December 15th 2005
Vale Mabel Sylvia Clarke (nee Bright) 1900 - 2005
On November 20, aged 105, Mabel Sylvia Clarke, the neice of Nelly Bay's first permanent European settler, William Bright, passed away at her home in Bristol England. Following is Islander Charlie McColl's obituary to Sylvia which shows that although she lived so far away her heart was always close to Magnetic Island.
Sylvia Bright was born at on 19 February 1900 at Upton Cheyney near Bristol, England, and at age two moved to Chew Magna where her parents, Tom and Annie Louisa Bright ran a small brewery and pub - The Wheatsheaf . Tom Bright was the youngest of the Bright brothers, three of whom had migrated to Australia in the 1880s. Sylvia's uncle, William Bright, came to Townsville and eventually Magnetic Island and remained a resident of Nelly Bay for more than forty years until his death in 1926. Another uncle, Henry Bright, had first lived in Victoria but came to Magnetic Island in the late 1890s. He was drowned in a boating incident off Picnic Bay which was reported in the NQ Herald of 12 October 1898.
Sylvia as a child with a group of men including her father Tom Bright
standing in front of the family's pub in Chew Magna.
Throughout her childhood, Sylvia was kept abreast of affairs at Magnetic Island through regular correspondence with the growing family there. William and Mary Bright's daughter, Fannie, who had been born in England in 1876 before the migration, married a local man, Richard Bargent, in 1896 and their children Ioline, Fred and Daphne, who were roughly the same age as Sylvia (Fannie's first cousin), grew up in the knowledge of their English origins.
When Tom Bright died aged 49 in April 1915, Sylvia, who had left school aged 13 and was now just 15, had to take on a further load of family responsibility. Her mother, Annie, stayed on as landlady of the Wheatsheaf while Sylvia married a local man Ewart Clarke and in 1923 they opened a butcher shop in Bedminster, Bristol. This shop was totally destroyed by bombing during World War 2. But even as the years went by and their children Frank and Doreen took their places, the family connections with Magnetic Island grew. Ioline Bargent married John Shaw and their daughter Edna, a schoolteacher, visited England in the mid-1950s to catch up with the Bristol mob in person. In this direct way the Australian connection was renewed with interest. By this time too, Sylvia's mother, Annie Louisa, had passed away (April 1947, aged 81) and been buried next to her husband in the little churchyard at Chew Magna. In 1981, Sylvia's husband Ewart died after 58 years of marriage.
By the late 1990s, with Bright Point mangled and abandoned after the first attempt at a Nelly Bay harbour project, Sylvia became aware that the point and the family connection with it were again under threat as the Queensland Government moved to restart the development. In March 1997 she wrote to the local media.
Receiving my Australian mail this week was not a happy occasion but one that brought only dismay, even sadness. That the authorities could even contemplate a scheme to build more than 100 luxury units at Bright Point, Nelly Bay is incomprehensible to me. The idea is in every way an affront to the somewhat rugged natural environment of the island and, for my part, to the name of Bright after whom the point was named.
When my aunt and uncle, Mary and William Bright, settled at Nelly Bay well over a century ago, they in their letters home repeatedly extolled the virtues of the setting. It was a new kind of beauty to them which they came to love and respect greatly.
And as they nestled in to eke out a modest living - no rapacious returns as with today's developers - they shaped their lives unobtrusively within the nature that they found.
Decades passed and as the recent Pictorial History of Magnetic Island (A&L Fraley, 1996) confirms, a simple lifestyle kept the island's special beauty largely intact, even against a gradual expansion of social amenities.
It was not until the brutal assault on Bright Point in the '80s, to provide a quarry for the massive failure that followed, that the character of Nelly Bay was really threatened; in fact, it was irrevocably lost and the spirit of the people became divided and crushed.
Surely this should be sufficient warning to the authorities to avoid further dubiousness and destruction and seek a course of amelioration for both the place and its people.
I read that a Mr Bennet had put forward a plan in that direction which was not even considered by the Mayor. I find this appalling.
M S Clarke (nee Bright)
England (Townsville Bulletin 21.3.97)
Sylvia's interest in Magnetic Island was not restricted to current coastal development events. She had long held the view that later generations sometimes blurred the boundaries with their story telling and that the Aboriginal stories of Magnetic Island were often mistold or overlooked entirely. After hearing directly from the Wulgurukaba people, Sylvia put her views in print.
INTERRACIAL LINKS STRONG
Recently I received from Mr Arthur Johnson, Elder of the Wulgurukaba Aboriginal tribe, Magnetic Island, a beautiful hand crafted boomerang. It is a work of art depicting the ancestral being of his tribe, a carpet snake. The reverse side bears a message to me from his people.
As the most senior member of the Bright family in England today, I feel honoured by this gesture and so wish to thank him publicly both in the present and for the past.
When my aunt and uncle, Mary and William Bright, migrated to Townsville in the 1870s it was the sheer beauty of Magnetic Island and the friendliness of its tribal occupants, the Wulgurukaba, that caused them eventually to move to Nelly Bay and establish their fruitful farm. The life of co-existence there was for some years full and happy.
Then when the Queensland Government removed the Aborigines from their land into settlements, the Brights retained Nellie as their loyal house help and Tucker for farm work. Nellie served out her life with them but Tucker in 1898 drowned in a storm off Hawkings Point trying to save William's brother. The news report of the time described the two men as "inseparable", as "brothers", the black and the white who had lived and perished together.
In a letter to Prime Minister Howard, I recalled this event for its human and symbolic value and appealed to him in this tense time of the Native Title issue to make some sort of gesture to the Wulgurukaba people. The spiritual significance of their land can never be obliterated and I for one wish to thank the Wulgurukaba on behalf of my ancestors for their peaceful acceptance of the Brights into their tribal territory and for the loyal service given to them by Nellie and Tucker.
Mrs M. Clarke (nee Bright)
England (N.Q. Herald 29.10.97)
Within a year Sylvia would have reason to write again to the papers.
I have just received news that the Wulgurukaba tribe, originally of Townsville and Magnetic Island, has lodged a native title claim over the national park at Magnetic Island. This is a moving moment both in the history of North Queensland and for the tribe itself. Given its sacred link with the land this move can only be seen as a salutary step forward. May it succeed totally.
My late aunt and uncle, Mary and William Bright of Nelly Bay knew full well the depth of sadness experienced by the Wulgurukaba when they were removed by white authority from the island early this century. And if William and Mary were here now I'm sure they would hail this move and be the first to welcome them home.
I send good wishes to the Wulgurukaba and may bigness of heart and compassion prevail among all those concerned in this reparation process.
M S Clarke (Townsville Bulletin 3.9.98)
Sylvia connected to Magnetic Island by another route in 2000 when the Headley Park Primary School, just up the street from her Bristol home, joined the Magnetic Island State School in the Travel Buddies project - a kind of email penpals interaction. When the pupils at each school (who had found each other a couple of years before completely by coincidence) realised they had an historical connection through the Bright family (Sylvia's great granddaughter was one of the pupils at Headley Park!), an exchange of gifts was arranged for Sylvia's 100th birthday.
Sylvia plays a digeridoo at her home in Headley Park, Bristol
At her 105th birthday earlier this year the grand dame of the Bristol - Magnetic Island connection, who had just received her second birthday card from Queen Elizabeth and was surrounded by her entire family and descendents, was keen to remind this writer that those ties that bind us together across the oceans and the years are only as strong as the sincerity with which they are celebrated and maintained. She was proud of her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, wherever they were and whatever they were doing, but she was also insistent on acknowledging the contributions of the many Australians at Magnetic Island and elsewhere who truly cared about the quality of our societies and the institutions that support them.
Sylvia Clarke, who died on 20 November 2005, would have been amused by her cause of death "Old Age" from which, according to the doctor, she had apparently been suffering for about two weeks. She is survived by her daughter Doreen, three grandchildren and seven great grandchildren.
H.O. (Charlie) McColl
Charlie has also written another story on the Bright family and their history on Magnetic Island titled Bright Threads of History (read here) Ed.