Every community has a character that is well remembered for their quirky ways, unorthodox habits or simply a ground-breaker where they lived. For Magnetic Island, just 20 miles out from the Queensland coast at Townsville, that character was William Bright.
Trained as a gardener in England, William came to Australia in 1882 and was one of the first pioneers to settle on the small island. He immediately started cultivating different crops and became known for his experimenting with the propagation of new varieties of tropical fruits such as mangoes and paw paws.
William Bright. Courtesy Weekend Notes
He didn't stop there though. He also made wines from his mangoes and pineapples. They were of such a high standard they were sold to and served in Parliament House in Brisbane. The wines were described as being able to “kill at a hundred yards” and "a
very stimulating beverage with plenty of kick in it."
Sailing crews would often visit the island and party with William where he was only too keen to share his mango and pineapple wines. He would load his fruits up on his boat, the Condor and sell it in Townsville. It was reported in the Townsville Daily Bulletin once that he had shipped nearly 1000 cases of fruit destined for Brisbane, Sydney, Rockhampton, Charters Towers and Ayr.
Also the local butcher, William slaughtered cattle at Nelly Bay to supply the island with meat. There was the sad story of the time his brother was visiting. They had killed a beast and a wild storm blew up. William decided to wait till the following morning to take the animal to another place on the island known as Picnic Bay.
He went to sleep but his brother decided to go anyway and with the help of one of the Aboriginal boys loaded the beast aboard the romroy, or canvas canoe, and set off around the point. The next morning when William woke up he asked where his brother was. He was told he had gone with the meat in the storm.
They waited all day and when they hadn't returned William walked over the hill to Picnic Bay where he discovered his brother and the meat had never arrived. As he returned, William discovered the romroy upside down on the rocks at Hawkins Point. William's brother and the Aboriginal boy were never seen again. As a memorial William hacked a cross into the rock with a coal chisel to mark the spot where his brother had drowned.
Bright family gravestones, Nelly Bay, Magnetic Island. Photo: Samantha Elley
In 1926, July 30, Magnetic Island lost one of its main characters when William breathed his last. His grave can be found in the Lions Park at Nelly Bay. Bright Point nearby, is named after William.
'Magnetic the Beautiful: Its history', The Catholic Advocate, Thursday 21 January, 1932, Page 14
'An Aldermen's picnic', The Evening Telegraph, Monday 28 April 1902, Page 2
'The Pigmy Paw-paw', Townsville Daily Bulletin, Tuesday 5 March, 1935, Page 7
'Personal', Townsville Daily Bulletin, Thursday 5 August 1926, Page 6
'Magnetic Island', Weekend Notes website, accessed 16th September, 2022, https://www.weekendnotes.com/magnetic-island/