Casino is passionate about its past

Casino in the Great Divide on the Richmond River gave Melba the chance to see how a community valued its music and arts. The station was argu

ably the smallest she arrived at but the welcome from the townspeople made up for that.

Her concert at the School of Arts was across the road from the Commercial Hotel where she stayed so it was a simple walk across the road crammed with hundreds of people.

Today the School of Arts still operates and has its own lending library based in minimal membership. However, it is the third building on the same site. Not only does it still operate but it actively supports the arts of the town. The Casino Family History Group has its home in the building along with many businesses at street level.

The Casino School of Arts building at the corner of Johnston and
The Casino School of Arts building at the corner of Johnston and Walker streets, Casino.

We made contact with both the family history group and the Casino & District Historical Society.

At the family history group Barbara Hollis was a great help. Her husband is a relative of Bill Hollis of Coldstream who was a gardener at Coombe Cottage. It’s such a small world.

At the historical society, president Bob Moran made us very welcome and he and his team of volunteers produced lots of images and information.

We were privileged to be asked to attend the society’s special function and we happily agreed. The School of Arts had given the society funding to setting up the internet at the museum. The Richmond Valley Council provided the infrastructure as the society was operating in a council-owned building.

The internet was officially launched by specially worded emails being sent to the New South Wales Governor David Hurley; NSW Deputy Premier and Minister for the Arts Troy Grant and local MPs Chris Galaptis and Kevin Hogan.

After the commissioning, society president Bob Moran asked me to say a few words about my Melba Back Blocks Tour and mention the support I had received from the society.

I was only too happy to oblige and over supper spent time chatting with the Richmond Valley Council’s general manager Vaughan McDonald who is passionate about preserving the district’s history.

The commissioning of the internet at the Casino a & district His
Left to right: Vaughan McDonald, General Manager Richmond Valley Council; Sue Thompson and Casino & District Historical Society President Bob Moran.

We also enjoyed a great supper and meeting many of the society’s members.

Plans are being developed to build a purpose-built facility housing the society and its collection, the military museum and Visitor Information Centre. Let’s hope by the time we visit Casino again the building has proceeded.

I was very impressed with the work of the society with its displays and publications. It is a real credit to the town.

Melba’s lasting legacy Mackay style

Since 1882 Nellie Mitchell and the Marian/Mackay area have had a close relationship. It was the building of a sugar mill for the fledging sugar industry at Marian that bought David Mitchell and his daughter Nellie to North Queensland.

Nellie met and married Charles Armstrong and the couple moved into a newly built home at the Marian Sugar Mill where Charles had been appointed manager.

At Marian the couple’s only child George Armstrong was born on October 16, 1883 but by early 1884 Melba had had enough of the heat, rain and isolation and returned to Melbourne. She never returned to Mackay.

However, Melba continued to own the land purchased near Sarina prior to her marriage which was named Armstrong Beach in her honour. But that is another fascinating story.

When Nellie became the famous Australian opera singer in 1887 Mackay was proud of their part in her early married life and the common thread of the sugar industry.

To strengthen that link many years ago Marian Mill now part of Mackay Sugar Limited named one of their engines Melba and the other Nellie.

Melba 2  locomotive cane engine at Mackay.
“Melba 2 was the first Melba loco not sure the year it was purchased. It was 24 ton Clyde loco and its run was MT Jukes. This loco was my first loco when i started as a driver’s Assistant on during the 1970s. It’s name was changed to Melba 15.” Daniel Dutton.

Engine driver Lorraine Emery heard about my interest in the Melba and Nellie engines and asked about the engines and Daniel Dutton of Mackay Sugar Limited happily sent me a series of images which I have now put up on our society’s Flickr site.

He has personal links with the Melba locos:

“Just bit history. Melba 2 was the first Melba loco. Not sure the year it was purchased. It was 24 ton Clyde loco and its run was MT Jukes. This loco was my first loco when I started as a Driver’s Assistant during the 1970s. My driver was Syd Smith. Unfortunately the original loco went over a bridge was replaced with a new loco built by Baldwin Company using parts from the original loco. The name remained the same but changed to Melba 15. After it was transferred to Racecourse Mill, it has been refurbished again with a Mercedes Engine and Alison converter and repainted. It is now based at Racecourse.

“Nellie 12 is an 18 ton Clyde it used to work on the Mia Mia line at Marian and later was given to navy’s for ballast duties and navy work at present I think it decommissioned at north Eton Depot.”

Melba 2 crashed off the bridge across the Pioneer River in 1964.

The new Melba 15 hard at work pulling cane in Pioneer Valley Mac
The new Melba hard at work pulling cane in Pioneer Valley Mackay.

Nellie was built in 1958 and de-commissioned a year or two ago. Today she spends her retirement in the loco sheds at North Eton where eagle-eyed Wally Thompson spotted and photographed her.

Melba's partner Nellie isan 18 ton Clyde Locomotive  and is now
Melba’s partner Nellie isan 18 ton Clyde Locomotive and is now retired and living in a shed at North Eaton near Mackay. Nellie 12 used to work on the Mia Mia line at Marian and later was given to navy’s for ballast duties and navy work at present I think it decommissioned at north Eton Depot – Daniel Dutton Mackay Sugar Ltd cane train driver.

With Melba’s former home at Marian Sugar Mill, now Melba House, the home of the Pioneer Valley Visitor Centre and the Melba engine working amongst the cane the name Nellie Melba will never be forgotten.

To learn more about cane railways and engines go to:

https://www.lrrsa.org.au/index.html

 

 

 

 

Triumph and Recovery

After riding the train up the picturesque Tweed Valley from Murwillumbah, Melba and the concert party arrived at Lismore to a resounding welcome on July 28.

Bookings had been so great that Melba agreed to do a second concert on her return from her concerts at Casino and Grafton. This was scheduled for August 4 but was cancelled due to the whole concert party succumbing to colds and bronchitis – the dread of every singer. The doctor was kept busy attending to everyone.

The party were staying at Mrs Ryan’s Hotel which had only opened four years earlier. It was a grand hotel but sadly was demolished for an office block.

The concert was staged at the Federal Hall later the Federalette and Vanity and now The Comfort Inn Hotel in Molesworth Street. The station where Melba was greeted by the leading dignitaries of the time is closed and faces an uncertain future.

The site of the former Federal Hall, Federalette and Vanity Thea
The site of the former Federal Hall, Federalette and Vanity Theatre in Molesworth Street, Lismore. Today in, 2016 it is the site of the Comfort Inn – 203 Molesworth St, Lismore.

Today, Lismore is a busy, bustling major service centre. The Richmond River Historical Society and its museum is housed in the former Lismore Council offices and is a hive of activity. Thanks to Bridget and other researchers, I spent several hours finding images and information about Melba’s stay.

Murwillumbah School of Arts finished just in time

After another triumph at Grafton Melba and the concert party again boarded the train and travelled back to Lismore where they were scheduled to give a second concert as bookings for the first on July 29 were so heavy.

However, the trials of train travel, concerts, the welcomes and farewells was taking its toll and everyone including Melba returned to Lismore to bed for a couple of days until they were well enough to return to Brisbane via the train to Murwillumbah and the river boat to Tweed and the train north to Brisbane.

On her way up river a few days earlier, the townspeople at Murwillumbah must have been very anxious as the re-built School of Arts had only just been completed and opened two weeks before the concert. A grand opening ball was held in the new building on July 14 and Melba’s concert which had been booked months earlier, was to be held on July 27. This was followed by concerts at Lismore, Casino and Grafton.

Sign at the School of Arts site , Main St,  Murwillumbah.
Sign at the School of Arts site , Main St, Murwillumbah.

The party arrived at the Murwillumbah wharf on the SS Booyong and were welcomed by the Mayor and the Federal Band playing. The band later serenaded Melba at the hotel.

For the local people it would have been a huge boost to the town which had suffered a massive fire the year before which wiped out most of the town’s main street.

We were welcomed by the Murwillumbah Historical Society wo work out of a most impressive small museum. Their local paper is not on Trove and copies were not held by them so I had to spend a day on the John Oxley Library in Brisbane researching the concert.

However, David and his team were tremendous and provided me with a lot if images and photographs.

While there we also attended a talk by a local man who had worked for Ansett and had accumulated a massive collection of memorabilia on Australia’s airline industry. A small display was also added and he spent time talking about some of the items.

Sunset over the Mt Warning range at Murwillumbah. Canefields are
Sunset over the Mt Warning range at Murwillumbah. Canefields are in the foreground.

The museum is a credit to the local people and the Tweed Council which had renovated the building last year.

 

 

Melba’s Triumphant return to Grafton — Nellie Melba’s Back Blocks Tour 1909

As Nellie Armstrong at the end of 1885 and start of 1886, Melba gave four sell out concerts at Grafton so was looking forward to a successful concert again on August 2, 1909. The town didn’t let her down though the strenuous timetable was taking its toll on her and the company. After her final […]

via Melba’s Triumphant return to Grafton — Nellie Melba’s Back Blocks Tour 1909

Melba’s Triumphant return to Grafton

As Nellie Armstrong at the end of 1885 and start of 1886, Melba gave four sell out concerts at Grafton so was looking forward to a successful concert again on August 2, 1909.

The town didn’t let her down though the strenuous timetable was taking its toll on her and the company.

After her final Brisbane concert the party took the train south to Tweed Heads, boarded a river boat and headed upstream to Murwillumbah and the train which took the party to Lismore, Casino and then to Grafton before returning back to Tweed. This was called her Northern Rivers tour.

The train trip was circuitous because the railway and road bridge across the Clarence was not built until the 1930s. When completed it provided the coastal railway route between Sydney and Brisbane which is still used today.

At Grafton she performed at the Rink Hall commonly called the Trocadero which was a skating rink.

It was used because for the concert because it was large and could accommodate the audience.

A special steamer was run to bring people from the lower Clarence to the concert and took them home again.

The Clarence River today at the end of Warf Street, Grafton 2016
The Clarence River today at the end of Warf Street, Grafton 2016.

Sadly, it is no longer there nor is the railway station she was greeted at. However, Roche’s Hotel is still very much operating. On the banks of the river it was part of the prosperous coastal river trade and boasts some wonderful seafaring memorabilia on its walls.

Roche's Hotel Grafton where Melba and her concert party stayed i
Roche’s Hotel Grafton where Melba and her concert party stayed in July-August 1909.

I spent two sessions with the wonderful Robyn and Hazel at the home of the Clarence River Historical Society who worked through my extensive wish list for images and information.

Nothing was too much trouble for them and I was quietly envious of their museum and archive in Schaeffer House, the home of Grafton’s former engineer who designed supervised the building of so many of Grafton’s wonderful buildings.

Melba’s married life at Marian

While Melba did not visit Mackay during her 1909 Back Blocks Tour, we could not drive past without calling in and spending a few days with the people of Melba House.

The society and Melba House have had a long association going back about 16 years.

I arranged beforehand to meet with treasurer Vern Lindbergs and the team of the Pioneer Valley Tourism Association which operate Melba House at Marian as a tribute to Melba and also as a visitor information centre.

Melba House, Marian Mackay. Nellie Armstrong's first home and bi
Melba House, Marian Mackay. Nellie Armstrong’s first home and birth place of son George.

Thankfully, the community rallied around and ensure the home Charles and Nellie Armstrong lived in at the Marian Sugar Mill was not demolished but saved, moved up the road and restored.

Today Vern and the team have set up a room in the house purely for Melba memorabilia – images, objects, books and folders with articles featuring Nellie and Charles Armstrong.

I spent two days going through their archives and the recently acquired Valmai Tongs collection of records, articles, images and letters between herself and Pamela, Lady Vestey who became a friend.

Thankfully the association accepted the collection as it was offered to a museum in Melbourne which  declined to accept it. The collection has the largest number of Melba recordings I have ever seen in one place and has some interesting research.

Melba House, through the association’s work is rapidly being recognized as important to Queensland’s tourism industry as the state government is doing a shoot of the house as part of its strategy.

Wally and I were privileged to be invited to the association’s meeting and learnt first-hand of the challenges of promoting tourism in the region.

Lilydale & District Historical Society's president Sue Thompson
Lilydale & District Historical Society’s president Sue Thompson (left) with some of the members of the Pioneer Valley Tourism Association which operates Melba House at Marian, Queensland.

Marian today is a far cry from the Marian of Melba’s time – 1882-1884. Then it was all pastoral land just venturing into the infant sugar cane industry. David Mitchell went to Marian to build the sugar mill which sadly only operated for a short time but on the same site now is one of the state’s largest sugar mills.

Surrounding the mill and up the Pioneer Valley it is a sea of sugar cane and as it is now harvest time trains are rushing around picking up trucks and delivering them to the mill.

Sugar Cane Harvester ready to cut another row of cane at Marian,
Sugar Cane Harvester ready to cut another row of cane at Marian, Queensland.

One of the cane train engines was called Melba and one of the drivers is trying to locate it for me so I can take a photo of her.

Melba House has quite a lot of information about Charles Armstrong so at last we can being to build his story from his time in Queensland through the years to his death in Canada.

The Pioneer River looking west towards the Marian Sugar Mill who
The Pioneer River looking east towards the Marian Sugar Mill whose chimneys are visible in the distance. This was the river in which newly marriage Nellie Armstrong bathed. The millhome occupied by the Armstrongs was west of the mill. Today the home, known as Melba Park, is located in Lloyd Park, Marian

My next stop is the museum and library in Mackay and a meeting with the Mirani Historical Society where I will give a Melba talk so members learn more about Melba’s later life.

Melba House Facebook.