'Townsville in the 1950s & 1960s ...' 
(Please let us know your experiences in Townsville during this era.)


'Townsville in the 50s and early 1960s – ‘A North Ward Girl’s Perspective’

Dr Jennifer Lambert Tracey

Early 1950s –

Despite its sprawling post-WWII growth Townsville was a close although somewhat segregated community. Those of us who were born and raised in the eastern shadow of Castle Hill rarely got to socialise with those living around the ‘other side’ towards West End and beyond. North Ward had several schools - St. Joseph’s The Strand, operated by the Sisters of Mercy along with the Secondary School, St Patrick’s College. The Townsville Grammar School was located in Paxton Street and the Townsville Central State School in Eyre Street erected in 1953 on the site of Townsville's first gaol (1878). As youngsters we would walk and later rode our bikes to school meeting up with class mates and friends on the way. We were a motley lot, unconcerned with each other’s origin or creed – we were just friends. While most of us were born in North Queensland and the Islands to our north, there were also those from Poland, Latvia and Malta whose families had left behind the torment and horror of their war torn countries. From my earliest recollections we had no need to lock doors or windows in our houses. There was no air-conditioning or fly screens – the sea breeze came and went with the tide and so did the mosquitoes. Walks in the bush at the base of Castle Hill, down onto Kissing Point and along The Strand to the Ozone Cafe for a milkshake were memorable. There was no tangible fear in our social environment and we could safely ask a stranger for help if needed. Minimal supervision enabled us to grow with a sense of respect and responsibility, although, getting home ‘before dark’ was mandatory.

 Private ownership of motor vehicles was uncommon, particularly up to about 1954. In the street where I lived, Rowland Street, only three out of the eleven resident families owned a car and the practice of chauffeuring children to and from school was rare. Quillam’s North Ward Bus Service, with its depot in Landsborough Street, operated a bus to the city and return. The school bus was the ‘open air’ variety with roll up canvas blinds to keep out the torrential summer rain and heat. Some of these vehicles in later years were relegated to carrying tourists around Magnetic Island. There were no sewerage connections in North Ward until the mid-1950s. Until that time residents had ‘outhouses’ in their back yards. During the all too frequent cyclones, these ‘dunnies’, along with numerous chook sheds and sheets of galvanised iron off  the roof, would end up in someone else’s yard and have to be retrieved. There was no bitumen on Rowland or Redpath streets and the creek that ran down from the face of ‘the Hill’ separating the two would flood regularly. At the end of the wet season the local kids would get in the pools to catch tadpoles with a piece of net tied on a wire hoop. Much yelling and excitement no doubt caused anguish for the creek’s  nearest neighbours, Ann and Percy Boyd who ran the canteen at the adjoining Townsville Sports Reserve for many years.

 Our local grocery store, on the corner of Warburton and Landsborough streets, was established by Charles (‘Charlie’) Ahern who later went into partnership with Myles Powell. Ahern & Powell’s store was one of the first that I remember changing from ‘over the counter selling’ to ‘self-serve’.  A checkout was set up near the entrance /exit and Joan Thom operated the cash register. She also worked as an ‘usherette’ at our local ‘picture’ theatre, the Esquire in Cook Street - (they weren’t called ‘movie theatres’). Saturday night at the Esquire was the highlight of entertainment for the week.  Bookings were required for those very saggy canvas seats and many families had ‘permanent bookings’. Refreshments could be purchased including those delectable Jaffa’s , the packet of  which regularly came apart at the seams sending the orange coated chocolate balls rattling down the sloping cement floor!

 Other stores within walking distance were Pascoe’s General Store and Seawright’s Butchery on the corner of Eyre Street. Near the side wall of the butchery, what remained of one of the WWII air-raid sirens was evident for many years.  Gofton’s Store immediately opposite at 127 Eyre Street, posed a visible economic opposition.

 Listening to the radio on stations 4TO and the ABC was a ‘before bed-time’ privilege. ‘Smokey Dawson’ was most popular. My mother, Kathleen, who had been a nurse at the Bayview Hospital on Melton Hill before WWII, would have her tea breaks during the day listening to the serials ‘Blue Hills’, ‘Portia Faces Life’ and ‘When a Girl Marries’. During school holidays she would take me shopping into ‘town’ – Flinders Street. We would go by taxi - Black and White Cabs, which by that time were equipped with ‘Two-way radios’. This company had their office / cab rank near Victoria Bridge. No shopping trip in summer would be complete without an orange drink and ice cream from Mrs. Marendy at the ‘Blue Bird Cafe’. In the cooler weather, Stortenbecker’s, ‘Athol’s Inn’ was quiet and cosy and served delightful pastries and pies. Favourite stores were Penny’s – a forerunner to the Coles and Woolworth’s of today; the drapers, Inglis Smith, to buy singlets and undies; McKimmins (much later David Jones) for all items fashionable; and a visit to Lowth’s Pharmacy run by a kind and gentle chemist named ‘Mr. Byrne’. Most of our elders were referred to as ‘Mr’ or ‘Mrs’. Christian names were rarely used in conversation. Those who were close friends of the family were known as ‘Aunty or Uncle’. This practice, I must admit caused me great confusion in later life, when I decided to research and write our family history!

 Alfred Shaw and Company in Flinders Street was the principal hardware store in the town. It was owned and managed in the 50s by Edward (Ted) Craddock and his sister Nell. Ted’s son Warren Craddock continued to manage the store after his father's death. My father, Alf Lambert, worked for Alfred Shaw for almost twenty five years, with a short interruption during the war, which required his service as a fireman. Others who were long term employees of this company included Cliff Gordon, George Coates – renowned for his brilliant illustrations of North Queensland’s marine species and Gordon Campbell. This vast emporium selling everything from ‘bed knobs to broomsticks’ with its musty smells and wooden floors, was a young child’s delight.

 A Glimpse into Townsville’s Contribution to Music and Stage

Theatrical performance had been an integral part of Townsville’s cultural evolution. Since the arrival of the first immigrant settlers in the fledgling settlement in 1863, music and song was part of our inheritance. Children of our ‘modern generation’ were encouraged to learn to play a musical instrument and for girls, this was mostly the piano. My father’s family were related to the much lauded Queensland singer Gladys Moncrieff, and there is no doubt that his love for music had a considerable influence on me. My earliest memories include those ‘family and friends’ nights going through the large stack of Palings black boxed pianola rolls, singing until way past my bedtime.

 By the 1950s most schools had a choir with a choir mistress or master – baton in hand. I recall that hours would be spent singing while standing on wooden ‘forms’ (seats used behind school desks), which would wobble on the uneven floorboards of the old St Joseph’s School. Many times I felt the end of a bamboo cane under my chin with ‘Up ...up’ being heard above the melodic voices around me. Dance classes, predominately ballet, formed a substantial part of many girls’ lives, including my own. The D’Esley O’Shea School of Dancing was established in the early 50s and classes were held in the Centrals Football Club hall in the lower part of Queens Park, North Ward. D’Esley had been of student of the Gwen Hardie School which later became the Ann Roberts School of Dancing in the Oddfellows Hall in Sturt Street. Recitals were held each year with each dance school trying to ‘out do’ its rivals.

 Madame Kolominiska and later Neil Walker placed their individual stamp of excellence on this burgeoning art form in the provincial city while Audrey Nicholls and Robyn Croft were just two dancers who dedicated their lives to ballet, taking the pride of North Queensland to the world. Apart from Neil Walker, there were few male dancers in North Queensland until in the late 1950s when Gary Hill and his ballerina partner, Carol Jones ( later the mother of Kylie Minogue), graced the stage of the Theatre Royal in the Town Hall buildings. This beautiful theatre, the hub of entertainment and the performing arts, has been demolished. The Townsville Choral and Orchestral Society reformed in 1953 presenting the musical, ‘The Desert Song’. St. James’ Players and the Genesians had their own dramatic influences with the Protestants and Catholics pitting their talents against each other. Each year the Townsville Juvenile Eisteddfod was held with competitors from as far north as Cairns and south to Mackay. Pianists were an essential part of the Eisteddfod and stage productions. Irene Summerfield, Ella Dawson and Morna Hinkle are but a few who consistently provided that much needed accompaniment. Norm Clibborn, an announcer from 4TO was responsible for hosting many ‘Talent Quests’ held at the Roxy Theatre. Arch Frayley was the Eisteddfod photographer and one remembers vividly having to traipse uphill, fully costumed, from the Theatre to his studios in Sturt Street to have photographs taken ... in the October heat!  

 Into the 1960s ...

So from this background, completing my secondary schooling at St. Patrick’s and subsequently taking up a career in nursing, it is interesting to reflect on just how it was that I became involved with ‘The Townsville Bands’ of the 1960s. I commenced training at the Townsville General Hospital under Matron McCarthy and the ever watchful eye of Sister Nimmo. Fellow nurses included Anne Bryant and Patricia Staunton who had also attended St Joseph’s School. Subsequently I moved to the new Mater Hospital at Pimlico. Nurses’ quarters, particularly those at the Mater were stark, inhospitable places. Long, tiring work shifts were part of the normal routine and the personal and social restrictions were draconian to say the least – ‘lights out’ at 10.30pm and one had to get a ‘pass’ once a week to stay out any later. There was, however, no shortage of friendship or music. Fellow nurses Jill Burge and Maureen Connolly introduced me to the world and songs of Joan Baez as the ‘Folk era’ was beginning to take hold. LP records were relatively new and record players were purchased at exorbitant cost from our meagre salaries. Sport was really never part of my life so the usual round of tennis matches and swimming were not of particular interest. Invitations to attend morning ‘Mass’ in the nun’s convent before commencing a day shift in the hospital were of even less interest, and were met with some very innovative excuses! My interest in anything religious had waned considerably after my mother’s death in October 1961.

Girls from my primary school days continued to be ‘friends’ and Friday night at the roller skating rink at the Regent Theatre in Hermit Park was regular entertainment. Several of the girls had boyfriends - some even owned cars! I had neither a boyfriend nor a car, so the ‘friends’ took it upon themselves to get me ‘hitched up’ with a workmate of one of the girl’s boyfriends. Richard Manson was an exceptionally nice person who played bass guitar in the rock group ‘The Rebels’, but somehow that glowing spark of excitement that one was supposed to feel was just not there. One Saturday afternoon he invited me to his ‘band practise’ at the Tracey’s residence in Cook Street. There I met the beautiful, crazy drummer named Graham Dale and this other lanky, dark headed guitarist named Michael who kept looking at me as much as to say ‘what the heck are you doing here’.


In my own way I eventually convinced him that I could sing and that was the beginning of a relationship that has lasted more than 50 years. Michael and I were married on 30th April 1966.  The stories about the bands, who was in them, where and what they played will continue to grace the pages of this website with the wonderful assistance and interest of the many musicians and their families we have been associated with in that time.



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Friday, 04 September 2015



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