Fred­die’s rich mem­o­ries

Port Douglas & Mossman Gazette - - LOOKING BACK -

The pioneer fam­i­lies of the Dou­glas Shire cer­tainly put in enor­mous ef­fort to ad­vance the area and the Bell fam­ily is no ex­cep­tion.

Com­ing to this dis­trict from the Ather­ton Table­lands in the late 1920s, Fred­er­ick Bell Snr and his wife Alma (nee East­ment) estab­lished a sawmill at the top of the Old Mow­bray Bump Track.

He was re­spond­ing to a call from the Moss­man Su­gar Mill for rail­way sleep­ers for the cane train tracks that were spread­ing out over the dis­trict.

Once the con­tract con­cluded, the Bell fam­ily, which now in­cluded their first daugh­ter, Aileen, moved to Salt­wa­ter Creek where they built another sawmill.

“The sawmill busi­ness went big, very big,” Fred­die said, “with a 40ft (12m) high chim­ney stack.

“At its peak, the mill em­ployed seven men with oth­ers out in the scrub felling trees.”

By late 1930, the Bell fam­ily in­creased by one with the ar­rival of Fred­die Jnr and he can re­mem­ber the sounds and the smells of the mill.

“Just be­fore the mill closed due to the De­pres­sion, my fam­ily, the mill work­ers and the Cowes fam­ily de­cided to get into two boats and spend the week­end at Snap­per Is­land.

“There were 14 of us and three miles from Snap­per, the big boat broke down so the smaller boat towed it to the is­land and by the morn­ing the sea had come up so we couldn’t get back.

“Of course there were no means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, so we ended up ma­rooned for two weeks out there.

“We only had food for one din­ner and one break­fast, so luck­ily the man who had spent time on the is­land had planted some food crops and we lived on ba­nanas, sweet pota­toes and paw­paws.

“It was a long time be­fore I could look at another sweet potato,” Fred­die said.

“A cargo boat that trav­elled be­tween Cairns and Cook­town came by and we man­aged to get their at­ten­tion.

“When my sis­ter Aileen re­turned to school, the teacher didn’t be­lieve her story of be­ing ma­rooned and she got ‘the cuts’ and when my mother heard about this we were both taken out of the Miallo School.”

When World War II started and Fred­die re­mem­bers how frightened he was as a young man in his early teens when an enemy plane flew low over their house and shortly af­ter­wards they heard a loud ex­plo­sion.

“The bomb landed near a neigh­bour’s chook shed, it sheared off the cane, killed the chooks and a piece of shrap­nel went through the neigh­bour’s wall and grazed their toddler’s fore­head.

“The most ex­cit­ing one was when the Amer­i­can bomber got lost – thought Snap­per Is­land was Dou­ble Is­land and whilst look­ing for the Cairns land­ing strip, ran out of fuel and ditched in the wa­ter just off Bells Reef.

“Peggy Pow­ell who lived with her fam­ily at Rocky Point saw it come down.

“The old man got his ‘flatty’ (a flat bot­tomed boat) to try to find the crew and in the mean­time Peggy rode her bike to our place be­cause we had a tele­phone.

“She rang the po­lice and we all went up to the beach, just where the Wonga Park is now and we saw some flares go up.

“The Amer­i­can crew had ar­rived safely to shore in a very well equipped rub­ber life raft.

“Soon the po­lice turned up and although the crew were very happy to jump in our Ford lorry to be taken back to Moss­man, the po­lice in­sisted they ac­com­pany them in their boat.

“The Amer­i­cans were great though and left the raft for the kids to play with.”

Fred­die re­calls his years in the Shire with enor­mous fond­ness.

“I didn’t get into sport – I was too busy fish­ing,” he said.

“My fa­ther was go­ing to throw me a 21st birth­day party but I said ‘in­stead, could you build me a boat?’

“He and I built an 18 foot carvel boat, ‘Wonga Bell’ and a few mates and I would go away, camp on beaches and have a great time fish­ing.

Fred­die ad­mits to hav­ing sev­eral close calls with croc­o­diles, par­tic­u­larly when gath­er­ing prawns.

“In the mid ’40s we bought a co­conut farm and cleared some land in what is now known as Old Wonga.

“I took over the farm in 1959, sub­di­vided the land along the es­planade into 43 blocks, sold all the land and went to work on farms around the area.

“In the late ’80s I started at the Coun­cil do­ing main­te­nance and even­tu­ally worked slash­ing road­sides and va­cant blocks from Hart­ley Road to Cape Tribu­la­tion.

“I loved it – I got to see all the nooks and cran­nies of the Shire,” he said, “and I re­tired in 1997 – a bit af­ter retirement age but I liked the job so much.”

Fred­die now en­joys his retirement, spend­ing time in his unit at North Moss­man and in­volv­ing him­self in the lo­cal Se­niors Club.

His fam­ily are among those who ad­vanced the shire, in­clud­ing in the dark days of the De­pres­sion. Now North Moss­man res­i­dent Fred­die Bell takes a walk through the past with Moya Stevens

Fred­die Bell en­joy­ing his North Moss­man gar­den. In­set: the Salt­wa­ter tim­ber mill in the mid 1930s

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