December 22nd 2009
“I love being on the water and with people too”
On Christmas Eve 1979 a 32 year old bloke by the name of Tony Wilson started work as a deckie with Hayles Magnetic Island Ferries. "The other deckie showed me what to do on the first trip to Magnetic Island and that was it, then he said, 'Take notice. You're doing the next run and I'm going home.'”
It may have been rough and ready for the new hand but it was a time that Tony Wilson remembers pretty fondly as the days tick towards his 30th anniversary as a deckie on board the ferries which run between Townsville and Magnetic Island.
While many of the ferry companies Tony has worked for over the years have attracted disdain and rebuke from Magnetic Islanders, Tony has remained at least one face locals will always be happy to greet.
Tony is in fact a multi-generational identity who has seen babies brought on board who then grew to bring their own children onto the ferry.
In between he has seen many generations of pesky teenage school kids being cheeky and disruptive but according to Tony. “The kids are all about the same over the decades. You always get a couple who want to test you out but if you persevere you win them over. It's all about respect. If you respect them then they will respect you.”
Long time Island commuter Gary Hunn said of Tony, “I really admire him. He is one of life's true gentlemen. Tony is the absolute shining example as to how to deal with school children. He has the magic touch and never raises his voice. He is a real icon to the ferry service.”
Tony smiles as he recalls the number of occasions when, “Larrikins come back to thank me for putting them on the straight and narrow.” He reflects also on situations he dealt with involving offending kids that their parents only learned about years later.
Another long term commuter, Andrew Mulcahy, shares his family history with Tony. “Our kids played soccer with their kids and Tony's son Steven has had a crook back and so does our son Nick.
“Tony is always chirpy and good natured at State of Origin” said Andrew who identified Tony as, “A NSW cockroach – having originally hailed from Cootamundra.”
The biggest changes Tony has experienced have been with the boats themselves. When he began the vessels were mono hulls such as the Mandalay which took, what some older Islanders refer affectionately to as a two beer trip to Picnic Bay. Gary Hunn commented, “Tony goes back to the days when people would take two stubbies on board in a bag of ice then sit down in the hold and play cards.”
“The old boats used to take a bit of time,” said Tony. “But that was what it was about. Now it's speed. I honestly preferred the older boats like the Mandalay. These new boats are quicker and cleaner but there was more time to get to know people then. Today they sit down and there's not the time to talk. They are too quick!”
For a man who has steadfastly brought kindness and cheer to Islanders and visitors alike over three decades, life has been far from easy for Tony and his family in recent years in circumstances he would rather not relive. At 62 and expecting a few more years service yet and as if to reflect a buoyancy that isn't just aboard an Island ferry Tony wanted to say to all his friends on the water, “I've had 30 great years travelling back and forth with them. They say, 'Good morning Tony' and most are pretty happy. I love being on the water but I love being around people too.”
Sunferries is organising a sausage sizzle as part of its thanks for Tony and all Magnetic and Palm Islanders who would also like to thank Tony for his great support and service are invited. It starts at 12 noon on Christmas Eve, Thursday Dec 24, at the Breakwater terminal.
Story & photo: George Hirst
To add your comment,
or read those of others, see below