They were glorious days
Gloria Geeves hails from one of the most well known local families whose history in the district echoes those many Italian pioneers. She spoke with Pam Willis Burden
In July it will be 75 years since a bomb was dropped on Miallo, slightly injuring three-year-old Angelina Zullo. Generally it is thought the plane which dropped the bomb was Japanese, but Gloria Geeves, who lived nearby, believes otherwise.
She was told by Irene Taffs, daughter of the local minister and a war-time surveillance officer on top of Crees Hill, that the sound of the plane was not Japanese.
‘Aunty Rene’, as Gloria called her, said the plane was returning from New Guinea to the Mareeba airfield but still had two bombs on board. It dropped one near Snapper Island, and thinking they were still over the ocean, the crew mistakenly dropped the second near Miallo.
At the time, Gloria was 11 years old and living on the Scomazzon family farm near the Newell golf course.
Her parents, Sebastiano Scomazzon and Rosa Santacatterina, were born in northern Italy, and after marrying in Melbourne, came to live with Rosa’s parents in Cassowary in 1931.
There wasn’t enough room in the farm house, so the young couple with baby daughter Lauretta lived in the empty fowl shed. Gloria said “When Mum went to Mossman Hospital to have me, the nurses couldn’t work out what the marks were on her body. Then they realised they were lice bites. Mum didn’t speak enough English to explain them.”
After a while, Sebastiano who was a stonemason, moved his family to Valese’s farm on Cooya Beach Rd. He built the arches that are still at the house.
Gloria remembers: “In 1934 Dad bought the Scomazzon farm that is still in the family from ‘Chunder’ Berzinski and had to clear the bush with dynamite for more cane fields.
“In the cyclone of that year, Mum put blankets over the kitchen table and a mattress underneath and we three kids hid there. Dad put eight-gauge wire over the house although Mum was stressed about him falling off the roof. Luckily there was no damage.
“The house had corrugated iron walls and roof and sapling posts on the corners. It had only one room with curtains as dividers inside. The floor was clay which came from the well that we dug by the creek. The toilet was a ‘thunderbox’ away from the house. At night we kids took a hurricane lamp and hoped to goodness there wasn’t a snake in there.”
On Gloria and Lauretta’s first day at St Augustine’s School, she said: “We didn’t realise there was another language other than Italian. We never came to town and only mixed with other Italians and we didn’t have a car or phone.”
During WWII soldiers were camped on the corner of Syndicate Rd. Sometimes a jeep would give the children a lift to school. Otherwise they walked.
Once a soldier asked Lauretta: “Are you the oldest in the family?” and she replied: “No, my father is.”
Sebastiano was interned in 1942. Gloria said: “The police came and just took Dad away. There was no information about why he was taken, but he had served in WW I in Italy and was not naturalized until 1946.
Mum had six kids in eight years: Lauretta, Gloria, Ben, Odette, Vixie and Bruno. She was left to look after them all and the farm too.
Gloria remembers: “A man would come to help haul the cane out and throw it onto the truck to go to the train line. Mum would help to burn and cut the cane and she had two cows to make cheese and butter. She had a market garden and the kids would take a cabbage to the shops to exchange for apples and pears.
“Dad was taken to a NSW internment camp, then Loveday in SA. A few others from Mossman were sent away too.
“Finally he worked on the transcontinental railway line until he became very ill and Mum was sent to bring him back.”
After the bomb at Miallo, Rosa kept the kids at home for a year. She didn’t want them separated if the Japanese invaded. She couldn’t speak English so she taught them to read and write in Italian and Gloria still speaks it.
“Once an MP came to Mossman and Mum took all us kids into the Royal Hotel lounge to show him what the government had done by taking her husband away and leaving her with the children. But it didn’t do any good. Dad was away for 28 months.”
Gloria left school early to look after her youngest brother Peter, who was born after the war.
When she was 16, brother Ben found her a job at the mill. She would take a sample from sugar juice to calculate the CCS, the percentage of pure sugar.
She was the first girl to do that job and she worked for Mr Staples, the chief chemist. Mum made her overalls and a cap.
During the slack season, she became a ‘hello girl’ on the post office telephone exchange switchboard, which was next to the Post Office Hotel. Mr Staples told her it was a much more suitable job than at the mill, but when she married Brian, the rules said she had to give up work.
Brian Geeves worked at the mill in the sugar room, where the bagged sugar arrived on a conveyor belt to be stacked until the boat came into Port Douglas to take it away.
They married in 1951 in the Methodist Church in Mossman and had three children, Kerry, Judith and Terence.
From 1969, Brian and Gloria managed the Exchange Hotel at Mossman. It was a demanding job because there were itinerant cane cutters in town. Gloria said: “A 300-man influx made Friday and Saturday nights very busy.”
One night Gloria saw the upstairs corridor full of smoke. She remembers: “A boarder had gone to sleep smoking with the mozzie net down. Luckily I saw it before the flames broke out or the whole place would’ve gone up in smoke. It was the scariest thing that happened while we were there.”
In 1972 Gloria took over the Mossman TAB which operated from a shop that was formerly Mrs Maxwell’s dress salon.
Then the TAB moved to the Centenary building. Before computers, she did all the calculations by hand. She had a win/place book and one each for the daily double and the trifecta. “We had to add up how much was on each horse in each race and telephone through to Cairns. You would hear how much to pay out from the radio. When the telex was installed, it became much easier.”
Gloria and Brian moved to Weipa in 1974 and she ran the TAB there while Brian worked at Comalco.
When she returned to Mossman in 1991, she helped son Terence’s photo developing business.
“We did one-hour processing but digital killed it and killed Kodak too.”
So the business closed in 2011 and Gloria, by now a widow, retired to take up bowls after a very eventful working life.
A boarder had gone to sleep smoking with the mozzie net down. Luckily I saw it before the flames broke out or the whole place would’ve gone up in smoke. It was the scariest thing that happened while we were there
Main picture: Gloria Geeves today. Above left: The Scomazzons in 1950. Right: Gloria’s siblings in their school days