The New Wave…Story of Pioneer Russell Island

THE NEXT WAVE (1910-1950)

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This is the story of the growth of a pioneer community in Russell Island in Eastern Australia.

The problem for most of Australia’s settlers was the isolation of distance in a large country. But these “next wave” settlers chose to live on a group of fertile islands within a bay and close to the mainland where a young capital city was emerging and would be a hungry market for the tropical fruit and vegetables these farmers could produce. This area of south-east Queensland has a sub-tropical climate but was an alien environment to most of the new settlers who had left behind the freezing winters of Great Britain and other European countries.

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The population of Australia was small and few in the State of Queensland were Australian born. There would be some prejudice in the community amongst nationalities. The Scots and English had social class distinctions but by the time their Australian children were attending school, social levels were left behind in the “old country”.

World War 1 saw Australians rush to enlist to fight beside other British Empire forces and for the first time since Federation they fought under their own Australian flag. In the 1920s a flood of British ex-servicemen came to make a new life in rural pursuits. Developed countries gradually descended into economic hard times and the Great Depression lasted a decade.

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Most people survived on these islands through hard work and self-reliance. Unlike in cities and towns, there was always food on the plates of the often-large families. Farms grew fruit and vegetables and seafood was in abundance.

The Next Wave is told in the first person to describe the 20 years from 1930 to 1950. As the economy improved, world events would change the lives of almost every community on earth.

By the end of the 1940s prosperity had come to the island community and communications had made the bay islands less isolated.

Travelling-to-Russell-Island-in-1958

 

Margarette Cheras was born on Russell Island on April 18, 1932, joining the fourth generation on her maternal side to live there. Her great grandparents John and Kate Willes were the first immigrants from England to settle and raise a family on the islands of Moreton Bay as real pioneers. Other ancestors of Margarette’s mother’s line, The Honourable William Brookes, his wife and elder daughter, settled in Brisbane in 1854 before Separation of the Colony of Queensland from New South Wales. Her father, Alexander Lester Cheras, a WW1 British ex-serviceman came to Australia in 1922. He married Ursula Willes at Russell Island in 1924. Margarette has two older brothers, Brian and Lawrence who both live in Brisbane.

Her parents opened a General Store on the island in 1934 and soon after began a bakery and later took over the Post Office. These ventures were Margarette’s introduction to the world of business, commerce and hard work, as she observed the industry of her parents in the difficult years of the Great Depression. The family moved to Brisbane in 1941 when WWII brought the threat of invasion by Japan and her father joined the army. Margarette finished her formal education at Commercial High School and then entered the fashion world to train as a millinery (hats) designer and maker. At the age of 14 she began oil painting under the instruction of noted Brisbane artist Caroline Barker. In 1950 she accompanied her parents when her father’s work took him to Sydney. She was soon busy designing model hats, eventually managing the workroom of Madame Pellier who had the most exclusive clientele in Sydney. She continued general art and oil painting tuition at the renowned Julian Ashton Art School.

Then at the age of 21 she returned to Brisbane to begin her own business, both retail and manufacturing hats. In these years she exhibited paintings with the Royal Queensland Art Society. In 1961 Margarette spent a year overseas with her husband. After returning to Australia she lived in Melbourne for the next 11 years, and then returned to Queensland as a single parent of her eight-year-old son. She managed a fashion boutique in Brisbane for two years until after much thought she left the fashion world to follow an entirely different career path in finance and insurance. She completed a Diploma of the Australasian Insurance Institution in just over 12 months, normally up to seven years being allowed for the qualification. For the next 20 years she remained in the same industry, self-employed, working on a commission only basis, and brought up her son alone.

In 1993 her second career came to an abrupt end after a diagnosis of colon cancer. She believes she should have recognized the signs earlier because her father and his sisters also had the same type of cancer many years before. She was successfully operated on but the delay in seeing a doctor made her recovery a long and painful process. A third and new career has challenged Margarette – that of writing which she acknowledges was a major factor in winning her struggle to survive cancer. The future? Perhaps there is an autobiography in the pipeline.

Author Margarette Cheras mccoochie@optusnet.com.au

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