Finding my roots in the rainforest

When I told my friends I was holidaying at a place called Shiptons Flat, staying at a place called Mungumby Lodge, they looked askance at me, with frowns of bewilderment and curiosity. Of course, they had never heard of these places and I was able to explain that this was the place where my mother had been born, in a bark shack with an ant-bed floor, on the banks of the Annan River at Shiptons Flat and that her grandparents lived a couple of miles away in the Big Scrub, and it was my mission to find information on three generations of my ancestors and their lives tin mining in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

What was initially a journey into the unknown became one of the rewarding and enjoyable holiday experiences I’ve ever had. Under the interested and efficient guidance of our hosts, Hamish and Isabella, meetings were established with many locals who warmly shared their knowledge of the area with us. Lunch at The Lions Den exposed us to the location of the famous Federation Dance of 1901, a photograph of which hangs there. Within the circle of dancers are my great x 3 grandparents.

A day spent with Lewis, Charles and Edith Roberts resulted in locating the old house’s remains in the Big Scrub, hidden away under a row of a dozen gigantic mango trees, adjacent to a space where race horses were bred and raced. They also located the remains of the Shiptons Flat School which my great x 3 grandfather had built, the Shipman family’s house which was a centre of social activity for the area and several tin mine sites. It was wonderful to share the Roberts family’s hospitality and their love of history, bird life and native fauna.

An arranged visit to the Rossville Historical Society’s museum brought us in contact with the very helpful Sandy Lloyd and Mr Hatfield who readily swapped photographs and information. Further into Cooktown a visit to the Cooktown Historical Museum whose extensive files and displays enabled me to locate three family burial spots in the cemetery and the location of my great x 3 grandmother’s dairy adjacent to the cemetery in what was once John St. By this time I was keen to acquire a copy of Sylvia Gerherty’s book of local history, Soap Suds and Smoke .

Meeting helpful volunteers at the Museum, Croc Shop, the Botanical Gardens, the Library and the Historical Museum meant that I became very well acquainted with many friendly locals, although I was not lucky enough to obtain the book. The community of greater Cooktown impressively values its history and keenly preserves it. It is unfortunate other communities, like my present one, do not. (Today an old convict wall is being removed to accommodate a car race!) I am spreading the word. Holidaying in the heart of the wet tropics is an excellent choice.

Cecily Grace. Newcastle N.S.W.

Australian Parrots of a smaller kind


Cyclopsitta diophthalma Macleayana

Double eyed fig parrot is one of the smallest and rarest of Australian parrots and is found in three different subspecies and separate populations all on the east coast of Australia. They are also found in New Guinea. They are a lovely green with yellow wash on the wings and, most distinctively, red patches above and below the eyes, resulting in the common name of ‘double eyed’. Their eggs are laid in holes in dead, sometimes perilously rotten, trees and they are often see excavating a burrow in these trees. Both sexes have a red forehead, but the males also have a red cheek patch, as opposed to the females’ which is usually yellow. Seen ideally three or four times each year around the weeping native fig trees on the Atherton Tablelands, Julatten and Mungumby Lodge, which set fruit and attract these parrots. These photos were taken from the sofa at Mungumby Lodge. Unlike many larger parrots, fig parrots feed as you can see here very quietly on the kernels of many tiny seeds, including those of figs, buttonwood and ironwood. Unless you look you would not know they are there until they fly off together in a noisy manner “Zeet-Zeet”.