© 2016 Proserpine Historical Museum

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Displays

The Big Bowl and Big Joe

 

The Big Bowl was designed and made by the Proserpine Woodturners in 2002. Made from twelve layers of Mackay Cedar, the project took about six months to complete. To make such a huge bowl, the woodturners had to design a special lathe, starting with a two speed differential assembly from an eight ton truck. The lathe, which was nicknamed Big Joe, was driven by a 6 ton-115 hp farm tractor. With the tractor attached, the unit had an all up weight of about 7 ton.

Gold Mining Display

 

The Dittmer Gold Mine in the Kelsey Creek area was the most successful mining venture in the Proserpine district. At one time it was producing the richest ore in Australia.

A little township sprang up around the mine, with a store, butcher’s shop, community hall, ambulance station and boarding house. A school opened in 1938. When a new crushing and treatment plant was installed in 1948, ore could be treated there instead of at Mt Morgan or Port Kembla.

Rising costs forced the closure of Dittmer in October 1951

 

Glen Isla Cottage

 

This cottage was built in the 1890’s by August Schumaker on his sugar cane farm at Glen Isla.

The bricks in the kitchen were originally made by Schumaker for the failed Crystalbrook Sugar Mill which was built at Glen Isla. The property was later sold to farmers, Young and Holmes, and then to Hugh and Eliza Clarke where they managed a dairy.

The property has remained in the Clarke family, but over the years the cottage had deteriorated and was offered to the museum in 1999. A small band of volunteer workers pulled the structure down brick by brick, cleaned each one by hand and then re-constructed the cottage the following year in the present position in the museum.

Gunyarra Gas Experimental Station

 

During WW2 after Japan had captured Singapore, Britain requested that Australia carry out experiments in chemical warfare to ascertain the effects of various poisonous gases (especially mustard gas) if used in tropical conditions. Construction of the Gunyarra Gas Experimental Station began in 1944 and was situated on the Jackson property south of Proserpine. Once it became fully operational in January 1945, there were some 300 to 400 personnel. Scientists from Britain, America, the Philippines and South Africa came to participate in the trials.

Trials were conducted in the fields as well as the gas chamber to establish what happened to the body after being exposed to mustard gas. The aim was to counteract the effects of the gas and to develop protective materials and ointments to give to the troops.

When the war with Japan ended on 15 August 1945, the Gunyarra Camp was quickly disbanded. A plaque on the site now commemorates the work and sacrifices made by the volunteers for their country.

 

SIDNEY COTTON – An Extraordinary Man

 

Sidney Cotton was a superb pilot, a talented inventor, a business man who was decidedly shady, and a spy.

Born in Proserpine on the 17th of June 1894, he served with the RAF in World War 1. Over the following twenty years he did everything from delivering mail in Newfoundland and selling colour photography techniques to Kodak, to playing the stock market and entering the world of aerial reconnaissance. In fact, he is touted as the father of modern aerial reconnaissance photography.

 

Prior to World War 2, he was recruited by MI6 to fly over Germany and Italy, taking photos of sensitive military sites. When war broke out he began meeting with a Royal Navy Intelligence officer named Ian Fleming (later author of the James Bond novels). Some people believe that Cotton contributed to the James Bond character.

 

The novel, The Last Plane Out of Berlin by Jeffrey Watson, is the intriguing story of Sidney Cotton.

SIDCOT Flying Suit

 

The famous SIDCOT flying suit was created by Sidney Cotton who was born in Proserpine in 1894. In 1916 at the age of 22, Sidney joined the Royal Naval Air Service and was soon flying on bombing raids over Germany. After a sudden alert in the very cold winter of 1916, Sidney took off still wearing his greasy overalls. On his return to base, his fellow pilots who had worn their flying kits, had suffered in the freezing conditions, whilst he was quite warm. It struck Sidney that his overalls, thick with oil and grease, had helped his body retain heat.

He had a flying suit made with ‘a warm lining of thin fur, then a layer of light Burberry material, the whole being made in one piece just like a set of overalls’. The outer cloth layer was treated with fire retardant. The suit was adopted by the RNAS and the Royal Flying Corps. The Germans copied it and when the most famous fighter pilot of all time, Manfred Von Richtofen – the dreaded ‘Red Baron’ – was shot down, he was found to be wearing a Sidcot suit beneath his leather jacket.

The revolutionary flying suit went on to be worn by Allied airmen in the freezing skies of two world wars.

(The flying suit on display at the museum was used during WW2 and was sourced from a dealer in France.)

 

Aboriginal Inhabitants

 

The Gia and Ngaro people were the original inhabitants of the Whitsunday area. The Ngaro occupied much of the Whitsunday islands, while the Gia occupied the mainland west to the Clarke Ranges and along the coastline.

There is evidence of inter-tribal exchanges with the Ngaro using outrigger canoes to come to the mainland for fresh water and flint for weapon making.

Aboriginal campsites can be found on some islands where trochus and oyster shell fragments are gathered in ‘middens’ in caves.

 

Pictured is Billy Moogerah who was one of the last Whitsunday Ngaro people.

The Sugar Industry

 

The Proserpine district took nearly half a century of failure and frustration to prove it was one of Australia’s best sugar producing districts. The early failure of the Crystal Brook Sugar Company of Glen Isla in the 1880’s, delayed the industry’s development by a decade. It wasn’t until 1897 that the first cane was crushed in the new Proserpine Central Sugar Mill.

In 1931, the Mill became a farmers’ cooperative. The Second World War saw women taking to the fields, and horses were re-introduced due to the petrol shortage. Mechanisation began during the war, and in the early 1970’s the last Proserpine canecutter put down his knife, marking the end of an era.

In 1996, Proserpine Mill became the first Australian sugar mill to crush a record crop of 2,138,506 tonnes of sugar cane.

 

Digger

 

This engine was constructed by the Hunslet Engine Company of Leeds, England in 1916 and was one of 155 ordered by the British War Department for service in France. At the end of the war, it was slightly modified and was one of several eventually sold for use in the Queensland Sugar Industry. Digger served well into the 1960s before being retired. After 34 years as a plaything for children at Rotary Park in Faust Street, Proserpine Museum was given custody of Digger for the benefit of the people of the district as a lasting memorial to the early days of steam.

Fire Engine

 

This original Dodge truck was Proserpine's first fire engine. Built in 1950, it was commissioned in 1951 and served in Proserpine until 1982, when it was taken over by the Seaforth Bush Fire Brigade. In 1990, Seaforth donated it back to the Proserpine community.

 

Italian Display

 

The history of Italian migration in North Queensland is linked to the growth and development of the sugar industry. It stretches back for more than a century and embraces periods of extreme hardship, prejudice and suffering. Many Italian pioneers of the Proserpine district did not settle immediately in this area, but came from other parts of Australia, arriving as early as 1908. Usually the men migrated first and were followed later by their wives and children, other relatives, or people from the same town. Many began their working lives as farm labourers and canecutters. Through hard work and frugality, they saved enough money to buy a farm, often partnering with a relative or friend.

Eldorado Theatrette

 

The original theatre on the corner of Main and Chapman Streets was erected by

Mr Johns in 1922 on a paddock where travelling circuses pitched their tents.

Mr WJ Ironside purchased the theatre in 1935 and later commenced building a new theatre around the old building. It took several years but not one night's filming was lost during that time. The Eldorado closed on Friday 7 December 1984 just one month before reaching Mr Ironside's 50 years at the theatre. The large fan, doors, side lights and projector in this theatrette are from the theatre. (Proserpine Pharmacy now operates out of the Eldorado building with its art deco facade.)