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Tourism arrives with the first Christmas camps

Happy holidaymakers at the Salvation Army camp in Maroochydore.


Tourism arrives with the first Christmas camps

It’s a tradition – Christmas holidays at the beach. AUDIENNE BLYTH describes how it all began on the Sunshine Coast in 1896.

Christmas camps set up at Maroochydore by the Salvation Army as early as 1896 have been credited with the very first tourism on the Sunshine Coast.

At Buderim, South Sea Islanders were employed to plant and clean cane fields and in the crushing season, to cut and load cane for Joseph Dixon’s sugar mill established in 1876.

The Salvation Army, which conducted services among South Sea Islanders, decided to give them a reward – a Christmas holiday at Maroochydore.

Approximately 62,000 South Sea or Pacific Islanders, also known as kanakas, were brought to Queensland from 1863 to 1904 to work in the sugar or cotton industry.

Some were kidnapped, blackbirded, or otherwise induced into indentured service. Many were exploited by their employers and were paid nothing.

They came from islands in the Pacific – the Solomons, New Hebrides (Vanuatu), New Caledonia and the Loyalty Islands.

By 1908, they faced compulsory repatriation to the islands under the White Australia Policy and the Pacific Island Labourers Act of 1901. Some remained and their descendants still live on the Sunshine Coast.

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 and the help of the tide.

Tents and all food for the camp needed transporting as well.

Sometimes it took two days to travel the distance. Reportedly, 200 people attended that first camp.

An account in the newspaper of the Salvation Army, 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 campfires 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.

Few South Sea Islander families were present by that time. The majority of families were from the European settlers of the district.

The camps were advertised as “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”

By the 1920s, there had been many social changes which impeded on the Salvation Army Camps and so, sadly, they came to an end.

 Audienne Blyth is a member of the Nambour Historical Museum, open Wednesday to Friday, 1pm-4pm and Saturday 10am-3pm. All welcome.

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