as, with the exception of two or three stations, nobody benefitted by the ‘flit.’ However, now that the Gilbert has broken out, of course the Norman will become a great place, unless a port is discovered nearer to the field, which I think is probable, as so little is known of the country. At present the Great Australian Mining Company and the Cloncurry diggings make the Norman their shipping port, but I believe ultimately Bourketown will take this trade, as it is said a road will be opened when the mine commences operations, which will run the Leichhardt River down, and thence to Bourketown. However, it will be some time before this is done.

There is another Town on Sweers Island, and this place is the bete noir of the north. It was originally opened by W. Landsborough, P.M., as a sanatorium at the time when sickness was rampant, and as such should have been retained. As a site for a lying-in hospital or an agapemone, I suppose it is unrivalled, but farther than this it must prove a failure. When our Collector of Customs arrived here, being naturally of a retiring nature, he settled and built the bond on the island. Now, mark the consequences. Communication between this place and the main land is maintained by an old steamer, about which bets are freely made whether she will blow up that trip. Ships coming to the Gulf have to clear for this island, and it is often a fortnight or more before we know that the vessel has arrived. We then proceed to the island by the first opportunity to clear the goods and have them lightered to town. This of course entails great additional expense, and adds so much to the original invoice that it becomes almost impossible for small capitalists to import. All this expense might be avoided, the revenue increased greatly, and an impetus given to the whole country, were a Custom-house officer established at the mouth of the Norman. For three miles within the heads a splendid harbor exists, and were the river bar properly buoyed, vessels of a large tonnage could enter. A good bridle track exists from the town to the heads, and there is no doubt a good road could soon be found. A magnificent site for a town exists there, with abundance of fresh water. Besides, boats and punts could easily bring the goods to town, and no doubt should the town progress a tramway will ultimately be erected. I cannot understand the policy of the Government in dosing their eyes to the advantages of such a plan as small capitalists would then be able to commence business, and the imports would be increased in proportion. Every facility is at present given for smuggling, and be sure, should the Gilbert go a-head, it will open up a market that will not be neglected, if it is not already being worked. At present a vessel could leisurely come into any of the rivers discharge and leave before any intimation could reach the island.

The only semblance of law out here, and the only intimation that our Government give us of their knowledge of our existence, is paying rent for a lock-up without doors, and maintaining a customs on Sweers Island. There is no public magistrate here, and the whole ‘majesty of the law’ is left in the hands of the sergeant and four constables and a few newly-pledged J.P.'s. The sergeant endeavors to assert his dignity with a bullock chain, but is generally deterred from taking a prisoner, as he is then supposed to keep him in durance till the arrival of one of our J.P.s, whose visits are indeed ‘few and far between.’ By-the-way, we should like to enquire why our J.P.s are only selected from our ‘wool kings.’ Why are the merits of our townsmen - men who are constantly at hand to take their seats when required - and many of whom have had great experience, why are their names entirely overlooked? Surely the Government cannot be aware that not a single one of our businessmen appears on the roll.

There is no doubt this will prove a wonderfully rich mineral country when time has elapsed to allow it to be properly prospected. Prospectors are out in every direction, and we frequently hear of fresh finds of gold. Copper, I believe, is also very plentiful. What are the Manton's and other Sydney promoters doing that they do not push out on the Cloncurry and prospect. The two known gold-fields are the Gilbert and the Cloncurry. The latter is situate exactly 300 miles from town, on the Cloncurry River. There is a good road the whole of the way. At present the road is well watered, but towards the end of the dry season there is a dry stage of forty miles and another of thirty-five miles. Up to the present time there has been little better than gully raking carried on. The gold is found in large rough nuggets; in fact, the finds of half an-ounce nuggets are of daily occurrence. In here are about thirty men on the ground, and most of them seem satisfied. Most of the gold found is not at all water-worn, and appears to have dropped from reefs in the immediate vicinity. A great portion has been got by ‘dry panning.’ The most pleasing feature I have heard is that an old experienced digger lately sunk a hole on a flat, and bottomed at ten feet; he took 8 ozs. out. The other diggers immediately took up the ground and commenced sinking; I have not yet heard with what success. It is impossible to estimate what quantity of gold is in the diggers’ hands, as they keep dark, and of course will not part with gold for cheques.

The great drawback to the Cloncurry is the scarcity of water; there is but one permanent water hole in the immediate vicinity, and even this has to be sunk towards the end of the season. This would not suffice any population. I do not know how this difficulty can be overcome, as I know of no place near from whence water can be brought. A store has been opened by Mr. Marsh, but at present he has little or no supplies. I start for there to morrow, and will write you full particulars. Parties coming to this town en route for the diggings would do well not to arrive later than the beginning of November, as from the 1st of December to the 1st of March the roads are impassable, owing to the wet - in fact the town becomes almost an island. Carriage to the Cloncurry £25 a ton. Of the Gilbert I can only speak from hearsay, and had therefore better leave it alone. The Cleveland Bay people know more about it than we do. A few travellers have been back and forwards, but their statements vary very much. I have reliable information that a good road, well watered, can be made from this place under 200 miles.

The only drawback on the road is a few sand ridges, each a few hundred yards long. The present road round by Bauhinia Downs is 240 miles. A bonus has been granted by the townspeople for opening the new road, and two loaded teams start to-morrow for that purpose. The advantage of diggers coming to the Norman is, that they can then judge for themselves which is the best site for their future operations. John Youlle, of Wentworth renown, better known as ‘Johnny the Reefer,’ with his two mates arrived by the Margaret and Jane. They selected the Cloncurry, as there were fewer people there. They were on their way up when I last saw them.

In conclusion, I would advise intending immigrants to book through to the Norman, as they will thus save the additional expense of being landed at the island, and the passage money from the island to town.

Weather fine, but hot. No church bells here. We weary to hear the old hundredth chimed.'
23 September 2017

The Strange Case of the Brisbane River Monster

If the following newspaper account is anything to go by, then in 1898 the residents of the small town of Lowood, 66km west of Brisbane, were in the grip of 'monster fever'.

Situated by the upper reaches of the Brisbane River, this was a quiet, remote spot with dairy farms and a strong German community. During 1898 there were a number of strange occurrences and alleged sightings of some kind of large creature in the river there. Some claimed it be a crocodile, others a massive dog with tusks, and others said it had wings or fins. The name 'bunyip' was also used, linking it to a large creature from Aboriginal mythology.

There were even reports of the creature leaving the waters at night to walk on land and attack cattle!

The situation came to a head in August 1898, and the Brisbane Courier presented this account of the extraordinary events at Lowood:

"Reported Monster in the Brisbane River. (From our Lowood Correspondent.)

September 1.

Ever since last flood, rumours have been prevalent that there was some animal of the alligator species in the river here. Several fishing parties have reported being disturbed by the appearance of the monster, demon, or whatever it was, which scared the piscators so much that they retired in much haste and trepidation.

Others have said that the animal was seen to come out of the river at night and attack cattle grazing on the bank. One report was to the effect that a calf was, on one occasion, carried bodily into the water and devoured. The monster was described by some who saw it as being something similar to a Newfoundland dog with a ferocious head and large tusks. Others affirmed that it had wings or large fins and yet resembled an alligator in its motions when on dry land. 
If it could only be located it was the determination of numerous residents to destroy the brute. When seen, however, no fire-arms were in the hands of the surprised beholders. Last Thursday night, a party of 'opossum-shooters when near the river were surprised to see the monster floating in the river, and only too glad of the opportunity of distinguishing themselves by clearing the river of the "devourer," they fired ten shots which did not prevent the "bunyip" from speeding away up the river to the long waterhole opposite Lindermann's cultivation. 
The monster having thus been located the night of Friday last was fixed for a party to effect its destruction. The appointment was made for 5 p.m., and the "vigilance committee" were to assemble at the Lowood School of Arts. About twenty of the residents (armed with guns), together with Constable Fagg and others, accordingly met at the "trysting-place" and determined to get to the scene of action with as little delay as possible. A move was accordingly made to the bottom of Mr. Lindermann's paddock on the river bank, and, after the party had traversed the bank some half hour or so, one of the scouts reported seeing a dark moving object on the other side of the river on a large log. The object had scarcely been noted when it jumped or dived off the log with considerable noise and splashing, and came towards the party bent upon its destruction. 
As it rapidly and fearlessly approached, some who were rather timid were for firing and scaring the monster off, but the leader of the party counselled them to reserve their fire until a nearer approach of the creature. The right time having arrived the order was given, and a volley from the party was fired at the approaching object. Another volley was next poured in, with shots at intervals of a few minutes until the advance of the monster was stayed and the body seemed to float away up the stream. 
The firing brought quite a crowd of the principal residents on the scene, and a boat was soon manned to follow the carcase of the supposed dead bunyip. The party in the boat on nearing the unknown, fired once more, and then secured the floating body. Loud cries of "Have ye got him?" "Is he dead?" "Get him to land?" &c. were directed to the party in the boat who were hauling aboard the river monster. It was soon found to the disgust of the slayers, that the bunyip wore make up. The skin of a wallaby had been stuffed over an empty wooden case and an ingenious arrangement of cords fixed so that the "demon" could be pulled through the water. This was rather a "sell" for many persons who thought that "behemoth" was genuine, and the affair has caused a lot of fun.
September 4.
"The excitement and amusement created by the bunyip hoax on Friday have not yet subsided and the sayings of those who were determined to capture the monster cause no end of merriment. There were about ten men of K company present with forty rounds of ball cartridges and about twenty of the young men round here (seven with shot guns), while others (on hearing the first volley fired at the river) made haste to the scene of action, bent on having a view of the leviathan. 
The excitement was intense. The independent firing continued until the halliards or ropes attached to the "creature" were cut and then the boat was manned and the shooters made towards the supposed dying bunyip. On their near approach, however, the remaining rope was pulled by the unseen operator and the crew of the boat paused, some saying, "Look out! don't let us get too close, for we do not know what he may do." A hurried consultation resulted in their deciding to let the monster have another volley to make quite sure. 
The deed was done and the boatsmen then got near the object of their pursuit and pulled it on board, when they were surprised to find that lately "terrible monster" was, as one remarked, "only a b——y box !" Those who had before held back, being rather afraid, now, on hearing that the "monster" was dead, drew near to the boats and the surprise of the assembled crowd was very amusing. 
The "bunyip" was on view at the Lowood Railway Station yesterday. It is about 5ft. long (tail included) with a head like that of a good sized calf, covered with swanskin, black leather being over its nose. The tail was made of swanskin and grey wallaby skin, and the ears of wallaby skin, with wire appliances to keep the ears stiff. The "body" was simply an old wooden case. At the railway station, on the arrival of the trains, a general move of the passengers was made to view the "bunyip," and it is the talk of the whole district. 
Some say that one resident of the Pocket had offered £40 for the capture of the monster that was reported to be seen in the river some months ago, when the calves were being missed. A report was also rife that the Government were willing to give £200 for the monster, for the Museum, and there were several disputes, before the finale as to how these rewards were to be shared by the armed and unarmed hunters of "the River Terror." Nothing in the hoax line that has happened here has caused so much laughter for many a year."
So it was after all an elaborate hoax, and one worthy of any modern-day monster or ghost prankster. This detailed account of the details behind the events appeared in 1940:
'When fuller investigation was made it was found that the leader of the volley party, Mr. C.H.D. Lindemann, was the perpetrator. The bunyip was a box covered with wallaby hide, with swansdown ears and sole leather sewn on for its nose. It was made by Messrs. Lindemann and K. Smythe, Mr. Smythe being a bootmaker. The only other person in the joke, apart from those operating the device was the police sergeant at Lowood. The "bunyip" was fastened to a wire across the river, on an angle, and was worked by a device and pulleys by Mr. F. Smythe behind a gum tree on Vernor's side and by Mr. Jack Lindemann on the Lowood side. The men working the pulleys were high up on the bank and out of harm's way. Mr. Arthur Nunn also knew a good deal of the arrangements. The "bunyip" was brought to Lowood and lay at the railway station. Its badly riddled body was viewed by hundreds; many photographs were taken and all southern papers gave it widespread publicity. Mr. Lindemann said that many cuttings from southern papers made interesting reading; but they were all destroyed in a fire at Lowood some years ago. Lowood's "bunyip" was the most talked of thing for some time. If Lowood had not been on the map before, it certainly was then. Mr. C.H.D. Lindemann still enjoys telling the story. He said after that he got the blame for everything that happened whether be knew anything about it or not.' (Queensland Times, 1 January 1940)
Carl Hermann Detlef Lindemann, 1873-1952, shopkeeper, inventor, first-class monster hoaxer.
(State Library Qld)

It is perhaps fortunate that the hoax was exposed so soon. As we have seen with other fantasy creatures such as Bigfoot and Nessie, a hoax that is left unexposed for too long becomes accepted as unshakable fact by paranormalists. Despite its acknowledged origins as a joke, the tale has been retold ever since and the 'Lowood Bunyip' has become an established part of the local culture. A replica bunyip played a prominent part in the Lowood State School's centenary celebrations in 1981, and they have recently adopted 'Horis the Bunyip' as their school mascot. A history of the tale on their website unfortunately fails to mention that it was a hoax. You can even visit the Lowood Bunyip Twilight Markets, who have their own bunyip logo in the form of Bruce the Bunyip.

Carl HD Lindemann would no doubt be amazed at the longevity of his elaborate prank. It is a local fame, however, that is well deserved.

09 September 2017

Ghost Hunts, Charlatans, and ‘Psychopathic Liars’

There are some good people involved in the paranormal field, but unfortunately there are some not-so-nice ones too. One group some friends and I had particular problems with several years back was 'Queensland Paranormal Investigators' (QPI), who et themselves up to run commercial Ghost Hunts. These ghost hunts were to be held in places like South Brisbane Cemetery and were also planned for Boggo Road. QPI and their colleagues tried to scare off 'competition', and around 2010, when we were planning our cemetery night tours, they were very antagonistic towards the Friends of South Brisbane Cemetery.

Snake oil linament.

My own opinions aside, other people have used very harsh language describing the people involved in QPI. Stephen Downes, a contributor to Channels 9’s A Current Affair, pulled out of show after ACA aired an uncritical segment on the ghost hunts offered by QPI/Ghost Tours in early 2010. He did not hold back in this article 'Who ya gonna call? Ghost boasters apparently':
'All right, so QPI will be dismissed by most people as an hilarious loser... But how can ACA risk its credibility as a “scam-busting” program by presenting complete and utter bullsh-t such as this? As someone who has appeared on ACA from time to time to comment on marketing issues - drawing on published studies in consumer behaviour and peer-reviewed academic literature on marketing and brand management - I actually feel embarrassed to have been seen in the same company as these charlatans.'
Harsh words, but nowhere near as harsh as those used by the folks who run the website exposing ‘Australia and New Zealand Military Imposters’ (ANZMI). These are very passionate people who do not mince words, and in one exposé about a military imposter they opened up with this:
'A psychopathic liar has no conscience, no feelings of guilt or remorse, and he cares not a fig for the well being of friends or family members he betrays. He does not struggle with shame no matter what kind of harmful or immoral lies he tells.'
The rest of the article goes downhill from there. They are talking about Shane Townsend, a founder of QPI who can be seen in this photo with his 'Ghost Hunts' partner ‘Jack’ Sim.

Ghost hunter in fake identity controversy, Ipswich, Queensland, 2010.
Queensland Times, 19 January 2010

It’s a long article that you really have to read to believe. They write:
'As a further insight into the personality of Townsend, he claims in media reports and on web sites to be a Psychic Medium and claims to have been tested at the University of Canberra and the ABC Testing unit for gifted children. His claims of being a gifted Psychic are for those gullible people silly enough to believe him, we do however know that he is a gifted liar. Townsend has: 
Lied about having served with SASR
Lied about serving in Cambodia, Iraq and Afghanistan
Lied about being a decorated soldier
Lied about his academic qualifications
Lied about serving with USA Navy SEALs
Lied about serving in the RAN
Falsely worn a DCM
Falsely worn 3RAR Parachute wings
Falsely worn and Infantry Combat Badge
Falsely worn other medals that have not been awarded to him
Produced numerous false military documents'
Those who were offended by Shane and the Ghost Tours/QPI people 'ghost hunting' around war graves in the South Brisbane Cemetery on a cheesy TV show a few years back will sense some karma in all this.

Like I said before, I know good people who dabble in the paranormal, but shonky characters are attracted to the paranormal industry like moths to a flame. It is not a science, it is not regulated, there is no definable right or wrong way of doing it, it lends a thin veneer of mystery to otherwise suburban personalities, and you get to deal with some very impressionable people and maybe even get to take their money. When these types try and make it hard for us to carry out our not-for-profit History activities it gets frustrating, but people like Liam Baker over at the 'Haunts of Brisbane' website do a good job of trying to lift standards in the field of paranormal research.

'Hilarious losers', 'complete and utter bullshit', 'charlatans', 'psychopathic liar'. Harsh words, but not mine. The ANZMI website puts it well:
'If you tell the truth it becomes part of your past.
If you tell a lie it becomes part of your future.' 
This article was originally published in 2011. 'Queensland Paranormal Investigators' appear to have not been active since that year. 

30 August 2017

Fatal Shark Attacks in Mackay Rivers

I've already written in these pages about fatal shark attacks in Queensland rivers, including the Brisbane River, the Logan River and Townsville's Ross Creek. Another one to add to that unfortunate list is the Pioneer River, which runs through the central coast city of Mackay.

The first recorded attack came in December 1939 at Rubbish Dump Creek. This was about 30 metres wide and a popular swimming spot for the locals. It was so named because of a nearby dump, the refuse from which was also thought to attract sharks. One hot day, around noon, 20-year-old railway fireman Frank Gurran was fishing in the creek when he decided to have a quick dip in the water, which was about 3 metres deep. He dived off the rowing boat he was in, but as soon as he resurfaced he cried out 'shark!'. Onlookers thought it might have been a prank, but they sprinted for help when the water turned red.

A bull shark almost 3 metres long had gripped Curran's right leg. He kicked furiously at it until it let go, but it returned and bit into his left foot. Curran managed to scramble to the shore, where a companion helped him. While lying waiting for the ambulance, he directed the application of ligatures to stem the bleeding in his leg, smoked a cigarette, and joked about finally getting time off work for Christmas. Curran was soon rushed to the local hospital, where it was found necessary to amputate his right leg below the knee. He received massive blood transfusions that kept him alive for a while, but he died three days after sustaining his injuries.

The shark that bit him was caught and killed within hours of the attack. Charles Simpson, who boarded with Gurran, baited a hook and line with a bullock's liver after seeing the shark 'lazily cruising up and down the stream'. The shark took the bait and Simpson coaxed it to the bank, where he bludgeoned it with an axe. The shark was landed after another boy put 14 air-rifle pellets into its head. It was reportedly still 'quivering' when the following Mercury picture of the shark and its captors was taken:

Daily Mercury, 18 December 1939.

In later years the Dump Creek area became the site of the Caneland Central shopping complex.

The next fatal river shark attack at Mackay took place in February 1956. Barry Antonini, aged 15 years, was swimming with friends in the Rocklea reach of the Pioneer River one morning. The boys were diving from the bank into deep water and returning to shore. Antonini dived in, resurfaced about 3 metres from the bank, and scrambled back. When a friend pulled him out they saw that Antonini had been bitten deeply on the calf of the right leg and part of the muscle was removed. He was bleeding profusely.

The boys ran to get help from a policeman who was fishing nearby. A tourniquet was applied to the leg and the ambulance arrived, Antonini turned to his friends and said, 'It looks as though I will have to have my leg taken off.' Sadly, he died on the way to hospital.

'Sailing on the Pioneer River, Mackay', c. 1935. (State Library of Qld)

There have been no more fatal attacks in the rivers or creeks of Mackay since that time. So far...

17 August 2017

Constance Clyde of Dutton Park: Author and Suffragette

In August 1951 a 79-year-old Brisbane woman died and was buried in the Hemmant Cemetery. No headstone marks her grave, no newspaper obituary marked her passing, and her life in Brisbane had been generally unremarkable. Yet Constance Jane McAdam had done much to be remembered for.

Constance Clyde, 1903.

I first came across Constance while researching the Brisbane Women’s Prison of the 1930s. She had spent three weeks in Boggo Road in 1935 after being convicted of ‘pretending to tell fortunes for payment’, and subsequently wrote a newspaper article about her experiences there. From that article, the breadcrumb trail of online information revealed a formidably independent woman who had been a writer in New Zealand, Sydney and London, producing a novel and numerous short stories for newspapers and magazines. In London 1907 she spent time in Holloway Prison for her part in a Suffragette protest at the Houses of Parliament. She even managed to get herself ejected from the New Zealand parliament after a one-person protest there. Clearly this was someone who lived a life worth recalling.

That life began in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1872 when she was born as the 11th child of William and Mary Couper. The family emigrated to Dunedin, New Zealand, in 1879. She began her literary career as a young woman writing poetry for the Otago Witness newspaper, and her first paid piece was a short story in the Dunedin Star. She moved to Sydney in 1898, where a major part of her journalistic career was spent writing for the Sydney Bulletin, particularly on the subjects of ‘social, feminist and literary questions’.[1] She wrote under the pen name ‘Constance Clyde’, no doubt a sentimental reference to the river than ran through the city of her birth. She also joined the ‘Yorick Club’, a somewhat bohemian collection of people with ‘a professional interest in literature, visual arts or science’.

Constance moved to London in 1903 to further her career. Her only novel, A Pagan's Love, was published there in 1905. Lawrence Jones provides this analysis of the book:
‘Clyde is explicitly contemptuous of Puritanism, which she dismisses as ‘this coarse, church-belled heathenism’. She sees it as a narrow, barren, blinkered creed suitable for the respectable conformists who live in the Presbyterian Otago community of Waihoa. The attractive alternative offering deliverance from this stultifying religion is paganism. For Clyde, this is a blend of atheism, sexual equality and a new morality. The novel charts the progression of the heroine, Dorothea Wylding, away from Puritanism towards paganism. Growing up in Waihoa, Dorothea is imbued with a strict sense of morality and a belief in respectability. This begins to be undermined when she travels to Sydney, the ‘laughing pagan city’. Here she meets the feminist Ascot Wingfield, an independent career woman and solo mother, who teaches Dorothea of the need for women to have both an intellectual and an emotional life. Dorothea is also reunited with childhood friend Edward Rallingshaw, the pagan of the title. A married man, he tries to persuade Dorothea to live with him in a free love union. Just as he wears the last of her resistance down he dies in a fire. While this at first appears to reinforce the Puritan theological code of transgression and punishment, it eventually results in the defeat of orthodoxy. Returning to Waihoa, Dorothea marries the Rev John Archieson. When she leaves him to return to Sydney he in turn discovers that the Puritan code is limiting. In a final sermon he questions whether ‘there is such a thing as sin’ and declares that ‘it is not the higher but the broader life that we want; we need our minds enlarged rather than our souls purified’. John’s heterodoxy reunites him with Dorothea. The ex-Puritan hero and heroine resolve to work together to free others from the religious and moral bondage they have experienced and to promote ‘a new morality and religion of love rather than law, of fulfillment rather than denial.’[2]
The novel did not find a large audience and I don’t know if Constance ever tried to write another one. Certainly after this time her output was largely confined to short stories for various newspapers, with the occasional piece of journalism, although in 1933 she co-authored a travel/history book titled New Zealand, Country and People.

Her political beliefs saw her make the news in 1907. Constance was naturally drawn to the cause of the Suffragettes and their long struggle for full voting rights for women. This led to her arrest and imprisonment in March 1907 for taking part of the first Suffragette protest outside the British parliament – which followed the defeat of another suffrage Bill - in which there was reported to be prolonged fighting between the protesters and the 500 police who were defending the House of Commons. 75 women were arrested that day. Constance wrote vivid newspaper accounts of these experiences, which I will reproduce in the next article on this website. I am unsure as to the direct and ongoing extent of her involvement in the Suffragette movement, and it is clear from her articles that she set out to get arrested just so she could report from inside the 'belly of the beast', but her writings show that she was clearly a very strong supporter of the struggle. Her actions also show that she was not afraid to see the inside of a prison cell, and like many Suffragettes she wore imprisonment as a badge of honour.

A young suffragette is arrested at the March 1907 protest.
A young Suffragette is arrested at the March 1907 protest.

Her life in Edwardian London seemed to become much quieter after this time, and in 1912 it was reported that she ‘was recently received into the Church by the Jesuit Fathers at Farm street, London.’ On the face of it, this appeared to be a surprising move for a person who had railed against the establishment and conformity for so long, but Constance lost none of her political combativeness.

Her short stories continued to appear various publications in the following years, but any dreams of literary stardom in London must have faded away. She returned to New Zealand - probably during the 1920s - and continued her love/hate relationship with that country. She was admonished in the pages of the Coffs Harbor Advocate in 1925 - with the suggestion that her ankles should be caned - for her article in the Empire Review criticising the people of New Zealand for their general submissiveness. Then, in 1931, Constance was making news again with another parliamentary protest. This time her concern was child abuse, while the New Zealand parliament was considering a Child Welfare Bill.
‘When the Speaker of the House of Representatives was reading prayers this afternoon a woman in the visitors' gallery suddenly and loudly protested against the Child Welfare Act. An attendant persuaded her to remain silent, but when prayers had concluded she recommenced her protest. She tore up a copy of the Act, throwing it to the floor of the House, She was ejected by the police. 
The woman stated subsequently that her name was Constance McAdam, and her pen name Constance Clyde. She said she was a member of the Women's International League of Peace and Freedom, and had not been aware that the House opened with prayer. "At all events, I am the first woman to speak in the New Zealand Parliament," she added.’ (Sydney Morning Herald, 19 March 1931).
Another short insight into her political and social activities was provided by a Brisbane newspaper in 1932:
‘Prominent among New Zealand writers is Constance McAdam Clyde. Articles written by her have appeared in the best English magazines, including the Contemporary and Empire Reviews. Her last publication is a history of New Zealand, in which she collaborated with Alan Mulgan, and which was brought out by Whitcombe and Tombs. Some of her most valuable work has been achieved, however, in assisting to place new writers before the public. Miss Clyde is an ardent advocate of physical culture for both the youthful and middle-aged. She is also, prominent in anti-vivisection matters.’ (Telegraph [Brisbane], 25 June 1932).

It was around this time that she moved to Brisbane and settled in the suburb of Dutton Park. This was the time of the Great Depression, and Constance was by now advertising her services in assisting with the preparation and publication of manuscripts, and she also sought a writing partner. However, in June 1933 she was living at ‘Lavinia’, on Dutton Street, Dutton Park, and subtly advertising her services as a fortune teller.

Constance also became a writer of regular letters-to-the-editor, usually under her birth name and espousing her views on various subjects. In 1933 she wrote about child protectionprison reform, her opposition to the forced sterilisation of ‘mental deficients’ (which she also wrote about in 1934). She also suggested that people should wear ‘a small piece of pale green ribbon’ on Sundays to show their support for ‘a better state of things financial’.

She continued telling fortunes under the name ‘Madame Lavinia’, and in 1935 (while living on Merton Road) she was arrested and charged with ‘having pretended to tell fortunes for a fee’. Constance faced the police and the court with characteristic defiance:
'She told me that she only did it as a sideline,' said Constable Davissen, of the Traffic Office. She said that she was a journalist, writing for 'Women's Weekly, 'Women's Budget,' ‘The Women's Mirror’ and several other papers. And before I left she said, 'You can tell the magistrate from me that I will not pay any fine, even if it's only sixpence.’ (The Truth, 7 April 1935)
She told the court that 'I thought that I could do some good in this depression by sympathy, kindness and advice, and especially by telling people that there is nothing wrong with this world except the monetary system.' For Constance, even reading tea leaves could become a political platform.

True to her word, she refused to pay the fine and so was confined inside the nearby Boggo Road prison for three weeks. She didn’t miss the opportunity to write about this experience, and I have already covered that work in this article.

Constance McAdam, 1935.

This proved to be Constance’s last brush with the law. Her newspaper letters now became infrequent and her concerns trivial. In a letter to the Women’s Weekly in 1935 she complained of children getting Christmas presents too early. In 1938 she was unhappy with the etiquette of people listening to household radios, and in 1939 she complained of an accident hotspot on Ipswich Road. In 1940, now aged 68 years, she suggested that the government could save money on pensions by asking rich families to help provide for their elderly relatives. In 1944 a rather insipid poem on the tragedies of love appeared in the Queensland Times. And then, nothing. This must have all felt like a long way from the dreams of the ambitious young writer who travelled by ship from Sydney to London in 1903 with an unpublished novel under her arm.
In the 1949 Queensland Electoral Roll she was listed as a journalist and living at 15 Deighton Road, South Brisbane.

Constance died in Brisbane on 30 August 1951, and was buried in the Hemmant Cemetery. The event passed without mention in the local newspapers. There was no obituary, no funeral notice. It was a quiet end to a life that had petered out in the mundane concerns of suburbia after such an ambitious foray into the bohemian literary circles of turn-of-the-century Sydney and London. Hopefully this article will help make more people aware of the achievements of Constance Jane 'Clyde' McAdam.

I set out here to put together the most complete online account of Constance McAdam’s life. While that general aim has been achieved, my research has been limited and holes remain. I would appreciate any further biographical information that can be added above.

List of the published writings of Constance McAdam (work in progress).
  • Consolation - Song Words, poetry (The Bulletin, 12 December 1896) 
  • Hypnotised, short story (The Bulletin, 9 January 1897) 
  • Dead, poetry (The Bulletin, 31 July 1897; 11 January 1933) 
  • To Save His Soul, short story (The Bulletin, 26 June 1897) 
  • A Woman's Promise, short story (The Queenslander, 11 December 1897) 
  • Mrs Murgan's Snake Bite Cure, short story (The Sydney Mail, 17 December 1898) 
  • Letters from the Grave, short story (The Queenslander, 17 December 1898) 
  • Dreams and Shadows, poetry (The Bulletin, 24 December 1898) 
  • A Woman's Love, short story (The Bulletin, 7 January 1899) 
  • Virgins, Wise and Foolish, poetry (The Bulletin, 28 January 1899) 
  • The Widow, poetry (The Bulletin, 11 February 1899) 
  • Night's Day, poetry (The Bulletin, 11 February 1899) 
  • A Glass of Beer, poetry humour (The Bulletin, 1 July 1899) 
  • A Boarding-House Idyl, short story humour (The Bulletin, 29 July 1899) 
  • The Test of Love, poetry (The Bulletin, 2 September 1899) 
  • Conversely!, short story (The Bulletin, 4 November 1899) 
  • The Saddest Song, poetry (The Bulletin, 9 December 1899) 
  • The Soul of David King, short story (The Bulletin, 9 December 1899) 
  • The Dream Child, poetry (The Bulletin, 23 December 1899) 
  • The Elopement of Lydia, poetry humour (The Bulletin, 6 January 1900) 
  • In the Night, poetry humour (The Bulletin, 20 January 1900) 
  • Love's Climax, poetry (The Bulletin, 24 February 1900) 
  • Why They Killed Mrs Saville, short story (The Australasian, 10 March 1900) 
  • For Ever, poetry (The Bulletin, 28 April 1900) 
  • Mrs Flynn's Sofy, short story humour (The Bulletin, 5 May 1900) 
  • Jones, the Genius Hunter, poetry humour (The Bulletin, 26 May 1900) 
  • The Cleverness of Douglas Fitzgerald, short story (The Australasian, 2 June 1900) 
  • Angela, the Good, short story (The Bulletin, 23 June 1900) 
  • Millar's Water, short story (The Australasian, 7 July 1900) 
  • The Broken Dove, poetry (The Bulletin, 28 July 1900) 
  • Stepmother Bessie, short story (The Australasian, 11 August 1900) 
  • The Man that Came Back, short story humour (The Bulletin, 25 August 1900) 
  • A Faithful Woman, poetry humour (The Bulletin, 8 September 1900) 
  • The Ballad of John Bigley, poetry (The Bulletin, 20 October 1900) 
  • Parson King's Happy Day, short story humour (The Bulletin, 3 November 1900) 
  • Sympathetic Miss Swanston, short story (The Australasian, 29 December 1900) 
  • Pirates, short story (The Bulletin, 29 December 1900) 
  • My Best Friend, short story (The Australasian, 29 June 1901) 
  • Her Good Father, short story (The Newsletter, 28 December 1901) 
  • Pan of the Seashore, poetry (The Australasian, 6 April 1901) 
  • Mr. Shannon's Choice, short story (The Australasian, 19 October 1901) 
  • The Chief Mourner, short story (The Australasian, 16 November 1901) 
  • The Forgiveness of Florence, short story (The Australasian, 14 June 1902) 
  • The Game Eileen Played, short story (The Australasian, 5 July 1902). 
  • An Appeal, poetry (The Bulletin, 19 July 1902) 
  • Mabel's Love Letter, short story (The Australasian, 20 September 1902) 
  • Lizzie's Lie, short story (The Australasian, 15 November 1902) 
  • The Ballad of John Ibbetson, poetry (The Bulletin, 21 February 1903) 
  • A Men's Refuge, short story (The Bulletin, 21 March 1903) 
  • The Diplomacy of Caroline, short story (The Bulletin, 16 May 1903) 
  • The Question of Beer, poetry (The Bulletin, 23 May 1903) 
  • The Enfranchised Woman, prose (The Bulletin, 20 June 1903) 
  • The Difference, poetry (The Bulletin, 27 June 1903) 
  • An Exemplary Mother, short story (The Australasian, 22 August 1903) 
  • The Marrying of Mr. Maxwell, short story (The Australasian, 24 October 1903) 
  • The Commonplace Men, poetry (The Australian Town and Country Journal, 9 December 1903) 
  • A Pilgrim of Love, short story (Colac Herald, 16 September 1904) 
  • His Strange Little Lady, short story (The Australasian, 26 March 1904) 
  • The Tragedy of the Spun-Silk Shawl, short story (The Australasian, 28 May 1904) 
  • Held Cheap, short story (The Australasian, 9 July 1904) 
  • The Ordeal of Mrs Holmes, short story (The Australasian, 26 November 1904) 
  • A Pagan's Love, novel (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1905) 
  • The Career of Jessica, short story (The Australian Town and Country Journal, 26 February 1908) 
  • The Plan of Elise Blanc, short story (The Australasian, 13 March 1915) 
  • The Pardoning of Jessie, short story (The Australasian, 11 March 1916) 
  • Soldier’s Wives, short story (The Australasian, 23 March 1918) 
  • The Flippancy of Felicia, short story (The Australasian, 3 September 1921) 
  • It's a Young Country Yet, short story (The Australasian, 28 January 1922) 
  • When the Dumb Spoke, short story (The Australasian, 11 February 1922) 
  • The Eyes of John Denne short story (The Bulletin, 27 January 1927) 
  • The Motor-Car Wife, short story (The Australian Woman's Mirror, 27 September 1927) 
  • Elimination, short story (The Australian Woman's Mirror, 3 January 1928) 
  • 'With Shop Attached', short story (The Australian Woman's Mirror, 14 February 1928) 
  • The Magic Dress, short story (The Australian Woman's Mirror, 12 August 1930) 
  • Change of Heart, short story (The Queenslander, 21 March 1935) 
  • Contrasts, poetry (Queensland Times, 3 March 1944)

[1] Kirstine Moffat, ‘The Puritan paradox: an annotated bibliography of Puritan and anti-Puritan New Zealand fiction, 1860-1940. Part 2: reactions against Puritanism’, Kotare: New Zealand Notes and Queries, Vol.3, No.2, 2000.
[2] Lawrence Jones, ‘Puritanism’, The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Literature, ed. Roger Robinson and Nelson Wattie, Melbourne, Auckland: Oxford University Press, 1998, p.130.