A gentleman of Julatten
Born in Grafton and still holding on to his NSW heritage (by wearing blue during State of Origin games), Wally Gray has spent the vast majority of his life in Queensland.
“I was the oldest of eight, and if anyone got into trouble, I was the one who copped it,” he laughed.
His family moved about, living in Coffs Harbour and Brisbane, and settled eventually in Cairns where they ran Rhonda’s Hamburger Café in Spence Street.
“I still know how to cook a good burger,” Wally announced, “but I ended up doing by boilermaker’s apprenticeship with the railways in Cairns.
He recalls working alongside men who ended up making their mark in Cairns – Bill Fulton, Tommy Pyne, Keith De Lacy and Kevin Crathern to name a few.
Wally was a keen sportsman and played three codes of football, played for the Queensland side in soccer and is a Life Member of Centrals Trinity Beach AFL club.
He married Maureen, the sister of one of his mates, in 1960 and after a few years in Cairns they took over the Post Office Hotel in Mossman in 1973. “It was bloody hard work, seven days a week,” Wally said, “and we bought up our four children there which was difficult too.”
Wally and Maureen raised Christine, Peter, David and Caroline.
Wally tells how, in those days the Mill workers would be paid in cash and on paydays the pub would be packed.
“The wives would come in and collect some money from their husbands, go do the shopping and join their men later, with the kids,” he said, “and it was a real family place.”
He still remembers some of his barmaids who were “great workers” – Mary Cowe, Marie Swindley and Bev Gwynne – who, when the bar wasn’t busy, would help Maureen with the ironing.
Wally got involved with the local community and particularly the Mossman Sharks rugby league club and he even ran for Mayor but missed out by 76 votes.
“We bought 75 acres in Julatten in the mid ’70s, put a caravan on it and we would escape the pub with the kids,” he said.
“I remember a mate coming into the pub one day saying that our caravan had been stolen,” Wally explained, “and my daughter Caroline, about 14 at the time, and I jumped in the car, drove up and sure enough, the van was gone.
“We went to the Mt Molloy police station to report it, and thought I’d pop into the pub for a quick one, telling Caroline to stay in the car.
“While I was in the pub, Caroline ran in to say she had just seen the van being towed along the road towards Mareeba, so we rang the cops and jumped in the car after it.
“The cops joined in the chase, even shot at the vehicle but it didn’t stop.
“I knew he couldn’t get far because one of the wheels only had three nuts on it and as predicted, the wheel came off just out of Biboohra.”
The end of the story is that not only did the Grays get their van back, but the man, who had little children in the back of the car during this entire ordeal, had been wanted for stealing and other more serious matters.
By 1979, Wally and Mau- reen sold the hotel and built a house on their land where they ran cattle as they “are really country people at heart”.
Wally ran a heavy machinery and slashing business too and started getting involved in the local Julatten community.
“Julatten was full of lovely people – except for a few,” Wally laughed.
The family helped out on a variety of community events such as the Bushy Creek Sports Club’s annual triathlon.
“It used to start with a run from Mt Molloy, then a bike race, more running and would end up a horse ride to Geraghty Park but the last one was held 24 years ago.”
Wally was instrumental in the development of the Geraghty Park facilities and the bar in the main hall is named after him – Wally’s Bar.
He was on the Mareeba Council from the early ’80s to the mid ’90s, worked on the Electricity Board, Lotus Glen Correctional Centre’s Parole Board, the Cairns Port Authority and many more community service groups.
Earlier this month, Wally was presented with his 50 year service plaque from the Rural Fire Service of Queensland at the Highlander Hotel. He began his association with the service during his time in Cairns with the Gordonvale brigade, then Mossman and later with Julatten.
His involvement with the Rural Fire Service extended to camping out at Innisfail after Cyclone Larry, helping with the clean-up.
Maureen and Wally still enjoy their life on their Julatten property, although now only 15 acres. They have 10 grandchildren and 13 great grandchildren.
He jokingly says that he credits his happy life to “doing what his wife tells him to” but it appears that his devotion to family and his community service are at the heart of his happiness.
Anyone who has a bar named after him must have certainly earned respect, admiration and appreciation from his community.
Having been a boilermaker, publican and cattleman, Wally Gray’s most outstanding achievement would be his community service, as
Wally Gray today at his home in Julatten. Inset: Wally and Maureen’s wedding, 1960