KEITH W.W.J. DUDMAN
WHO WORKED FOR THE AMERICANS
IN CHARTERS TOWERS AND TOWNSVILLE
By Keith Dudman, Jr.
For the sake of clarity I wish to point out that my father never kept any diaries or notes and when he originally wrote his experiences, it had to be retold by him to one of my sisters, just before his death in 1991. This was long after we had settled on the Gold Coast in 1946/1947. The original document is full of gaps and an absence of exact dates and times as he did not write these tales until late in life. Where possible I will try and fill in these gaps from my own memory.
I will start by indicating where we lived in Charters Towers. I only know the streets not the street numbers, for in those years the postman (knowing everyone on his run) delivered your mail to a name in a street even if you didn’t put a number on the address.
I was born Valentine Keith Dudman (known as Keith) on the 14th December 1935 at the Charters Towers hospital to Keith W. W. J. and May Dudman (nee Byrne) and my memory goes back to when I was about three of four? We then lived in a house south of the town, close to the old Black Jack Mine. We then shifted to a house in Mosman Street.
The house was next to a Chinese laundry on the southern side. On the northern side was big vacant lot, next to that was the Crown Hotel which plays a pivotal role in this story. The four properties were very large and deep, bounded by the following streets. Mosman Street (west and in front of the property), Jackson Street (northern side), Lee Street (southern side) and a lane running behind the lots between Jackson and Lee called Mills Lane (eastern side).
Directly across Mosman Street was a garage called “Stangers”, pronounced “Stan – gars”, my father was very friendly with the owner and I can remember the upright, red painted, hand operated petrol pumps standing out near the kerb.
Keith Dudman's map of the area
Now to my father’s story, starting from about 1937, when he was a Miner in Charters Towers (the coloured italics are my comments and or insertions) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
An Extract from my Fathers’ Memoirs
I worked in the Warrior mine for a while, a straight shaft 120 feet down.
We were lowered in a bucket and then an underlie about 45 degrees to the face. It was a very unsafe mine so I didn’t stay long.
If you look in the Mining Journal from ’34 to ’38 you will see the number of my crushing’s that went through the Venus Battery. The Dougall brothers and I got a crushing from a mine down near the Burdekin River (I think this was near Fanning) and it went 4 ozs to the ton and the sands bought ₤ 9.0.0 a ton, which was very good. We had 5 ton at night when we knocked off. We would then go down to hole in the river to clean up and throw half a plug of gelignite in the water and get about a dozen fish for dinner.
I must tell you about the Mount Charles Mine now.
About the time my second son was born (1937) I decided with another chap to clean out the old Mount Charles mine out near Black Jack. We got to know old Tim Webb who used to work in the mine in the 1890’s and he said there was good stone left in a shear off the reef about 150 feet down the underlie. It was an underlie shaft at 45 degrees with a straight shaft that cut it at about 200 feet for pumping the water out.
So we cleaned the two out and timbered them – no mean feat. Got a pump from the Mines Dept. A Jackhead type, it would only lift the water 27 feet vertically but then it would push it to any height (don’t know what he means by this).
We would get down nearly to the 150 foot level which was blocked off at the main underlie for holding the water, as most of the water came from the surface, but we kept breaking the Jackhead as it wasn’t strong enough. So after a few tries we gave it up. We got a small crushing while the water came up again.
We found out later through the Mines Dept. That another company, after Tim Webb left, opened it up and cleaned out any good stone. It crushed 11 ozs to the ton being heavy Galand stone of 2 or 3 inches thick.
However my mate decided to leave and I met Ron Laurence. He was waiting for the wet weather to break so he could go back dam sinking out west. He decided to come in with me as we wanted to clean the mine out to 300 feet.
He got the last single cylinder piston that came out from England, a big Ruston & Hornsby. As I was able to get the winding gear from the Mines Dept. We set up the engine with a 440 volt alternator/generator to go on a little bogy down the underlie where we going to set the pump up on the dam at the 150 foot level which held all the water. We had an electrician set up the pump and it was nearly the finish of us there and then as he forgot to put the nut on properly for one of the wires, we felt a jolt when we were about to shift the pump, so we sat frozen like rats. I climbed up the underlie very carefully and switched off our engine and the alternator to kill the power. What a relief.
We put the nut on the pump and set it on the dam and got working again. From there down the last 100 feet was filled with muck that was washed down over the years. I worked the winch and we cleaned it out to the bottom. The old time miners had followed a pencil line of reef down, hoping it would open up, which had happened in other mines. As the weather had improved Ron decided to call it a day, he never lost money on the machinery as that type was hard to obtain during the war years. So another venture of mine was a failure.
Having started a family I had to get something more permanent so worked here and there in a couple of mines for wages. I went to up Pentland about 52 miles from the Towers, to work in the Belgay mine. Now the mine was owned by a small company and our job was to deepen it to find the reef.
It was about 120 feet straight down. It had a horse whim to haul the rock up in a big steel bucket. The whim is a very large wheel made of wood, the rope goes around that and then down the shaft. The horse walks around in a circle and stops when the bucket reaches the top, a trap-door is under the bucket until it is ready to go down again. Very dangerous for the fellows down below, if the bucket started to swing and or get caught under a set of timbers, well we copped the lot.
I was the drill sharpener. We would have two set of drills and down we would go. We would drill holes in a V shape in the middle of the shaft for lifters and four holes in the corners for cuttings. After we had drilled all our holes and damned hard rock it was too, Jim Alexander my mate, who was an old man, would climb the ladder for about 50 or 60 feet and into a drive at the side of the shaft.
All the plugs of gelignite and fuses which we got ready before going down would be lowered down in the bucket, the fuses would be in different lengths so we would know how to fire them. I would have to stick the plugs under the ledges of rock, to keep the water, which was dripping down all the time, from getting them wet.
My job was to fire them. I would have several pieces of lighted candle out of the drip of water and I would start lighting the fuses in their firing order.
One time I got them all going bar one, I had to try several times to get it to fizz. You could not leave one. If you did, when you came down to drill again you would hit that unfired hole and be blown sky high. When I got them all going I made a grab for the chain ladder which was hanging from the firm one (Not sure what he means by this) about 12 feet up and went up like a scalded cat. When I got to the opening of the drive I dived in just as the rocks were blown up the shaft after me.
I did not stay too long in that job, we were getting about five pound a week, so I said to Jim. “I think I could a safer job than this.” And he agreed. So I went back to the Towers. I don’t think they ever found the reef in that mine. In the Towers I heard that the inspector on the railways was looking for bridge carpenters. The wage was six pounds two shillings a week and the labourers were only getting four pound ten shillings, so I went and saw the inspector. Harry Newman was his name, he asked if I was a carpenter. I told I had helped to build bridges on our tram line in Victoria, (I think he means the trams lines in the timber felling areas of Victoria).
I said I was very good with the axe (which I was); I could use a crosscut saw, auger, adze and other tools. I said to him, give me a couple of weeks and if I am no good, sack me. He said fair enough.
We went down near Townsville to start. That’s the western line to the Isa. Each gang would do a section and jump ahead of the other. Finally when we got closer to the Towers we were able to go home. We used to go to our camp on the midnight train on a Sunday and back home on the Friday night horror (as it was called). It was nice to be close to home for a change.
I had an Austin 12, a bigger one now, a flat top. It used to tick over like a watch. I would drive it down to a bridge we were building, about a mile away and get all the off cuts from the timber and bring them home for the stove.
Our next jump was to Pentland up near the mine I told you about. We built a large tank stand, (I came through that way over thirty years later and it was still there). Harry Newman the inspector complimented my mate and I on the precise job we did, as it was cut out on the ground and then erected.
Well that was the end of our bridge work, we had over two years work then the Government closed down a lot of jobs owing to no money, so they said.
It was back to the bush doing odd jobs. I took on one job pulling down and rolling up Telegraph wire, which was fifty miles in length, of heavy gauge and thick as a three inch nail. My mate (Des) would go ahead with a light ladder and climb up the tree and undo the wire and cup that the wire was attached to. After going what he estimated to be a mile he would cut the wire. I would have my truck jacked up and the attachment I had made would go against one of the wheels and I would put it into forward or reverse, whichever was the way to wind, and would wind up about a ¼ mile of wire, just a nice roll to handle. Then cut and lock the wire on again.
I would wind up a ¼ mile of wire in a few moments and then move on and pass Des. When I thought I had done a mile I would pull up and have my gear ready for when Des came up. I would then wind the wire in that he had let down and wait until he got ahead and start again.
I did not know what I had let myself in for when I took the job on at ₤ 2.10.0 a mile. I could have asked over ₤ 5.0.0 if I had known the country we had to go over. We had to go up and down hills, over sandy creeks, over the Burdekin River, half a mile of wide sand we had to cross over. With four long saplings we would lay one each side between the front wheel and back, run the truck onto them, lay the other two and that was the only way to get across.
I was told it would take a month, I said I would do it in two weeks. However with the truck nearly tipping over in the unforseen holes the steering arm on the front wheels snapped in two. I stopped at a tin mine a couple of miles away to fix it up. (I got a piece of half inch pipe about eight inches long and got it red hot on the forge and jammed the two ends of the rod into it and let it cool off. I then drilled a couple of holes through the ends to put a nail through. All we had was a little toy drill which took a long time to drill the holes.)
Sometimes we would get jammed in the narrow passages of some of the little hills. The track was only made for the horse and dray days. We would have to take a dual wheel off to get through.
The wire was to be picked up by J.S. Lowes Estate further up the river. A black fellow met us there on the precise day I had estimated on getting there. He had a single wheel Dodge truck in which he crossed the sandy river no trouble, but in the middle of the river he dumped off our two drums of petrol which was included in the job. Of course he got a good telling off about that as he should have put them on a bit of high ground where they could be reloaded easily. However we had to roll them back onto his truck with a couple of long sticks and take them to higher ground.
We sent him off with one load of wire and went back and picked up the rest of the rolls, as we could not bring it all in on one trip. The black met us a couple of days later for the other load. However to cut a long and hard story short we finished the job on the Saturday and had a good clean up in one of the water holes in the river then loaded our truck, a three ton Diamond T, a big long thing and set off back the fifty mile towards the starting spot Hillgrove Station.
We would camp out like we did during the whole job, where the truck stopped at sundown. Light a fire and get the camp oven out and put the bully beef, spuds and onions in to cook, have our dinner and roll up in our swags on the ground, snakes and all and have a good sleep.
We arrived at Hillgrove Station the next morning much to the surprise of the owner (and he was one of the people to say we wouldn’t do the job within my time limit). We had a good breakfast and rang Mrs Champion at another of Lowes Stations, half way to the Towers, and said we would be there for dinner. She said if we did the job she would have a good dinner ready for us, which she did. I returned the two drums of petrol that she gave me to start off with. By the way I gained a drum on the job (shifty character my dad). Petrol was in our money now about 15 cents a gallon not 70 cents a litre. Oh they were the days.
I rang Percy Shultz who owned the Crown Hotel next door to our home to tell my wife we would be home at five o’clock. Away we went and ran into a terrific storm half way home. So we pulled up and put the tarp over the truck to keep from getting wet, then it eased off, away we went, got within three mile of home and there was a line up of cars at a creek that was running a banker. We got up close to the bank of the river (?? Creek) which was flowing fast, but who should be there but the local Sergeant of Police. So we had a yarn with him and told him what we had been doing and said we had promised to be home by five o’clock and we were going to chance it. So off we went, the water was very high but we got over. We knew no other car could follow us including the Serg’s and as we had no registration for the truck we hoped that he hadn’t noticed.
When we arrived back in town I dropped Des off at his home and pulled up in my back yard (The entrance was off Mills Lane). Percy called me over to have a beer, two big glasses on him and I certainly could down them. I still had the small bottles of whisky he gave me in case of snake bite. Well home I went to the family and very happy everyone was at the wanderers return.
There was big talk about the war around this time and Yanks and the C.C.C. were busy trying to build dromes all over the Charters Towers/Townsville area, so we put the old Diamond T on the job carting rock from the mullock dumps (waste from the old gold mines) to build the drome at Charters Towers, which still carries our planes today. (by the way my repair job was still holding on the truck and was still there when my mate Frank Astall sold it. I guess it stayed there until it went to the bone yard.
When the yanks arrived, (They were camped all over the town, taking over hotels and other establishments. The marines were camped in Lisner Park, opposite my grandmother’s house. I shall always remember the dozens of pyramid tents in Lisner Park. They also took over all the Colleges in town for hospitals and the students were shifted into private houses. My younger brother had a liking for officer’s insignia and used to get as much as he could from them.) There was one big chap with a Tiker Tanner hat, (???) he started the first workshop on the drome. We were working away one day on the making of a runway (I am not sure which he could be referring to), when a B25 Bomber lined up to take off just a little way away from us. It started off and its nose lifted too quickly and I knew something was going to happen. As it lifted off the ground it started to turn to the left, if it had turned to the right it would have been amongst us.
Someone yelled out – “All down, there might be bombs on it”. It fell to the ground at the side of the runway and burst into flames. You could see some of the men getting thrown out. Next thing, the big yank from the workshop came racing down in a big ten wheeler and threw a wire rope around the tail of the plane and broke it away from the main body. The gunner who was still in there was the only one saved, the others were lying around like roasted pigs poor fellows. (see diagram below)
Another day as we were carting material from the ‘Chinaman’ – that’s a thing built of timber and earth so the trucks could back into and the dozers would push the earth and stones up and fill your truck –(I can’t recall this location as I was never with him when he loaded up there) -- I was sitting waiting my turn. I had a nice three ton truck that I had only just bought a week or so back from an Italian. I saw him bring it into the garage (Stanger’s) opposite where we lived. He was from up Darwin way. I asked if he was interested in selling, but he said no, as he was getting a hoist fitted on it so as to put it to work. Well ! the other drivers gave him hell and asked him why wasn’t he behind barbed wire, as they were not on our side during this point of the war. He was quite a nice fellow too, his name was Dicky Trasof. Well one day he asked me if I was still interested in buying the truck , I asked him how much and he said ₤ 250.0.0. I said I would go to the bank to see what I could get. I could only raise ₤ 200.0.0 and asked if he would take my Sunbeam utility as well. ( When I bought it, it was a nice single seater car and done three runs in D.A. at 200, 202 and 203 miles an hour). (I am not sure what he means about this last sentence). It was a beaut car but I needed something to carry things around in. I had only paid ₤ 50.0.0 for it, so I put a utility body on it, very good job I made of it too. So he agreed to take that and the ₤ 200.0.0 for the truck. I was now the proud owner of a very good truck and was able to join the dozens of other trucks carting rocks to the drome. In a couple of weeks I had my ₤ 200.0.0 back in the bank.
Getting back to my story, I was waiting at the side of the runway to back my truck into the loading pit, I turned my head to watch a DC-2 Transport take off when lo and behold it was heading straight for me. If I jumped to the right I might be minced meat for the props, so I kicked the door of the cabin open and said to myself “Well this is it, I’m finished.” I hit the ground as the plane struck. I remember being underneath the truck, my face was all wet which I thought was blood, but it was water from my water bag which was hanging on the radiator. There were about a dozen Yanks getting me out from under the truck. They had just got out of the plane which had landed on the loading pit.
There were tractors running around without drivers and the driver of the truck that had been coming out of the pit had let his brakes off and ran back into it otherwise he would have had his head cut off.
I was the only poor bugger that got hurt, my shoulder was badly bruised and the Yanks were saying, “Never mind about your truck we will get you another one”. The reason that it happened, was, as I was told, a cross wind had caught the plane and blown it off the runway.
My shoulder was very sore. I saw a Colonel doctor at the Army Hospital and he told his Major to get the doctors to fix me up, but the Yank doctors and ours could not do any good. One day I was talking to a local Chinaman we knew and he said, “I fix.” I told him what had happened and he gave me a little bottle of liniment and a tin of Tiger Balm and said to rub one on then the other. This I did and within three weeks I was alright. I went back to see the Major at the hospital. He said, “You look pretty good to me, are you fixed up.” I said, “Yes, a Chinaman fixed me up.” He sat with an open mouth and said.
“Gawd damm me.”
About this time at the drome we used to watch big B19’s (No such aircraft, I think he meant B-17’s and they would have to be either C or D models at this stage of the war) come in with a wheel and tail plane shot away, but the pilot would land on one wheel until it fell on it’s belly and stopped. Then they would take it to a workshop for repairs and within a few days it would be up in the air again.
There was two hundred odd feet of chimney, one of the old crushing batteries sitting on Towers Hill which was right in the flight path of the bombers taking off to the south and also presented a hazard to those lining up for a landing (Runway 09). The Yanks said that this had to come down, which caused a lot of animosity between the local Shire Council and the American Command, as the Yanks had complete control over everything that walked, crawled or flew in Nth Queensland at this time. They then set charges at the base and BANG the whole lot was gone. (I recall seeing photographs of this destruction in Charters Towers in the late 50’s. They may still be in the Council archives)
About this time (1942), I also had the duty of starting the big engine in the powerhouse at the rear of the Crown Hotel for Percy Shultz, but the American Red Cross had taken over the hotel as their headquarters. When they did, they wanted me to continue with the engine duty as the only other power was from the Ice Works which they got later (I think that this location was somewhere near the Railway Station). I said I would but I was in The C.C.C. (Civil Construction Corps) and could not get out even to join up. But the Director said he would have me out in a few days, which he did. So I had the American uniform on with the gold Red Cross on the lapels and cross on the sleeves. I sure looked pretty good, so good in fact that one night when we went to the pictures, as we passed a couple of friends we had known for years, to get to our seats, their noses went up nearly to the roof. I said to May, “What’s wrong with them?.” When I went out to get a drink at half time May asked them what was wrong. They said, “We did not think you would go out with a Yank.” When she told them it was me, they could not apologise enough.
A lot of people thought I was a Yank. I gave some of our fellows a ride up from Townsville one weekend and when we got near the Towers they said, “You speak pretty good Aussie for a Yank”. I said, “You silly buggers I am an Aussie.”
One day I went down into the cellar of the hotel to see what was there, Percy told me if I found any grog there it was mine. I found a case and a half of India Export Ale from Scotland, it being there from ’39 when the war started. We thought it was no good but being in the fridge for a while it was quite nice, with a stout flavour. The labels were all eaten by cockroaches. When I got a couple of bottles nice and cold, I took them over to Mcleary the Director and we got stuck into them. He said, “Gawd damm that’s good beer, have you got anymore ?”. So I said. “ A case and a half”. Which we got through with some other fellows in due course.
While I was in the cellar looking around, I pulled a long lead down and there was a leak (break) in it and my little finger closed on it and I was thrown around like a bag. I yelled and cook came and grabbed the cable and held it up. I said switch it off or you will get a shock too. Not long after this the Red Cross acquired bigger premises down in the main street (Gill Street) more suited to their purposes as part of it could be used as dance floor after the dinning was over.
Robbie, his name was Robertson called Robbie for short, had a crushing battery in the Towers for crushing gold bearing stone. At his house, his garage had a stack of ten gallon drums full of cyanide, a deadly poison for extracting the last amount available from the sands after the stone was crushed. It was also used for collecting the gold as it came over the copper plates. The person in the crushing battery authorised and responsible for handling cyanide was called an Amalgamator. Even he had to be extremely careful handling it because even if you accidentally touched your tongue with one little bit you was dead within seconds. Robbie had now taken over the Crown Hotel and made a little fortune selling wine which he would buy in 44 gallon casks and sell it to the Yanks at a quid a bottle. He did a bit of S.P. betting too. I would be at his home as the races were run and he would say, “Have a quid on so and so.” I would pick another horse which was nearly home when his horse would get up and win and he would say I told you to have a quid on it, that was the sort of fellow he was, a good bloke.
After the war we bought a few vehicles to Brisbane for sale and made a quid or so. His brother Barry and I would take the trucks to Brisbane and fly back.
Getting back to the Red Cross. The Filipino cooks we had at the Crown, one day got hold of the keys to the De Soto sedan I used to drive. I went out back and here they were racing up and down the drive in it. I managed to jump on the running board and grab the Su Sus (that was their name for keys). I had four of them all over me doing their best to give me a beating, but held my own until a few G.I’s came out to see what the noise was all about. They stopped the fight and the Director of the Red Cross rang the base up and they sent some M.P’s out to take them back give us another crew.
After my truck got smashed up by the plane the War Service Commissioner would not allow me more than I paid for it, or any compo for lost days. Old Mcleary the Director reckoned it was a raw deal and said that they generally paid just compo, but said a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. I said “Yes Mc, but I will get most of it back in due course.” Working for the Red Cross I got my petrol free and sold my petrol ration coupons to others. I also got free cartons of cigarettes from the Red Cross which I also sold as I did not smoke. I got a free pass on the railway to bring another truck up from Bowen to put on the job. I had to take another fellow in with me to drive it as my shoulder was too sore after the plane hit me. I soon sold my half share out to him as I thought he was diddling me.
I then acquired an old single wheel truck which I used to cart things in for the Red Cross. The Main Roads boss asked me one day why I didn’t put it on the job carting material out to Breddan Air Drome a bit further north. I said, “I did not think it good enough.” He said it was and they would find a driver. So I said to the driver if he kept it going and looked after it I would give him a quid on top of his wages.
One day the engine gave out but I had another old dodge in the yard so we swapped engines over and away she went. It earned me over ₤ 400.0.0 while on the job. It would take two loads of cement out to Breddan a day. The later models would be breaking down so the old girl done well. I only gave ₤ 20.0.0 for it and got ₤ 20.0.0 when I sold it.
The Breddan Drome was north by west of the main one at the Towers, near the end of the lava flow. The volcanoes thousands of years ago erupted and the lava flowed like water until it finally stopped and cooled off and it is there for all to see. It’s on the Gregory Developmental Road, which goes up to Greenvale (I visited Breddan in 1957, or tried to as it had been turned over to it’s original owners after the war all I could see was the end of a long since used runway, some derelict huts, rubber vines and chinky apple trees.)
Back to the war.
The G.I’s had built a new motor pool and they wanted to wet the roof. They wanted a pig for the barbecue, so me knowing a lot of the farmers where I got my eggs and chickens and being a buyer for the Red Cross, the Officers Mess asked if I could get one which I did. They also needed charcoal to cook it which I got and a barrel of beer. Robbie my mate at the Crown let me have that, so they were happy.
They asked me to the party, I said I was not army but they said if I didn’t, they would come and drag me out, so I went and what a party. At the finish they were pouring beer into their pockets etc. It went off well. My car was the only civilian car allowed into the base. As soon as M.P’s on the gate saw my uniform I was waved through.
The Major of the P.X. Major Mincer who was handling the plane affair, would tell me when they had new supplies in and I could buy cartons of nine cakes of chocolate for nine shillings where the G.I’s were only allowed one cake. I could get American biscuits (Cookies) and new towels for three shillings each and large ones at that. My kids had more chocs than all the other kids in town. (Oh how I remember those days when he used to come home loaded up with all these chocolates and Iced Vo Vo biscuits and we would almost make ourselves sick on them and ended up giving some of it away to our mates).
Sometimes on a weekend, my wife May would cook a turkey and a couple of chickens. I would get the Colonel, Majors, Captains and a couple of nurses at the Base Hospital and would go down the river (Burdekin) to a mine I used to work.
I would get the drill hammer and have the Colonel and the others take a turn at drilling. When we got to about eight feet down I would put a plug of jelly in and light the fuse. We were all hidden behind trees and rocks. It would go off with a big bang, most of them had never seen this sort of thing before so they were mighty impressed, especially when they could see a speck of gold in the rock we blew out. They would take it back to camp and dolly it up with a dolly pot that I gave them and a dish to wash it. Before going home we would have a nice picnic. Everyone had a good day. I would finish up having dinner at the officer’s mess.
I remember the weekend Major Kane, a corporal and I drove a jeep up into the mountains towards Pentland and tried the creeks with the prospecting dish. Major Kane had our photo taken at the jeep by the corporal, I have that photo still. We did not have any luck with the gold but had a good day. (I recall the photograph he is speaking of, having seen it many times and probably still in my sister’s possession.)
Another day the officers and I went out to a place not far from the Towers to an old mining area. When the time came to go back a big storm came upon us. The land being black soil was a bog in no time at all, of course the Yanks were very worried about getting our command wagon out of the bog. So bushman me go a long length of wire from a cocky’s fence, tied one end to the wagon and the other end to a tree, then with a couple six foot sticks I showed them what to do. With one bloke on one end and me on the other we had our vehicle out in no time. Well they just stood there with their mouths open and said “Gawd damm me.” I told them it was a Spanish Windlass in case they ever got bogged when they got back to the States and home. That was some of the fun we used to have in those bad days of the war.
There was the time they (Army) were having a party and wanted a hundred chickens and I as the bad guy had them all tied up with the farmers. I was called all the no good names under the sun, so I would have to make a deal with them. I would swap a hundred chickens for about thirty turkeys, but as the river was well up they had to bring a ten wheeler out and pick up my chickens, which they did and everyone was happy. They had chickens for the party and I had my turkeys for the Red Cross. Of course I made a few extra quid on the deal.
About this time we had to make a move to Townsville, as we had to follow the troops. (This would be about the middle to late 1943). We had the A.W.U. hall in Denham Street Townsville as our Headquarters and there was a big shed a couple of doors down owned by a Chinaman named Mar Kong. I used to spend about ₤ 5,000.0.0 a week with him buying for the Red Cross and sending foodstuffs north for the Army. He was a good old fellow and we used to feed hundreds of troops coming through Townsville every couple of days. This was mainly RAAF, Australian Army and American forces.
One day I was told R.A.A.F. chap was in line to get his meal and said his name was Dudman, so one of the girls came out back to my warehouse and told me. I went in and lo and behold it was my brother from Victoria. . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . By this time (which would have been early 1944) I would be doing a lot of travelling between Denham Street, Garbutt Airfield and the now disused Stockroute Airstrip. Stockroute was built on a roadway as an extra Airstrip for Garbutt to handle fighters, but as war moved further north it was no longer used and a lot of hangars were erected on the site which were used for storage purposes.
Now when the Yanks were in New Guinea the miners had to get out, so the dredgers at Bulolo were run by the G.I’s. They got a lot of gold out of that place and had to get rid of it so Major’s Kane, Peterson and Goodheart used to buy it from them, they must have gone home to the States very rich men as there was a lot of gold dredged out Bulolo in those days.
One day Major Goodheart said “We are going to Brisbane at the weekend in a B24,” (which was withdrawn from combat), “To get a load of beer.” I told him I could not go without permission as I was Red Cross personnel. He said “I will fix That.” So he rang the Director of the Red Cross who gave me a leave pass, so I hopped on the plane and was off. I was located in the nose and had a perfect view of the Queensland Coast all the way down to Brisbane. What a shame that what I saw then is now spoiled by tourist development. As then, there were hardly any houses on the Great Barrier Reef Islands and no yachts to be seen like there is now.
We were sailing along until the plane started to sway from side to side. I looked around to see if there was something wrong and it was the pilot handing me down a slab of chocolate. When we got to Archerfield, I asked who had been messing about with the flying and the Major (pilot) said it was me flying and I had to draw your attention to the chocolate.
As we were coming in to land they couldn’t get the nose wheel to go down so the Major had to climb down into the wheel bay to fix it (with the co-pilot at the controls of course). They got it partially down and we had a bumpy landing. They found out later that a lot of oil had leaked out of the assembly.
It took a couple of days to fix it up so I stayed with my brother Cyril, he was living in Woolloongabba. He and I came over from Tasmania together many years previously. He was then married with a family. A couple of days later the Major picked me up and off we went back to Archerfield and our plane and back to Townsville. A Couple of G.I’s and I were right up front again and had a magnificent view all the way up to Townsville. In the evening light we saw the twinkling street lights of Rockhampton, Mackay and Bowen before we saw the lights of Townsville. The co-pilot, a Lieutenant Price made a good landing at Garbutt about nine o’clock at night so we went to the officers mess and had a good feed.
One weekend as I was about to return to Charters Towers, the generator on my car gave out, so I rang Major Kane up and told him what had happened and that I would like a vehicle to go home.
He said “I can’t do that, we are Army.”
“Right,” I said, “no car, no chickens or eggs on Monday.”
He said, “You wouldn’t do that would you.”
I said, “you had better give me the car.”
He then said he would send down the Italian Mess Sergeant with a command wagon to take me home. Knowing Dino, I took him to the Crown Hotel next to our place and left him to it. I had the wagon all over the weekend to do what I liked travelling here and there at the U.S. Army’s expense. I picked up Dino at 5.00 am Monday morning and we were off to Townsville and dropped him off at the Mess.
One day some of the fellows that I had charge of told me, the little Filipino that I was in the fight with me in the Towers was one of the cleaners and he was leaving the milk cans half washed. They also said that he was getting around with a big set of knuckle dusters about an inch thick, waiting to get me on my own. So I went into the office and told the Director what had happed in the Towers and that I wanted him shifted back to base. He rang the M.P’s. and they came and got him quick smart and shifted him back to the U.S.A. and that was the end of him.
As the Japs were getting pushed further and further up the Pacific things were starting to wind down in the Townsville / Charters Towers area and the main core of Red Cross Personnel were moving further north. As they were not taking any Aussie Personnel, I was asked if I wanted to shift to either Brisbane or Sydney. I said “No” as my family was here, so I transferred to the U.S. Army driving a big ten wheeler, cleaning up all the bases around Townsville. Those big trucks were nicer to drive than a car. Then peace reigned again, the war ended, I was discharged and went back to the Towers and home.....................
By Keith Dudman, Jr.
The preceding story is only 13 pages of a 70 page journal. I have only extracted those which may be of interest to the reader. The remainder refers to family matters which unless the reader knows our family it would be of no interest.
However to add to my fathers’ wartime experiences I would like to add some of my own recollections, other than those that I have already mentioned. As I grew older I developed a great interest in World War II Aircraft and have a good collection of aircraft books videos and information on Airfields in North Queensland during that period, including those which I have found on your Web pages. At the time I did not know one aircraft from the other. As I tell these experiences I can now piece together my present interest to a bygone era......
As my grandmothers’ house was in a direct line to runway 09 at Charters Towers, whenever I was there, I was witness to many flight arrivals and departures. In the early years of the Pacific War when the Americans and their aircraft arrived, there was plenty of B25’s, P39’s and many others at the airfield. We all thought the P39’s were Spitfires, because from a distance in flight they looked the same. I cannot rightly recall other aircraft types that frequented this airfield. I found out years later that there were many types that landed there. Granny’s house was in a big block of land and we kids used to sit under her orange and mandarin trees looking at the incoming aircraft. Some of the pilots of the B25’s eventually spotted us and started waving to us. Eventually they dropped lollies down to us as they would have been no more than 200 feet up. These lollies either ended up in the fruit trees, on her roof, or across the street in Lisner Park. I recall distinctly seeing the occasional P38 Lockheed Lightning coming into land, what a beautiful aircraft. We used to watch the flights of B17’s on their way west to Cloncurry and beyond pass over our house in Mosman Street. Not being very high we used to get a wave from those who were standing in the waist gunners’ position.
When the first Japanese bombs fell on Townsville in 1942 the air raid sirens went off in the Towers, so dad bundled us all up and moved us into the Power House at the rear of the Crown Hotel at an ungodly hour in the morning. The Power House was I think was built of solid concrete. I recall the monster flywheel on the engine which was painted an Irish green colour and must have been about eight to ten feet in diameter with a big leather belt driving the generator. This reoccurred on two other occasions that year. Dad being very crafty, had managed and got someone to string and electrical cable from the Crown Hotel, across the vacant allotment to our house which was connected into the fuse panel bypassing the electric meter. As a result he got his electricity free.
There were several Air Raid shelters in Gill Street. (None between Mosman and Church Street) Which were south of Church Street. One was opposite St Columbas’ Church, another was opposite the hospital and few more down toward the railway station. These were constructed of solid reinforced concrete with openings at both ends like a modern city loo and I recall them being dismantled at the end of the war.
All the schools in the town had their own air raid precautions and as I attended St Columba’s Primary School in those years there were several air raid trenches in the school yard. We used to have air raid drill every day at about 10.00 am, assembling in the school yard and then jumping into the trenches.
On one particular day I was pushed into one of these trenches and a protruding piece of roofing iron sliced my left leg open. I still have the scar to this day.
There was a Picture Theatre on the corner of Hodgkinson and Church Streets, opposite our school grounds that the Yanks took over as a goods depot and I do recall talking to them on the way to and from school. On one occasion on seeing a G.I. handling a milk canister at this location, I innocently asked him what was in it and he replied “Japanese Blood”. The other Picture Theatres in the town were the Regent, in Gill Street about halfway between Deane and Church on the northern side and the Olympia, which was open air one, further up towards Church, on the same side. We used to hear the sound from Granny’s place at night and I can recall hearing Deanna Durbin’s !! Musicals even though we couldn’t see the picture.
With reference to the picture theatres in the Towers, I have read and still have a copy of ‘Angels Twenty’, by Ted Park, (ISBN 0 7022 2555 X) in which on page 11 he recalled his experiences in the Towers with his P39 Squadron . I think the following passage from his book is not true and does not reflect the meanderings of its four legged citizens, “I wonder what the Towers is like now. I recall the high slag heaps from it’s mines, the same covered sidewalks as Townsville had, an open air movie where you sat in folding deck chairs and shoved aside a couple of goats that wandered up and down the aisles foraging for snacks. Huge fruit bats known as flying foxes would swoop above the flickering screen. In the daytime they hung from the trees like coconuts”.
I never saw a goat in the town centre during those years. They were usually found on the outskirts of town. As for the bats, I never ever saw one. So Mr. Ted Park has got his wires crossed somewhere. ( I wonder if he got confused with an open air Picture Theatre on the base. I do not recall one on the airfield; the nearest one was at the Selhiem Army camp down near the Burdekin River.)
Also I cannot recall any bats and or flying foxes.
Adair’s Store was almost opposite the Olympia, with it’s aerial cash transport mechanism. The clerk would take your money and with a sales docket place it in a small capsule, screw it into a like member which was attached to a transom, pull a cord and away it would go up to a cashier who sat in a telephone like box on a mezzanine level. After the cashier found that everything was OK she would transact the change, sign the docket, place it back in the capsule, pull the cord and send it back to the appropriate cashier.
In those days store clerks had to use mental arithmetic and not calculators. This practice is lost to the present generation.
Opposite the Post Office further up Gill Street was Stan Pollards’ Emporium which also had the same type of cash management system . My dad was very chummy with him and used to get a lot of goods at next to nothing prices. The back of Stan Pollards’ backed onto the corner of Mills Lane and I can remember on many occasions my father talking to him at the rear of the store.
Also not very far from the Crown Hotel down Mosman Street towards Gill Street was a cafe that made the best tasting ice cream. I have never to this day ever tasted anything better. My brother and I always frequented this place and an ice cream cone was 2 pence then.
During these years we saw many things that disrupted our lives in the Towers, like, endless convoys of army trucks traversing the streets of Charters Towers, either heading west towards the Isa or east to Townsville. Trains coming through the station loaded with goods going further west to outlying military establishments. Badly damaged single engine planes on low loaders being transported down to the railway station for transport to Townsville for repairs. (Could have been P39’s)
I think it would have been sometime in 1943 after Breddan was established as an ARDU for B24’s of the RAAF. We would be staying at Granny’s place and in the early morning if the wind was blowing from the NNW you could hear them running up the engines of the B24’s at about 8.00 am for about an hour then silence for about one hour. Then an almighty roar as some of them took off on test flights around the town. I do not recall seeing any B24’s on the main Charters Towers Airfield, but I believe there were a lot, mainly those belonging to the U.S.A.A.F.
During 1943 when Dad joined the Red Cross, there was an endless procession of Americans in and out of our house. He used to hold card nights’ and I was always kept awake by the chatter of those that were present. My mother being a very good cook always played the perfect hostess and kept the food coming which was cooked on a wood burning stove. It was almost the end of 1943 when I received a birthday present from an American, which was a multi page cardboard cut-out of a B17. Being very young I didn’t know how to construct it. So Dad gave it to an American who put it all together for me. So one morning on waking up I found this cardboard B17 perfectly assembled.
As 1944 dawned on us Dad’s involvement with the Red Cross took him to Townsville on a weekly basis. During school holidays he would take me down to Townsville for a week at a time. We would either leave home on a Sunday evening or early on Monday morning. If it was a Sunday evening we would leave home about 7.00pm in time to get to Selhiem Army camp by about 7.30pm or 8.00pm. He would pull off the road outside the perimeter fence and we would watch the current movie from the open air Picture Theatre. As the screen was just inside the fence we would wind the windows down to listen and enjoyed a free movie. It was an advantage when it was raining, we were dry, but the troops would be under their groundsheets. On one occasion a strolling guard asked us to move on and Dad would show his U.S. pass and the guard went on his way. After the movie we continued our journey to Townsville crossing the low level timber bridge over the Burdekin River. (This was always covered during flood time) We would arrive in Townsville around about midnight.
If we left on Monday morning, it would be about 5.30am arriving in Townsville about 7.45am. During the winter it would be very foggy leaving home and a bit chilly. Coming down the mountain from Mingela the fog was very thick until we approached the flat country before passing the airstrip at Reid River. This particular air airfield, for some reason has remained as a photograph in my memory ever since. On passing it I recall seeing dozens of American aircraft lined up along the runway that ran parallel to the road. Their tails would be pointing to the south and hundreds of mechanics would be doing maintenance on them. In later years my recollections told me that a great percentage was B26 Marauders, I also saw a few B25s’ and P39’s as well. There may have been many more aircraft types located there, as well. As the maintenance was done on the side of the main runway I am not sure whether they used it for take off’s and landings. There were two runways that ran off to the south at right angles at either end of the main runway and they may have been used for this purpose. Time permitting we used to stop and watch all this activity before proceeding on and passing another couple near Woodstock. I do not recall anything about these airfields or the ones at Antil Plains.
Whether on a Sunday or a Monday when we arrived in Townsville, Dad headed to the house of a friend, located, I think in Stokes Street, not very far from Ross Creek. He would park the car under the high set house and go upstairs. As his friend only had a bed for him, I had to sleep in the back seat of the car, plagued by all the rotten mosquitos coming from Ross Creek. On any given night he and his friend would play cards until the early hours, keeping me awake with the shuffling of chairs above my head. On a Monday morning he would head off to Denham Street or out to Garbutt.
I was left to my own devices during these times and used to wander up and the Streets of Townsville taking in all the sight and activity of a bustling wartime town. I would always walk down Flinders Street to The Strand and sit on the beach, long before they put that Marina there. On several occasions I used to see American warships coming up the channel from Cape Cleveland towards the port. My memory still portrays an Aircraft Carrier, with aircraft on her deck, standing to, waiting for the pilot.
The Chinaman that dad spoke about was a kindly old man and I remember him well. His store on Denham Street was a proverbial Aladdin’s Cave. The main store was huge and led through a narrow passage to a big warehouse at the rear. The floor was shiny as though it had been treated with Estapol. The whole place had an exotic smell to it, which to this day still haunts me. I think it could have been opium, as the Chinese favoured it. His store had an amazing range of fireworks which he had imported from China before the war. On the odd occasion he used to give us a big bag of the stuff to take back home for dad to light.
On those nights when dad would play cards with his friends in Stokes Street, he would give me a shilling and pack me off to the movies. Now, there was a movie theatre in Flinders Street called the Wintergarden and another further north, somewhere near Walker Street, which was an open air one. I cannot recall it’s name. I was there one night sitting on these wooden bench type seats next to a Yank who had a steel helmet on and a poncho around him, when it started to rain. He took pity on me and threw part of the poncho around me to keep me dry. My head still got wet. His was dry.
On many occasions when dad take me out to Garbutt for the day. I can’t describe properly the activity that occurred on this airfield. I do recall one time as we approached the entrance to Garbutt which was on the road leading up to Ingham and Tully (now known as the Bruce Highway, I saw a long line of B25’s parked alongside the perimeter fence. Their rear fuselages and tails were protruding over the low level fence almost to the road. We would witness aircraft coming back from New Guinea shot to pieces, bits hanging off them. Some would just pancake on the runway. Salvage crews would come out with a crane lift it up and take it way. I only wish I could remember more about these Garbutt visits or had Granny’s Box Camera to record it all, but I was too young at the time.
Sometimes when we were approaching this entrance a burly M.P. would be directing traffic. His duty was to allow aircraft to cross the road and the railway line to taxi down Duckworth Street to the maintenance hangars near Stockroute Street (Road ?). We did visit Stockroute a couple of times, but I don’t think we ever visited the other airfields dotted around Townsville. I do know that all of these are now covered by suburbia and the Upper Ross River Airstrip is now covered by a reservoir. Bohle River still exists, but was converted into a drag strip.
In late 1944 or early 1945, on one return journey to Charters Towers, either on a Friday afternoon or a Saturday morning. He would stop the car just before we got to the Ross River Bridge, get out, order me into the drivers’ position, (he was driving a 1938 Ford Mercury at this time) and say “Drive”. He would get into the back seat and start to read American comics. At this time I was Nine years old and my feet just managed to reach the pedals.
The thing that most terrified me and I’ll never forget it was driving over the wooden bridge that spanned the Ross River. On the Townsville side there was only a trickle of water flowing underneath it. The rest was a wide expanse of sand and the only thing that prevented me from going off it was high wooden kerbs which I think were railway sleepers. This nerve rattling experience continued until we reached a point somewhere near Reid River where I would give up. All during this time he would be chuckling away in the back seat reading these comics, when the roles should have been reversed. In those days there were no traffic cops, no radar traps and no booze buses. I was later grateful for this experience, as I got my first license at age eighteen after a five minute test and no P plates.
On our way back one Saturday morning, and approaching the cutting which led down to the bridge on the Burdekin River. We could hear this approaching engine noise at the back of us. All of a sudden a single engine plane buzzed us, it flew over by not more than fifty feet and by the time we recovered our senses it was gone. It was so quick dad didn’t have time to get the aircraft’s number. I can still recall him cursing the pilot and waving his fist. I can’t recall whether it was a P39 or a P40, it was hard to discern its type as it was vanishing into the distance. The American pilots were renowned for doing this to traffic on the Charters Towers/Townsville road.
Dad continued his work with the Americans until the end of the Pacific war. On probably on one of my last trips to Townsville on a Friday evening (date unknown), this is one thing I do vividly recall. On coming off the Charters Towers Road onto Flinders Street we passed the railway station. On its’ facade which was red brick, was a huge, brightly illuminated “V” sign. People were milling about outside, singing and cheering, which to me meant the end of the Pacific War and global hostilities. I was quite sad, not for anyone else, but for myself. It meant no more trips to Townsville and no more aircraft sightings. A lot of the American aircraft went back to the U.S. that could fly and the rest were just chopped up. For a long period after the war, you could buy American and Australian “K” rations for 3 pence a tin in any corner store.
For me, it was all over, things returned to normal and I finished my primary education at St. Columbas Convent. In 1946 Mum and Dad were preparing to move to the South Coast of Queensland, (before it was called the Gold Coast).
I was boarded at Mt. Carmel College for the next two years and from it’s upper dormitory you could look across to the end of runway 09. It was either in 1946 or 1947, I recall seeing a Lancastrian Passenger plane sitting on the end of 09.
The Duke of York was paying a visit to the town which only lasted a few hours and then it was gone. After that the only aircraft I saw was the daily TAA or ANA planes on their way to and from Mt. Isa or Townsville.
While I was at Mt Carmel College (Catholic), we used to play a lot of rugby with All Souls College (C of E), which just down the road towards Millchester, on the Townsville Road. Not far inside the entrance they had a Spitfire parked on a square and we students not knowing the significance of it, used to clamber over it, sit in the cockpit and pretend we were a WWII Ace. I wonder what ever happened to that Spitfire and if anyone else who went to those two Colleges just after the war would remember it.
In 1954 I enlisted in the R.A.A.F., my first posting was at Amberley in March 1954. Across the base on the Ipswich side was area set aside for aircraft destruction. What do I see there, well over a hundred B24’s being chopped up and put into four big smelters. If the people responsible for doing this knew then what we know now, they would have been lynched by Wardbird Associations around the world. There is to my knowledge not one flying example of any B24’s in Australia.
I returned to Charters Towers and Townsville in January 1957 for a holiday and visited all these sites and haven’t been back since. While visiting my old home town I retraced some of my childhood footsteps. I do believe that runway 09 no longer exists and only 56 is in use. At Easter 1957 I flew up to Townsville from Amberley (3.5 hrs) on a R.A.A.F. Long Nose Lincoln Bomber returning on one of their DC3’s. This was the first and last time I ever wore a parachute. They were mandatory when flying in Lincolns.
In the 60’s when I lived in Canada and had to go into the U.S. on Computer Engineering Courses (N.C.R. and later I.B.M.), I had the chance to visit the graveyards of these WWII relics out in the Nevada desert. Unfortunately cameras were not allowed there, as the Vietnam War was in progress.
Such is life . . . . .
Keith Dudman, Jr.
I'd like to thank Keith Dudman, Jr. for his assistance with this home page.
Can anyone help me with more information?
"Australia @ War" WWII Research Products
© Peter Dunn 2015
This page first produced 27 January 2005
This page last updated 15 January 2020