Mount Isa in 1988 our bicentennial year

CELEBRATE: Rolling down the highway, the Australian bicentennial exhibition driving through Kalkadoon Park.
CELEBRATE: Rolling down the highway, the Australian bicentennial exhibition driving through Kalkadoon Park.

IT WAS the year Johnny Farnham spent 25 weeks at No.1 on the album Top 40 Chart with Whispering Jack and another nine weeks at the top spot with Age of Reason.

But more importantly and historically, it was Australia’s bicentennial year, 1988.

And welcoming the world to Australia was the most anticipated television event, Australia Live.

A production of mammoth proportions it was telecast from 70 locations worldwide and gave viewers a unique glimpse into the Aussie psyche and its wide-ranging landscape.  

From Coober Pedy to Cairns, Sydney to Uluru, The Savoy in London to the Soviet Cosmonauts in space, from Antarctica to Broome and from underground at Mount Isa Mines, television personality Johnathon Coleman welcomed the world to the largest city in the world – Mount Isa.

Outfitted in miners’ gear and a pair of mythical miners’ underpants, his cheeky sense of humour allowed for a repartee of innuendo and ripostes with underground mine tour guide and proud Scotsman, Jimmy Gemmell.

It was also the year when Captain James Cook  (Col Brassington)took a detour down the Leichhardt River to the dry inland port of The Isa where he was greeted by locals with damper and corned beef and an icy cold beer.

None too pleased to be left out of the amber fluid welcome, his beer parched crew staged a mutiny and swung their sail into the wind, leaving the Captain ashore at the Civic Centre.

With extreme leg work they manoeuvred the fragile ship over the dry river bed to a spot near Isa Street Bridge; closer to the ‘bottom pub’, the Argent.

But, it was a mutiny of a political nature that saw a small number of local Aborigines protest the local Australia Day celebrations with a silent sit-down on the Civic Centre lawns in West Street.

For the Davy family, however, Australia Day, January 25, 1988, was a day of pure love and delight as they welcomed their baby daughter, Emma, into a world of celebrations.

In the lead up to the bicentennial celebrations, there were any number of grants and funding available to applicants to stage special events, build and restore commemorative structures all in the spirit of community appreciation.

The Mount Isa Mines Mining Display and Visitors Centre was one such project which came to fruition through the artistic talent of company artist, Glen Graham.

His brief was to transform the former St Joseph’s Catholic Church and its hacienda architecture into a modern interpretive mining centre.

Another project to receive funding, this time from the National Trust of Australia, was for a replica of the original Band Rotunda to be built in the Apex-George McCoy Park, on the western banks of the Leichhardt River, to compliment the proposed botanic garden.

However, local amateur ornithologist, Bob Forsythe who had worked alongside Mrs Margaret Medley of the local branch of the National Trust to identify and catalogue native trees and foliage that would best attract bird life to the area was left perplexed when his work and plans for the Gardens were shelved which left the question; what happened to the funding?

Throughout 1988, the plethora of local events allowed everyone to join in one or more bicentennial celebrations from attendance at the World Series Rodeo to participating in Back to Mount Isa Week.

It was also the year of sporting achievement for Mount Isa which started in January when Alec Biondi, former Mount Isa Rugby League president, the Australia Day Citizen of the Year, was honoured for 25 years of dedicated work in promoting the sport of rugby league.

Robert West was name Sportsperson of the Year while Robert Young received the Sportsperson’s Achievement Award for his work to establish the Sunset Hockey Complex.

Anne-Marie Eaton received her Black Belt from the Karate Brotherhood of Australia and gymnast Mark Bird represented Australia at the Junior Pan Pacific titles in the United States.

Mount Isa and District Pony Club members, Melinda Donovan, Cathy Donovan and Sarah Delaney returned home from the North Queensland Games in Cairns, with 15 medals amongst them with five gold medals included in the haul.

But it was a different competition when Betty Cristaudo challenged sitting mayor, Tony McGrady for the coveted seat, at the local government elections.

The final count gave Ald McGrady 71 per cent of the votes and a second term as mayor of the city of Mount Isa.

However, before the year was out, Ald McGrady announced that he would contest the state seat of Mount Isa as the Labor candidate which not unexpectedly, he won with a landslide margin.

Then early the next year, he resigned as Mount Isa mayor to take up his position in the Queensland Government which left the position of mayor open for Ron McCullough to take up the baton for the next 20 years.

By midyear, the excitement was once again at fever pitch when a convoy of single and double semi-trailers arrived in town carrying the $30 million Australian Travelling Bicentennial Exhibition.

It showcased the very best in Australian culture, artefacts, interactive computer displays and audio-visual shows all of which had not been seen in Mount Isa previously.

The highlight each night of the exhibition was Smelting Together, a combined display of cultural dancing and singing by various groups then living and working in Mount Isa.

Finally, after 12 extraordinary months of national celebrations in our own backyard, Bobby McFerrin new hit single reminded Mount Isa - Don’t Worry, Be Happy.

Researched and written by Kim-Maree Burton

Photographs courtesy Bob Forsythe and the North West Star.

Information sourced from the North West Star newspaper.

MEMENTO: Each student in Australia in 1988 received a memento to celebrate the bicentennial.

MEMENTO: Each student in Australia in 1988 received a memento to celebrate the bicentennial.

A GIFT: The Band Rotunda bicentennial plaque.  Picture: Bob Forsythe.

A GIFT: The Band Rotunda bicentennial plaque. Picture: Bob Forsythe.