The Sunshine Coast Maestro of Music – Alfred Charles Short

Alfred Charles Short, nicknamed Shorty, was the iconic gentleman who serenaded the Blackall Range and the Sunshine Coast with his mouth organ and accordion for 68 years.

Early Days: The original Short family, pioneers of the district, had journeyed up The Mountain in the 1870’s.  Earlier they’d arrived from England, found work in the Mooloolah River area for a few years before settling at Hunchy.  There were five sons – John, Edward (Ted), Julius (Henry,) William (Bill), Charles and sister Rosa. The children enrolled at the local State school with the two youngest attending Hunchy School after it was built in 1924.  Julius (Henry), William (Bill), Charles and Rosa all married but the two eldest brothers, John and Ted remained bachelors.

Nearly fifty years later a second cousin, Alfred George Short and his family moved up to the Range from Toowong in Brisbane and settled on a farm on Western Road (now Western Avenue).  Alfred and his wife Martha had five children – Alfred Charles born on the 29th February 1912 their eldest, followed by siblings Doris, Colin, Malcolm and Hazel.

During this time farming was fairly prosperous for those on the land with plentiful rainfall providing good crops of citrus – the main crop at that time. Pineapples were starting to appear on some plantations and, of course, there were always Cape Gooseberries, Raspberries, Passionfruit and tomatoes to be picked, though Raspberries later became a real pest in the area.

School Days:  Alfred Charles had vivid memories of his time at Toowong State School. He said there were 60 pupils in his class, which at that time was the ‘norm’ and he remembers topping his class. He was a very good student, especially in grammar and arithmetic. In 1922, when he was ten, he transferred with his two brothers and two sisters to Montville State School.  Alf tied for top marks with two girls, Hazel Muirhead and Ivy Thompson. Hazel later topped the Queensland State Scholarship Examination in 1927 and was awarded the Lilley Medal.

Alf was no slouch when it came to maths and when his teacher asked him, “If a hen and a half laid an egg and a half in a day and a half, How many eggs would a hen lay in a week?” He surprised him with an immediate answer. “7 eggs, Sir.”

His Montville headmaster Patrick Tansey, who transferred to Montville towards the end of 1924 has a special place in Alf’s memories.  Mr Tansey shared Alf’s love of music and every Friday afternoon they would have singing classes. Robin Muirhead, however, was apparently totally unable to sing in tune so Mr Tansey would say, “You go out and rake up leaves.” This amused the class, especially Mr Tansey’s frequent remark that “One day I’ll lose my patience with you!” because one of his daughters was named Patience.

Music was extremely important to Alf and he was very upset when he was continually kept home every Friday to pick pineapples thus missing the music afternoons.  He finally left school just short of his 14th birthday. There was talk of scholarships but nothing eventuated.

Before leaving school, Alf enjoyed the end of year school picnics on the Village green which was also the sport’s ground.  Everyone brought food and all the children participated in sport. School days could be a drag for some but Christmas holidays were the reward at the end of the year and Alf always said it was the best part of the school year. Holidays at Maroochydore were the ultimate prize. These annual events followed the same formula and 60 years later he still has clear images of the annual pilgrimages to the beach.

“For the few growers on the Range who owned houses at Maroochydore they’d load their chooks, fruit and vegetables and their families on to their buckboards or wagons, hitched up a couple of horses to the front and a couple of cows  tied behind and headed to the beach for their Xmas Holidays. In comparison, those who did not have horses or wagons, the procedure was quite different. After the family packed all their needs into ports and bags etc they set off on Shanks Pony and walked to the Store, and boarded the mail and passenger coach (4 horses). The first stop was Palmwoods Railway Station then Train to Nambour, cane tram to Deep Water on Petrie Creek, Mail Boat to Maroochydore then walked to the house they had rented.”

Post School Days: Money was very tight with Alf working for his father for only room and board till the age of 22.  To earn extra money he found night work.  There were two Timber mills and a number of packing case factory sheds dotted round the area and the location of the two major mills are preserved in road names – Mill Hill Road, south of Montville and Flaxton Mill Road to the north. Alf was employed at one of these packing case factory sheds making packing cases at night to earn the one hundred pounds to buy his own farm at “Red Hill”, and then to finally get married.

Even though Alf’s time was precious he managed to help build the swimming pool at Manjalda, a stately home on the Montville escarpment. He remembers that the soil from the pool excavation was used to construct the tennis court which added to the beauty of this old landmark.

Alf was a sharp observer of change and with the fast progression of transport he decided to look to the future and fronted up at the Police Station for a Driver’s Licence. It was obviously not the right time they told him promptly to “Get!” as they were too busy.  Two years later he went back for his licence. The policeman recognized him and gave him his licence.

Transport: During the twenties there was a great movement to replace horses, the time honoured means of transport, with the motor car. In the 1990’s Alf reflected on the beginnings of these momentous changes.

“When I arrived at Montville in 1922 at the age of 10 with my family, there were only two motor vehicles at Montville and all transport was with horses and a few bullock teams. In wet weather the motor vehicles found it hard to negotiate the roads because of the deep ruts left by horse-drawn vehicles. For this reason the motor vehicles always had chains on their back wheels to help their traction, especially in wet weather.

In the year 1926 quite a change occurred in the transport scene. Henry Ford had brought out the T-model Ford and these could be bought for two hundred pounds ($400) per car, one hundred and fifty-five pounds ($310) for a one-ton truck chassis, or two hundred pounds ($400) for a chassis and body. As fruit prices were fairly good still at the time quite a few farmers bought one ton T-Model Ford trucks to take their produce to the railhead at Palmwoods, and also for family transport.

The gravel roads were very bad. The trip to Palmwoods with our produce was still quite an expedition. Going downhill to Palmwoods and loading our produce on the train was no real problem. After unloading we would call at the co-operative store and buy a case of petrol (2 x 4 galloon tins to each case), and also packing-case timber and other farm requirements. The name of the Store then was PMB (Palmwoods, Montville, Buderim) and later QFS (Queensland Farm Supplies).

 Our first stop then on the way home was at Rann’s Gate, Hunchy, where we had to put water into the boiling radiator. The next stop was at Lizzie’s corner where we had to replenish the petrol tank from one of the tins we had just bought. The next stop was at the Rails just before the top of the Range, where more water was required in the radiator after waiting for the boiling to subside. Then we could finish our trip and arrive safely home again.

The trip to Brisbane was even more of an adventure taking 10 hours – very different from today. It was alright to the Balmoral Lookout – as it’s now called, but then the ‘fun’ began more stops and as . There were five gates to open and shut before we got to the bottom of Brewer’s Hill. As the Model-T handbrakes were unreliable when we stopped we had to find a rock to place  in front (or behind) the back wheels) while we opened and shut gates. The gates were later replaced by cattle grids, however the road was still the same old goat track.

Negotiating the “Dip Hill’ which was a very long steep hill, was another problem to overcome. The petrol tanks on the T-Models were under the seats and from these the carburettors were gravity-fed as there were no petrol pumps then. If we did not have the petrol tank completely filled, the car or truck would not have enough petrol to feed into the carburettor and the vehicle would just stop. If we didn’t have a supply of petrol on board we would have to reverse all the way back to the bottom of the hill, turn around, and go up backwards so the petrol ran into the motor properly. This was no fun on such a long steep hill and you would not want anyone else to come along – the road was only single lane. Later models were fitted with tanks up on the dashboards, then came vacuum tanks and finally petrol pumps.

The roads were so bad, that when we got to one of the railway towns along the way, we would ask at one of the shops which was the best side of the railway line to drive on that day and we would take the the side they suggested. The road mostly ran beside the railway line like the Old Gympie Road. The roads came first mostly and the railways followed after so that they could use the road to transport men and materials for building the lines.

When the popularity for Motor vehicles increased in numbers, and the demand for horse shoes decreased,  the village blacksmith packed up and went farming.”

Music: Alf was born with a love for music and as mentioned before he really enjoyed his music lessons from the Montville headmaster, Mr Tansey. In 1930, at the age of 18, Alf, affectionately known as Shorty, began playing his button accordion and mouth organ for charity dances and concerts around the Montville area.  At one concert the pianist failed to attend so a kerosene tin was used as an accompaniment. Alf used to have to walk to these concerts carrying his instruments, sometimes more than 5 miles there and back again. He bought his instruments with the little money he earned from working at night and on weekends. It was the period of the Great Depression and times were really tough, but Alf and his music helped raise much-needed funds for local causes and also provided the music for entertainments of the time to help lighten people’s hard lives on the land.

After moving to Redcliffe in 1949 and then later to Caboolture, Alf kept playing his music in these areas, and after returning to the Sunshine Coast in 1987 and attending the Montville town Centenary celebrations, he decided to form two bands to provide bigger and better musical service to charities, communities and nursing homes.

He formed the Montville Bushwackers Button Accordion Band of approximately 30 players and the Sunshine Coast Oldies Mouthorgan Band, approximately 20 players. He encouraged and taught many prospective band members as well as supplying many of the instruments out of his own pocket. As well as organising and managing these bands over ten years and playing at nearly 500 concerts he also played solo up to 3 shows a week at nursing homes and respite centres.

All these activities were free of charge and he only asked a small amount for travelling expenses as some of the players were, by now, living away from the Coastal areas.

O.A.M. Nomination: In 1995 Mrs Barbara Ramadge-Ross of Flaxton forwarded an application to the Order of Australia Committee, Government House, Canberra hoping that Alf’s 68 years of service to the Sunshine Coast community would be rewarded with an Order of Australia Medal. Unfortunately the application was not successful but Alf was not deterred. He compiled a documentary, including newspaper cuttings and photos of old and modern Button Accordion and Mouth organ Bands and their activities dating back to the 1930s, as well as a video of the same activities. Copies of both were donated to the National Archives in Canberra with historic and antique button accordions and mouth organs donated to the following museums:

Queensland Museum, Brisbane

Landsborough Museum

Buderim Pioneer House Museum

Blackall Range Museum, Mapleton

In 1995, Alf was awarded a Certificate of Commendation by Caloundra City Council at their Australia Day ceremony for his work in forming and managing the two bands. He had, over many years, taught prospective band members to play those instruments free of charge, as well as lending his own instruments to members.

He continued to be a valued and much-loved participant in Montville’s annual and special events, such as the school’s May Fair, Australia Days, historical events and the highly successful school Centenary celebrations.

On Australia Day 1998 Montville awarded Alf Short the inaugural Montville Citizen of the Year Award in recognition of his contribution to Montville and the wider community.

Alf Short Receiving First Montville Citizen Award 1998

Alf Short Receiving First Montville Citizen Award, 1998

Alfred Charles Short gave immense pleasure to so many people over nearly 70 years of entertaining audiences on the Sunshine Coast.  His life was one of giving and Mother Teresa’s words “It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving” aptly apply to this man of music – ‘Shorty’ –  Alfred Charles Short.

Compiled by Lenore Tonks 2017  as related by Alf Short and edited by Barbara Ramadge-Ross 1995.