El Arish North Queensland

Places, Faces and Events of an Historical Soldier Settlement town

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1919 to 1920 Francis Paxton Martin begins as the supervisor of the Maria Creek soldier settlement, later naming the town El Arish.

Francis Paxton MARTIN was born in Melbourne in August 1883.  He enlisted on the 17th August 1915.  He served in Egypt in the 6th and 2nd Light Horse divisions and rose to the rank of Lance Corporal, returning to Australia in January 1917.   He received the following Medals: 1914-15 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal.  He died at the age of 75 in 1958 and is buried in Cairns, North Queensland.

Frank Martin’s original office, which later became the El Arish Post Office and then a private home until its destruction by Cyclone Yasi in 2011.  I can imagine Frank Martin walking down to work in the mornings past the school.


Chronology of El Arish

1918 - a destructive cyclone hits Innisfail and surrounds on March 10th and it interrupts the surveying work recently begun in the El Arish area.

 1919 to 1920 Francis Paxton Martin begins as the supervisor of the Maria Creek soldier settlement, later naming the town El Arish, after a meeting with the soldier settlers.  He served in Egypt in the 6th and 2nd light horse divisions.  He is assisted by W.J. Cooper, secretary of the soldiers settlement.

 1921 – a newspaper article states that the “soldier settler scheme” at Maria Creek commenced 1st August 1920.

 1921 – 24th March - applications closed for 20 portions to be made available.

1921 - 18th July - 35 blocks are taken up, 4 blocks in August, including the school block, #52.

1921 - 8th November – there are 50 settlers in residence and 15 wives.

1921 - 16th November – the postal receiving office commences.

1921 - 19th November – report by education dpt. Inspector F.P. Baker states that “the north coast railway has just reached the settlement, and a railway station and post office are being established.”  

  – Mr. C. Harding, lands department surveyor finishes his survey in El Arish, as does Mr. Whish, railway department surveyor.  Their two names are combined to name “Whing Creek”.  Mr. Harding’s wife Myrtle gives her name to Mt. Myrtle, south of El Arish.  Basil Kelly, who was on the surveying team, also gives his name to “Basils Peak” on the west of El Arish.

1922 -the railway line between Innisfaill and El Arish opens on the 18th December 1922, and the station and the station masters house are built.  The line from Cairns to Brisbane is not yet finished. 

 -          30th May – the first day for El Arish State School, under the principal Mr. William Henry Hennessey.  There are five students – Harold James Martin, David Bruce Martin, Beatrice Isabel Dear, Violet Mabel Dear And Margaret Emma Dear.  The nearest school had been Silkwood, 6 miles away and was too far for El Arish children to go.  A second teacher was appointed in 1928.  In March 1922 there are 60 odd returned men on their holdings and in December there are 78.

 -          2nd December – the “Maria Creek post office and store” burned down overnight.  The building was owned by the lands department and occupied by Mr. Mclennan.

 1924 - December 8th – Premier Ted Theodore opens the Daradgee Bridge (or Daraji in some railway records) completing the Cairns to Townsville section.  Construction of the bridge had begun in 1919.  In December there are 83 settlers.

 1925 – November 5th - Tully Sugar Mill begins its first crushing season which runs until the 16th January 1926, crushing 32,075 tons of sugar cane and yielding 3,946 tons of raw sugar.

 1927El Arish State School has 50 students.

 -            The Australian Canegrowers Association begins on April 19th.  Mr.J.F. Steine is the president of the Maria Creek Canegrowers.

 -            The Dear family build the El Arish hotel.

1928 – January 1st - the only existing hall in El Arish is destroyed by fire on new years night.  It is owned by the Dear family and may have been in Chauvel Street near the hotel.

1929 – August 20th – three blocks of land are purchased at auction, for the purpose of building a recreational hall.

1930 –   the El Arish RSL memorial hall is officially opened at a cost of £600.  The farmers north of the Walter Hill range have been levied one penny per ton of cane to assist with the building fund. A large children’s fancy dress function is held, along with a dance.

1931 – May 1st – the Tully sugar mill control and management is transferred to its suppliers and F.N.King of Jaffa and J.C. Proctor of El Arish are appointed to the first board of directors.

1935 – St. Anthony’s Anglican Church is opened in Chauvel Street.  It is a private home today.

1935 - approximate year of the beginning of the Tully to Cairns rail motor service. According to Angelica Giesel …“there were 11 trips scheduled each way … including trips on Sundays … each…took at least four and a half hours.”

1936 -   September 11th - Gordon Foxover has the successful tender to build the Granadilla Road State School.  The amount is £368.10ˢ.

1937 – Saturday June 12th – the Tully Mill locomotive line, or tramway, 2 foot gauge, opens in El Arish at a cost of about £65,000. A large function is held at Hogans Creek and families are taken around the entire “loop” on open wagons with seats, and a picnic was enjoyed by all.

1942 -   the original El Arish State School building is still in place.  It was advertised for removal in the 1939 Cairns post and is eventually sold and thought to have gone north somewhere.

1945 – the older children in El Arish go to rural school in Tully and the trip takes up to one and a half hours each way.

1947 – the construction of the Cenotaph is well underway and the Anzac Day ceremony is held there.

1954 - El Arish State School has 160 students.

1956 –March - Cyclone Agnes hits El Arish

1958 – the Methodist Church in Wilson street is opened and Reverend Thomas is the minister.  It is a private home today.

1972 - the Golden Jubilee of the El Arish State School is celebrated.

1983 – the rail motor is taken off the line.

1986 - February 1st - Cyclone Winifred

1997 - El Arish State School has 109 students and the 75th year of the school is celebrated.

2006 – March 20th - Cyclone Larry hits, crossing the coast at Kurrimine Beach.

2011 – February 2nd – very destructive Cyclone Yasi hits between Cowley and Cardwell.

2014  - April 25th. Anzac Day at the RSL Memorial Hall - We honour the Prisoners Of War on the Burma Railway with a display of prints by Englishman Jack Chalker.  He was a lifelong friend of Weary Dunlop, and the paintings depict conditions and medical practices in the camps.  The prints were very kindly donated and compiled by John and Dii Dunlop.

2015 -  April 18th -  The grand opening of the project "El Arish Salutes Its Generals".  The Federal Government "Centenary of Anzac Grant", kindly facilitated by Bob Katter and his staff, allowed us to build and erect six signposts, each with a photograph and biography of "our" Generals.  The posts were handmade by our local blacksmith Brent Cook.  General Sir Harry Chauvel's sign stands at the History Station on Chauvel Street.

2015 -  April 25th, Anzac Day.  We had an extraordinary attendance for the centenary of Anzac, about three hundred people, and the Dawn Parade and breakfast were both very special social occasions.  The son of Francis Paxton Martin came along with his brothers and sisters.  Mr. David Martin of Wodonga made a wonderful speech and framed presentation to the committee of a copy of his father's medals and memorabilia.