Early Transport – Rob Muirhead Remembers

Rob Muirhead was born on 10/10/1910.

My first memories of transport to Palmwoods was by wagon drawn by four horses.  On the forward trip, the wagon was loaded with cases of fruit – citrus, pineapples and bananas.  The return trip carried such things as fertiliser, unmade fruit cases and any other merchandise not available in Montville.


Changing times though meant a change in transportation.  Motor vehicles were replacing horse vehicles.  This created some problems, not the least being that the horses were frightened by trucks.  Also the trucks lacked self starters, hand cranking was necessary and the brakes were not designed to hold the vehicle on the steep slopes of the Range.  When the motor stopped, restarting created a problem.  The uncertainty of the brakes holding was a worry for the lone driver so the vehicle was guided into a rut or ditch or against the bank.  If, however, there was a passenger he looked for a rock or a piece of wood to chock the wheels. This enabled the driver to get out, crank the vehicle and start the motor.  Some drivers overcame this problem by developing a safety device consisting of about a metre of 8-10 centimetre wide timber with a metal flange on one end.  This was secured by a hinge to underneath the truck while the flange end was suspended at the rear.  At the bottom of the Range the driver dropped the flange end which trailed on the ground behind.  If the vehicle stopped, it acted as a prop and prevented the vehicle running backwards.  Wet weather was a problem when going down the Range because of the slippery roads with steep gradients.  This issue was often overcome by cutting a sapling and tying it behind the vehicle where it had a steadying influence on reducing slipping and skidding.  These problems were further reduced by the great improvement to vehicles and the opening of the new road.  I drove both horse drawn and motor vehicles on the old road.

The road to Maleny was along the crest of the ridge, very steep in places and unsealed, with several gates to be opened and shut.  It appeared traffic from Montville finished at Hifton’s residence on Balmoral Drive, while residents of Balmoral travelled to Maleny for their requirements. The original road to Flaxton was also along the top of the ridge.  Two major problem areas were the Red Hill at Montville and Skenes Hill at Flaxton.  The construction of Skenes Cutting and the siding around the crest of Red Hill relieved but did not eliminate wet weather problems, as the roads were not sealed.

The Montville roads were unsealed and very boggy in wet weather.  The worse places had metal fillings but these areas developed great potholes.  Motor vehicles created two great ruts in the red mud during the wet season which made it difficult for passing vehicles as they were both in the same ruts.  Chains were necessary to climb the hills, but these had to be removed at the bitumen on the new road and often had to be used again near the Palmwoods School as the road was not sealed into Palmwoods.  It is hard to imagine the condition of the old tracks when driving in Montville today.

The first two motor vehicles I remember were trucks, an Albion owned by H. Smith and a Republic owned by W. Dart.  This had solid tyres and was chain driven. Some of the early vehicles were Dodge trucks, an Armstrong Sidley, Ford Trucks, an Overland Car, a Chevrolet and a Buick.

T.H. Brown owned an Oakland car and invited Dad and me to travel with him to Brisbane to watch the cricket match between England and Australia at the Exhibition Ground in 1924.  We left home at daylight and arrived in Brisbane at dusk.  We travelled over the missing link between Eudlo and Mooloolah.

Bob Smith and Trevor Carter developed a carrying business and one of the vehicles used was a Bean Truck.  About this time, Mr Beetham and partner started a passenger service between Montville and Palmwoods.  I do not recall the type of vehicle used.  By the time I left Montville, practically every family had a car or truck.

The first attraction to Montville was timber, principally cedar.  Hamilton Muirhead, my grandfather, was a weaver by trade in Ayrshire, Scotland, and was appointed to supervise the loading of ships and the construction of rafts for transporting logs to Brisbane from the Sunshine Coast for Mr Pettigrew’s timber mills.

The logs were cut on the Blackall Range. The logs were then snigged to places on the Blackall Range, and shot over the side.  One of the shoots I can remember was Landers Shoot, a clearly defined timber track leading to the Obi which was used to bring the logs to this shoot. This shoot would have been used for the logs hauled up the spur behind Marshall’s.  Another shoot was located nearly opposite G.E. Brown’s, used for timber hauled from Brown’s scrub and the scrubs at the back of ‘Elston’. The other shoot I can recall was located at Flaxton, near Mr Powers where the logs were shot over the side towards Dulong.

In the early days, there were two sawmills, one at Mill Hill, the other at Flaxton.  They were not operating in my time, but I remember seeing old machinery boilers, tanks, scattered around the sites.  Mr Wyer of Flaxton operated the mill on his property.  He had the misfortune to lose his hand in an accident when I was still very young.

I do not recall case mills¹ at Montville.  Case timber was purchased from the P.M.B. (Palmwoods, Montville, Buderim), a co-operative located at Palmwoods and packaged into size lots, eg. 6, 4, 3, 2 inch sizes, for sides and bottoms, with other bundles for ends and dividers.  Trevor Carter established a case mill in Palmwoods.

Early homes at Montville were constructed out of sawn timber. “Elston” and “Belvedere” were two of these homes.  The timber was likely to have come from the Mill Hill mill as the road from Flaxton to Montville would probably have prevented the supply coming from the mill there.

I do know though that G. Vining (sic) ² built his house with sawn timber cut by him and his brother at a pit-saw located on their property at the end of Western Avenue.  I saw them operating it.  The log was cut into timber by manual power.  A pit was dug and a ramp built over it.  A log was then rolled onto the ramp.  Two sawyers positioned themselves, one in the pit, one on top, and with a very long saw, they would flitch the log and finally cut it into boards.  If this had been the usual method of supply I feel certain I would have seen some old mill sites but I doubt the financial viability of such a process.

The Montville Store was the focal point for residents.  The Post Office was located in the same building.  Residents would collect their mail from the post office.  Families with children would have their mail collected by the children when coming home from school.  Some residents without children arranged for neighbouring children to collect their mail, paying them sixpence for their effort.

The store sold everything.  It provided a weekly home delivery service.  The delivery was made one day a week to residents of the back road (Western Avenue), the front road (Balmoral Drive) and Flaxton.  At one time, delivery was made to Hunchy.

One day a week the wagon went to Palmwoods to collect stores.  An order man, riding a horse, would visit the homes to take orders a couple of days before delivery.  The goods would be selected and loosely packed in boxes. Some boxes contained the stores for one family; others contained stores for several families.  The boxes were loaded onto the wagon – those for the most distant family being the first loaded.  The driver used a large basket to carry and deliver the stores to the houses.  There were some large items such as bags of sugar, sacks of flour, bags of chaff and cases of kerosene.

Most meat was obtained from Palmwoods.  The butcher was Mr Hobson.  Sugar bags with the meat order enclosed was left on the store verandah and picked up by Mr Callagahan when he collected the mail.  These bags were delivered to the butcher’s shop and picked up later in the day for return to Montville where the bags of meat were left on the store verandah for collection by either residents or children.

The Montville store was the terminal for coach travellers to and from Palmwoods. Shopkeepers I can recall were Messrs D. Unwin, L. Stupart, J. Herbert and H.O. Dick when I lived at Montville.

Montville was the venue for holiday makers.  The two most popular times were Christmas and Easter.  Activities included visits to the Narrows and Rapids, both located on the Obi Creek.  The Rapids are now covered by the Baroon Dam.  Skenes Falls also known as Bon Accord Falls and now named Kondalilla Falls was a popular spot with scenic views and a swimming pool.  Pulpit Rock at the end of Western Avenue overlooked the valley below Kondalilla Falls which extended to the Obi valley.  Access to this spot was through private property.

Guest houses included ‘Elston’ owned and operated by Mr and Mrs Thompson.  A mound in front of the building restricted views from the verandah of the lower storey.  This was removed by horse scoop and used as filling for a gully between ‘Elston’ and Mr Dart’s property.  A garage was built on this fill while a bowling rink was established in front of ‘Elston’ on the level area.  ‘Elston’ also had a court and some golf holes.  A waterfall surrounded by scrub was another attraction.

‘Manjalda’ was built for Mr and the Misses Pickering when I was attending school.  Later Miss T. Pickering was the sole operator.  She was apparently a keen golfer as she practiced on the school green.

‘Mayfield’ was operated by M. Dart.  The amenities included a tennis court and a few holes for golf. ‘Lachlan’ was built while I was attending school.  It was owned and operated by the Misses Sheridan.  I do not know its history but Dad bought it and lived there before retiring to Maroochydore.  Apparently it had been named ‘Gracemere’ in 1947 but it was renamed ‘Graceville’ by Dad in honour of my mother Grace. There was also a bowling club which was established in the late twenties.

In addition to all this, there was a travelling picnic company which showed silent movies that were screened in the School of Arts.  The owner/operator was a Finnish gentleman. I had a special interest in this venture as I had fitted canvas seats to the truck to convey passengers to and from the pictures.  The route was from the end of Western Avenue to the hall and back again.  The fares were: Beyond Negus Road – one shilling (10 cents) and return. From Negus Road to the Hall – sixpence (five cents) and return.

Some people who lived beyond Negus Road used to walk to the junction and get the cheap fare.  However, on the return trip I would take them to their homes. The canvas seats were very comfortable and were used by several truck owners when conveying people for picnics, fishing trips, etc.

Maroochydore was a holiday resort for Montville residents.  Two of Montville’s selectors, Butt and Muirhead, entered the district by ship via the Maroochy River.  Later, nearly half the houses at Maroochydore were owned by Montville residents as holiday homes.

When my grandfather, Hamilton Muirhead with his wife Mary and children, Hamilton, Alex, Thomas and Annie, embarked from Scotland to take up his appointment as supervisor for Pettigrew, their destination was Maroochydore.  My father, Charles, was born on the Bay of Biscay. The first house at Maroochydore was built for Hamilton and Mary and family.  During their time there, a ship was swamped or wrecked on the Maroochy River bar.  The passengers included the Butt family who were given shelter by the Muirheads.  Mr Muirhead and Mr G. Butt (Snr) later selected adjoining properties at Montville. Muirhead’s eldest daughter married Butt’s eldest son.  They owned a pineapple and citrus orchard on the back road.

Living in Maroochydore at that time was very isolating.  Often Mary would be left with the children while Hamilton worked away.  “The stores came from Brisbane and were not always regular.  Sometimes the boats had to wait in the shelter of Point Cartwright, til the Maroochy bar was safe to cross.  Sometimes the boat was swamped or shipped water and precious provisions were ruined.”  (M. Krebs, Advertiser, 9 November 1960)

Eventually my grandfather and grandmother moved their family to Brisbane but ultimately returned to the Sunshine Coast and lived in Montville. Montville residents contributed to the development of Maroochydore by using it as their holiday resort.  Many residents owned holiday homes, while others made it a camping holiday site.  Home owners included G.J. Butt (Snr), G. J. Butt (Jnr), J. Woof, A. Bowser, H. Smith, W. Smith, R. Kerr of Flaxton and S. Short of Hunchy.

At Picnic Point, the first two houses were built for W. Phillips (ex Montville) as a boarding house and Mr Beiers, an ex head teacher of the Montville School.  Many of these owners retired to Maroochydore and many other Montville residents also retired to Maroochydore.  Mother told me of the welcome she received when they moved to Maroochydore: “Oh, you have come here to die too.”

Holidays at Maroochy were an adventure.  A trip to Palmwoods, by coach (Mr Calligan the mailman) or family fruit wagon or a friend who was travelling to Palmwoods.  The train trip to Nambour was an experience for the children.  At Nambour, the holiday makers were taken by buggy or buckboard to a wharf, embarking on a boat for the final stage of the trip to Maroochydore.  As the population of Maroochydore increased, so did its reputation as a holiday resort.  The Moreton Mill introduced passenger carriages to convey holiday makers by sugar tram/train to Deepwater for the boat trip to the beach.  About this time the swamp section on the road from the main northern road to Maroochydore known as Eudlo Flats had been improved by corduroying (laying logs across the road) the worst section.

This did not contribute to a comfortable trip.  About the mid twenties the Maroochydore Road was sealed and road service commenced between Maroochydore and Palmwoods, which became the railhead for Maroochydore.  W. Phillips from Montville who built the first boarding house at Picnic Point started a regular bus service between Maroochydore and Palmwoods.

  1. J. Butt (Snr) enclosed a section under his Maroochydore house where tinned goods and some other items were available daily. Previously, Collins, a grocer from Nambour, supplied stores from a hut at Cotton Tree at weekends. Mr Butt’s son William opened a general store in a small hut on the river bank near the hotel.  This property like most of the others owned by Montville residents had a river frontage and backed on to the road which ended at Cornmill Creek.  William’s son, Cliff, an ex Montville school boy, developed a business facing the road becoming known as Butt’s Emporium.

Sport was played on the “Green”.  It was a cricket oval and matches were picnic affairs, sometimes against visiting teams – Palmwoods or Mapleton, sometimes between two teams of locals.  This practice ceased when Alf Smith built his shop opposite the Green.  There was a cricket pitch in the paddock at the back of Mr Harvey’s home on the back road where some games were played.

About 1926 or 1927, a sportsground was developed including a cricket pitch, football field and tennis courts.  Clubs were formed and teams participated in district competitions.  Montville entered a team in the Maroochy District Cricket Association.  The competition matches were played against teams from Yandina, Nambour, Woombye, Buderim, Eudlo, Mooloolah and Palmwoods.  Social games were played against Maleny, Witta, Mapleton and Hunchy.  Players’ ages ranged from teenagers to players in their late 40s and early 50s.

A Rugby League team was formed affiliating with the North Coast Rugby League.  The team did not win a match during the first year until the last game in the competition when they played the Premiers of Woombye, and beat them. The following year, a newcomer to Montville, Bob Carruthers, an ex Toowoomba player, coached and played with the team.  The team won the Premiership, being undefeated for the season.

In addition to the tennis courts at the sportsground, there were tennis courts at ‘Elston’ and ‘Mayfield’ guest houses and several other properties.

Dad often spoke about the aborigines visiting the Range during the bunya nut season.  They came from the coastal areas, using the spur from Hunchy near the school residence and the area near Grandad’s farm on the front road known as Remington’s Schute.

Smith’s dam was constructed by H. Smith to enable him to irrigate his orchard.  This was made during my early school days.  The creek was dammed but I do not recall any water hole or lagoon on the creek prior to the damming.  The shed near the water housed the engine that pumped the water from the dam to a reservoir on the ridge to the right of Smith’s house.  A series of drains carried the water from the reservoir to the citrus trees.  After completion of the dam, the Smith boys, Pat and Peter, invited some of their school mates, including me, to swim in the dam.  Finally, Mr Smith gave permission for the dam to be used by the school children, under teacher supervision.  A few of us continued to swim after school with Pat and Peter.

The smithy, owned by Mr J Farrington, was situated across the road from the top part of the Green, almost opposite St Mary’s Church of England.  Behind the smithy was the residence.  There must have been a friendship or an agreement between the head teacher, Mr Suthers, and the blacksmith, as on several occasions some of the students visited the smithy.  Two instances stand out in my memory.  One was the shoeing of a horse – the demonstration included holding the horse, trimming the hoof, the fitting of the shoe, the nailing of the shoe to the hoof, the cutting and bending of nails and rasping the hoof.

The other was the fitting of a metal rim to a wagon wheel. The rim was placed on the ground and covered with branches and chips and set alight.  As it burned, more wood was added to the fire, then Mr Farrington, aided by a couple of assistants with tongs, carried the hot rim and placed it on the wheel.  The rim was steadied and driven on to the wheel by hitting it with a sledge hammer.  Certainly valuable lessons learned in the horse drawn vehicle era.

Later the smithy was removed to Mr Farrington’s brother’s property on the back road (now Western Avenue).  The brother sold his farm to Mr Bray.  The smithy was again moved – to another site on the back road, closer to the store.

The school bell played an important part in our arrival at school on time.  We loitered on the way to school, often playing marbles and a game called ‘Follows’.  On hearing the first bell, a mad race was run to reach the school before the second bell rang.

Mr Suthers, the headmaster, conducted weekly music lessons.  He was a good singer.  The lessons were theoretical and practical – I can still remember continually repeating  “a staff or stave is five straight lines on or between which musical notes are written”.  During the practical singing, the three R’s were dispersed – not ‘reading’, ‘riting’ and ‘rithmetic’.  It was R. Isaacs, R. Harvey and R. Muirhead who were sent out to cultivate the garden as their voices were not of potential choir quality and disrupted the other pupils!

Break-up day was an exciting time.  Races were run, prizes presented, sweets given out and in addition a swing was erected on a large branch of a bloodwood tree that stood at the top of the cutting nearly opposite the school gates.  The day ended with a concert and dance.  Later, two swings were erected between the school and the school residence.  These provided lots of fun during rest periods.

Mr Laffey was the acting headmaster in 1924 and he made excessive use of the cane.  There was an outcry from some parents on one occasion when the cane was used freely and fiercely.  Mr Laffey owned a motor car.  Several tyres, labelled with his name, were delivered to the store and left on the veranda.  Additions had been made after his name: Mr Laffey “is a goat” and “is a fool”.  Signs appeared on walls and the school fence saying “S.G.L. is a goat” and “S.G.L. is a fool”.  Mr Laffey perhaps lacked a sense of humour for he certainly caned the culprits severely.

A highlight of those early days of education was the passing of the State School Scholarship Examination.  Hazel Muirhead was a distinguished scholar, successfully passing the examination and continuing her studies at the Brisbane Girls Grammar School.  The first three Montville pupils to pass this examination were Val Downs who continued his studies at Southport, Connie Witton who attended the Brisbane Girls Grammar School, and Robin Muirhead who enrolled at Nambour Rural School.

My mother, Grace, died in Western Australia when visiting my sister Jessie.  Her body was transported to Nambour for internment in the Woombye Cemetry, near my father.

¹ A case mill was a saw mill that produced timber for fruit packing cases.

² MHG believes that the G. Vining Rob Muirhead is referring to is actually Mr C. Vining (Charlie who built the house known as Bianda) and that he was a pit sawyer with his brother Mr E.D. Vining (Daniel).