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.