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A Ross Island 'Mud Picker' by Norman Timms

Page history last edited by Trisha Fielding 14 years, 9 months ago


Sixty-five years ago I was born by home birth delivered by a midwife by the name of Sister McKergow at Archer Street, Ross Island (now known as South Townsville/Railway Estate).  I'm what is colloquially known as a ‘Ross Island Mud Picker’ and bloody proud of that title and this is some of my memories of Townsville and my area during my childhood. 
Ross Island was just that, an island formed by the Ross Creek and the RossRiver and consisted of large sand dunes, saltpans & mudflats.  Access to Ross Island was by way of the Old Victoria, Lowths, Rooney bridges and Sandy crossing.  Ross Island was the working class suburb of Townsville i.e. waterside, railway, meatworkers etc.  The ‘other’ side of Ross Creek would ask Ross Islanders when they came to the CBD if they had picked the mud from between their toes, hence the ‘Ross Island Mud Picker" tag.
During World War II, U.S. negro soldiers were segregated from white Yank soldiers and encamped on the dunes and mudflats adjacent to Old Rifle Range Road (now known as Kricker Street) at the southern end of Archer street towards the Ross River mouth.  Several Negro soldiers were killed after a fight between the Negro and white yanks and this part of Ross Island was nicknamed ‘Murder Island’ for many years after.
After the war some of these mudflats were reclaimed and the Townsville Regional Electricity Board (TREB) built a power station there to replace the City Council's ageing Hubert Wells power station that was situated on the corner of Ross River Road and West Street Aitkenvale.  Hubert Wells was later taken over by Evans Deakin Pty Ltd to be used as an engineering and steel fabrication workshop.
Ross Island was a great place to grow up as a kid with fishing, bike riding, school sports, boating, horse riding, swimming, being bailer boy for the eighteen-footer sailing skiffs and getting up to the normal skulduggery of blowing up letterboxes on ‘Guy Fawkes’ night.
Ross Island was the main industrial area of Townsville in the early days i.e. the port, Cleveland Foundry and slipway, railway marshalling yards & workshops, power station, Commonwealth Oil Refinery tank farm, Shell, Purr-Pull, Vacuum & Golden Fleece oil depots, Samuel Allens, Cummins & Campbells, New Zealand Loan bonds stores, Poultneys stock food & carriers, Hinspeters carriers, Claude Townley Plumbing, Vardey's Ice Works, Matt Taylor's boatyard and slipway, Keith Smith's boatyard and slipway, Department of Works workshops, four garages, Eades Canvas, Northern Glass workshop, a timber joinery plus builders, a Bakery (Penants), The Tin & Cardboard Box Factory, ‘Fordite’ brand luggage factory, and post office.  It also had eleven of the forty-three hotels that were in Townsville.  They were the Victoria Park, Commonwealth, National, Federal, Bellvue, Shamrock, Empire, Australian, Victoria Bridge, Crown and the Metropole (first and last from the jetty).  There was a saying about the old wooden Crown Hotel: ‘Never unpack your port when you check in as you didn't know when it would burn down’. (Been drunk in all of them!)
In Ross Creek from Matt Taylor's boat yard around to the old Victoria Bridge was just mangroves and mud and was one of the best crabbing spots in RossCreek, as was the creek area behind the railway workshops on Flinders Street West opposite the Mansfield Hotel.  The old Victoria Bridge was a good spot for fishing for Barra and Mangrove Jack at night time with live bait.  But fishing was damaged after the Sugar terminal burnt down and there were dead fish, prawns and crabs everywhere from the polluted water.  The stench from the pollution could be smelt as far away as Oonoonba, Hermit Park and North Ward.  The fumes given off from the pollution discoloured silver, brassware and chrome in houses along the ‘Swing Basin’ area and took your breath away if you were walking along Palmer Street or Flinders Street East.


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