Camps bring Christmas celebrations to the beach

The camps, which were to run until 1920, were a product of the time and brought the Christmas spirit to the beach.

At Buderim, South Sea Islanders were employed to plant and clean cane fields and in the crushing season, to cut and load cane for the mill.

The Salvation Army, who conducted services among them, decided to give them a reward – a Christmas holiday at Maroochydore.

In 1896, Maroochydore could be reached only by boat. From Buderim the families needed to walk to Nambour from where they could be punted down Petrie Creek, towed by row boats with the help of the tide.

Tents and all food for the camp needed transporting as well. Sometimes two days were taken to travel the distance. Two hundred people, reportedly, attended that first camp.

An account in The War Cry of January 1897 describes the arrival at Maroochydore:

“A sandy march to the music of two cornets brought us into camp amid tropical trees and shrubs and within easy reach of the shore, but protected by a ridge from the force of the sea breeze, where we found many canvas tents, native gunyahs constructed of bark and edifices more European but not more beautiful composed of boards and iron.

“Large camp fires were here and there and a multitude of children, black, white and brown, kept the scene lively.

“After a short ceremonious reception to the visitors, a roll in the breakers and tea, the time arrived for one of the events of our visit, a wedding of Brother Mapen and Sister Lizzie who were duly declared man and wife together. With the evening sky for a cathedral roof, the roar of the breakers as an organ, for incense the soft breezes, and surrounded by a crowd of well-wishing comrades, the union of this dark-skinned couple was quite an impressive ceremony.

“At a very early Sabbath hour, the boom of the drum aroused the campers, who, after performing their ablutions in the sea assembled at 6 o’clock for knee-drill.”

The days of the camp continued with prayer meetings, singing and music and were a great success. By 1909, more than 1000 people were taking part in the camp. The Salvation Army rented tents to all comers and ran a shop which sold supplies.

They advertised sparkling meetings conducted nightly and a select program of vocal and instrumental and novelty meetings:

“A spacious marquee has been secured which guarantees shelter in case of emergencies. Sleeping accommodation permitted in same at sixpence nightly. No intoxicating liquor, dancing or gambling allowed on the ground.

“Nature’s pick-me-up.  Think of it.  With the crowds at one of the finest sea coast holiday rendezvous for surf-bathing, boating, fishing, picnic parties etc”

In 1916, the Salvation Army provided the marquee for a meeting chaired by Maroochy Shire Chairman J.T.  Lowe. It was the birth of the Maroochydore Branch of Royal Life Saving.

When 1920 dawned, Cotton Tree boasted two small stores, although they were little more than tin humpies.

But World War I had brought many social changes, and by the 1920s, the Camps, sadly, came to an end.