Jan 24, 2012

Justice Issue Started At Local School

Author: Denise Secomb

Above: Bathing beauties, from left, Lorraine Roberts, Dorothy Masters, Win Aslett, Hazel Bradshaw and Edith Hammett at Alma Bay c1944. (Photo: Aslett family collection)

17th January 2012 Vol 22 Issue 39

Continued from our Centre Spread article last week.

Mr George Aslett, retired school teacher of Arcadia, has a deep and clearly defined sense of social and personal justice, having had Aboriginal mates from such a young age and having himself experienced firsthand the racism that has clearly characterised much of pioneering and modern Australia.

However, his sense of social and personal justice is deeply rooted in an incident at Nelly Bay State School.

“The teacher, Norman Michel (1936-43, Nelly Bay State School) promised mum that my sister and I could sit for Scholarship (Year 7) then, when the time came, he had decided not to nominate us for the examination,” he says. “In those days, one had to pass the government examination in maths, English, history and geography to gain free entry into high school, otherwise parents had to pay.

“Mum got so angry the whole family moved to town and we went to Townsville Central State Primary to do Scholarship then I went on to Townsville Grammar.

“I only had a year at Grammar before the (Royal Australian) Air Force took it over during the war. I then went to All Soul’s (school) in Charters Towers.

“I came back to finish off at Grammar. I did Senior (Year 12) at 18 when it was being run out of horse stables near the experimental research station near Cluden.”

That meant Mr Aslett was still doing his training at Canungra in south-east Queensland with the army when the war ended in 1945. He was posted to Singleton to do a non-commissioned officer course, then Greta, New South Wales, where he worked as a drill instructor. He trained recruits for occupational forces in Japan before putting in a year of teacher’s training and going teaching.

His first time out of teacher’s college for practical experience at Brisbane’s Windsor State Primary School was not without incident. He still feels terrible that he frightened the poor little grade ones because he barked at them to come to attention as if he was addressing a squad of soldiers.

Later in his career, Mr Aslett became very useful as a single male teacher whom the State Education Department could fling about the countryside on assignments as a teacher, bringing new schools on line as acting principal or filling in for principals who couldn’t take up appointments or who needed time off due to accident or illness.

These assignments took him again deep into the Cape York area, this time to the tip of the Cape to a non-segregated school at Bamaga where the overseer of the community had a rowing boat.

Mr Aslett has fond and vivid memories of fishing the Jardine River teeming with barramundi, mangrove jack and, at the mouth of the river, queen fish and trevally chopping through the waters.

However, he was finally fed up with being sent from pillar to post while in Cloncurry in 1961-62.

“The Director-General of Education came to our school and I complained about my posting, telling him the department ought to put in some school houses for the married teachers,” Mr Aslett told me.

“They were in the comfortable city jobs, with their wives and families, and had been able to buy homes while I was being sent from job to job out bush.”

Mr Aslett was acting principal at many schools and opened many schools from his last base. This was a 22-year stint at Mundingburra State Primary School from which he retired as deputy principal in 1985, though he also counts another Townsville school, Hermit Park State Primary School, among his permanent postings leading up to this time.

In those latter years, an improved ferry service included an early boat for high school students and workers, enabling Mr Aslett to commute from his parent’s place on MI to his job. He still lives in the family home today, a home of which he has vivid memories as a child, though the first family cottage was at Alma Bay behind Alma Den.

“Dad bought the (Geoffrey Bay) land in 1930 for seventy pound and I’m now paying rates on $450,000 rateable land value. An out-of-work building contractor pitched a tent in the yard and built the house for dad in 1931 for 50 pounds. Dad had, of course, provided the building materials and Hayles boat company brought the materials to the island free of charge as an incentive to encourage settlement. We moved in during 1932. When mum and dad came back in 1965 (when the ferry commuter service was good) there were extensions done.

“We had no mains water (or electricity) in those early days. Dad also bought the land where Bannister’s (@ Arcadia) is today. That land had the best water in Arcadia.

“One year we only got 10” of rain and we supplied the whole of Arcadia with water. Staff from Arcadia Guesthouse would come up in their bathing suits and lather up and wash off there.

“Dad bought me a goat cart. What I didn’t realise was that I was the goat. It could fit 6 kerosene tins in it. I had to fetch water and firewood for mum every day.

“There were a lot of goats on Magnetic Island and on Castle Hill in those days. People used them for food, especially in the Depression.

“Dad bought a cow, Dolly, and her calf, Paddy, and mum learnt to milk. We bought six hens and a rooster. My elder sister Win and I would find Dolly and Paddy somewhere in Arcadia for mum after school. Sadly Dolly died and so Paddy provided some veal and so much brawn it was in bowls everywhere. We then got milk from the Cowper family.

“At one time we had 70 pullets in the fowl yard. Mum had to stop pleasing the clucky hens.”

Mr Aslett’s brother Geoff  writes in The Asletts of Benhall & Arcadia of visiting the local shop behind Alma Bay with a billycan for a “ladle measure of fresh pasteurised milk.”

Mr Aslett disputes that this milk was pasteurised but can’t recall if it was sold in competition to that of MacAlpine’s milk.

He says of MacAlpine’s dairy at Nelly Bay: “After the road between Arcadia and Nelly Bay was completed, Mr MacAlpine delivered some milk to Arcadia by mean of a horse and sulky.”

He says of the Alma Bay shop: “Stan Berry built the first grocery shop in Arcadia in the late 1930s and stocked groceries, bread, milk and icecream from merchants in Townsville. I’m not sure if Mr MacAlpine delivered milk in Arcadia after that. Stan Berry’s shop was built prior to the outbreak of war in 1939. Stan joined the army and his brother Bob ran the shop in his absence. Later the shop was run by Gordon Wilson and finally by Jack McCabe until it was completely demolished by Cyclone Althea in 1971.

George Aslett’s father was George Edmund Aslett (1888-1987, b. Suffolk, England) a jeweller, watchmaker and engraver. His mother Josephine (nee Garrard, 1900-1987, b. Kynoonah) worked in one of his dad’s three Townsville shops, having the good fortune to marry the boss.

His sister Winifred worked in the jewellery shop after doing a commercial course at Townsville High School, keeping the books for the business, among other things; brother Geoffrey (named after Geoffrey Bay) worked in insurance while his younger sister Marion was also a teacher, as was his father’s mother and her sister.

Mr Aslett’s brother Geoffrey has developed an extensive website of family history and photographs, www.asletts.com/. Geoffrey has also published The Asletts of Benhall and Arcadia, from which come most of the photos pictured.

Mr G.E. Aslett’s family is from Benhall, Suffolk, with Mr Aslett’s grandmother, Emma  Sophia Aslett (nee Symington, 1858-1960) still active in keeping in touch with her extensive family right up until she passed away at 102. Her letters and those of her family feature in a section of Geoffrey’s book, revealing a family’s struggles through the Great Depression, World War II and the hardships that followed.

Over the years, Mr G.E. Aslett (1888-1987) son of Emma and Thomas Aslett (1851-?) had three jewellery shops. The first one was near the old post office in Townsville near where The Brewery is today. He later moved to Flinders Street East. This shop burnt down. It was uninsured. The third premises was at the other end of Flinders Street, near the Newmarket Hotel.

The family’s early days on MI were characterised for Mr Aslett jun., or “Georgie” as he was known to his family, with lots of children during the holidays when families with shacks, or those visiting others who had shacks, would come over. The rest of the year the boys could never put together the numbers to field a football team, a problem which still besets MI State School students today. Yesteryear school games included bedlam, rounders and brandy.

Bread, meat and ice came over on the boats, the ice arriving from Buchanan’s Ice works in town “half the size by the time it got here” until Reg Buchanan opened up an ice works on MI after World War II.

And thus it was that Mr Aslett’s father, like so many pioneers, made his own Coolgardie safe, with water trickling down Hessian bags and through pumice stone to keep the butter and other contents cool.

In later years, Mr George E. Aslett is remembered for his determination to stay on the island. He announced to the family he would use a helicopter if he needed to go to Townsville with his wife Josephine.

There are a couple of reminiscences that stand out for Mr Aslett, one being the day he was playing on the beach at high tide in Geoffrey Bay when a stingray beached itself while being chased by a large tiger shark, with the shark almost also beaching itself right alongside him.

He was never one to skin dive, perhaps that experience and a healthy respect for the many tiger sharks in the area, putting him off.

The island was awash for many years with talk of the January, 1929 fatal shark attack upon young Harry Wetherell, 18, the son of Mr George Wetherell, manager of the New Zealand Loan and Mercantile Agency.

Brother of Arcadia resident of many years Mr Tom Wetherell (1909-2010) young Harry managed to warn other bathers before staggering out of the water, according to newspaper accounts of the day. He was taken by private launch to hospital where he died after loss of blood and shock from the attack which took his left arm off below the elbow, gashed his right buttock and ripped his right forearm.

For many years there was a shark net at the bay after that. Today shark drums around the island are baited regularly to catch sharks.

George’s father was involved in the November, 1935 rescue of Alan Cowper, 19 months, son of Walter Cowper, the island carrier. According to newspaper reports, the boy wandered off and was found face down in the water by his mother in Geoffrey Bay. She ran with him to Mr G.E. Aslett who applied resuscitation techniques for 45 minutes. The child was finally revived with the assistance of Ernie Weston, the night cart man from Nelly Bay, who had come to render assistance, for Ernie taught first-aid on the island.

However, perhaps the single most courageous of any feats among all the pioneering stories told by Mr Aslett is that of Mr Eric Paskin, from Paskin’s Teahouse at Nelly Bay, who rowed his son Eric to Townsville so his son could have treatment for appendicitis, the heroic journey undoubtedly saving the boy’s life.

“Both father and son were in hospital as the father got deep vein thrombosis,” says Mr Aslett.

MIHCC interviewers and myself have Mr Aslett and so many other generous offspring of pioneering families to thank and to remember for helping to bring pioneering history alive for the rest of us.

Make time to go and look at the latest exhibit at Butler Hut and listen to a pioneer’s tape when you’re in Picnic Bay. You’ll be so glad you made the effort.

Above: Mr Aslett’s father, George E. Aslett, went home to visit family in England … Trafalgar Square, London (photo: Aslett family collection, 1953)

Above: George E. Aslett’s mother, Emma Aslett (1858-1960) of Benhall, England at 101 … wrote regularly to her family throughout her life (photo: Aslett family collection, 1959)

Above: Josie and George E.Aslett  … used a helicopter to come and go from Magnetic Island in later years (photo: Aslett family collection, c1984)

Above: Alma Bay swimming enclosure, built after a 1929 fatal shark attack on Harry Wetherell, 18, brother of Tom Wetherell, former Arcadia resident (1909-2010)  (photo: Aslett family collection, c1930s)

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