March 7th 2007
From the archives: Roy "Spotty" Spottiswood (Part 2)
Continuing the story of Roy "Spotty" Spottiswood, from our original published article in 1998, we learn more about Spotty, who played a big role in the rebuilding of Magnetic following the devastation of Cyclone Althea. Later we learn about his fascinating work as Head Ranger on Magnetic which included the removal of feral pigs and the demise of over 500 feral cats.
Spot remembers cyclone Althea, showing us an elderly and appropriately, mildewed atlas with the co-ordinates still plotted in pencil. Howling in towards the Island on Christmas eve, 1971 Spot's family home, Echo collected the flying roof of the Picnic Bay Pub. Spot talked of the little "gunyah" he built inside the house with mattresses on top and wardrobes for walls. Below his house a tidal surge completely covered a Holden ute parked where the Picnic Bay carpark is now. Like many Aussies of his vintage, these events were taken in their stride. Spot told us that "We just got up afterwards, shook ourselves down and got on with it!" Spot likened the devastation to the aftermath of a military bombardment and remembers handing out quite a few whiskies to a number of shaken tea totallers, "they soon cheered up." he said.
Not wasting an opportunity, Spot was on the phone to his Townsville bank manager telling him to put a few thou in the hands of the timber merchant. In no time, Spot had his tools sharpened and by Boxing Day his timber was delivered, there was plenty of work for a builder.
By 1973 Spot had had enough of the building game. He heard about a job going with National Parks and seeing a ranger on the Mandalay said "I believe you want a fella!"
Describing himself simply as a workman, two weeks later Spot was walking his legs off with a ranger's shirt on his back. He happened to be up at the forts with Ron Lockwood the Ranger they called the Pommy Jackaroo and some other Departmental brass. They were scratching their heads over how they might to get some concrete steps built without blowing their meagre budget when Spot informed them of his qualifications. He was soon at work, making the very convenient steps to the lookouts that we all enjoy today. This led to him becoming the Department's travelling toilet builder and Spot and quite often his new wife Gwen, enjoyed a kind of working holiday in National Parks throughout north Queensland as Spot constructed the Department's dunnies.
Spot and Gwen were both avid naturalists. They also treated sick and injured birds and other animals at their home. This probably contributed to Spot's great insight into birds such as his beloved curlews, whose calls he can often interpret to predict changes in the weather.
Fire prevention and erosion were two major concerns for Spot who moved up to become Island Ranger in 1977. His detailed knowledge of the rugged interior of the Island, gained from trekking over it, an average of seventy miles per week, in the course of his work, was indispensable in fire fighting. He told us how it is possible, for half a dozen fire fighters carrying only shovels, if they work in the cool of the early morning till about 8am, to make great strides in bringing a bushfire under control. Walking in behind the front the firefighter throws shovels full of soil onto the flames. Without heavy water to carry, the firefighters can sustain their energy and be very effective.
Spot recalled a less successful day's slashing firebreaks in Nelly Bay, when a tree fell on him resulting in 27 stitches to the head. His offsider, John Tanner reassured Spot later that while he was lying there, he had a look inside his head but there was nothing there.
One ambition of Spot's that has now come to fruition is the Nelly Bay Habitat Reserve. Spot had recommended that the present Reserve be declared back in 1981. He had hoped that a Ranger's cottage and interpretation centre be established. The proposal was nonetheless, turned down by Council at the time. It was however, Spot who built the present Rangers Office and facilities beside the golf course.
As it seems often to be the case, the Dept of Environment (DOE) was laughably under resourced. Spot, as Ranger, was not permitted a vehicle as he was unlikely to travel the required 15,000 kms per year, which the DOE stipulated, would warrant one. Instead he used his own until one day when it was back in the repair shop, Spot decided he'd had enough. To make clear his ridiculous situation, Spot, took up hitchhiking, in uniform. It wasn't long before a circle of embarrassment rippled all the way to Brisbane. Soon after Spot had a Ranger's truck.
One of the major tasks undertaken by Spot and his Officers was, with considerable community assistance, to eradicate feral pigs from the Island. By Spot's reckoning there were about two hundred pigs on the Island. They were noted for their habit of sowing on the flats and rummaging for the succulent roots of the kapok trees, which they destroyed along with many other species. The pigs were eliminated following a very determined effort. Spot also claims he trapped and put down about 500 feral cats in the park over his seven and a half years as Ranger. Most were trapped around Balding, Florence and Radical Bays.
Spot was always keen to learn more about the nature of the Island and became great friends with botanist, Carolyn Sandercoe whose vegetation map of the island (available from DOE) is an excellent resource for all who wish to understand the totality of the Island's vegetation.
Spot gave away the Ranging back in 1984 when Gwen his devoted partner contracted melanoma. Tragically she passed away in 1989 having spent only fourteen blissful years with Spotty.
There are so many anecdotes to hear from Spot, it is little wonder that he is visited by so many good friends who join him for a beer or perhaps one of his special home made liqueurs at the little table on his verandah where Estelle Bennet so lovingly embroidered his tablecloth with the words SPOTTY'S BAR!
Story: George Hirst and Pen Sheridan
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