Community & Business

19 May, 2022

98 YEARS STRONG “Smiles, joy, chuckles and tears”

A COUPLE of weeks ago, long-term “Mareebarite” William Alfred Ross (Bill) Nielson celebrated his 98th birthday at the Mareeba Garden Settlement. A celebration of a rewarding life that brought smiles, joy, chuckles and tears.

At 98 years “young”, Bill has fond memories of his life, much of which were spent on the Tablelands.
At 98 years “young”, Bill has fond memories of his life, much of which were spent on the Tablelands.

Born in Herberton on 28 April 1925, the youngest of four siblings, Bill came from a hard working family and schooled in Evelyn. His father, a timber man, would handle up to 18 horses in a team to haul his laden timber wagon through the Evelyn scrub and grew corn to feed their horses. 

From the Tablelands, the family moved to Home Hill, and then to the Glasshouse Mountains, farming the land using draft-horses. After schooling, Bill worked in a garage, and with the world already at war, he joined the Navy at 17, on his birthday in 1942. Bill’s eldest brother “Jack” joined the Army, and older brother “Ern” joined the Air Force. Posted to Townsville, Bill trained as a signaller, and posted to the minesweeper/escort ship “Strahan” serving four years. “Due to the design, it would rock and roll on a wet lawn,” Bill recalled. 

Following the end of the War, the ship was assigned to the 21st Minesweeping Flotilla in Hong Kong, performing minesweeping and anti-piracy patrols. On 26 September 1945, an acoustic mine detonated under Strahan's stern while pursuing Chinese pirates. The ship raised violently out of the water and sailors on board, including Bill, were injured as they were flung around like puppets. Bill was knocked unconscious and suffered short-term memory loss after it. The ship was towed to Japan where it was repaired. 

Bill re-enlisted in the Navy for a second tour and served in the Korean War. While in Hong Kong, Bill got a tattoo on his arm, but a short time later, his arm got badly infected and he almost lost his life as the toxins went through his body. Bill also lost the sight in his left eye and he was ultimately sent to Brisbane. It is believed that his loss of eyesight was possibly initiated by the infection. Bill was duly discharged from the navy on medical grounds. 

Moving to Caboolture and working as a taxi driver, he married his loving wife, Margaret Elizabeth “Betty” Hampton. They then moved to Mirriwinni, with Bill working in the Kruckow’s sawmill, until moving up to Mareeba in the early 50s. Bill worked at Lawson’s Sawmill on the No.1 saw-bench where he remained for many years. 

Building their home on Chewko Road, Bill personally selected the logs and cut them to size at work, 35-foot-long, 5x3 inches thick, etc., and got them home. Over the years, the home was gradually partitioned, upgraded, and added extensions made the home what stands today. Most, if not all, of the furniture and cabinets were made by Bill, and just like his grandfather his skill, self-taught, craftsmanship made the beautiful home for the family. 

Betty, his wife, was an enthusiastic tennis player who worked nights at the Mareeba’s Rodeo Drive-in theatre. Bill and Betty had two sons, Ross and Cliff. Bill finished up at the mill due to its closure in the late 80s and worked for Dave Hastie in his furniture shop. His last job before retirement, was working at Bob Ramsay’s Shell Service Station in Byrnes street. Upon his retirement, Bill lost his wife passing away at the Malanda’s Aged Care. 

Bill recalled many things he had done throughout his life - from going to the wonderful dances with his lovely wife, to tripping around in his ute with his cousin, “The Two Inseparable Bills”, over many of the seemingly endless narrow, dirt roads around Australia. 

Bill was an avid cultured orchid and daylily grower and had a good collection and variety of both. In his later years, he did a lot of lapidary work (cutting and polishing stones) and had his own faceting machine on which he would shape stones to make jewellery. He was always an avid photographer and was never without a camera in easy reach and still has a prolific collection of photos. Bill, like his dad, used to develop his own photos. 

On his birthday, Bill reflected on his 98 years and has so many fond memories. He’s seen a lot, done a bit, and has the right to have a chuckle, a laugh and a tear.

Bill joined the Navy on his birthday, when he turned 17, in 1942.
Bill joined the Navy on his birthday, when he turned 17, in 1942.

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