Thursday, September 21, 2023


Mackay and Whitsunday Life


One of our earliest pioneers and one of the first women in Queensland to vote

Born Eliza Jurgens in Bowen on October 5, 1886, she was raised by her maternal grandparents after her mother died aged only twenty-four.

When the family lost their cattle in the 1896 drought, they moved to Proserpine, arriving the day the first cane was cut.  

They took up land on the Gregory River, but their grandfather soon abandoned the selection before taking up fencing.

He then took up land at Breadalbane but felt he was too old to start farming so he did casual work on local farms.

Eliza’s grandmother, “Granny” Jurgens, was a trained midwife, called in for all kinds of sickness and accidents.  

Eliza married Arthur Fuller on December 16, 1903, aged only seventeen.

Their wedding day was not without drama.

Upon leaving the church, they learned the river was in flood so would not be able to reach the groom’s Strathdickie home for the feast.  

But all was not lost.

Being close to Christmas, everyone was able to pitch in. Someone had a chicken; another a bottle of wine; there was bread and butter and the bride’s grandmother “donated” her Christmas cake.

There was no cutlery however someone found a fork for the bride.

The couple was able to cross the river that afternoon and a few days later, the wedding guests joined them. Eliza again put on her wedding dress, fresh food was cooked and the formal wedding feast was eventually held.

They first lived in a thatched cottage on a small hillside farm in Strathdickie before moving to their Breadalbane farm in 1913.

Life on the farm was hard and conditions somewhat primitive but Eliza and Arthur adapted to the rough conditions and though the returns were sometimes poor and uncertain, Eliza stated that they “got a lot of satisfaction and fun from life.” (Proserpine Guardian December 22 1948.)

They had ten children – six sons and four daughters.

Sadly, Arthur died suddenly in 1938.

When women in Queensland gained the vote, Eliza was one of the youngest women to do so.

Just how did this come to pass?

A policeman doing the rounds to ensure all who were eligible to vote were enrolled asked Eliza’s grandfather about Eliza.

When he replied that she was only 18, the policeman dismissed him saying – “She’s married, ain’t she?”

And put Eliza’s name on the roll.

In later years, Eliza took an intelligent interest in watching politics on television.

Over her 86 years in the district, Eliza saw Proserpine grow and change.

Transport was one such change.

As a ten-year-old, she travelled eleven hours along a wild bush track from Bowen to Proserpine sitting in the sun in an open coach and later, when married with a family, she was no stranger to making the trip to Mackay via Bowen to catch a boat to their destination.

In later years, although the thought of plane travel terrified her, there was no way she was going to pass up the opportunity to try it – and she did!  

Eliza had a profound faith in God and her prayers to others were an inspiration to all who knew her.

Church services were held at their home until Arthur joined the Strathdickie School committee and secured the use of the school for Sunday School and church services.

Eliza Ellen (Granny) Fuller passed away on February 7, 1983 aged 96 years.

The stories of her life provide a wonderful glimpse into our past. Stay tuned for some of these stories in future editions.

Story and photo courtesy Proserpine Historical Museum

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