Magnetic Island North Queensland
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A young koala's beach adventure

June 20th 2013
Ex-Picnic Bay student, Roy Morton, remembers

Roy Morton Due to family commitments Magnetic Times was unable to properly cover the wonderful centenary celebrations of the Picnic Bay School over the long weekend. Fortunately local, Helen Downs, has provided us with a terrific insight into times gone by after she interviewed ex-Picnic Bay student, Roy Morton. Following is her article.

Roy Morton
Picnic Bay has just celebrated its centenary with a number of Picnic Bay School students getting together over the long weekend to catch up with each other and celebrate the centenary.

I spoke to one of the school's former students, Roy Morton to find out a bit more about life on the island in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Life then was very different with no roads, just tracks. To get from one bay to another you had to walk along walking tracks and over the hills. It was this way, until a bulldozer was brought across and space was cleared for roads. Telephones were scarce and the only water on the island came from rain which was stored in tanks. Electricity didn’t exist and people relied on kerosene to give them light and run fridges. Hessian bags of ice were delivered by ferry and Roy would help the carrier deliver it around the bay and place in ice chests.

Roy is at the front on the left (kneeling) and the other kids
are pupils of the Picnic Bay school. The boat is one of two made
by the pupils under Mr Crevola’s tutelage. The photo (c.1952) is
a gift of Aline (Crevola) Melvin 1952

At school children were well disciplined and answering back was an absolute no no. Most children went home for lunch and the school didn’t have a great deal of sports equipment. However Roy felt the teachers gave them a very good education.

A lot of things were learned by rote (memorising) and it was these things that Roy never forgot! The Latin and Greek roots of words were taught in class and Roy feels this has been one of the most helpful things he ever learned, as he never needs to pick up a dictionary when working out the meanings of words.

When Roy first started school slate pencils were used. These were sharpened on the cement and each student would take a vegemite jar with water in it and use a rag to rub out the slates. Later when ink was introduced, the students were given blue and red powder ink which they had to mix up in inkwells.

The number of students in the classroom varied, as some students would attend the school when holidaying on the island. However, Roy doesn’t think there were any more than 30 students at a time. When Roy did his state scholarship exam in his last year of primary school there were just two students in that class. Roy was thrilled to see the other guy from that class at the centenary celebrations.

There was only ever one teacher at any time at the School. This teacher would teach all the students their academic lessons in individual classes. However when doing music and art the classes would merge and be taught as one class.

Food was delivered by ferry which was run by the Hayles Brothers (ferries were then called launches). The original Picnic Bay jetty had a set of railway lines that went along it and the trolleys would have to be pushed up the hill by hand and the carrier would need a couple of helpers to do this.

Once up the hill the goods would then be placed in an old truck. However there was no road link between Picnic Bay and Nelly Bay at the time. There was a very early settlement in West Point by the Grey Family and one was a world champion billiard player. The Grey Family ran a guest house for a while, but this eventually folded up.

To get from one bay to the other, people either went by launch or walked along the tracks as there were no roads. Later rough dirt roads were made between the bays and people could drive or be driven along these. There were some very old buses with roofs, but no sides and for a while they were part of the mystique of the island.

When Roy finished primary school, he boarded at Townsville Grammar School. Because the launch service was insufficient, students could not commute each day and were required to board at school. Any adults who were working in Townsville, tended stay in Townsville during the week and return to the island at weekend.

With his parents still living in Picnic Bay, Roy would return to the island every two years and this is where he and Sue enjoyed their honeymoon.

There were plenty of Picnic Bay parties. Life Savers would come across by ferry each weekend and when not on duty, would enjoy the parties and music on the beach or find someone to dance with in the Picnic Bay Dance Hall. They would sleep in the Life Savers dormitories and other party goers would ferry back to Townsville at 10pm.

There was a large store there as well as couple of other small stores along the Esplanade selling foodstuffs. Picnic Bay and Arcadia were the fun places to be, and definitely where all the action was.

I asked Roy what memories he had during the Second World War and he told me there was a bonfire or armistice day in Picnic Bay which was on the other side of the pub where the old fig tree is and how an effigy of Hideki Tojo who was Japan's Prime Minister was burnt. He also recalls seeing soldiers swimming in the baths and there was plenty of barbed wire on the island during the war.

At Picnic Bay School an air raid trench was dug in the ground for people to dive into should a bomber fly over. He recalls one bomb being dropped on Townsville, knocking over a coconut palm.

To be cyclone safe, his father built their Barbarra Street house very solidly, with walls into ceilings and anchor bolts on stumps. The only damage it received was when a sheet of iron got imbedded in the front door.

However, when at Townsville Grammar there was a strong cyclone one year and he remembers dirt coming out of the ceiling. The students had to leave the building they were in and go back to their dormitories. This was done in waves between the gusts of wind. In the dormitories students were told to lie down under their beds because glass was coming into the dormitory from every angle. When it was over there were branches everywhere and lots of broken glass from the windows. Fortunately, no one was hurt.
Returning to the present, Roy feels that the biggest changes are the demographic ones caused by the closure of the Picnic Bay and Arcadia ferry terminals and Nelly Bay now has a "suburban" feel to it. Roy also thinks "the heart of Picnic Bay was cut out" when the swimming baths were removed.

He has also noticed a significant change to Horseshoe Bay as it used to be very much a “backwater” area for farming mangos and pineapples. In his school days Roy hardly ever went there. He can see that through its development, Horseshoe Bay certainly attracts the tourists with plenty of water sports and fun to be had.

Reminiscing, Roy says, "The fifties were the golden years for Picnic Bay" and can certainly see how it has stepped back.

Story: Helen Downs
Photo of Roy Morton courtesy MI History & Craft Centre

Ex-Picnic Bay student, Roy Morton, remembers
Syl Hayes
June 20th 2013
Such a nice article, thanks George. I had a lovely time at the Centenary, and I'm sure I met Roy! Hope it;s ok to put a link to the Magnetic Museum Facebook page.

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Readers comments
Syl Hayes In reply to Fair raises $15,000 for school
What a wonderful outcome for the school! I had a great time face-painting with Luke and Sasha, met lots of kids and parents,scored some great books at the Trash n Treasure stall, and even remembered to vote. Everywhere you looked people were enjoying themselves...such a tribute to the organisers. Well done!
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