Thursday, August 24, 2023


Mackay and Whitsunday Life

Monty Embury Helped Put the Whitsundays on the Map

Continuing his story …

On his first expedition, Monty Embury visited Hayman Island and decided there and then that he would make this island his headquarters in the future. He acquired the lease from Boyd Lee and set up a permanent base there, hosting two trips a year.

Most of the tourists came by train to Proserpine and launch from Cannon Valley but some came by a coastal steamer which also brought day trippers. The deal was £1 a day with BYO bedding, dishes and cutlery. Naturally, Embury made sure the island was highly organised with a doctor, a post office, a sheep pen and later its own bakery on site and kerosene lighting throughout. Electricity did not reach Proserpine until 1929. In 1932, he advertised Hayman as having tennis courts, a nine-hole golf course, a shark proof swimming pool, a field research station and a port for interstate steamships.

In all, Embury organised eleven expeditions to the Whitsundays, all of which were marketed in NSW. Accounts of the trips appeared in the state newspapers and reunion parties were held. Monty himself published a booklet “The Great Barrier Reef” and numerous articles. In addition, links with the Australian Museum, surveys and specimen displays all publicised the reef as both a scientific and tourist destination.

Embury had plans to expand his operations by obtaining the leases to Hook, Langford, Black and Arkhurst Islands but found the government condition to spend £10,000 in seven years on tourist development too onerous, particularly as the Great Depression was putting restraints on tourism.

He stopped organising his Whitsunday expeditions after 1934 but continued to support his successors, the Hallams, as a publicity and booking agent in Sydney. The Whitsundays was not the only destination for Embury’s organised trips. In total, he coordinated thirty-seven expeditions to serious locations including arranging bird watching trips for the Gould League of Bird Lovers with his brother, Arch. Another interesting expedition he arranged was to Alice Springs for a party of forty people, all of whom travelled in a convoy of eight Model A Fords.

In the mid 1930s, Monty returned to teaching and remained in the profession until his retirement in 1956 with a break during World War Two when he rejoined the army. He had three children with his first wife, Honora and four more with his second wife, Dorothy. Edwin Montague Embury died in 1961.

In the words of eminent local historian, the late Ray Blackwood: “Thus ended the career of a man who in his own way helped to put the Whitsundays on the map while bringing knowledge and enjoyment to many hundreds of participants. His reward obviously was personal satisfaction with a job well done and little, if any, thought or realisation of financial return.”

Story courtesy of Proserpine Historical Museum and “The Whitsunday Islands – An Historical Dictionary” by Ray Blackwood.  Photo sourced from John Oxley Library.

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