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The little ship that could

Recreational boating is an avidly pursued pastime in the tropical waters around Mackay, and this was as true 100 years ago as it is today. In 1914, local carpenter Henry Charles Rose completed his 22ft (6.7m) motor launch Eleanor and launched her at Cremorne.  Rose had built two other boats – the Rosebud and Rosebud II – but it was the Eleanor, named after his mother who had died the previous year, that he kept for himself.

Eleanor did not have to wait long to show off her style. The Port Denison Sailing Club in Bowen announced an aquatic carnival would take place over Easter 1914, and the Mackay Regatta Club was well represented with 65 people making their way north by various watercraft. Little Eleanor was tasked with transporting the official time keeper for the event, and made the trip to Bowen in an impressive 15 hours. Eleanor placed second in her division, winning £1 in prize money, although “…in the opinion of the Mackay officials and the Bowen official, who accompanied the Eleanor, that she was really entitled to first place, the Regatta Club is officially writing the Bowen Club on the subject.” (Daily Mercury, 16 April 1914). Although the protest was carefully considered, it was resolved that it was not received in time and the placings stood. Eleanor nevertheless had a pleasant trip back to Mackay a few days later, overnighting at Lindeman Island on the way.

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Port Denison Sailing Club Easter Regatta, April 1914, in which the ‘Eleanor’ took part. Image courtesy of State Library of Queensland, 26749.

Henry Rose continued to enjoy his little craft around Mackay. Shortly after the excursion to Bowen, the Eleanor was again in the news. On the 18 May, 1914, the Daily Mercury reported “Quite a number of launches and auxiliaries were out yesterday. The Electron, Lassie, Swan, and Rob Roy went to Round Top, while the Eleanor went to Slade Rock. The Eleanor called in at Slade Point, and shipped a large “knee” to be utilised in the big motor launch being constructed by Messrs. J Fourro and J. Phillips. Fishing, oystering, and sea bathing were indulged in, and all the boatmen appeared to put in a good time, the weather outside being fine.” The following year the Eleanor returned again to Bowen for the now annual Easter regatta, but this time appeared as a spectator vessel only.

It was, however, following the devastating cyclone of 1918 that the Eleanor really came into her own. All vessels in the Pioneer River were sunk or grounded and the little Eleanor, found outside the police station in Brisbane Street, was the only vessel to survive in tact. She was quickly put to use in making contact with areas cut off by the flood, and in ferrying messages between the town and ships which started to arrive off Mackay in the weeks following the disaster. The Eleanor became a vital link between the north and south banks of the river, and with the outside world.

Henry Rose retained ownership of the Eleanor until his death in 1977, when she was sold to some fisherman. Some time later however, she was abandoned and neglected in Eimeo Creek. In 1987 she was retrieved by the Maritime Archaeological Association of Mackay and donated to the Mackay Museum. Eleanor can still be seen on display here, a significant part of the important maritime history of the region.

Island Artists

I recently came across an object when working with Proserpine Historical Museum that made me think of a project that I was involved in seventeen years ago for the Queensland Museum. It was entitled “Old salts, alternative life-stylers and beach bums”. The goal of this Queensland wide project was to record people who had a long association with the sea and/or maritime practices, individuals who had chosen a lifestyle that was perceived to be alternative, and individuals who had chosen to drop out of society and live on islands or the coastal fringes of Queensland.

The object in question is the crown from the Great Barrier Reef Coral Festival that was presented to the Coral Queen. This crown was won by Thora Nicolson, formerly of Linderman Island and donated to the Museum. The fascinating full story of the festival and its transition can be found here, here and here through the Museum Facebook page.

Great Barrier Reef Coral Festival – Coral Queen crown. Image Ewen McPhee

Additional research has identified similar festival material culture such as crowns, gowns, sashes, photographs, movies and stories in museum collections throughout Queensland. It would be interesting to look at how these festivals originated, changed and their eventual demise.

My interest however was sparked by the makers of the crown – Leena and Bill Wallace from Coral Art on Dent Island. It is worthwhile to watch this short YouTube clip found here.

Leena and Bill lived on Dent Island and carved out a niche market for themselves selling painted coral arrangements. Bill, formally in the US Navy, was the collector, and Leena the artist. They lived on Dent Island for over 10 years and were some of the early pioneers in tourism in the Whitsunday region. They shipped their painted coral around the world and it was used to promote the Great Barrier Reef through the Queensland Tourist Bureau.

As the area opened up to cruising yachtsman in the 1960s, passing sailors, such as John Gunn, documented them in his 1966 book Barrier Reef by Trimaran

“A married couple live in an idyllic setting on a cleared area of land behind the beach on this northern tip. With tremendous enterprise they have pioneered a business for themselves. The husband dives for coral pieces, and the wife applies delicate shades of colour to them, to make them look like the living corals…One may not be enthralled by this kind of tourist art, but it is popular. And the life that the two have carved out for themselves on their own island is one that many of us would love to have…”

Other painted coral business also sprang up in the Whitsundays such as Mandalay Gardens at Mandalay Point across from Airlie Beach and collections of painted corals can be seen at the Bowen Museum and Historical Society.

Leena and Bill fit into the category of alternate life-stylers and it would have been great to record their story in full. Please contact the Proserpine Historical Museum if you know more about Leena and Bill.

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 Bill and Leena with coral, Dent Island, Barrier Reef (National Archives of Australia
11925533)
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Coral art business on Dent Island, Barrier Reef. 1970. National Archives of Australia, 11464802)
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Coral art business on Dent Island, Barrier Reef. 1970. National Archives of Australia, 11464804)
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Mr Wallace with coral, Dent Island, Barrier Reef, 1970. National Archives of Australia 11925560)
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Coral art business on Dent Island, Barrier Reef. 1970. National Archives of Australia, 11464806)

Dent Island coral display, Whitsunday, Great Barrier Reef. Beris Gaal, Queensland Places.
Karen Rasmus, 1960 Coral Queen, arranging a display of Barrier Reef Coral at the Queensland Tourist Bureau, Brisbane, 1960 – Note the boxes of Coral Art from Dent Island in the background. Queensland State Archives ID 3089

Bowen’s rich maritime history

Bowen Museum and Historical Society – First World War exhibition

Recently Queensland Museum staff Ewen McPhee, Dr Melanie Piddocke and Sue Valis visited Bowen Museum and Historical Society to work with the volunteers on their First World War display.  As with many community museums the First World War objects and stories that are held within the Bowen collection are significant on a National, State and Local level.  This trip was undertaken to install some display furniture and to train the volunteers in object mounting, display planning and basic conservation practices. Research was also done for the next phase of exhibition development which includes text panels and object labels.