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 very good people 'working' in the paranormal field, but unfortunately there are some real pieces of work too. One group some friends and I had particular problems with several years back was 'Queensland Paranormal Investigators', who ran commercial Ghost Hunts. These ghost hunts were 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 South Brisbane Cemetery 'Moonlight Tours', they were rather antagonistic towards us.

Snake oil linament.

I try to moderate my own language in these pages, but others have been harsher. 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 a recent 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.'
I'd suggest they have confused the terms 'psychopath' and 'sociopath' here - which can be dismissed as amateur analysis anyway - but the rest of the article goes downhill from there. They are talking about Shane Townsend, a founder of Queensland Paranormal Investigators who is 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 see 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.