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Romance of Bartle Frere

First Party Up and Over Mt Bartle Frere, highest mountain in Queensland, located 70km south of Cairns, in 1919

By Dave Imrie in Tableland Examiner in 1939

Joe Weatherburn on the left

Advice that a well known Cairns party has planned to attempt the rugged climb leading to the summit of Bartle Frere, and intends to traverse the route on the other side, recalls memories of an adventurous climb twenty years ago.

In September, 1919, a party of Peeramonites, decided to make a trip up to the top of Bartle Frere, and descend on the other side amongst the cane fields.

The party consisted of Messrs Joe Weatherburn, (the lessee of the Hotel at Peeramon), Jesse Gardener, Dave Imrie, and Bert Horsey.

We left Peeramon per buckboard, and made for Old Boonjie, to Charlie Civry's, where we were to spend the night before beginning out trip, and Charlie Civry, and the boy "Mosie",were to accompany and join our party.

The next day proved misty with slight rain, so we spent the day having a look at Charlie's coffee plantation and garden and his "claim".

The following day the weather was similar to the previous day, and after consultation with Charlie and Julie, it was thought best to postpone our trip for a few days, hoping the change of moon would bring clearer weather. We visited "Towalla" field, where we gave an old prospector our supply of tobacco and tucker, returning to Peeramon fully determined to come back the following week.

Bert Horsey, met with an accident during our stay, and was a very disappointed man when he could not join us on our way the following week.

Joe Weatherburn, Jesse Gardener, and Dave Imrie once again journeyed out to Civry's and had better weather prospects for the trip. The moon being nearly at full, it was thought advisable to get an early start on the following morning, so Julia having made coffee at 2 am, we prepared for a start at daybreak, distributing our tucker in proportions to the size of the individual - Joe had to take the biggest pack in his knapsack. Bidding Julie good-bye, we set off for Tom Anderson's camp at Gourka, where we picked up our aboriginal guide Mosie.

Mosie Leads the Way

After a bit of breakfast with Tom and Lucy, we started afresh, led on by Mosie. The first water to be had was at Bobbin Bobbin Falls, on the West Mulgrave, and strange to see, these falls are only about 110 yards from the crest of the range, and are most picturesque. We encountered many huge boulders on the way, some weighing several hundred tons, and many are just balancing on small rocks. It appears that the heavy rains are slowly undermining these big rocks, and some day there will be something doing when these big chaps start rolling.

At one point on the way up you can go out on a flat rock and get a splendid view of the Atherton Tableland - Jesse remarked he would like to have that flat rock home in the cow yard!

We reached the first peak near sundown, where we decided to camp for the night, and Charlie sent Mosie down to a water hole in the hillside where he and Joe Johnson found water in 1916. Mosie came back saying "No Water!" Charlie, thinking Mosie couldn't have been to the right waterhole, took the "billy" can and went himself. Sure enough there was no water, so we had to wash down our supper with a little Scotch and soft stuff. We spread our blankets and yarned away until sleep overtook us.

Early the next morning, after a snack, off we set for the summit. We had to keep very close to our guide for the heavy undergrowth at one place was very dense, and this being the year after the big cyclone of 1918, we had to use our brush hooks for quite a long time. However, we came to a clear patch near the top, which consists of silkwood seedlings from 3,400 feet to 4,460 feet, even on the top. There are some narrow passages to be made between and under rocks. After setting fire to the silkwood seedlings (which, by the way, was our signal to the folks at Peeramon that we had got to the top) and we reached the summit about midday where we sent smoke signal to let our friends know we had reached the top of Bartle Frere.

Carved Initials on Trees

We spent an hour or two on the top carving our initials on trees, and leaving our names in a bottle, also a message in the French language, which translated in English, read, "There is no pleasure without pain", Charlie Curvy, being the Frenchman in our party.

Having viewed our surroundings from all angles, including the North and South Barnard Islands, the Franklin Islands, and Green Island, it was time to think about the descent towards the cane fields. Charlie Curvy wanted to make for an old claim at Chue Chappa gold fields, but Mosie said that we must find water before evening, so he climbed a tree and sniffing in all directions of the compass, he came down saying "Come on boys, follow me". After a few minutes scramble through dense jungle, we came to an almost perpendicular cliff, which we descended by hanging on to the roots of trees, vines and whatever we could find to hang onto. Just at dark, at the foot of the cliff, Mosie found the precious water, reminding us of the Moses of early days.

Glad we were to look down the valley where the cane fires were seen and we thought they were quite near and that early next morning we would be down there for breakfast, as we were on our last crumbs of bread. Yes, crumbs, as we had figured on being only one night on the mountain. We made ourselves as comfortable as we could around the waterhole, and early the next morning, set off down the creek bed, jumping and sliding down from boulder to boulder. Then we came to a waterfall, and we had to climb down or slide down until we got to the creek bed, then on again, keeping Mosie in view. This creek we were traversing was the creek which comes out near Moolaba. (We learned that later when we got down to the cane fields.)

It was a hazardous trip down that creek, with waterfall after waterfall in the track, but there was a splendid view on looking back up the creek, where three falls seem as one. Boorobee Creek it was we were following, and by 3 or 4 pm we were down in the cane fields, minus most of our pants, Jesse Gardener's pants suffering the most. He was sent out as a "scout" to find out where we were. In the meantime Civry, Joe, and myself were busy sewing or darning what was left of our trousers and shirts.

After a while Jesse came back, and reported we were at Moolaba (now Pawngilly). Waiting by the creek until sundown we "hoofed" it up to Babinda, the north coast line just being in construction. We had to go to Babinda, so that we could get a train in the morning for Cairns.

Nearing the Babinda State Hotel we heard the strains of music, and stopping to listen we heard martial music. This was the Babinda band at practice, and the tune they played was, "See the Conquering Hero Comes". On entering the public bar, and asking for accommodation for the night, we were looked at, or on, as hoboes or tramps. Bill McGraw, of the Barron Valley Hotel, Atherton, happened to come in and recognising us as the party from the Tableland, made the situation a bit different. After a round or two, we went over to John Dann senior, the tailor and draper, to get pants, and shirts, for the night. With no accommodation to be had at the hotel, John Dann senior, escorted us to the Railway Station, where we spent the night in a railway carriage, John telling us to be out by 5am. As the carriage went to the railhead before going to Cairns in the morning.

A Disappointment

"Coyyan", who used to send copy to The Cairns Post, was to have met us at Babinda, but we failed to meet. As we were out early looking over the sugar mill. We, as well as "Coyyan", were sorry we had missed each other, and the train being due to leave for Cairns, there was no time to get to his camp, which was a mile away. On the way to Cairns it soon became known that we were the adventurous party that had come up and over Bartle Frere.

On arrival at Cairns we were met by Bert Horsey, and Harry Muller, who had come down by train, bringing our go-ashores and, as arranged, we went for a week or ten days fishing with Douglas Pitt (now deceased).

After a splendid time on the Barrier Reef, we returned per train to Peeramon on October 14, happy and contented that we had put up the record of being the first (and up to date 1939, the only) party that had gone up and over Bartle Frere.

The best time of the year to climb the mountain is October, and learning that a party from Cairns (Dr Flecker, Dr Miles and others) intend to have another climb next year, I would suggest they come up and over. They will find a decent road, metal all the way from Lamin's Hill to Cairns.

Of our party, three are still to the fore - Joe Weatherburn, now in Mareeba, Jesse Gardener, and Dave Imrie at Topaz, Peeramon. Civry and Mosie: deceased.

Owner/SourceGlenda Pollard
Linked toJoseph Weatherburn

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