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George Schipke – Cairns Combined Schools Band from 1942-1945

George Schipke – Cairns Combined Schools Band from 1942-1945

I was born in 1930 and grew up at 42 Upward Street in Cairns. Around 1939, my granddad, Fredrick William Schipke, came down from Cooktown. As well as having held the positions as the Railway Station Master and the driver of the Cooktown to Laura railway motor, Grandad had also been the Band Master of the Cooktown Rifle Club Band. Grandad had retired from the Railway in Cooktown and came to live with us at 42 Upward Street with his daughter, my Aunt Doris. As Jock Donovan, the Conductor of the Cairns Combined Schools Boys Band, had left town, Grandad took over the role of Band Master in an Honorary role.

The Band drew boys from the three schools in Cairns at that time: Central State School, Parramatta State School and Edge Hill State School which became Cairns North State School after Edge Hill school was built on Pease Street in 1945. As I was nine years old by the time Grandad came to Cairns and took over the Band, I was old enough to join as I was learning to play both the trombone and the Euphonium by then.

Previous to this when I was still too young to join, my older brother, Fred Schipke, used to be taken around to visit the other schools on the back of Jock Donovan’s push bike in order to play his cornet to encourage other school boys to learn to play an instrument and join the Boys Band. Neither grandad nor dad owned a car so grandad used to walk to each of the schools when he was giving music lessons to boys in the Band.

Karen Oakes and George Schipke
George Schipke with his daughter Karen Oakes (Museum Volunteer and Guide)

My dad, George Schipke senior, acted as an Air Raid Warden during the war years. It was quite peaceful in Cairns during the early years of the war. It wasn’t until the Americans arrived in 1942 that the war became serious. Many of the Cairns residents left then to go south or to the Tablelands where it was considered safer. So, the American Army took over about seven vacant houses in Upward Street and Draper Street. The Australian Army took over Parramatta State School so we had no school for 6 months or more. All the schools shut then. Because underneath our school was all concreted, it was a good area to work in and when we went back to school we used to watch the soldiers loading their machine guns with bullets underneath our classrooms.

The Air Raid wardens, including my dad, had their main HQ at Norman Park (now Munro Martin Park) but as my dad was in charge of the Parramatta area, the wardens he was in charge of met in our back yard. We were also under guard by the American Army, who were in charge of the area around our house. They used to shine their torches on us to check who we were if we were out after dark.

Grandad also held Band practice for the Cairns Combined Schools Boys Band under our house once a week and I have a vivid memory of American soldiers hanging over our fence listening to us play. On Saturday mornings we also had band practice underneath Cairns High School at the corner of Upward and Sheridan Streets, where it still is today. Once a high ranking American soldier asked me how high the mountains in the Lamb Range were, but I didn’t know.

Cairns was also a base for the Catalina flying boats. The bigger flying boats with 4 engines, the Sunderlands sometimes landed in the inlet too! We loved to watch them when we went fishing down at the wharf. Once when I was out fishing in a ‘tinnie’ in the Inlet with dad and grandad, my grandad yelled at me, “Row boy! Row like you’ve never rowed before!” It was because one of the Catalinas was taking off and we were in the way! When it roared over us it was so close, I still remember seeing drops of water on the fuselage!

That was how it was, growing up in Cairns in the 1940s.

Cairns Brass Band
Cairns Combined Schools Band practicing barefoot under Cairns State High School, Schipke family collection
Cairns Combined Schools Band (George Schipke seated on the left next to his granddad Frederick Schipke), Schipke family collection

By Karen Oakes, George Schipke, Daniela Vavrova, Janice Wegner

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