Marge never one to quit
Spending time with Margery “call me Marge” Ford leaves one with the impression that hard work is the secret to a long life because at 87 years old she is still very bright of eye although a little slow of foot.
Marge was born and reared in Mareeba, but her father owned property at Wonga Beach and she spent three years on his cane farm, going on horseback to the Rocky Point School.
She recalls two of her teachers, Mr Hooley and a Russian, Mr Schmickl.
Leasing a Mareeba dairy in her early married life meant Marge and her husband Horace ‘Ira’ Ford hand milked two dozen cows morning and night. When Marge’s father asked them to help him on his cane farm at Wonga, they jumped at the chance.
“Dad had cleared 20 acres and the rest of the 160 acre property was standing forest, so it was very hard work,” Marge said, “and of course we had to get ’ dozers in which were quite expensive.”
Swapping milking for cane stripping was not much of a better proposition and Marge admits having to work on neighbouring farms for a few pennies.
“When you are broke, you have to get money from some- where,” she said, “but my hands have paid the price.”
Marge and Ira had five children, Linda, Trevor, Elaine, Cheryl and Cecil - the youngest two born while in Wonga Beach.
When asked about memories of her time in the district, Marge mentions “a lot of hard work”.
“Once we started the (Mossman) markets, I earned a bit of money and it became a lot easier for us.”
Marge was one of the original organisers of the Moss- man Markets more than 40 years ago.
“They didn’t know who could run it so they said ‘ oh, you can run in Marge’,” she said, “and in the beginning there were only about a dozen stalls – it was very small.
“The money I collected from the other stall owners went to different local charities.
“We were charging $5 a stall each Saturday and when it grew to about 30 stalls I thought I am handling too much money! It’s grown over the years particularly since the Church took it over about 10 years ago.”
Marge is one of the market’s stalwarts, still getting up at 3 o’clock on Saturdays mornings to cook cakes, scones, chutneys and jams to stock her stall at the market.
Over recent years, Marge has sold off much of the farm and now lives in her family home, tucked away in the rainforest on only a few acres. She is looking for a place in Mossman with just a small garden.
“At least I won’t have far to go to the markets,” she laughed. And when one of her friends suggested she look at going into a nursing home, Marge retorted “I am too damned active for a nursing home!”
The Mossman Markets continue to be an enormous success, attracting thousands of locals and visitors each Saturday morning. The range of stalls has expanded significantly since its early years to now providing fresh local produce, arts and crafts, plants and even massages and freshly brewed coffee.
Marge has seen great changes in Wonga Beach since she and her husband settled there in the early 60s.
“Freddie Bell developed old Wonga and then the Battles sold their cane farm for the new Wonga development.”
“Bituminising the roads around here was a god-send,” Marge said, “even though during big storms the road out the front of our place would still get a metre of water over it.”
There is no doubting Marge is made of tough stuff. She tells stories of her lying in her house for hours with a broken leg waiting for someone to find her, stories of having snakes in her bedroom catching newly born kittens and of climbing mango trees right to the top.
In her later years she has enjoyed overseas trips with her family, spending time in Canada, Alaska, Hawaii and the UK.
It hasn’t been an easy road but Marge’s tenacity has always shone through. “I will do the markets until I am 90 and I will live until I’m 100,” she promises.
Margery Ford has long ties to Wonga Beach and Mossman, not least her role as a founder of the much loved Mossman markets. She spoke to Moya Stevens about the journey.
Marge Ford and some of her market produce