Crocodiles, Italians and Experimental Gas Stations: Dive Into the Historical Museum of Proserpine


Sitting inside an old historical museum, surrounded by gas masks and black and white photographs, Ailsa Reinke enthusiastically exclaims: “You never know who is going to come in.

Ms. Reinke has volunteered at the Proserpine Historical Museum in North Queensland for 26 years.

“It takes a while to see everything, it takes an hour to see it properly, and people say ‘I haven’t’ seen it all, I’m going to have to come back,” she said.

Ms. Reinke says visitors are often interested in the city’s unique history with crocodiles.(ABC: Sophie Kesteven )

After spending countless times in front of the display case filled with crocodile eggs, Ms. Reinke began to recall the city’s interesting history with crocodiles.

“It’s Alf,” she said, pointing to a picture of a man hugging a crocodile.

image of man hugging a crocodile
The late Alf Casey was known as the “crocodile man” of Proserpine.(ABC: Sophie Kesteven )

The late Alf Casey had acquired a number of crocodiles in the 1960s, and he used to bring a crocodile known as “Charlie”, the one who took his hand, to local pubs.

“But Charlie laid eggs so they must have called her Charlene… but the family still have the crocodile on the O’Connell River,” she said.

room full of colorful memories
Ms Reinke says volunteers and locals made handmade ornaments and keepsakes for the museum.(ABC: Sophie Kesteven )

According to Ms. Reinke, the museum is run entirely by volunteers.

She added that many of the items on display inside were donated or made by locals.

“I guess I’m quite interested in the history, and it’s interesting to see how everything develops with the museum,” she said.

Ms Reinke, 75, said volunteering at the museum was appealing as it allowed her to research the city’s past, as well as the families who came to live there as well.

garlic photo and old black and white photos
Proserpina would not be what it is today without the immigration of Italians, according to Ms Reinke.(ABC: Sophie Kesteven )

She said Proserpina wouldn’t be where she is today without the help of the Italian community.

“Most of them came in the 1920s to cut cane… they were working really hard,” she said.

Gas station
The museum also displays test tubes and gas masks from the Gunyarra Experimental Service Station which was in use between 1944 and 1945.(ABC: Sophie Kesteven )

An experimental gas station once existed south of Proserpine.

The historical museum still has the old test tubes and gas masks on display to prove it.

The experimental station was born as a result of World War II. Britain asked Australia to undertake chemical warfare experiments after Japan captured Singapore.

The aim was to study the potential effects that toxic gases, in particular mustard gas, could have on people and their environment in the tropics.

Scientists traveled from countries like America, South Africa and Britain to participate in trials.

The Gunyarra camp closed after the end of the war with Japan in August 1945.

old piece of machinery used to make newspapers
The old linotype machine belonged to the Proserpine Guardian newspaper in the 1960s.(ABC: Sophie Kesteven )

In the far corner of the museum is an old linotype machine.

It was originally used in the Proserpine Guardian newspaper in the 1960s and remained in use until 1976 after the introduction of computerized type composition.

“You just see the difference between then and now when you think it’s all on the computer,” she said.

Linotype machine letters
Letters that were used to create newspapers with the linotype machine.(ABC: Sophie Kesteven )

Another important feature of the museum is a chalet dating from the 1890s.

“It was given to us and they had to demolish it and they stored the bricks, cleaned them and rebuilt it inside the museum,” she said.

“The kids come in and my husband takes the old washing machine with the school groups and the kids wash their hands and they hang it on the rail with their pegs and they love it.”

1890s chalet
Schoolchildren who visit the museum can still try their hand at the old washing machine.(ABC: Sophie Kesteven )

Whether it is locals, school groups of cruise tourists, those visiting the museum, they are often quite surprised by its size, according to Ms Reinke.

“A lot of volunteers have come and gone, but we are continuing one way or another,” she said with a smile.

Historical Museum of Proserpina
The historical museum of Proserpina is run entirely by volunteers.(ABC: Sophie Kesteven )

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Patrick F. Williams

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