Revelations of a Shady Past

Image source: Contributed

The first comprehensive history of Noosa was launched with much fanfare and Helen Flanagan joined pioneers, influencers, former mayors, musicians, the literati and the author, for the inside story.

There’s a lot of love for Noosa in Phil Jarratt’s Place of Shadows, The History of Noosa. Beautifully illustrated with archive and contemporary photos, it is the culmination of more than two years’ work for the author who has been a local resident for the last 30 of his 50-year career as a journalist, author and filmmaker.

Boolarong Press publisher Dan Kelly told guests at the Harbour Wine Bar at Noosa Marina he thought Phil was a “tired, old surfer” when they first met and was “surprised at the quality of writing” in his book.

Legendary playwright David Williamson who launched the book said “if you imagine Phil’s book is just a puff piece promoting Noosa, think again.

“This is a thoroughly researched and beautifully written real history of how Noosa became what it is today. And it doesn’t pull any punches. It tells grippingly and compellingly the story of how our original inhabitants, the Kabi Kabi, were brutally displaced by white settlers originally intent on reaping profits of the cedar forests which were once part of our ecology.

“Phil with panache and clarity takes us through the history that moved Noosa from our shameful beginning to its present uber desirability and suggests cogent ways to address the very real problems that our past and present, force us to face. A gripping read with a deeply-felt moral heart.”

When asked about the trigger for the book Phil replied: “Nancy Cato’s book The Noosa Story, first published 42 years ago, was mainly an anti-development polemic with some valuable history built around it, but by no means the full story. Emma Freeman’s Hastings Street, Stories From Noosa’s Past, and Michael Gloster’s The Shaping of Noosa, have also told the story in part, but both written more than 20 years ago, so at the start of the pandemic, with little work on, I dug up all the research I’d done on Noosa since Noosa Blue (publishing) early days and mapped out a new way to tell the story.

“The Kabi Kabi were living on what is now Noosa Shire at least 20,000 years ago. My book is not the first one to look at pre-European settlement times, but I’ve tried to place the Kabi Kabi times in the context of what happened when European settlement began about 170 years ago. I think the way the First Nations were treated as settlement grew is key to understanding the sacrifices that were made to create the Noosa we see today.”

the title is one interpretation of what the name Noosa means, based on the Kabi Kabi word gnuthera, meaning shady place.

When asked about true pioneers, Phil explained: “His gravestone at Tewantin proclaims him ‘Father of Noosa’ so let’s start with Walter Hay who arrived in Australia from Scotland as a child in 1838. The Hays were free settlers, but they still did it tough and Walter grew up with a strong will to succeed in the colony, working as a stockman, station manager and ferryman in Maryborough before his land purchases led him to Tewantin, where he quickly became Noosa’s first property magnate. Heritage-listed Halse Lodge, which he built as Bay View in the 1880s, remains as his legacy.

“In the early 1900s Jiddy and Sitty Massoud, immigrants who had escaped the Ottoman Empire’s injustices, set up home in Noosaville with their growing family and became the kings of the river, rivalled only by the Parkyn family. They established a local fishing industry, and the two families also used their boats to ferry tourists to the village at Noosa Heads or to the North Shore.

“The descendants of both families still live in Noosa today. Although older residents will know parts of the T.M. Burke development story, what is little known is that Tom Burke first started developing Noosa in 1929, after striking a deal with Noosa Shire Council to build a road and two bridges from Tewantin to what we now know as Sunshine Beach, opening up the river villages to motorised tourism, in return for a massive landholding at Sunshine, which he named Noosa Beach Estate. But the Great Depression and then World War II got in the way, and it was left to Tom’s son Marcus to develop the shire from Peregian to Sunshine in the 1960s. However, his vision of a dress circle road around a residential estate on Noosa Headland was thwarted by the rising tide of environmentalists.

“Two strong women, Emma Freeman and Nancy Cato, symbolise for me the spirit of Noosa in the ‘60s and ‘70s when they stood up to the Queensland-wide edict of ‘develop or perish’. Their daughters still live in Noosa.”

How about a revelation? “Most people know Joh Bjelke-Petersen as the leader of the White Shoe Brigade who wanted to turn all of SEQ into Miami Beach, but the other side of the story is that Joh was friendly with Noosa environmentalists Arthur Harrold and Jim Fearnley (both CLP men), and they convinced him of the value of the North Shore wilderness over its value for mining and development. Joh actually wept when shown the sand dunes of the wilderness he had ‘saved’.”

Surely there’s a saucy tale! “Yes, there are many. Did you hear the one about notorious drug criminal Barry Bull? He lived in Sunshine Beach from the late 1970s when not in jail, and his girlfriend Sylvia Lux had a hairdressing salon in Hastings Street called Hairloom. She later became famous when, at eight months pregnant she rode a motorbike at speed in Austria where he’d been arrested, and Bull jumped from a prison bus onto it behind her.”

The cover is meaningful, isn’t it? “My artist friend Tony Edwards (of Captain Goodvibes fame) came to Noosa to create his ‘vision of Noosa’ for the cover of Noosa Tatler #2, the last Tatler before it became Blue. It’s a crazy dream of what Noosa may have become, and I love it, so I asked Tony for its use. The title is one interpretation of what the name Noosa means, based on the Kabi Kabi word gnuthera, meaning shady place. There are other interpretations, which I explore in the book, but I liked the way this one also referenced the wild characters who have been part of the Noosa story.”

Place of Shadows, The History of Noosa by Phil Jarratt, published by Boolarong Press, available from bookstores across Noosa.


About the Author /

Noosa’s sophisticated charm, vibrant food culture and the magnetism of a subtropical paradise surrounded by national parks, inveigled Helen’s manic world and flipped it on its side. She pursues the good life with gusto, instinctively understanding the joys of travel, the art of story-telling, a candid review and surviving another reno whilst thriving on the motto Live Laugh Love!

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