Magnetic Island North Queensland
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A young koala's beach adventure

March 4th 2007
From the archives: Roy "Spotty" Spottiswood

Spotty centre with Neville and Estelle Bennet In this story from 1998 we republish the story of a builder of many Island homes in the 1950s and, later, one of Magnetic Island's most admired park Rangers, Roy "Spotty" Spottiswood. Spotty now lives in a Townsville retirement village but when this story was written he was still in his house in quiet, contented, retirement in Picnic Bay.

"A good ranger has to be a self starter. He has to be able to see both sides and see how every issue that comes before him, no matter how trivial, will have something different to it to consider."

It didn't sound like bad advice for a lot more than being a ranger and, after meeting Roy "Spotty" or "Spot" Spottiswood, it was clear he had truly benefited from this simple wisdom in his own life.

Born in 1924, at Mt Morgan, Roy moved with his family to Norris Street, Hermit Park aged two.

Growing up in Townsville was wonderful for young Spotty. His neighbourhood was a vast playground where he could indulge in his favourite pleasures - including catching red-beaked finches by tapping the sticky gum of the nearby banyan trees and twisting the latex over some fencing wire for the unsuspecting creatures to land on and become stuck. It brought useful pocket money even if it was a dubious start for a future park ranger.

His father, William, a contract electrician, had regular work, although his customers didn't always pay - at least not in cash. Fruit, veg and return favours had their own currency in the hard financial times of the Great Depression. But the Spottiswoods survived and young Roy left Town High at thirteen for an apprenticeship as a carpenter and joiner.

He had nearly completed his apprenticeship when he was called up for the army in 1942. Spotty was placed in the 2nd Mountain Battery as a gun mechanic or artificer. He saw action in Bouganville for eighteen months, spending a total of two years in the islands after 30,000 Australians replaced the American soldiers to wage continued attacks upon the Japanese force of over 40,000.

Spotty's work was to move in small groups with a 75 Howitzer gun which, after so much practice, could be assembled from its components, fired and disassembled in a couple of minutes before moving on. Spotty's crew never stayed anywhere for long making it hard for the enemy to locate and return fire. Distance was always measured in time as 100 metres could turn into an hour or more of very solid slog.

As far as telling his story was concerned, Spot was keen to move on from his war experience. He felt, like so many of his generation, a powerful aversion to obviously painful memories.

On repatriation to Australia, Spot returned to Townsville, finishing his apprenticeship. In the post-war building boom, his skills were keenly sought.

Spot?s brother Bill wasn't so lucky. He died of war related injuries in 1949.

Having loved the Island from childhood visits, and as his parents had now bought Echo - a house in Picnic Street, Picnic Bay, Spot visited often.

Sadly, Spot's father died in 1952 so he moved onto Magnetic to be near his mother, Maude. He began to build his own house nearby. At about the same time he became the first person to drive over the newly-made Picnic to Nelly Bay road.

He was married briefly to Beryl who bore him his only son. Things didn't work out with Beryl however and the couple parted with Spot maintaining custody of their son Alan.

Spot then set about building 30 buildings and homes on the Island. That is a lot of elbow grease considering that most were built with hand saws. The sand for the cement was shovelled out of the creeks onto the back of his trusty ute and the water carried in milk cans.

Spot's achievements include much of Wansfell Street in Picnic Bay, including the Baptist Church, the RSL Hall in Arcadia, Chaversham Flats and the Legacy homes in Arcadia.

Spot was somewhat disparaging of modern methods of building - preferring the reliability of mortise and tenon where, "Everything slots together from the ground up".

His advice for a carpenter looking for an offsider is to choose a lefthander (if the carpenter is right handed). Spot chose Ron Snell, who became a great mate and companion. The two never had a bad word between them as Spot recalls and Ron was very left "handy" for all corners that a right hander would have to perform contortions top work on.

Whenever work became scarce, Spot and Ron would head west to build sheds but they always returned to Magnetic.

It was Spot who became foreman for the building of the present Picnic Bay Jetty for John Holland Constructions over 10 months in 1959.

In 1961 he teamed up with Steve Coleman, "A bloke who could work all day without direction, who never rushed but always achieved more than those who did".

Later on, Spot and Steve decided to give up being boss and learn Italian - Italian building that is. They joined up with Angelo Smaniotto and Aldo Zaetta who'd moved to the Island to build accommodation at the rear of the Picnic Bay pub. It was a great match and over a period they built Sharkworld (an aquarium attraction which was on the present site of Xbase backpackers in Nelly Bay. Ed) and many other buildings with 22 other workers under Spot's supervision.

To be continued

Story: George Hirst. Photo of Spotty (centre) with friends Estelle and Neville Bennet at an ANZAC Day breakfast on Magnetic Island, George Hirst

To make a comment see below

From the archives: Roy
March 7th 2007
very good story a bit of history.
Geoff Hansen
March 7th 2007
Good to see this sort of thing being published as we are losing much of our past. I love local history and think it is important to disseminate it, in the way you are doing, for current and future generations.

Geoff Hansen
Townsville Museum & Historical Society
David J
March 7th 2007
You know, I love walking along some of the main island roads and learning about the history of the particular places I walk past through the plaques where present. I wonder about who built them, who lived in them, why they did things the way they did - someones life story, the things that were important at the time and the tapestry of the lives of people long gone. Interestingly it is a part of island history that could be captured quite easily and quickly right now. Sadly, to wait another five years or so may result in that history being lost. There are people alive who may think what they know to being boring or uninteresting, however there are people like me who enjoy reading of their succes, failure and ultimate contribution. In years to come such reports are the wealth of the community for example, "This place was built by Mrs X, she loved the birds and tried to capture the view of the trees, she was bitter till the end!" It may be comical but at least it provides a perspective to understand the a properties placement, give it life and perhaps value, without that all you have is buildings. Every house has a story and I personlly would enjoy to read what that story was - wouldnt it be great to detail every ones contribution to that story, be it owner, builder, tenant or ultimately an island resident? What a great little project that would be. Regards to all - David J
November 8th 2007
wow!!!!! what a treasure to come across. A wonderful story of our district. Having lived in Charters Towers and then Townsville for the past Twenty Four years, this information on "Spotty" was delightful. Thanks.

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