This Wyer Family Story has been compiled partly as a genealogy and as a chronology of the early pioneering days. Bob Wyer was interviewed in 1987 and his reminiscences are included here. The Wyer family married into other pioneering families including the Shorts, Rattle, Skene, Hallett and McKinless Families.
Christmas John Wyer (known as John or Jack) was born in Watton, Norfolk, on 08 August 1868. His father, also called Christmas Wyer had died just the month before on 21 July in Watton. His mother Ann (nee Craemer), had three small children already and now a newborn to raise on her own. Her other children were Ann Elizabeth (b.20/12/1862), Ada Marie (b.01/01/1864) and Charles John (b.1866). It must have been a hardship to care for four children under six years and to earn a living. In the 1871 census they were able to continue living in their home at 170 Mill Road, Watton, Norfolk. But only a few short years later on 05 February 1877, John’s mother, Ann died, aged forty. In the 1881 Census, Charles (15) and John (12) are listed as scholars at the Union Workhouse at Rockland St Andrews, Norfolk. Their sisters would have found employment by this time. So it was a hard young life that shaped John to becoming the enterprising, hard-working man who settled in Australia arriving on the Taroba from London on 17 August 1888. He was just 20 and on his own.
In his bachelor days John (C.J.) Wyer selected land in 1889 at what is now known as Flaxton. This he cleared and established a sawmill on his property which was known to be operating in 1900. He worked as a pit sawyer. John named the area after Flaxton Hall Farm in North Yorkshire. He was the first to build a home in Flaxton and his house became the Flaxton Receiving Office for the district. It became known as ‘Flaxton Cottage’. John Wyer along with Mr Hemington and Mr Senescall carried the mail to Woombye from Flaxton via Hunchy for 12 – 14 years before there was a Receiving Office in Montville. John Wyer returned to England and there married Ellen Bedden on 05 July 1904 at Mixbury, Buckinghamshire. John and Ellen returned to Flaxton where they had six children between 1906 and 1916.
(Joseph Dixon had also selected land in this area in 1882 but focused his energy on his Buderim property. He employed workers to clear his Flaxton land, but he moved to Gympie in 1896 and did not return to live at Flaxton with his family until 1905. Other early settlers included Tommy Tama and the Dunning and Probert families.)
CHILD REARING YEARS
Their first son, Albert Edward was born on 19 Feb 1906. He was known as Ted. Two years later their daughter, Florence Mary Elizabeth (Flo) was born on 16 Aug 1908. Lucy Ada was born on 13 Apr 1910 and John Leslie was born 04 May 1913. and then the very next year, Robert Arthur known as Arthur when he was young and Bob when he was older, was born 09 Aug 1914. In 1915 young John fell ill and was taken to the Bungalow Hospital in Nambour. He died after three days’ illness aged two years five and a half months. Following his death his father wrote to the ‘Brisbane Courier’ complaining of the poor telephone service offered between Montville and Nambour.
Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), Friday 22 October 1915, page 6
A Telephone Matter.
C J Wyer Flaxton Palmwoods) writes: Sir, I had a most beloved son lying in the hospital at Nambour at the point of death On the morning of the 16th I tried for two hours to ring up Nambour from Montville but could not get on, so I left another son at the ‘phone while I rode to Nambour to see him. Should any message arrive while I was away, he was instructed to take it to his mother. I left the dear one at 3 in the afternoon and journeyed back to Montville. I tried again to raise Nambour from 5 to 6 but could not get a word. Again, on Sunday morning I spent the time till 1.30 in trying at the ‘phone to get a message through but could not get through. Through the courtesy of another person, who rode on horseback from Nambour I received a message 12 1/2 hours after the lad had died. It is no use saying the line was down as this delay is almost a daily occurrence at the Montville ‘phone. I think it scandalous neglect. While the telephone is there one naturally goes to it, but it is a telephone only in name All the money in the world will not bring our boy to us again, but a decent telephone would have relieved the agony of waiting.
Ellen was four months pregnant at the time of young John’s death and had not been able to be at his bedside. Her youngest child, Bessie Alice was born on 04 Mar 1916.
THE EARLY YEARS – BUILDING THE FLAXTON COMMUNITY
The Flaxton families worked closely together. When the Dixons (Joseph and Alice) donated land for a School, John Wyer cut the timber and the Flaxton Provisional School was opened in 1922. This meant that the young Wyer children didn’t have to walk all the way to Montville to go to school.
Bob Wyer recalls he hated the sight of school. “It was bad enough walking from here to Montville. On wet days we still had to go to school but with a sugar bag over our heads. They didn’t teach me anything. I lost interest when they made me do homework. I had to work when I came home so I was too tired to do homework and then the next day at school I was kept in at dinner time and had to do my homework.”
When the Flaxton children attended Montville State School it had been Bob Wyer’s job to walk home with the Dixon grandchildren. He earnt a penny a week. “I’d bring them home till we met the mother with a horse. One day there was a fire burning up down by the School of Arts (Hall) and that old gas cylinder, you know, carbine gas, Hardwick said, ‘You want to get home young Wyer, Montville will blow up any minute’ – so I said ‘Oh!’ I passed Mrs Dixon on the road and she said, ‘Where’s Betty and Alice?’ and I said, ‘I don’t know. Montville is going to blow up any minute.’ I never got my penny that week. They had carbine gas lights for a long time in Montville.”
Arthur and Bessie were members of the 10 strong Fruit Packing Team for Flaxton State School in 1924 and were both competent fruit packers scoring 86 and 88 respectively in the Competition. It was mostly oranges that had to be packed into a case. Children were judged on their wrapping skills (10), compactness (15), general appearance (25), correct type (15) and freedom from disease (10).
John Wyer was the Montville librarian at the School of Arts Hall. Once a month a batch of books from Brisbane arrived. John packed up the books from the last month and replaced them in the library cupboard with the new set. Bob’s job was to straighten up the books. There were picture shows on a Monday night at the School of Arts. Rob remembers that wooden tops made and sold by Alf Smith at his shop were a popular pastime at school.
John Wyer was involved in a serious sawmilling accident Friday 09 March 1923. He was cutting up logs and running out boards at his sawmilling plant. His left hand came into contact with the circular saw, and the whole of his hand from just behind the thumb was severed. He was taken to Nambour Hospital and then on to Brisbane Hospital, where more of the bone had to be removed. The Flaxton Community rallied and raised £38/5/- to assist with John’s recuperation.
By August that year when John finally returned home from hospital, he sold the complete sawmill comprising a 12 h.p Colonial Boiler, a 12 h.p engine, a breaking down frame, a heavy automatic feed bench, a cut-off bench, saws and belting, nearly all new. He also sold his grey horse and harness.
HAPPINESS MIDST SORROWS
This accident meant a change of lifestyle, but John and his wife remained an integral part of the Flaxton Community. They held a 21st birthday party for Ted, their eldest son on 19 Feb 1927. There was dancing, games and competitions. Then the following year on 10 October 1928 they welcomed Minnie Clara Kunde as their new daughter-in-law. The wedding was held at her family hometown, Hazeldean via Kilcoy, so the Wyer family hosted a party for 60 guests, who had not been able to attend the wedding, as a house-warming and dance in Ted and Minnie’s new home. While John continued farming his lot Ted worked as a labourer in Flaxton.
On 23 March 1927 John’s second daughter, Lucy married Sidney Charles Hallett whose family were living in Montville. Sid was involved with the Montville Masonic Lodge, played violin and was involved in many social events including euchre games, fancy dress dinners and dances. He was 26 when he married Lucy who was almost 17. It was a quiet affair and their son Leslie Charles was born on 11 July that year.
By July 1930 it was reported that a metal roadway along Wyer’s Cutting had been completed. John Wyer had been actively advocating for some time pointing out in newspaper articles that tourists and locals alike would benefit from this road improvement. As a result, the Maroochy RACQ donated £10 and the 6 chains of metalling that was purchased was spread by local residents. Wyer’s Cutting had been originally excavated by John Wyer in 1917 when he was contracted by the Maroochy Shire to make a cutting 22 chains long. (This cutting had been used as an access from Hunchy to Flaxton before the road was joined between Skene’s Cutting and Wyer’s place.) In February the following year there was a slip on Wyer’s property and part of the orchard was damaged.
John and Ellen enjoyed their role as grandparents and welcomed their grand-daughter Joyce Hallett into the family on 01 March 1931. However, tragedy struck the young Wyer family on Saturday 28 October 1933, when Ted’s wife Minnie died in the Maroochy District Hospital at Nambour on her 29th birthday. She had been married and living in Flaxton for five short years. Despite the family’s sorrow the family rallied and organised their daughter Flo’s wedding.
Florence Wyer was 26 when she married Thomas Rattle on 10 February 1934. Following the wedding John and Ellen held a social evening for Flo and Tom which included the Flaxton Orchestra which provided music for dancing. Also providing entertainment was F.W. Potts and his mouth organ band. Only 7 months later, Bessie, aged 18 married Mr Ted McKinlass on 15 Sept 1934. A dance and gift evening was held the week before at the Flaxton State School with Bessie’s friends Alice Dixon, L Henderson, M Dixon and G Collins acting as youthful hostesses.
Just a few month’s later on 10 January 1935. Robert Arthur (Bob) Wyer (20), was seriously injured when his motor cycle was involved in a collision with a motor truck on the Redcliffe Road. (10 Jan 1935). The newspaper report described the accident in detail.
Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 – 1954), Thursday 10 January 1935, page 9
Motor Cyclist’s Serious Injuries
A head-on collision between a motor cycle and motor truck at Kallangur yesterday morning resulted in serious injuries being received by Robert Arthur Wyer (20), single, of Flaxton, near Palmwoods, who was driving the cycle, and who was hurled from it by the impact. A passenger on the pillion, who was also thrown off, escaped without a scratch. Wyer and a friend, Edward McKinless, of Montville, were riding to Brisbane on the motor cycle for a day’s shopping. At a curve in the Redcliffe Road, three miles on the Redcliffe side of North Pine, a motor truck, driven by Phillip Hugh Humphreys, of Redcliffe, approached from the direction of Brisbane. Both drivers made every effort to avoid a collision, but without success. The two motor cycle riders were thrown heavily to the roadway, but McKinless escaped injury. Wyer, however, was given first aid by the Brisbane ambulance bearers (who were summoned by children in a nearby house) for a probable fracture of the skull, severely lacerated scalp, compound fracture of the right thigh, abrasions to the hands, injury to the shoulder, and shock. He was conveyed to the General Hospital, where his condition is dangerous.
When Bob recalled it years later, he said, “The handle bar was dragged through my leg.” He was in and out of the Brisbane General Hospital for two years and ten months but still the leg wouldn’t heal. Bob convinced the doctor to take off his leg with medical staff as witnesses. The Nambour Chronicle reported in February 1936 that Bob had been home but was again returned to the Brisbane General Hospital.
He returned home determined to lead a normal life. He was best man for his brother in July that year and then married May Short in Nambour on 22 August and was back chipping pineapples with the other fellows with no crutches or any other assistance.
BROTHERS MARRY SISTERS
The two brothers Ted and Bob, had known the Harry and Polly Short (Julius Henry and Agnes nee Woof) from Hunchy and escorted the their daughters, May and Alice to dances and film evenings. Bob married May and Ted married Alice. The wedding announcement below describes a pretty July wedding for Ted and Alice.
Nambour Chronicle and North Coast Advertiser (Qld. : 1922 – 1954), Friday 7 August 1936, page 8
Wedding. Wyer — Short. A wedding of interest to North Coast residents took place on July 22, uniting two old pioneer families of Montville and Flaxton, when Miss Alice Short (elder daughter of Mr. and Mrs. J. H. Short), of Montville, and Mr. Edward Wyer (eldest son of Mr. and Mrs. C. J. Wyer), of Flaxton, were married at St. John’s Church of England, Nambour. The Rev. G. T. Hobbs officiated. The bride, who was given away by her father, chose a frock of silk griselda and angelskin lace. Her veil (lent by her cousin, Mrs. A. J. Farrington, of Montville), was held to the head with a coronet of orange blossoms, and she carried a sheath of arum and eucharis lilies and narcissus. Miss Mary Short (sister of the bride) and Miss Esther Carter (cousin of the bride), as bridesmaids, wore dusty pink silk marocain frocks, with hats to tone, and carried shower bouquets of sweet peas and gerberas. Mr. Robert Wyer attended his brother as best man and Mr. George Short (brother of the bride) was groomsman. The bride’s parents entertained the guests at a wedding breakfast in the White Rose cafe. The main feature of the bride’s table was a handsome 3-tier wedding cake made by Rees Bros., of Nambour. On leaving by car for a tour of the South Coast and Northern Rivers of N.S. Wales, the bride wore a Marina blue silk crepe frock and brown accessories. The bouquets were the gift of Mrs. H. E. Lowe and Miss Hilliam, Nambour.
Bob and May lived with the senior Wyer’s until a house for them was built further down the property.
THE DEPRESSION YEARS
At this time citrus was not economic. Bob recalls, “You’d be flat out getting two bob a bushel case and by the time you bought your case, paid cartage and commission, instead of getting a cheque you’d get a bill for about 4/6.” Bob became a saw sharpener at the Hamilton Mill. He had the first spinning mower. “It was a Villiers – they called it a Villager. It was a little two-stroke – beautiful motors in them. Mine was the first rotary mower.” Bob became the first paid lawn mower in the district and always tried to keep his own lawn well mown as an advertisement.
During the depression Bob would collect the ration books from the Palmwoods Police Station and then go to the grocer with the coupons. “I’d pick up sugar, flour and bacon from Palmwoods. We used to make tapioca pudding. It was hard trying to make a living. We only got 6 bob a day and later 8 bob a day and that’s a bob an hour and you had to get every hour you could. The sawmill was a fair way along the road (Flaxton Mill Road) a couple of miles from home. It done me out of a job when it got burned down.”
In 1942, John and Ellen retired to Bowling Green Road, Maroochydore although there was still some unfinished business. From his new home John offered for sale one regular bull or for exchange for a reliable horse. He had given the Wyer family home on the east side of the road to his son Bob. (Arthur Wyer, Bob’s son remembers he was four years old when they moved into the house.) John left the property across the road to Ted. Ted had been working dairy but with the return to Flaxton he sold items including a 20-gallon separator, 12 months old £8 or exchange, to return to labouring.
AFTER THE WAR
John (78) and Ellen (74) sailed to England on 17/11/1946 and stayed in Crystal Palace in London. They were away for more than a year returning on 30/12/47.
Ellen passed away in 1952 aged 80. Her family came together at the Chapel at Mt Thompson Crematorium on 12 August to say Good-bye: John (Maroochydore), Ted and Alice Wyer (Montville), Flo and Tom Rattle (Toowoomba), Lucy and Sid Hallett (Salisbury), Bob and May Wyer (Flaxton) and Bessie and Ted McKinless (Sandgate). John Wyer died on 30 October 1954, aged 86. He was a true pioneer who named and helped shape Flaxton and is remembered with gratitude.
Bob and May’s children were Mervyn Arthur, Mary Evelyn, Shirley Elizabeth and Carolyn J. The girls are entered in the Flaxton School register in 1945,1949 and 1956 respectively. Another son Laurence Robert died as an infant born 01 Feb 1953 and died 06 Feb 1953.
Bob continued to live in the home he inherited from his parents. “I worked for Alf Smith over the years and when Alf was ready to build his retirement house and sell his shop and residence, I cut all the framework out on the ground. That’s all morticed and we marked it all and stuck it up and we put a garage behind that. There’s mostly tallow wood.”
Bob was a good wheeler and dealer. He regularly advertised in the Nambour Chronicle buying and selling items including a Fordson tractor with rotary hoe, new blades which he said he had no further use for (1952). Bob went into selling firewood.
Bob remembers, “When they put the new road through here in the 70’s, they turned the water down into Hunchy. There was a land slip and the bananas father had planted slid down. Quite a few acres went. Dad used a pack horse to bring those bananas from Buderim. We used a flying fox for banana transport – so many taps on the wire for when to stop and so many if you went past and so many to get back.”
A nostalgic memory that Bob holds dear is from when he first lost his leg. Well known Montville local, Pat Brown who lost his sight as a result of diabetes said to Bob, “When I go blind Bob, I’ll carry you and you steer me.” Bob’s memory seems to capture the essence of living in Montville and Flaxton – everyone in the district would look out for you and you would look out for them. Bob and May celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in August 1987. Bob and Mary had four children and 13 grandchildren at this time: “Arthur, manager of Avis in Brisbane, a daughter in Gin Gin, one in Eumundi and another in Brisbane.”
When Bob died in 2001, the family home was left to Arthur who set about refurbishing it with his wife, Madonna. Tragically the house was destroyed by fire in 2006. A new home has since been built on the same site.