40 years at the markets
Ronnie Jorgensen is a part of the landscape in Mossman. Here she explains to Pam Willis Burden her attitude to life and her history as one of Mossman’s characters
Every Saturday for almost 40 years, Ronnie Jorgensen has been entertaining passers-by at Saturday’s Mossman markets.
She plays old tunes on the banjo mandolin, busking to support local charities.
Veronica May Jorgensen, nee Edwards, was born in Mossman Hospital in 1934.
Her grandfather James Edwards had come to Daintree in 1912 to cut cedar, but returned to Mt Carbine where her father John (Jack), brother Darby and sisters Martha, Ellen and Gertie attended school.
When he was old enough Jack joined his father John driving a pack-horse team, carrying goods from Mt Carbine down the Bump Track.
But when the coast road was built they went broke, so Jack became a steam engine driver at Mossman Mill, helping with the boilers.
Jack had to keep up his time to earn his Steam Drivers Ticket, so during the slack at the Mill, the family left Mossman when Ronnie was about a year old, spending time at Mt Molloy, the Burdekin, and Collinsville.
After two years at Blackheath College, Charters Towers, Ronnie at 17 began her nursing training at Maryborough, where she met her husband Colin Jorgensen.
They returned to live in Mossman in 1956 and built the house where they still live in Alchera Drive. In those days, there were only about ten houses in South Mossman.
Ronnie says “I have always been interested in art and attended the first classes run by Cairns School of Arts in Mossman in the early 1960s. Miles Clackerty was our first teacher.
“To help with living costs, I started painting Christmas murals on Mossman shop windows around 1979. This had many pitfalls to overcome. On my first window, I had to return as Sally Scomazzon was upset because the chimney was too small for Santa to get down.
“I was joined by Sandra Ford, and as we painted to the wishes of the storeholders, she painted Bananas in Pyjamas one year, and Thomas the Tank Engine the next. These were at child level in the baker’s window, and it took them a long time each morning to clean the little kisses off the outside.
“Later Tony Ford joined us and by 1998 we had to start painting at the end of October as we had 34 windows to do.
“Due to ill health we decided to see 2000 in and then handed it over to some talented High School artists.”
While her children were small, Ronnie and a group of women stripped sugar cane to feed into the planters for next year’s crop, and later she handpainted the weekly sale tickets for Jack & Newells.
Ronnie remembers: “In 1969 Mr Jenkins the Manager asked if I would draw a comic character for their Newsletter, and so an amateurish Sugarfoot was created.
“He wore a floppy hat and a singlet, shorts and big boots, and often reflected some of the nationalities of the cane cutters in the district.”
When the famous artist and cartoonist Strom Gould came to Port Douglas in the early 70s, Ronnie was happy to retire Sugarfoot. Ronnie recalls: “In 1976 in order to get funds to start an Order of the Eastern Star Chapter, I was put in charge of organising a Tea, Coffee and Scones sale on the Church of England grounds, near the black stump. My scones were lousy, so I was put in charge of the tea and coffee, and to keep busy I started busking.
“After four months of agony due to my bad playing, Val King, who had a dressed doll stall nearby, asked to join me on her piano accordion, and she sorted my timing out.
“By the end of the year there were five stalls, Val King’s, Val Bell’s cooking, Marge Ford’s cooking, Margaret selling used clothes for the animal centre at Craiglie, and us.”
And so began the Mossman Market under the Raintrees. Marge Ford organised it and donated the proceeds to charity. Later it was taken over by St David’s Church of England who continues to manage it.
And Marge and Ronnie are still there every Saturday.
Fishing has been a great love of Ronnie’s and she and Elaine Patterson organised an all-women fishing trip in 1963. “It took two months of persuasion to get Manny Simms to take us out, and he was so wary of us, he got the policeman from Mt Molloy to be deckhand.”
Many years later when the prawns ran at Bells Beach, now Wonga Beach, Ronnie gathered a group of women to drag her little bait net. “There was friendly rivalry with one fisherman, so we bribed his dragging mate with sponge cakes to let us know when the prawns were running.”
Ronnie’s wish is “employment for everyone who wants it, and that we stay the friendly town we are famous for.”
I started painting Christmas murals on Mossman shop windows around 1979. On my first window, I had to return as Sally Scomazzon was upset because the chimney was too small for Santa to get down.
Ronnie Jorgensen, a founder of the Mossman Markets. Inset: her cartoon sketchbook