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 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