Tuesday, August 30, 2011



Neighbour Phil in the depths of his back yard
Straddie has more than its fair share of characters.  It’s a community with a lot of friendly give and take.  If someone has a party and the noise gets pretty horrendous then you either join in or buy a pair of ear plugs.

On the other hand if something needs doing, like a blocked drain, or leaves in the guttering, or a snake in the bedroom then chances are it will be a neighbour who comes to the rescue. There’s always specialist help of varying ability somewhere nearby.

Neither the Reluctant Traveller nor I have many practical skills worth offering so more times then most we find ourselves on the receiving end of countless bounty.  To explain; I’m not a good cook, so when I arrive at a neighbourhood soiree everyone expects me to bring curried eggs, and I never disappoint.  The few times I’ve foolishly deviated from the tried and true have been hugely disastrous.  I am at the very least a quick, though basic learner.

I do however often stand in loco parentis when a family pet is left home alone on necessary overnights to the mainland. Every second Saturday Ron and Lyn King’s two fluffy feather dusters next door for example,  accept my ministrations when their owners go over for their beloved Aussie Rules football matches.  

Tony Wallace’s constant companion, Max the orange Kelpie heeler, knows full well that the moment his master goes off on day shift to the mines, a simple stroll through our house to the big white frig in the kitchen equates to a tasty snack.

Neighbour Phil, wife Jen and my Reluctant Traveller looking down at the depths of their back yard
For years neighbour Phil two doors up, also a mine worker on shifts had a regular dog bathing appointment for his large and sturdy Rottweiler, Billy.  Now Billy had a reputation, in my opinion undeserved, as being a dog one couldn’t quite trust.  Many feared him especially the dog washer who point blank refused to do the pushing and man handling needed to get Billy into his bath contraption on the back of a truck.

Enter the Reluctant Traveller’s wife, me.  ‘Rob, could you hang around and get Billy in the truck later, I’m off to work and he’s due for his bath this morning.’

No problem.   Up I trot, Billy is one heavy lump of fur.  He and I look at each other, meaningfully.  Bill knows what I’m up to and he isn’t going to make it easy.  But I’m smarter than the average Rottie, and a simple trail of chocolate coco pops does the trick.  Once he’s securely locked in the bath truck, the washman emerges and the deed is done.

Sadly Billy the Rottweiler passed away some years ago, and a heartbroken Phil never replaced him.

Then, just recently, he acquired three chooks.  This wasn’t his first foray into poultry.  The first effort went astray when the chooks turned out to be roosters and consequently failed to produce eggs.

I really wasn’t aware of this latest acquisition until Phil lobbed at the front door,  ‘Rob, I’ve got to out of town for a few days, think you could round up the chooks and pen them at night for me while I’m away’.

‘Chooks?  What chooks?’  I was hugely amused that he had resurrected the old chook pen down the farthermost end of his yard.  ‘Are you sure they’re not roosters?’

This time he assured me the chooks were the real McCoy, and no doubt very soon they would begin paying their way.

Off he went and that afternoon the Reluctant Traveller and I played catch the chooks.

Here chookie, chook, chook

Job accomplished
The old bribery trick worked a treat, this time with nibbles of dry bread.  Safely locked up for the night the Reluctant Traveller and I climbed back up the hill to our place.

It wasn’t until a good while later he made the comment, ‘funny he only has the three chooks’.

Now up to that point I didn’t have a worry one way or the other,  the job was to shoo the chooks into the chook house, shut the gate and leave them to it.   Until now, when doubt began to raise its ugly head.

I had memories of my daughter and her husband, Jenny and Chris in Tasmania when their chickens were picked off one by one by a marauding eagle.   No, of course not, I tried to convince myself, there’s only the three.

But niggling  little thoughts wouldn’t let me rest until I emailed Phil over town... just how many chickens am I supposed to be hatching? I asked him.

Then an agony of waiting until his reply arrived.

Now I could breathe easy, just the three.

Off to bed with a clear conscience.  It’s quite a responsibility looking after a neighbour’s pets, as my Reluctant Traveller agreed.


A postscript – what Neighbour Phil didn’t know and we soon found out, those pesky little chooks had discovered they had wings, and the moment we released them into their daytime yard they waited only until we were out of sight before taking off into the wild blue yonder.

Rounding them up at days end was not easy!

Robyn Mortimer ©2011

Wednesday, August 24, 2011



The island I live on, like Australia itself, is as old as time. It’s unwritten history stretches back way before the days of Captain Cook and Matthew Flinders.  The island’s real name is Minjerribah and its people from those long ago days were known to other tribes on the mainland as the Quandamooka.

Today, though the island  is listed on maps as North Stradbroke Island,  its traditional owners, the native people, are still known as the Quandamooka.  Throughout Australia, to all inhabitants older Aboriginals are referred to as Elders, the title is a courtesy one of respect used universally throughout Australia for the older members in our Aboriginal communities.

And in Dunwich one of these Elders is our own Aunty Margaret Iselin.
Dunwich now
                        The Town  of Dunwich is small, you can walk its streets in a matter of minutes.  Down the road from the Post Office and the Museum is the school, and across from the school is the simple building that houses the Minjerribah/Moorgumpin Council of Elders headquarters. 

Inside I find Aunty Margaret busy at her desk writing letters in support of a variety of applicants, both black and white.  Some will be character references for young people seeking employment on the mainland or selection to study at colleges and universities, others will be in support of parolees, ex prisoners seeking to better their lives, correct past mistakes.

I’m actually gathering notes about Margaret and her husband Pat Iselin, putting together a family history, ensuring their incredible lives live on in printed form.  But then I consider my series on Women of Straddie that began with Romane Cristescu, the Koala researcher, and I know my next subject can be no other than the lady I consider the Queen Bee of the Island, my friend Margaret Iselin.

When Margaret was a little girl, no more than five or six, she attended the Mission School at Myora, a few miles north of Dunwich. The white teacher at the school taught her the rudiments of reading, writing and arithmetic, all subjects that would help her in later life.  But at the same time the little girl’s mind was accumulating far more important knowledge.  And these lessons were being taught to her by the old Grannies who lived alongside her and her family on the Mission.

Myora Mission in the 1800's
Grannies and children from much older days...
 ‘They were wonderful old ladies,’ she tells me. ‘Black as can be, and so gentle and kind.  They would take us little kids into the bush and teach us the names of the wild flowers and the bush tucker food.  The meaning of words in the Aboriginal language, our language.’

Then a new headmaster arrived at the Mission and suddenly the Aboriginal language was forbidden. Under threat of being sent off the Island to a harsh inland Mission the Grannies pretend to obey, but secretly continue the lessons, the children responding in whispers.

Margaret remembers those days.

Today, some seventy odd years later, that little girl has become the guiding light and co-author of several books on the native flora and bush tucker of the Island, and of another extremely ambitious project, only just completed and yet to be published, a Dictionary of the Aboriginal Language spoken on Minjerribah. 

Margaret is justifiably proud of these books, and so is the entire community.

Just round the corner from the Minjerribah Moorgumpin Elders Centre is Pat and Margaret’s home, the house they built themselves some fifty years ago and sitting in the garden, snoozing in the winter sun I find Pat Iselin.

I’ve been popping in at odd times with pencil and pad ready to jot down Pat’s memories of his boyhood, growing up on the Island, courting Margaret, chasing the wild brumbies through the bush, working as part of the engineering crew at the local sand mine company and proudly helping to rear their five children.

Both husband and wife are keen fishermen, though Pat prefers to laud Margaret’s prowess with a fishing rod.

He brings out the photos, a beaming Margaret in their kitchen with the giant cod she caught that morning, the pair of them on the beach with the morning’s catch.

Then he goes on to talk about her cooking, but it takes their daughter Christine to tell me about the day Margaret was busy in the kitchen cooking up a storm  for the local school fete.  Fifteen dozen scones, a dozen sponge cakes, jam rolls,  ‘She never does anything by halves’, Chris tells me.

‘But I bet Dad never told you how he used to help her by beating the butter and sugar.’

No he hadn’t told me that.

‘This was in the days before the island had power,  Mum had an old wood stove, the first of many; she kept wearing them out.’ Chris grins. 

‘Anyway,’ she continues, ‘Dad always did the hard beating, the creaming part, but Mum cooked the sponges individually, one at a time, and the beating was a full on business for Dad.’

‘She had the biggest, thickest china mixing bowl I’ve ever seen.  It was a beauty, and I think they were down to the last cake. Mum took it off Dad to add the flour and stuff, and as she lifted it off the table the whole bottom came away.’

‘Dad had beaten the mixture so hard and for so long, the bowl just fell apart.  The look on Mum’s face was priceless.’


The stories roll on,  Pat always makes Margaret the focus.  Their wedding day when he confided he was so broke he considered making the wedding ring himself out of some old copper. (Margaret smiles at him and unconsciously twists the gold ring on her finger.)

The time as kids, this time at the Dunwich school when the teacher wrote a stage revue roughly based on Robin Hood, and their cousin Barney Delaney played the title role...’..and Margaret was up there on the stage, dancing with the other girls’, he tells me.

What part did you play, I ask Pat?  Oh, I was one of the guards or something, he tells me.

He proudly tells me about the year Aboriginal children were finally allowed to sit for the State Scholarship exam and he passed with entry to a mainland college, a few years later becoming an apprentice boilermaker at the Evans Deakin construction yards in Brisbane.  Another first for an Aboriginal lad.

Again and again Pat turns the conversation back to Margaret;  the hard life she had as a child, the eldest of nine, her father ill for much of the time, and Margaret taking on many of the home jobs while her mother worked to bring in some money.

‘She was a mother to her brothers and sisters,’ Pat tells me, ‘it’s no wonder she was such a wonderful mother to our kids.’

Fishing, camping on the beach and the family’s dinghy figured prominently in their five children’s memories of ‘Life with Mum and Dad’. 

They remembered being bundled into the dinghy, pram, baby, toddlers, the amount of food taken on board, presumably to keep ‘...us little kids quiet and still, because once the food was eaten and there was no more we all started getting restless and wanted to go home.’

Brian remembers being in the little dinghy, ‘it was no more than 12 or 15 feet long, and when the great big Hayles launch, the Mirana flew past we were left wallowing in the 3 feet waves.   It was scary stuff.’

Did Dad tell you about Mum collecting the oysters and quampies?’ 

No, he hadn’t.  

‘When the fishing finished Mum always wanted to collect some oysters and quampies off the leases while Dad took the dinghy to check on the crab pots.  That was the time for us kids to get out and run around.

‘Trouble is, Mum nearly always cut herself on the shells and then there’d be a panic and I’d have to race along the sand bank yelling out to Dad to bring the boat back, Mum’s cut herself again...’


Margaret’s other keen interest are orchids and the native wild flowers of Straddie, and her love of golf.  Again it’s Pat who tells me, very proudly, that his wife was the first golfer to achieve a hole in one on the new Dunwich Golf course that the community itself built.  And he had the newspaper clipping to prove it.

The Iselins, Margaret and Pat, have been together at the forefront of the many changes that have taken place on Stradbroke.

This remarkable woman, a native of North Stradbroke Island, or Minjerribah to use its original name, has never been content to limit her horizons to family and self.  Instead she has pushed herself and the Island’s Elders Council into the affairs of local community, State and Commonwealth, delivering a powerful yet gentle message of unity to Australians of all colours and creed.

Margaret’s role in the greater community has seen her become a household name.  Few would not be unaware of Aunty Margaret Iselin’s part in educating the youngsters of today about the Indigenous past and culture of their homeland. 

These days it’s not easy for Margaret to move around, she relies on her trusty walking stick, but  in any given week, on at least two or three occasions, you will see her boarding the water ferry to make the 20 minute commute to the mainland to either attend meetings of government or to give talks to schools and colleges. 
The walls of her office in the Minjerribah Moorgumpin Elders office in Dunwich are dotted with framed placards and awards acknowledging her work in the greater community, her appointment book stretches into 2012.  She refuses no one.

Margaret’s tireless efforts with the Elders Council of the Minjerribah Moorgumpin, lobbying Government, and insuring her Island’s claims remained to the forefront of public opinion, played a significant and important part in the realisation and final granting of Native Title over Stradbroke... Margaret and Pat, their children and their friends had waited a long time to hear the words that would realise a long time dream.

In a formal sitting in the Community Hall at Dunwich on 4 July 2011 the Federal Court of Australia made two native title consent determinations recognizing the Quandamooka People’s native title rights and interests over land and waters on and surrounding North Stradbroke Island, and some islands in Moreton Bay.


Born in 1930, Margaret’s life has spanned eighty eventful years,  She and Pat have filled their life with a dedicated sense of purpose, together they have seen great changes. Without doubt there is a great deal more to come.

And all of it was achieved by the great influence of the Grannies of the past, the ones from yesteryear and the ones of today.  Elders who through the ages taught by example, ensuring their wisdom was handed down, never lost.

Aunty Margaret Iselin is yet another inspiring link in this unbroken chain stretching back beyond written history, and hopefully ahead into the future.


Robyn Mortimer ©2011

Sunday, August 21, 2011



    Some time ago I made a trip to Central Asia without the Reluctant Traveller, once again alone, and virtually on the spur of an opportune moment.
   Curiously the countries I crammed into this visit would continually remind me of the man I left behind, hubbie Stan, but I assure you once I was on my way I gave neither him nor his name another thought.  (Not really true- I missed him like mad!)
   The trip began with a sudden impulse to visit Uzbekistan and in particular Samarkand of the fabulous Genghis Khan stories, not my husband's cup of tea at all.   
  This was a part of the world solo travellers had long found it almost impossible to enter; but where now, with Gorbachev in power and the Berlin Wall a heap of bricks, I rather hoped restrictions might be eased.
  As I soon found out though, Russian consulates in various countries including Australia were still going by the old book.  Sure I could get a visa, if I was an invited student, a relative, or part of a tour group and even then I had to detail where I was going, who I was staying with and on which particular day or night.
  Not the 'will of the wisp' trip I had in mind.  Clearly I would have to approach this project with a little bit of cunning.  What was needed was a back door approach.
  A sympathetic travel agent in Singapore happened to be on the same wave length and before long a little bit of bribe money exchanged hands.  
  Within two days I had an Aeroflot plane ticket and a very dodgy visa promising entry to Tashkent.
  The visa nearly caused my downfall.
The story of my travels through the Stans and the people I met are told in a separate blog...I've renamed it 'JOURNEY THROUGH THE STANS OF CENTRAL ASIA'...a complete story told in separate chapters...

Just some of the people you'll meet along the way.
Three ladies from Bukhara

Wonderfully fierce looking but really very friendly

If I was alone with a camera I must be KGB

A chance meeting with a girl from Alaska

  Wandering through Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan gave me an insight into Russia's influence on these two vastly different countries, and its continued presence despite the changes to the old U.S.S.R.
  Particularly the 'catch 22' situation many of the modern young women of these countries suddenly found themselves in.
  Looking back now several years later I wonder how these countries are managing, have they at long last shrugged off the mantle of Communist Russia, have they slipped back into the days of the veil and shador of Islam, thrusting their women back into a role of suppression. 
  Have they allied themselves with the troubled countries to their south, Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and Iraq.

  To read this Central Asian Series - click this link to the The first of 14 chapters...Uzbekistan You Ask.

  Robyn Mortimer

Monday, August 15, 2011



Golf courses and golf have figured largely in my marriage to the Reluctant Traveller. Along with race tracks and card games that little white ball has even contributed at times to our finances and daily survival.

 You'll note from the photo above it would be impossible to lose him on a links golf course like St. Andrews.

I’m not a gambler nor a golfer and the children’s game of ‘Snap’ is about as close to a card game as I’m ever likely to get so I guess you could say our marriage was a case of opposite attraction.

At this stage I should add my husband has no sense of direction... what so ever.  He has been known to get lost on the Sydney Harbour Bridge, has circled one of England’s gigantic traffic roundabouts innumerable times trying to work out which way is north.

The fact that we both survived a long and meandering  do it yourself  trip around the world is entirely due to my map reading genius and the fact that when we strolled through various towns or shopping centres it was imperative I keep him firmly in sight and not vice versa.

Athens though was a different story. I spent one harrowing night in a small tourist hotel in the Plaka waiting for my Reluctant Traveller to surface from a ‘just popping out to get a bottle of water’ excursion.   He had no map, no language skills, no idea even what the hotel was called, and no sense of direction. It didn’t help when he wandered back five hours later minus the water but full of chatter about this great bar he found where the music was terrific and people  were dancing and smashing plates.

I strongly suspect I could have lost him in the wilds of Tasmania...

By the time the grandchildren arrived, golf was no longer the part time, occasional breadwinner it had been when first we married. He now found he was more  often playing second fiddle to the younger generation.
Pop, Josh and Ben, and Uncle Chris

Very much second fiddle.
Fast forward a quarter of a century or so, we’ve crash landed  in the twilight zone.  We’re both greying, admittedly I’m slowing that process down with selective streaks, his eyesight is playing up, so are his shoulders.  I’m smug in the knowledge I’m ten years younger and a trifle fitter.

 Golf no longer his preferred choice of activity, unless he has behind him a seeing eye golf ball dog.  Me.  And I tend to day dream especially when his iron, or wood, or whatever makes contact, and therefore constantly to blame for a high score of lost balls.

A perfectionist in the game he finally and reluctantly shoved his golf bag in a cupboard.  But living as we do on our beloved Straddie our choice of venue to stretch the legs in pretence of exercise, is a daily walk on the golf course.

Dunwich Golf Club, an aerial shot from earlier days of drought
Straddie’s golf club is not like the fashionable tailored golf courses of American television, nor is it one of those wild and windy links courses of the British Isles.  

The golf course on Stradbroke is green and after a year of rain, lush, dotted with trees, traversed by hills, favoured by kangaroos and bird life.  The crack of a well hit ball is accompanied by the laughter of the kookaburra, the rare shout of ‘fore’.  It is also a structured oasis in the middle of dense Australian bush.

The Stradbroke Island Golf Club is one of Queensland’s best kept secrets.  In an age where keen golfers need to book weeks ahead for a playing time, where slow players mean a bank up of foursomes and mounting tempers,  the Straddie course is a delight of casual play and serenity.

Not good for the Club’s finances of course, this secret business;  to survive they need all the players they can get, so anyone reading this, take the hint, hop on a water taxi at Cleveland and enjoy the game the way it should be played.   But I digress, this story is all about walking and getting lost.  By one of us.


We started these late afternoons  strolling the course a year or so ago.  Would come across the odd hidden ball in the rough and joke we were picking up one of my Reluctant Travellers miss aimed shots.  In time finding these stray golf balls became something akin to finding seashells on the seashore,  it became addictive.

At walks end I would  brag about finding more balls then he did.  The strolls in the park became a challenge of discovery and victory.   A bit like a game of finders keepers losers weepers.  I found it incredible so many lost golf balls were hiding in areas really close to the playing field.

As we accumulated ever more lost and deserted balls I felt a twinge of guilt.  I had no idea others before me, on golf courses all over the world, were doing the very same thing.  In fact a name had been coined for these scavengers of the rough and to my surprise I realised my Reluctant Traveller and I had joined the list of international 'ball hawks'.

Lost in a blue shirt – some hours before he went MIA (missing in action)

We had found a new way to enjoy the game and we were loving it.  Until one day last week when in a slip of negligence I took my eyes off my Reluctant Traveller.  It could only have been an odd few seconds, well maybe a few lengthy minutes, before I suddenly found I was alone.  Utterly and completely.

I did a slow 360 degree turn, bush on one side,  fairway on the other three.  I called out, I cooee’d,  (the Aussie way to  shatter the silence when someone is lost) but no reply, and worse no sight of my grey haired husband in a blue shirt.

I wasn’t worried, I mean who gets lost on a golf course, but I did suspect he had done a runner and headed back to the car, parked some  four lengthy uphill par 5 holes away.  So by now I was cross in a way only another golfing wife could be.

Just like his cheek ‘, I muttered as I headed back , hoping a golfer with a buggy might  stop and offer a lift.   By the time I puffed my way up the second hill I was using a  few stronger words ...and realising there were no other players on the course, the Reluctant Traveller and I, wherever he was, were on our ‘Pat Malone’.

I finally arrived at the car to find no husband, no keys, mobile phone securely locked on the other side of the windscreen, and darkness perhaps half an hour away. 
It crossed my mind by now, that maybe something untoward had happened.  Heart attack, snake bite, fisticuffs with an angry Kangaroo, all these things crossed my mind.  Lost did not enter the equation, not at that stage anyway.

My next thought was, ‘Maybe I should get hold of a couple of friends, put them on standby, maybe with torches, maybe, maybe not...I’m probably panicking for nothing..he’ll kill me if I call out a search team.’

The Club House is perched on top of a steep, very steep hill overlooking the course.  So I trudged up the last big hill, to find the Club House was closed, deserted, not a soul around.  And as you can see from the aerial shot made some years ago, the golf course is set amidst thick, sandy bush and scrub with a long walk back to town.

Thick impenetrable bush and a sandy trail leading nowhere

By now my imagination is running riot, widowhood is beginning to enter my head, anger has given way to fully fledged panic with a flood of tears not far behind.

Then suddenly, amid the silence of bush and birdcall I hear a car’s engine, our car’s engine and I begin hurtling down the winding track from the first tee.

I'm practising in my mind and through gritted teeth what I’m about to say, when I catch sight of him, dishevelled, clothes torn, legs bleeding, exhausted.

He’d found a lost ball trail, a rich mother lode of little white  Titlists, Callaway’s and Maxfli’s that led him deeper and deeper into the thick impenetrable bush. 

Becoming totally lost, the dense bush getting thicker, no idea  the points of the compass in relation to the 6th tee where last he had seen me, he had stumbled on,  crossing narrow creek beds, climbing and falling over rotting tree trunks, unwittingly moving further away from the manicured greens.  Until finally through the scrub and bush he saw a round concrete pipe and then the bitumen road that led from Golf Club to Dunwich town.

Hallelujah! He was saved, he stumbled and staggered along the road, not a car passed by; turned onto the dirt road to the club house,  and  finally to the car where I found him.   My poor bloodied, embarrassed hero.

Back home I got the distinct impression he would rather no one knew about his latest little adventure/debacle.  I promised not to say a word, I’d just let my fingers do the talking...


Robyn Mortimer ©2011

Monday, August 8, 2011



Dunwich in 1890, though the shoot up took place about 1949.

This delicious little story emerged from a history lesson I was being given by one of Stradbroke Island’s most revered Elders, Uncle Pat Iselin.  For those of you who live overseas, I should tell you that Pat’s title ‘Uncle’ is one of respect given to all Indigenous Elders in Australia.

Pat is in his 80’s now, and I’m endeavouring to capture his memories for his grand children and for all the youngsters of Straddie.  This was just one of many stories Pat told me,  it concerns another good friend of mine, a story I couldn’t resist passing on.

Uncle Pat Iselin


Such is the spirit of Straddie that once a newcomer tastes its magic they rarely leave.  And if they do you can almost certainly bet London to a brick on, that one day they will return.

Bill Giles is a perfect example.  

Uncle Pat and I were yarning in between the history lesson,  and the conversation got round to community affairs and Bill.  Not surprising, Bill is after all the closest non indigenous community spokesman we have when it comes to challenging the local council or state government on what Dunwich needs in the way of amenities and so on.

Anyway Bill Giles name cropped up and suddenly Pat was off again with the history lesson about old man Giles, Bill’s dad Cliff.

‘I remember the night old Mr Giles fired his gun and spoofed the Perry’s cart horse.  The horse bolted, everyone got a fright, trouble is the Perry’s were delivering milk around town and the milk went everywhere.’


I had already heard the story about young Billy Giles being taught to ride the Dunwich horses by an equally young Ivan Knott, so I knew Bill had been around in the 1940’s. 

I also knew the Giles family had left the island not long after, and for Bill his return some forty years later was in answer to that deep felt magic that draws everyone back to Straddie.

Sensing there was a bit more to the story than Uncle Pat had divulged, I went straight to the horses mouth, and here is Bill’s version, warts and all.



My Father, Clifford (Cliff), my Mother Louisa (Lou) and I (you know me) moved here in the late 40s shortly after the Benevolent Institution moved to Sandgate. 

The State conducted a ballot to determine who was eligible to bid for one of the existing staff houses. My Father’s name came out of the hat and he purchased the house currently occupied by Jimmy Campbell (behind Straddie Super Sports). Dad built the current store and it started business as the first “General store” in Dunwich, if not on the island (before Bonty Dickson’s) albeit it with very limited stock. Nevertheless it was the first commercial establishment with electrically powered refrigeration and electric lighting powered by a generator and a bank of batteries.

I remember: wood fired stoves for cooking; chip heaters that supplied hot water for baths (showers were unheard of); kerosene refrigerators; kerosene, tilly and carbide lights; irons for taking the wrinkles out of clothes heated on the wood fire; coppers for boiling soiled clothing; back yard clothes lines held up by props of bush timber and, Coolgardie safes to keep the flies off food. 

My Mother was a registered nurse and mid-wife. She ran what we now know as a Para-medical service from the house on behalf of the Cleveland Ambulance Service. (I have a letter of appreciation from them if you think it would be appropriate to Pat’s story) An unknown number (to me) of current residents in Dunwich were born in my then home. 

‘Little’ Billy Giles outside his Father’s Dunwich Shop about 1949  
Louisa Giles, Midwife & 'Little Billy’s' Mum, 1949
The Shooting Incident

Our house backed onto Shepherd’s Lane. Across the lane from us was a house (approximately where the NSI Museum is today) with a lopsided chimney which irritated my Father who was something of a pedant. 

One year, I can’t remember which, my cousin Kath’s visit coincided with her birthday. After some hours of celebration my Father announced that if the King was entitled to a 21 one gun salute on his royal birthday his niece was entitled to a similar honour. Whereupon he produced a .303 bolt action rifle and put five well aimed rounds through the offending chimney. 

In those days the Perry family kept dairy cows on the island and delivered fresh milk around town by horse and cart. At the time of my father’s demonstration of fealty the horse and cart were parked in Shepherd’s Lane. Naturally the horse bolted on hearing the shots and the day’s supply of milk ended up on the road.

At the time there was no police presence on the island. But the day after the incident policemen from the mainland appeared on our doorstep and confiscated the weapon. My Dad got it back subsequently on the proviso he sold it which he did.


Pat’s wife, Aunty Margaret added to the story.  She remembered Bill’s mother Louisa.

‘She was a marvellous woman, always there to help anyone who was sick or injured.   I don’t know how many Island children she brought into the world.

‘I remember old Mr Giles liked a tipple or two.  One night one of the young women who lived up the road from us then, went into labour.  We had no ambulance and not many people had cars, so the girls mother helped her walk down to the Giles house.

‘Louisa took one look at her and said, ‘get up on the kitchen table’, and before long that baby had arrived.   Mr Giles?  He’d started celebrating the newborn long before, he liked his rum.’

Bill added one point to the story,  each time an expectant mother turned up he was sent next door to the home of Colin and Evie Campbell to spend the night.

 So I’m left to ponder if perhaps little Billy Giles had no idea at the time that  his home was actually a drop off point for a passing stork.


And one last postscript to this story...as always when writing about people who are so obviously alive and kicking I give the story to them to peruse, to either love the result or beg me not to publish.

My friend Bill on this occasion loved the story, he had however just the one comment...

 "Little" Billy. 

That name, the Little bit, was engraved on my forehead by such as Margaret Iselin and Rosie Borey all those years ago and has stuck. But don't tell the bloody butcher  (another Dunwich friend) or I'll lose my reputation as a hard as nails Infantryman....

OK Bill...I promise not to tell Les Nothling...however...


Co-authors: 2011
Robyn Mortimer
Bill Giles