Pas­sion that still blooms

Port Douglas & Mossman Gazette - - NEWS LOOKING BACK -

As one who loves the Mossman com­mu­nity and its his­tory, 75-year-old Bil­lie Noli sat down with to re­flect on her life.

Talk­ing about the past brings a sparkle to Bil­lie Noli’s eyes so it was with great de­tail she ex­plained how her fa­ther ar­rived in Mossman.

“There were no roads to Mossman back in the 40s so my fa­ther, Wil­liam Reese, ar­rived by boat at the wharf in Port Dou­glas then got on his mo­tor­cy­cle and fol­lowed the train line into Mossman,” Bil­lie ex­plained.

Wil­liam came to Mossman to start the first ac­coun­tancy of­fice, hav­ing done his train­ing in Cairns and work­ing for the US Army in Her­ber­ton, where Bil­lie was born.

Bil­lie, who was chris­tened Alv­ina Ruth but her fa­ther reg­is­tered her birth with the name Bil­lie, went to school in Mossman un­til she fin­ished Year 10.

She re­calls how her fam­ily home had a wooden stove and a kerosene fridge.

“My mother used to say that we had to keep an eye on the pilot flame on the fridge in case it went out,” Bil­lie said.

“If I got up in the mid­dle of the night, I would al­ways check.”

“I was al­ways wor­ried about get­ting into trou­ble as I was al­ways doo­dling on my home­work – I just loved draw­ing,” she said.

“My mother was adamant that I com­plete my Se­nior Cer­tifi­cate (Year 12) so I went to board in Toowoomba,” Bil­lie said. “I have been de­ter­mined ever since never to live in a cold cli­mate again.”

Bil­lie said that she thought of go­ing to art or teach­ers’ col­lege but re­turned to Mossman and got an of­fice job work­ing for the butch­ery, bak­ery and ice works.

“My fa­ther said that I couldn’t make a liv­ing from go­ing to art school,” she said.

The Mossman com­mu­nity was “very, very close” ac­cord­ing to Bil­lie.

The Reece fam­ily so­cialised with cane farm­ers, most of whom were Ital­ians, while the young peo­ple were very in­volved with Ju­nior Farm­ers.

“There was al­ways some­thing on at the shire hall on Satur­day nights whether it was a dance, debu­tant ball or a wed­ding,” Bil­lie re­called.

“When Joe (Noli) and I de­cided to marry, there was a prob­lem as he was Catholic and I was Angli­can so we sort of snuck off to Cairns, got mar­ried in the registry of­fice and didn’t tell any­one.”

Bil­lie said that when she told her mother, a full Angli­can cer­e­mony was ar­ranged.

Joe was a cane farmer on his fam­ily prop­erty and soon Bil­lie and Joe bought the 150-acre prop­erty, Os­calusa, from the Rex fam­ily and Bil­lie “just loved farm life”.

Soon there were three daugh­ters in the home – Camilla, Abi­gail and Amelda.

From an early age, Bil­lie al­ways had an in­ter­est in lo­cal his­tory and would talk to older farm­ers about the early days and looked avidly at their old pho­tos.

“It was fairly rare to have old pho­tos,” she ex­plained.

“Un­til Mr Lancini opened his pho­tog­ra­phy shop in Mossman, you had to send film down to Cairns for de­vel­op­ing.”

She was part of the com­mit­tee who, through the Dou­glas Shire His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety, es­tab­lished the Mossman Her­itage Walk which com­prises 16 pho­to­posts in­stalled through­out the town­ship.

This year Bil­lie re­ceived a life mem­ber­ship of the Dou­glas Shire His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety.

The sugar mar­ket was in a “bad way” and Bil­lie, sought out in­for­ma­tion about trop­i­cal fruits and flow­ers from the Amer­i­can Rare Fruit Coun­cil, and she, Joe and an­other lo­cal ex­otic plant en­thu­si­ast, Alan Carle, set up a branch in the late ’70s.

“We would have our meet­ings in the CWA hall.

“I would dec­o­rate the posters about the meet­ings with draw­ings of the fruits and flow­ers,” she said.

“Our girls would go off to school with man­gos­teens, bread fruit and rambu­tans and no-one had seen them be­fore but then we got into grow­ing he­li­co­nias,” Bil­lie laughed.

By the 80s, Bil­lie and Joe had six acres of he­li­co­nias and gin­gers grow­ing; not only sell­ing them to the Sher­a­ton in Port Dou­glas but ship­ping them to Bris­bane, Syd­ney and Mel­bourne.

At its peak, the Noli fam­ily would pick and dis­trib­ute 600,000 blooms a year.

“I re­mem­ber Pixie Skase tried to drive a very hard bar­gain but she ended up send­ing Zena Bethell (a renowned Mel­bourne florist) to ne­go­ti­ate with us and we ended up great friends,” she said.

The No­lis also were granted a spe­cial per­mit to sell seeds of their ex­otic fruits and flow­ers.

Bil­lie has taken the op­por­tu­nity in her lat­ter years to dive earnestly into her art and was one a found­ing mem­ber of Dou­glas Arts Base (DAB) 16 years ago.

“Prior to join­ing DAB, I just poked along with my art as we only re­ally had pen­cils when I was grow­ing up – no paints.

“I am very grate­ful to DAB,” she added.

“I fi­nally got the train­ing I had al­ways wanted. I en­joyed try­ing out sculpt­ing, paint­ing as well as draw­ing. I love it all,” she said.

A mem­ber of the Red Cross branch, Bil­lie says the best thing about life in Mossman is the very close com­mu­nity and “spend­ing time with my old friends”.

Main pic­ture: MOYA STEVENS

Bilie Noii in her gar­den and (IN­SET) danc­ing with her fa­ther, Wil­liam Reese, in 1962. She still re­tains her in­ter­est in flow­ers, his­tory and the arts.

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