Thursday, October 5, 2023


Mackay and Whitsunday Life

Miracle at Shady Beach

Most people in Proserpine would say, “No such place!”

However, in our museum newsletter in June 1998, Lena Volpi (nee Zulian) shared this story of a miracle she witnessed there in the late 1920s.  Lena’s parents, Margherita (Rita) and Pietro (Peter) Zulian, farmed at Glen Isla. They and a few other Italian families used to call a certain spot on the Proserpine River by the name Shady Beach. This is her story:

Situated on the Mt Julian side of the river where Craig McDonald now farms on land that was once Donadelli’s farm, there was a group of large trees which formed a round leafy glade. Fallen dry leaves covered the ground during summer, just perfect for picnics. The women would lay their blankets and tablecloths with plenty of food and the men would boil the billy and brew coffee. Off to one side, hidden away to the left, was a small gully used by the women to change into their bathers. The entrance to this leafy spot was covered with clean white sand heading down to the water’s edge and because of the abundance of shade was called Shady Beach.

The Zulian farm was on the opposite side of the river not far from the beach. One hot summer’s Sunday something quite traumatic happened. Lena’s mother, Rita, a devout Catholic, had invited the Parish Priest, parishioners and the Sisters (nuns) to the farm.

The Sisters slipped quietly down to the river for a swim and Lena was told to show them their little spot and the gully where they could change for a swim.  One Sister went first, changed and disappeared for a swim. Lena and the other Sister kept guard over the first Sister’s habit. Lena recalled that the Sister with her seemed very nervous and angry when from the river came the cries, “Help! Help! Sister, help!” With that, the first Sister dashed away leaving behind a confused Lena.  

Lena vividly remembered watching Sister floating face down, black bathers and white skull cap drifting like a small branch. She recalled how the current was carrying her gently all the way to the entrance of their leafy glade and to the white sand. The next thing she could remember was people running, yelling, crying and splashing across the river, led by the Parish Priest.

Everyone followed and gathered around as they lay the lifeless Sister on the leafy ground and the priest immediately began resuscitation. He applied cardio pulmonary massage, rolled her from one side to the other, her head lolling around, her face as white as snow. Everyone was silent. After what seemed like an eternity, Sister began to vomit, her body expelling all the water she had taken into her lungs.

The adults cried out, “Sister’s alive! Sister’s alive!” Tears of joy flowed and the sense of gratitude to the “Almighty” for delivering sister to the Shady Beach and not having washed her further downstream was shared by all present.  

Lena admitted that, being very young at the time, she did not fully appreciate what had happened and just how long Sister was submerged however she believed it would have been quite a while.

Many years later, she returned to Proserpine and Carlos Demartini (1907 – 2004) took Lena and her family to see the old spot - but it had all changed. She reflected that with the passing of time many things do change but that time does not dim one’s brightest memories – such as her memory of the miracle at Shady Beach.  

(Note: The Zulian family left the area in 1946.)

Story courtesy of Lena Volpi (nee Zulian). Photo courtesy of Proserpine Historical Museum.

Could this be the scene of the miracle - on close inspection people can be seen on the far left at the river's edge. Photo supplied

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