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Barney Boulton and Southport

Shirley Hensler remembers:

Some years before the 1920s, Barney Boulton established a boatbuilding, boat hire business and ferry terminal at a prime spot on the Nerang River (where the Nerang River and Broadwater meet). The Jubilee Bridge over the Nerang River was only completed in 1925. Before then, visitors to Southport who wanted to see the open surf at Main Beach had to hire the services of private boats or ferries which plied between the southern and northern river banks. The ferry service, boat building, maintenance of craft and selling bait provided a good income for the Boulton Family.

My grandfather, Barney Boulton was born in Gissing, Norfolk, England in 1865, and came from a boating background. On arrival at Coomera, when in his early twenties, he was involved with sugar cane cutting. A photograph dating from 1900 identifies Barney among a group of cane cutters on Matt Hope's sugar cane farm farther south of Coomera, at Benowa. The crushing season for sugar was in the months between July and December. Gangs of cutters would hand-cut the sugar cane, load it onto horse-drawn wagons and then transport it to the closest mill for crushing.

The work was hard, hot and arduous, with hazards such as snakes, rats and injury from the razor sharp cane knives. During the season, the cutters would often live in barracks provided by the farmer. The photograph also identifies 'Jim the Cook' who would have prepared meals for the gang of workers. Despite the fact that it was extremely hard work, cane cutting would have provided Barney with some handy cash to establish his future boat business. Farmers continued to grow and harvest sugar around Benowa until the government-run Nerang Central Mill closed in 1918. Barney had by then given up working on farms and moved back to work with the sea and boats.

Barney Boulton's Ferry and Boatshed: Barney Boulton became a legend of his time at this place, and was known as a jovial character. He ran the ferry - a flat-bottomed boat with an inboard motor, which was nearly always loaded to capacity. On the Main Beach side of the river, the punt was beached in the shallows and some passengers would haul it closer to the beach. There was a longish walk around a mangrove-lined lagoon and up into the bushes just before the sand hills, where the ever inviting waves rolled in from the Pacific Ocean.

The ferry service ceased in 1925 when the Jubilee Bridge opened, although Barney's boat hire and bait sales continued. He was so well known that when he went to Brisbane barefoot with his boots around his neck, people would call out in the street " How are they biting Barney?" or "Come and have one" so that they could enjoy a cheerful chat and his salty humour.

Back in 1907, in Brisbane, Barney married Charlotte Carver who was originally from London, England. The couple both married at a late age, at least for the era. Barney was in his forties, Charlotte in her early thirties. They raised three sons, Arthur, Cedric (my father), Lloyd and a daughter Izba.

Barney had a shop which sold bait and fishing tackle on the corner of Barney Street and Brighton Avenue, Southport. My grandmother, Charlotte, was involved with the shop. My father, Cid, travelled by boat to Currigee, South Stradbroke Island. He then walked across the island onto the beach and commenced to extract worms by trailing a mullet along the wet sand. The art was to watch for a bubble and, with deft fingers, secure the head and walk along with a huge worm trailing. This was back-breaking work as he walked for miles along the beach securing the bait for the eager fisherman waiting at the boat shed for his return. I will always admire him for his dedication.

Southport memories

I was born in Southport in 1933 at Sandown Hospital, which was run by Matron Higman. I lived the first few years of my life surrounded by boats and those first impressions of "Barney's". As I grew up, I retained a fond memory of being woken each morning by the sound of the kurrawongs calling along the riverbanks. My childhood days were wonderful as I was allowed to row a boat across the Nerang River to the shores of MacIntosh Island, armed with my own fishing line and a tin of broken worm pieces. Rules were strict, as I always had to stay within sight of the boatshed in case I rowed onto a sand bank and needed assistance from my father or Uncle to push me off.

All our holidays were spent at "Barney's". We lived in Brisbane at Hawthorne (near the Brisbane River). My father was involved in the building trade in Brisbane and we would travel by train to Southport. I was always in strife for leaning out of the train window and getting soot in my eyes. Later we had a "Rugby" car and I can recall sitting on the back seat with my sister Judith, lots of luggage and firmly holding a rooster in a hessian bag with its head peering out. Sadly, he was our Christmas dinner.

We were allowed to walk along the rock wall with other children (this ran from the Jubilee Bridge to the Pier Theatre.) We enjoyed the matinee at the Pier Theatre and then the walked along the wall home. Closer to home, I swam and dived off the public jetty adjacent to Barneys and often tried my luck searching for oysters on the jetty pylons.

My father was a foreman bricklayer and several times we came back to Southport while he worked on various building sites, including the Cecil Hotel. Our family stayed in the second boat shed at Barney's, often for several months at a time. This, of course, delighted me as I was close to my favourite place - "Barneys".

I attended Southport State School on these occasions and can recall lining up each day with my classmates to receive our bottle of milk from the milk factory next to the school. The "Dixon" school (The Southport School), which was located upstream from Barney's, stored its rowing skiffs in one of Barney's boat sheds. It was always interesting watching the activity on the river.

My grandmother, Charlotte, picked a bunch of petunias every Monday morning for me to take to school for my teacher. This is still a lovely memory for me. She baked delicious Jam Drops biscuits on her big wood stove and I looked forward to tasting them each time we arrived from Brisbane.

I feel very fortunate to have spent so much time at "Barneys" and continue to love the Nerang River. Having now retired on the Gold Coast I am constantly reminded of the happy times I spent at "Barneys".

Photos of Barney Boulton in Benowa and on the Nerang River
Photos of Barney Boulton as a adult
The first photo is of a canoe, the second photo is of the Jubilee Bridge and the third photo is of the Pier Theatre.
The first photo is of the Cecil Hotel, the second photo is of the Boulton family and the third photo is of the family including the grandmother

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