IT was a special trip down memory lane for Dick Kellaway when he revisited Cooktown more than 80 years after being evacuated from his home during World War II.
The main street was dirt and there was no running water or power in the former Bank of New South Wales when Mr Kellaway and his family moved into the historical building in 1937.
“My father was manager of the bank and was transferred to Cooktown,” the 92-year-old recalled.
“So much is different to what I remember, I’m
just amazed at the amount of money that has been put into improvements around the place; the waterfront is a delight.”
As he heads toward his 100th birthday, Mr Kellaway thought it was time to revisit the hometown of his youth and was joined by his two daughters on the trip.
“The bank upstairs has changed completely from what I remember, but the bank part downstairs remains the same,” he said.
“We didn’t even have electricity, so I learnt not to worry about shadows at night with just a kerosene lamp going up the stairs to take my sisters to bed.
“We used to have to pump up water from tanks at the bottom to the mezzanine floor to have a cold shower.”
Cooktown was almost a ghost town in the 1930s and 40s, with only a few hundred residents, many of whom were evacuated during World War II.
“I remember a lot of derelict houses and we boys commandeered a house for each of us to play in,” Mr Kellaway said.
“There used to be a lot of custard apple and tamarind trees which we used to eat. We would go fishing in the bay and catch grunter. There was no road, of course (to Cairns).
“There were two services, one was by plane which took an hour and I got airsick, and the other was by boat and took a day and I got seasick – so I didn’t like leaving town very much.
“I remember we used to picnic on Grassy Hill with my mother, but it was mostly cleared and we used to be down in the area near where the powder magazine is.”
Mr Kellaway recalled his father picking up parcels of gold from the Palmer River, collecting them at the airport and weighing and valuing them at the bank.
The historic building was built in 1891 as the Queensland National Bank, was bought by the Bank of New South Wales in 1934 and has been heritage listed since 1994.
The Kellaways were among the first residents to leave town as the threat of invasion from the north during World War II intensified, and transferred to Cooroy in 1941