Friday 28 December 2012

Bull at a Gate: Rex Pilbeam 2

Reginald Byron Jarvis Pilbeam (Rex), and his wife Barbara, arrived in Rockhampton in 1949 from Warwick. An accountant, he'd been hired as Secretary of the debt ridden Rockhampton Agricultural (Show) Society.

They arrived in a town that was once a bustling inland port exporting gold, wool and beef down the Fitzroy River. Grand stone civic buildings had been erected in anticipation of Rockhampton being proclaimed capital of the state of North Queensland, but political power had consolidated in Brisbane and the new state never eventuated. The Mt Morgan gold reserves dwindled and Rocky was allowed to decline. By the time Rex arrived it was known as a 'dusty cow town'. Little did Rocky know it, but they were about to unearth a new nugget – Rex would be pure gold for the town.

During his first 3 years in Rocky, Central Queensland suffered a record drought which was only broken by a record wet season, and if that wasn't enough – two cyclones. Undeterred Rex successfully conducted both the regular annual show and rodeo, and added new events. Even with droughts and flooding rains he reduced the Society's mortgage by £4,500, the equivalent of over $200,000 today. Prior to his appointment the Society had paid off only £1,500 – over 30 years!

One of the new attractions Rex introduced to the show.
The Billy Goat Derby

The local Morning Bulletin newspaper took to calling him a 'live-wire' and not only because of his day job. He was the original Mr Everywhere. One night singing in an eisteddfod, then on the weekend winning an 'old boys' foot race at a community picnic. He was the regular guest of honour out in the bush at nearby country shows and rodeos, lending his expertise to help small towns like Duaringa hold successful events. His wife (Mrs R. Pilbeam, never Barbara) was pressed into service at these events, judging the needlework and other genteel crafts in places like Mt Morgan.

Rex bought new events to the show grounds – a push bike racing carnival, motor bike racing, professional wrestling and more. He organised free entertainment at the grounds for local children including those from the orphanages and he ensured there were special arrangements so crippled children could attend and participate. He was involved in harness racing, was president of the North Rockhampton Football Club, on the town band committee, and organised Rockhampton's Jubilee celebrations for the 50th anniversary of Federation.
A rider from Monto takes a fall at the
1949 Rocky Round-Up.
He organised fund raising balls that were unlike anything the town had seen before - and which returned record profits. The Morning Bulletin in October 1951 described one event. Miniature rough-riders, bullock horns and ten gallon hats hung from the ceiling among green, gold and brown pennants. The stage was beautified with glorious floral displays. Another article described the planned entertainment for the 'gay proceedings'. “The guests will be entertained with exhibitions of whip cracking, tight rope walking, knife throwing, square dancing and in one of the acts Mr Dan Crotty's horse Silver will appear on the stage. A humorous feature will be ballet dancing by members of the North Rockhampton Football club.” (Drag shows haven't changed much in Rocky since.)

Dan Crotty with son Buddy on  Silver entertaining
kids at the showgrounds.

Rex knew how to put on a show!

Rocky may have been an old girl, but Rex showed the old girl how to kick up her heels!

In 1952 the council election was announced and Rex stood for Mayor. To stand for council after only 3 years in a parochial Queensland town was incredibly presumptuous. Present day Cairns Mayor Val Schier who moved to North Queensland in 1982, still has opponents declaring she's a blow-in who should 'go back to Tasmania'.

While the Morning Bulletin pondered if being better known than the Post Office clock would help Pilbeam win election to a council traditionally dominated by well established teams, Rex piled steel rods onto the floor of his car and hooked up a bullhorn. He drove round the bumpy, pot holed, gravel streets announcing over the loudspeaker, above the din of clanking steel, that if he was elected Mayor he would pave those streets.

Rex was elected, and he paved those streets.


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