Backward Glance – Charles Clarke, a pioneering entrepreneur

It is said that entrepreneurship is a key generator of economic growth. Charles Clarke, in his time, was most likely unaware of his entrepreneurial impact on the development of Mooloolaba.

Charles’ father migrated alone to Australia from England after his first wife died, having had 10 children.

During the voyage he remarried. He and his second wife settled at Cabbage Tree Creek, Aspley. They had 11 children, Charles was born on January 4, 1890.

Charles did not follow in his father’s footsteps and become a taxidermist, instead he started his work life at Hutton’s Bacon Factory in Zillmere, until he gained a position as a porter with the railways.

Charles met his wife, Minnie, at a boarding house in Southport. They married almost immediately and he accepted a new position as Guard of the newly opened steam tram operating between Buderim and Palmwoods. It was 1915 and soon Charles was promoted to Tram Manager.

Charles and Minnie settled in Buderim with a cow for milk and two sheep to mow the lawn.

The Buderim-Palmwoods Tramway (really a railway) was built to service the needs of the farmers and residents in Buderim and surrounds, it operated from 1914-1935.

The Tramway enabled farm produce, fruit, timber and passengers to access Brisbane via the main-line at Palmwoods.

It also carried holiday passengers from Brisbane and Ipswich travelling to Mooloolaba or Alexandra Headland. These holiday-makers were then faced with a difficult journey for the last five miles (10 kilometres) to the coast.

Charles, or Chas as he was known, identified a need for private transport in the area and this marked the first of his entrepreneurial endeavours.

He purchased a Model T Ford truck fitted with a covered wagon with weather protection and canvas seats, to start a daily transport service from Buderim to Mooloolaba and Alexandra Headland.

Once he had completed his days’ work on the tram he would take the day passengers and holiday makers from Buderim to the coast.

He would also arrange to pick them up for their return journey to Buderim when their holidays had ended.

It was not an easy task running a passenger service prior to 1920. The roads were still only bullock wagon tracks suitable for a horse and buggy.

Instead of the usual toolbox, Charles carried an axe, shovel, crow bar and mattock for removing fallen trees and dealing with road washouts.

In addition, he would fit chains to the rear wheels in wet weather.

Unfortunately, there were occasion when the Model T Ford was not powerful enough so the men would walk up the hill while ladies and children rode. Charles soon modified the truck to increase its power and all was good.

With his transport business proving very successful, he expanded into delivering cream to the tram and train to be taken to the Caboolture butter factory.

Then followed his mail contract, as well as delivering orders from the baker, butcher and general store.

In addition to his tram work and his transport endeavours, Charles also operated a Billiard Saloon on Buderim.

In 1925 Charles bought a new Willy’s Knight car and decided to travel with family friends to the Brisbane Show.

Setting out in two cars, the families left Buderim at day break by what is now known as Ballinger Road, making very slow progress on the bullock wagon track.

Having to make numerous stops due to the road conditions, the travellers finally arrived at Caboolture by nightfall, sleeping on the veranda of the show pavilion.

They arrived at their destination by 3.45pm the following day. No details are shared about their return journey!

With his transport business booming, Charles saw the need to provide accommodation for holiday makers at Mooloolaba.

For 450 pounds he purchased land where the present Bondoola apartments are on the corner of Foote Street and River Esplanade.

The price was considered expensive for the time, but it was the only property for sale on the riverfront at “Sugar Wharf” as it was known then.

Charles left his tramway job and in 1928 the Bondoola Guest House, general store and café were opened for business.

Charles moved his family and transport business to Mooloolaba. The White Line Motor Service transport business had expanded to include a fleet of vehicles, including a five passenger Willy’s Knight, two seven passenger Nash cars, a seven passenger Hudson car and the original 15 passenger bus.

He also acquired a fleet of rowboats for guests to hire as well as the motor launch Miss Bondoola, which was used to ferry the Duke of Gloucester down the Maroochy River during his visit in 1934 for a horse ride over the sand dunes.

In 1939 after qualifying as a master of a motor vessel, Charles used his boat the Gee M See to meet a demand for deep sea fishing, making trips to the Gneerings reef system approximately five kilometres off Mooloolaba.

His many exploits continued, including being elected President at the first formal meeting of the Mooloolaba Bowling Club held on February 24, 1948.

During his club membership he held the position of President for a total of nine terms and was honoured with a life membership in 1956.

In 1965, at the request of the Mooloolaba-Alexandra Headland Progress Association, the recreational parkland fronting Mooloolah River owned by the Maroochy Shire Council was named Charles Clarke Park.

On a Saturday afternoon in 1967, on a reclining chair, borne carefully across from his home, Charles Clarke – frail, grey-haired but determined – attended the dedication of the Charles Clarke Park on River Esplanade, Mooloolaba. At the conclusion he was carried gently back across the road, acknowledging cheers and applause with a silent wave of a hand.

When you see his name on the archway in the park, pause and remember the dynamic pioneering entrepreneur that was Charles Clarke.

Thanks to Sunshine Coast Council’s Heritage Library Officers for the words and Picture Sunshine Coast for the images.

Image details

Hero image: Charles Clarke’s first bus taking passengers on the road from Buderim to Moololaba, 1924

Image 1: View from Charles Clarke’s Bondoola Boarding House, corner of the present Foote Street and River Esplanade, looking north towards Mooloolaba Beach and the Spit, early 1930s. The small creek in the foreground was filled in ca 1940 and later sealed to become Foote Street and the Recreation Reserve on the Mooloolah River bank (right) was later named Charles Clarke Park.

Image 2: View north along River Esplanade from the Mooloolah River bank showing Charles Clarke’s Bondoola’ Boarding House and shop (left), Mooloolaba, December 1934. Charles Clarke, moved to Mooloolaba in 1925. He built the boarding house in 1927-1928 on the land he had purchased in front of the public jetty on the Mooloolah River bank.

Image 3: ‘Bondoola’ Boarding House, store and cafe, corner of Foote Street and River Esplanade, Mooloolaba, early 1930s

Image 4: Men parked in front of Bondoola Boarding House, corner of Foote Street and River Esplanade, Mooloolaba, 1940s

Image 5: Clarke’s Store, corner of River Esplanade and Foote Street, Mooloolaba, December 1964. Built for Charles Clarke in 1928 the building was run as a guest house, store and cafe by Charles’s and his wife Minnie. The guest house closed in 1942 but the store continued. The business was sold in 1976. The building was converted to offices in 1986 and was subsequently demolished to make way for a multistorey apartment block, erected in 2002. The new building retained the name ‘Bondoola’.

Image 6: Charles Clarke with fellow members of the Mooloolaba Bowling Club, Mooloolaba, December 1953. Charles Clarke (centre) was elected President at the first formal meeting of the Mooloolaba Bowling Club held on 24 February 1948. During his club membership, C. Clarke held the position of President for a total of nine terms and was honoured with a life membership in 1956.

Image 7: Charles Clarke with family members and friends on Mooloolaba Beach, early 1920s. Pictured include Charles Clarke standing on far right with his wife Minnie (nee Neumann). The couple were married at the Woombye Methodist Church on 17 April 1915. Shortly afterwards they moved to Buderim, where they had four children; Jack Neuman, Sydney Charles, Gertrude Minnie and Alan Edgar.

Image 8: Charles Clarke’s boat M.V. “Gee M. See” on the Mooloolah River at Mooloolaba, ca 1940. Clarke used his boat to meet a demand for deep sea fishing, making trips to the Gneerings, the shallow reef system approximately 5 kilometres off Mooloolaba.

Image 9: Charles Clarke’s hire boats moored on the Mooloolah River bank, Mooloolaba, 1930s

Image 10: Jetty on the Mooloolah River bank off River Esplanade, Mooloolaba, 1930s. Located in front of Charles Clarke’s shop and Boarding House, ‘Bondoola’. Clarke acquired and hired out a fleet of rowboats which he moored by the jetty.

Image 11: Weighing jetty at the southern end of the River Esplanade, Mooloolaba, ca 1940. Located near the corner of Foote Street and site of Charles Clarke Park.

Image 12: Mooloolah River and picnic reserve near the present Charles Clarke Park, Mooloolaba, ca 1960. The Recreation Reserve on the Mooloolah River bank was named Charles Clarke Park following a request from the Mooloolaba-Alexandra Headland Progress Association in 1965. A dedicated ceremony was held in the park in 1967.

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