Thursday, May 23, 2024


Mackay and Whitsunday Life


When it comes to transport today, we are fortunate to have considerable choice in our means of travelling from point A to point B but not so in the early 20th century.
In the 1920s, there were initially only two cars in Proserpine – one belonging to Mr A J (Jack) Setter and one to Mr Laurie Fox. It is said that lots of school children paid 6 pence to have a ride in Mr Fox’s car.
Mr Setter had the first car in 1913 – a Studebaker and later two others including an Overlander. He established a livery stable in a two-storey building next to the Great Northern Hotel (now Metropole) where cars, horses and sulkies could be hired. It was usual in those early times for taxis to meet every train that pulled into the Proserpine Railway Station. On one occasion, Mr Setter picked up a southern couple who were not very impressed with his driving and complained. Imagine their horror when, while driving along, he lifted off the steering wheel, handed it to them and told them to drive. What they didn’t know was that the steering wheel was on a groove sprocket and could be lifted off. Setter had welded on a bar just below this by which he could steer the car. Not surprisingly, the couple reported him to the police.
Percy N Cornish, a forward thinker who saw a need in the district for more flexible transport options, was possibly the first to make car hire a full- time job beginning his business in 1922 driving a 1921 Overlander.
His father came to Proserpine where he bought the ABC Café which he later sold and moved to Home Hill to retire, however, Percy stayed on in Proserpine with his hire car business.
In those early days when the railway line was under construction, the railway workers would come in to Proserpine to enjoy their weekends. On their arrival, they would deposit a couple of pounds with the publican to pay their car hire. This was to ensure they would return to work on time, by way of Percy’s Hire Car.
Percy also transported most brides to church. One past local recalled a particular wedding where the groom was very agitated as the bride was half an hour late. She lived on the other side of town and the taxi had been held up by a train across the road.
Mr Cornish was renowned for his steady, safe and dependable driving which earned him the nickname of Second-Gear Percy, quite an achievement when one considers how rough the dirt roads were in those earlier times. Percy Cornish served for 27 years before ill heath compelled him to retire in 1949.
On December 22 1948, the “Proserpine Guardian” published details of the district’s businesses who advertised in the paper. Among those listed was Mr Jim Fraser, son of Mr and Mrs W Fraser. Jim took on farming in his early career then cane-cutting and dairy farming but owing to an accident to his hand, was forced to give up farming. He subsequently took over the taxi business from Mr Sorohan.
Also listed was Mr Bill Usher, another of Proserpine’s well-known taxi drivers. Bill arrived in Proserpine in 1925 and after varied jobs from cane-cutting to undertaking, took up the job in March of that year.
No doubt these forerunners in the car hire “industry” would be astounded at the availability of the hire car options we have today.  Hats off to them for their enterprise.

Story and photos courtesy Proserpine Historical Museum

Percy Cornish and his hire car
Bill Usher’s advert

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