21st August 2018
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Descendant of man who left isles in early Victorian times to return

, by , in Features

Australian woman Ivy Bradford and her husband Ray will be travelling to the Hamefarin in June. Ivy is looking forward to seeing the homeland of her great grandfather Simon Smith, who emigrated to seek a better life around 150 years ago. Here she tells of the hardships her forebears coped with in those pioneering days.

My great grandad Simon Smith was born around 2nd September 1841 in Shetland.

Simon and his brother Adam emigrated to Australia but on different ships – Simon probably around 1861 as he is not on the Scottish census of that year. Adam, who was four years younger, would have emigrated later as he appears on the 1851 and 1861 Scottish censuses.

Both brothers are buried in Normanton, then a small, isolated gold rush town in the Gulf of Carpenteria, which had a population of 1,350 in 1891. Simon probably set foot on Australian soil in New South Wales, then travelled to Cooktown, another area where gold was found, then on to Townsville, Queensland, where he found work on the wharves. This is also where he met and married Amelia Cleaver. The couple moved to Normanton around 1881.

Simon was the town lighter. He travelled by boat or barge to the mouth of the Norman River, which was full of crocodiles, to unload cargo from the big ships for the town of Normanton.

From 1887 to 1891 his occu­pation is recorded as “carpenter”.

Simon and Amelia produced 11 children but Normanton was a hard place to bring children into the world. Four of their nine daughters died within one month of being born, although five survived.

Their two boys, George, and their eighth child, my grandad Simon Norman (known as Simon Jr), also survived.

Simon Jr also worked on the Norman River. He braved the crocodiles and caught live fish for the townsfolk.

Once he had his catch he would tow the live fish in a cage behind his boat to the town. Here the people would come and buy their fresh live fish. Barramundi was the top fish.

Simon Jr also saw the huge shoals of prawn that were at the mouth of the Norman River, but nobody was interested in prawn back then. These days Karumba is famous for all the prawns the area produces.

Simon Jr married Rose Annie Densley and together they produced 12 children.

To help feed their large family the Smiths owned a herd of goats which produced milk and meat for all. Rose Annie baked all their bread in a wooden oven. She was very enterprising and also built the laundry under their high blockhouse on the banks of the Norman River.

Sometimes the large crocodiles would eat the goats. Simon Jr would set a trap and catch the rogue crocs. On one occasion he tied the huge live croc to a pole and sent it to the Sydney Zoo.

Later Simon Jr’s son Norman Smith would be the first to send live barramundi by plane out of Normanton.

Simon Smith Jr and all his family moved from Normanton to Townsville as the Second World War started. He died on 8th February 1945 in Townsville.

There were two sets of twins in Simon Jr and Rose Annie’s family – in 1931 the second set, Ivy and Grace, were born. Ivy Smith was my mother.

The family was living in China Street, Mundingburra, in 1949 when my mother met and married Eric Larsen. Eric, my father, was also from a fishing family – all our lives fishing has played a vital part.

My parents had three children. I am the eldest and was born in Townsville. I married Raymond Bradford, also born in Townsville, in 1969 and this union produced two girls. Sharon lives in Sydney with her family and Judith lives in Canberra with her family.

Ray was employed in the railway, and after our marriage we lived in Hughenden, Cairns and Brisbane.

For the past eight years we have lived in Caboolture just north of Brisbane. Both of us love travelling and have seen most of Australia, and are now planning a lot of trips overseas.

Shetland is on that list because I would like to know more about great grandad’s homeland and all it’s traditions. This will be our first visit.

About Rosalind Griffiths

I am a Shetland Times reporter covering news, including health stories, and features. I have been in Shetland for more than 30 years.

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