Monday, April 30, 2012


1994 Replica Endeavour now with Sydney Maritime Museum

In  May of 1770 Captain James Cook midway into his first voyage of discovery and some weeks after entering Stingray Bay, (Botany Bay now) near a spot that would much later become Sydney, sailed further north hugging the east coast of an unknown land known in Britain at the time as Terra Australis.  He eventually sailed his ship, the Endeavour, into a wide and desolate bay midway up what is now Queensland’s Capricorn coast.  He named the inlet Bustard Bay in honour of the splendid meal of bush turkey he and his officers, and botanists Sir Joseph Banks and Dr Daniel Solander shot and later ate that night aboard the Endeavour. 

The meal his hard working crew partook on the same night is not mentioned in his diary though Cook wrote that one sailor caught a dozen small fish, and ‘Here are plenty of small Oysters sticking to the Rocks, Stones, and Mangrove Trees, and some few other shell fish, such as large Muscles, Pearl Oysters, Cockels...’  So I guess the sailors didn’t do all that badly.


Fast forward to the 1980’s, some 200 years after Cook’s voyage, Straddie’s two Loveable Larrikins, plus my Reluctant Traveller have themselves discovered the Town of 1770 and quickly realised the Endeavour’s crew had been onto a good thing when they fished offshore for their evening meal all that long time ago. 

But unlike Cook and the Endeavour, our three intrepid fishermen returned to the same fishing grounds year after year after year, enduring the seven hour road trip from Straddie to 1770 with light hearts and an esky full of stubbies. Their hi-jinks whilst away became legendary, their fishing haul unbelievable.

Of course along with photographic and bragging proof of their catch they brought home the real thing,  lots of dead fish for the folk at home to feast on, but strangely nothing to show their better halves just how beautiful and enticing this fishing village of 1770 really was.

While our men were away on their annual jaunt, we wives were left at home.  1770 was after all a males only destination, their holiday accommodation a rough and ready retreat with few amenities for the gentler sex. 

At least that’s what they told us and naturally we believed them.

FAST FORWARD now to 2012, just last week in fact;  we three wives, Robyn, Karen and Jenny have been granted the rare privilege of accompanying our men folk on their current pilgrimage north.  What’s more this is not going to be an ‘up before dawn and out on the boat fishing’ type of holiday.  This time their rented cottage will be upmarket with all modern cons and our comfort and entertainment will be paramount and uppermost on their minds.  Not a fishing rod in sight.   (I lie, Larrikin Phil did bring a lightweight rod with the sole purpose of catching a flathead.  He didn’t.)

It seems though that age had obviously and finally mellowed our three Larrikins.

This for instance was the amazing view from our rented cottage.  Where the fishing boat in the picture is today, was where Cooks Endeavour anchored back in the year 1770.

Mind you despite their insistence this was to be a restful, relaxing and non rowdy week our Larrikins couldn’t quite banish their ‘hi-jinks’ mode.  Phil (you might remember his part in the ‘meals on wheels’ debacle in the imaginary town of Dunroaming) soon realised the rental house lacked a basic necessity for the drinking of beer, stubbie holders.  A sharp knife, the cardboard carton the bottles came in and a clothes peg soon rectified that problem.

Obviously age is not wearying them...

With such untouched bush and beach some of us took to the walking trails, exploring the history of 1770 and the glorious scenery...

While Larrikin Phil took the opportunity on each car trip to a remote location to throw in a line.  Without success.

Larrikin Phil with the light weight fishing rod – and not a bite....

But to fully appreciate the gigantic scope of all that the Town of 1770 has to offer we signed up for the all day tour around the wide curving bay to the Bustard Heads Lighthouse aboard the pink LARC ...  an American 40 year old light amphibious resupply cargo vessel or LARC (get it?).   The tour would involve crossing the water from 1770  to the long sandy beach of the Eurimbila National Park, crossing four creeks along the way and eventually trundling up to the historic 144 year old Bustard Bay Lighthouse on top of the headland.  (A long journey timewise, the LARC isn’t exactly speedy Gonzales!)

The prime destination of the journey, the historic Bustard Heads Lighthouse didn’t disappoint.  The views alone were worth the trip; blue ocean and passing cargo vessels eastward out to sea, mountain ranges and coastal flats to the west, Gladstone to the north and the Town of 1770 a mere dot in the distance, far to the south.

Lighthouse and keepers cottages as they were some 100 years ago.
Sadly the unoccupied lighthouse keepers cottages had been vandalised some years before, and rebuilt in the 1950’s style; with funding difficult to come by I guess replacing the old with the really original old was out of the question.

We enjoyed the visit and the informative tour given by the current caretakers, but we wives couldn’t help wondering how the original lighthouse keepers of centuries past had coped with the isolation and the raising and caring of their young families.  At one time the two keepers had 11 children resident in the two cottages at the one time. 

The Bustard Heads Lighthouse graveyard showed there had been desperate moments with tragic results.

For us though the return trip along the sandy beach had a few more surprises of a more adventuress nature... sand boarding down a steep sand hill.  I guess you could say it separated the brave four of us from the remaining two scaredey cats.  With my Reluctant Traveller sporting the after effects of a crabbing injury to his leg I felt sure only two of our blokes would take the challenge.

Our three Larrikins surveying the sand hill.

I was wrong.

Larrikin Phil at take off...
Larrikin John – mission accomplished...

And finally my Reluctant Traveller with the gammy leg....

Of we three wives only Jenny was brave enough, or energetic enough to climb the sand hill, but  I missed her ride and you will just have to take my word for it... she made a very elegant descent. 

The six of us and the LARC crew
You might think after 30 odd years we six would have run out of things to talk about, left behind the banter and laughter of earlier days when we all were a lot younger, but you would be wrong. Like the holidays away to Iluka documented in previous blogs, our week away at 1770 was full of fun.  We recalled all the old chestnuts, laughed the days and nights away, accumulating even more tall tales and true to relate at future gatherings.

As my Reluctant Traveller has often said  ... ‘You wouldn’t be dead for quids!’


Robyn Mortimer ©2012

Monday, April 16, 2012


Actress Judy Dench amidst Jaipur’s colourful splendour

I enjoy nothing more than a good English comedy and I wasn’t disappointed with a recent visit to the cinema to view a new release film ‘The Exotic Marigold Hotel.

Now this particular outing was a movie session taken with two younger friends from Straddie.  I left it to them to choose a film of their choice and they were all abuzz with this latest big star film starring a clutch of England’s best known golden oldies.

Maybe they chose this particular film in deference to my advanced years.  I’m glad they did because just a few minutes into the action I sat up with a jolt.  I knew the ‘Marigold’s location well, I had walked the same streets leading lady Judy Dench was strolling through in the movie.  I too had  been dazzled by the town’s colour and vibrant atmosphere.  As the movie’s plot unfolded my memories travelled back almost 35 years, to my first visit to India, a trip shared with my then 17 year old daughter, Jenny.


The year was 1978 when Jen and I set off on our great adventure, a month roaming through India.  We started in Nepal travelling to distant parts of the country from Katmandu,  stayed at Pokhara’s then new Fish Tail Lodge, falling under the spell of the great towering mountain the beautiful and remote lake side lodge was named after, Machapuchare.

We spent a magical few days there riding bikes into the town, boating on the lake, talking to Tibetan refugees who in those early days of invasion and despair had sought shelter from its neighbouring country. In every direction we enjoyed  the snow capped peaks of the Himalayas.

It was the best of introductions to the Indian Sub Continent.

From there Jen and I travelled on to Delhi and then further north to Srinagar and the snow covered town of Gulmarg which boasted the highest golf course in the world, but would later be a pivotal point in the Pakistan India border skirmishes over Kashmir’s dominion.

As we progressed through the country we did all the touristy things, stayed on a houseboat on Kashmir’s lakes, visited the Taj Mahal, wandered the streets of Agra and Delhi, Bombay and Madras.  But one city we chanced upon proved more colourful and enticing than any of the others.

Jaipur , Rajasthan’s capital, where the women wore saris of such diverse colour they seemed like bright rainbows flitting through the alleys and byways of the bazaar.

Jaipur where the turban makers went about their specialized work creating colourful and commanding turbans for ceremonial occasions.

Jaipur where the monkeys created havoc in the corridors of our city hotel.

Jaipur where Jenny ran into a school friend from Brisbane also touring with her parents but moving across the country in an opposite direction to us. 

Familiar faces in a sea of strangers. We had a great deal to talk about which we adults did over glasses of tepid beer cooled down with dubious cubes of ice.  (Obviously one of the reasons my Reluctant Traveller, on this occasion safely ensconced at home, avoids moving too far from his comfort zone.)  The girls chatted, we adults poured over maps, exchanged travel stories, it was a lovely diversion and a welcome break to our routine.


Then the time came to say goodbye. We moved south, Jenny’s friend and her parents moved north.  We took copious photos and movie film as the following snaps show.

Jen at Delhi's Zoo

Mr Mir and me - below us is Gulmarg's golf course.

Crossing on the punt to the Fish Tail Lodge at Pokhara

Snowbound in Gulmarg - we weren't short of food

Playing in Kashmir's snow.
An elephant ride in Rajasthan
View from a Harem window
A houseboat on Lake Dal, Kashmir
Our photos covered everything under the sun, snow, elephant rides, magnificent palaces and temples, a visit to the zoo, the lakes of Kashmir.  From Katmandu to Srinagar, from Delhi to Agra, Jaipur, Bombay – as it was still known,  Madras and many points in between. Far too many happy snaps to show here.

Not all the photographs were picture perfect, actually as Jenny said at the time, ‘Mum your eyesight must be faulty, all the ones you took are out of focus’.  My excuse  then of course was, that the age of digital cameras was still half a century away. Clearly I must have been clairvoyant.

But somehow I doubt even a digital model could have made a difference to what happened next.  Because while all our other photos were as picture perfect as our amateur efforts could manage, ones taken in Jaipur itself simply vanished into thin air.

Maybe, just maybe in the case of Jaipur there was another reason, a reason too unfathomable, too inconceivable to understand  or even comprehend.



Jaipur should have been a happy and memorable stopover on our  India jaunt, but for two reasons it wasn’t.

The second reason we wouldn’t discover for some months.

The first reason though, was encountered at the ramshackle little airport we were due to fly out of for our next stop at Jodhpur where we  both were looking forward to staying in a palace in the middle of a lake.

Back in those days my daughter was an art student, she was and still is very gifted with sketchbook and pencil.  After arriving on time we then faced numerous delays with our scheduled flight, each delay triggering yet another passage through immigration  with body searches, handbag and luggage perusal and the same inane questions.

We took it all in good humour with  Jen chatting to the young teenage soldiers of similar age who were toting rifles in a half hearted way.  After all the age of terrorism was still decades away and the airport was hardly important enough to warrant attack.

After two false alarms, boarding the departing aircraft, waiting, waiting for take off; two eventual announcements that the ‘aircraft was broken’, and two return walks across the hot tarmac to the even hotter little terminal, tempers, including ours were beginning to fray.

Then our third call to the immigration and customs check.  I was ahead of Jenny, she was two or three passengers behind me.  I had reached the departure lounge, waiting for her to appear when I heard her voice calling me.  Not a happy, ‘Mum, where are you? cry...’

Instead an indignant cry for help, ‘Mum, I’ve been arrested!!

The Army Major in charge of the teenage soldiers had been observing Jenny and her sketchbook.  Apparently this was a man weighed under with responsibility and with a colossal imagination.  He had come to the conclusion that my teenage daughter was a spy.

Faced with the reality of a sketchbook full of pen and ink sketches of everyday life in India he was forced to back down.  But not before we changed our minds about Jodhpur and demanded passage instead on the next flight out to Bombay, an aircraft now on the tarmac revving up for take off..


Of course the airport bungle didn’t  affect our love affair with India and its people.  In all other respects we were well looked after wherever we went.  I must have loved the place, in ensuing years I returned there again and again.

On our return to Brisbane we discovered Jenny’s school friend had suffered a crippling accident in India a week or so after we said our goodbyes in Jaipur. 

And while we have a pictorial record of every other nook and cranny of India that we explored from top to bottom on that first trip, we have none taken in Jaipur itself.

A number of photos were taken of the girls together but the developed film was blank.



Such a strange and curious outcome back then in 1978... sitting there in the darkness of the cinema watching Maggie Smith and Judy Dench discovering their modern day Jaipur in 'The Exotic Marigold Hotel', you can understand my enjoyment of this great movie was tinged with more than a little sadness for what might have been.

Do see the movie if it comes your way, it is very entertaining.  And while the city itself has grown immensely in the intervening 35 years since last I was there, the colour, the atmosphere and many of the fine old buildings were just as I remembered.


Robyn Mortimer ©2012

Other stories about India you might like to read...

Sunday, April 8, 2012



Frederick Macomber was a mere boy of 17 when he marched off to America's Civil War back in 1861.  Within months of enlisting he was attached to Company F of the First Rhode Island Light Artillery and sent to Camp Sprague near Washington DC where the battery received its guns, four ten pounder Parrott rifles and two 12 pounder howitzers.

It fell to the youngest member of the battery to perform watch duty during the long hours of the early morning. Inevitably, in 1862 he was found guilty of falling asleep at his post, appeared before a court martial and was given sixty days hard labour at Fort Macon, North Carolina.  On this occasion the presence of battle shortened the sentence.  Then in 1863 he again was found guilty of the same misdemeanour, this time in New Berne.

The following years saw several skirmishes involving his Company including the Siege of Petersburg when the Rhode Island battery engaged the Confederates on the Richmond and Petersburg Pike, the main road between the two cities.  The battery exchanged fire at Drury’s Bluff on the 16th of May, 1964 losing 3 men, wounding another 8, and with 4 left missing.  26 horses were killed in the encounter and the battery’s Captain Belger was captured by the Confederates and sent to Libby Prison in Richmond.

In the same theatre of battle Macomber was seriously wounded and spent the next six months in a field hospital in Portsmouth, Rhode Island.  Eventually he was mustered out of the service, applied for a pension and was granted “a three quarter disability, probably permanent, by gun-shot wound of left arm.” He was paid US$6 a month; at this time Fred Macomber was still only 19 years of age.

Thus was young Fred Macomber’s experience of hands on battle.

William James Glackens – Wickford Harbour, Rhode Island
Fred did return home to convalesce, but he didn’t stay on Rhode Island for long.

Fred’s grave site in the midst of fresh mown grass.
By now you must be wondering why I’m writing about a young Union soldier engaged in the internecine battles of America’s Civil War.  He is after all not related to me, and until a few short weeks ago I wasn’t even aware he once existed.  The photo above showing young Private Macomber’s last resting place should give you a clue.

I wrote some time ago about my husband, the Reluctant Traveller’s discovery of his great great-Grandmother’s grave in our local Stradbroke Island cemetery at Dunwich, the photo below shows Stan contemplating Jane William’s memorial plaque. (Straddie 5 – A Surprising Slice of History.)
Like our relation from long ago, many of those who died on the island in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s were buried in unmarked graves with only a few bearing elaborate headstones detailing their birth and death and relationship to kin.

Fred Macomber’s grave is the only one in the midst of a wide expanse of mowed grass.  Above his last resting place  spreads the shady limbs of a tree that possibly wasn’t even a stripling when he died in Dunwich in 1909.

Taking a short cut through the cemetery to the water taxi jetty at the One Mile I stumbled across the old weather beaten grave stone by chance.  The words ‘Civil War’ leapt out and I wondered why on earth a veteran of America’s darkest moments could have ended his days so far from home.



Little is known about Fred’s years in Australia. It’s believed he arrived in New South Wales in 1870;  that’s only six years after his discharge from the American Union army.  But what could have triggered his move to a country so far away from family and home?

Possibly the lure and adventure of gold.  The 1870’s saw gold discoveries in both New South Wales and Queensland, but if Fred was lured here by the gold fever that gripped so many hopeful diggers, he obviously was unsuccessful. 

By 1886 Fred applies successfully to the American pension department for restoration of his war pension.  He tells them he is now 43 years of age, unmarried with no children and had previously received a pension for 22 years until it had suddenly ceased.

Perhaps Fred Macomber is one of these inmates rushing to the Benevolent Societies dining hall.

By 1899 he is recorded as living in Ingles, New South Wales, but two years later he becomes a resident of the Dunwich Benevolent Asylum in Dunwich on North Stradbroke Island.  What had happened in Ingles?  In fact where is the town of Ingles?  I could find no record of its existence.

It took an internet search by my daughter Jenny in Ecuador to discover an 1874 plan of the New South Wales town of Tamworth ‘in the county of Inglis’. And yes gold was the catalyst that brought a wandering Fred Macomber to this rural corner of this mid eastern part of Australia, all of which at that time was known as New South Wales.

By the time Fred arrived the gold was all but panned out, for lone operators like himself anyway.  No doubt he continued north to eventually finish his wandering  in the part of the country that would soon become the State of Queensland.  How did he survive? 

With his damaged and possibly crippled arm he would have been reduced to menial work, but remember he did have his Civil War pension, and that money would have been more than many of the other hopeful and disappointed gold miners would ever see much less jingle in their pockets.
The Dunwich Society’s records list him as inmate number 6218.  Eight years later, at the age of 65 Fred Macomber dies of ‘valvular disease of the heart’.

Fred spent 39 years of his life in Australia.  When he died, like all  inmates of the Asylum he was buried in an unmarked grave, just one of the many lost and lonely souls who ended their days in the sunshine and serenity of Dunwich.

There must still be Macomber kin living in Rhode Island where Fred grew up. I wonder do they have memories of their soldier kin.  He was born in 1844 in Liverpool, England, to George Macomber and Louise Downey before the family migrated to the United States and became residents of Portsmouth.

I hope it will be a comfort for them to know that 80 years after his death, in June of 1992, the American Veterans Administration in Washington DC erected a headstone on his grave site acknowledging this soldier of the Civil War...

Fred Macomber though, wasn’t the only American Civil War veteran to settle in Australia, 128 other American soldiers crossed the Pacific to Australia and never returned home.  By the same token an equally large number of young Aussie men made the rush trip in the opposite direction to fight on either sides of the battle. 

(A reader and Civil War Researcher, Terry has left a comment on this story advising the number of known Civil War vets buried in Australia and New Zealand now exceeds 200.  I wonder has anyone researched the number of 'down unders' who lost their lives in the same conflict.)

Curiously, Fred Macomber wasn’t the only one to end his days at Queensland’s Dunwich Benevolent Society Home for the poor, the aged and the intemperate. 

Edward Charles Wright Osborne, another Englishman born in 1844 arrived in the United States at the age of 18 and almost immediately enlisted in the 47th Massachusetts Infantry.  Nine years after his war service, Wright, (he had dropped his surname of Osborne), migrated to Australia and married Henrietta Sheridan in Melbourne in 1874.

Apparently the marriage failed and by 1891 Wright too had been admitted to the Dunwich Asylum. He died there three years later, his death certificate lists his occupation as ‘actor’ and he is buried on the island in a paupers grave.

In 2003 members of the American Civil War Round Table of Queensland placed a plaque  on a cemetery wall to commemorate his memory.

Robyn Mortimer ©2012-04-08