In my family archives, I have a number of old letters. One is a 3-page letter my father wrote to my mother, brother and me 70 years ago, while a guest at the Sea View Hotel, Townsville, north Queensland.
I would recognise my father’s handwriting anywhere. Seeing his handwriting and reading the words and expressions he used in this letter makes me feel keenly my father’s presence (even though he died more than 20 years ago).
I’m not sure why my mother kept this letter and not others. My father must have written many letters during the period 1946-1954 when he worked as a commercial traveller, his business trips taking him far from home for weeks on end. Based at Rockhampton, he travelled extensively throughout central, northern and western Queensland, visiting business owners and shopkeepers from the Queensland coast west to the Queensland-Northern Territory border.
In this letter, my father describes his road trip from Rockhampton north to Mackay, Bowen and Townsville, and his plans to travel onwards via Charters Towers to Mount Isa (in the west) and from there, to Cairns (in the north).
My father’s 1952 letter is a rich family history resource. Importantly, it’s the earliest record – in my father’s hand – of his love for my mother, brother and me. Indeed, it’s the only letter of my father’s I have from those early years. Clearly, his wife and children were very important to him. The tone and content of my father’s letter is proof of this. Moreover, the letter reveals the man I came to know as I grew up: communicative, scrupulous, hard-working, ambitious, sociable, interested in “the other”, witty and playful.
My father’s 1952 letter together with photographs and other items in my family archives enable me to build a picture of my father’s work and travel, and our family life, in post World War II Australia. Added to this are the tales my parents and brother told me over the years. At the time my father wrote this letter, my brother was six years old and I was not yet 12 months old.
In March this year, during a week-long stay in Townsville, I visited (and photographed) the historic Seaview Hotel (as it is now called). I wanted to find out more about the hotel where my father stayed exactly (to the month) 70 years ago.
This post is a retelling and update of Why my father’s 1952 letter means so much to me, which I published on my blog on January 28, 2019. Since then, besides visiting sites my father mentioned in his letter, I’ve discovered more about my father’s business ventures during the post-World War II period from 1946 to the end of the 1950s.
NOTE: A list of references I used in preparing this story is found at the end of the post. Specific references are numbered and noted throughout the text by brackets: [X].
Setting the scene
Lieutenant William (“Bill”) Proposch was discharged from the army on 6 December 1945.
By 6 December 1945, Lt Proposch had completed 5½ years continuous service in the Second Australian Imperial Force (2nd AIF) in Australia and overseas.
Two years earlier, at a dance in the Brisbane City Hall, Bill met Aircraftwoman (ACW) Evelyn Beaumont, a member of the Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF). At the time Bill was in Brisbane on leave and Evelyn was based in Brisbane (read My mother’s years in the WAAAF (Part 1): Brisbane). The couple married at St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral, Rockhampton, on 26 March 1945. It was still wartime.
Following their marriage, Bill was appointed to the Australian Army’s 103rd General Hospital, Baulkham Hills, New South Wales. He served there from April 1945 until his discharge in December 1945. An Education Officer in the Australian Army Education Service at the time, his role was to assist in the repatriation of servicemen who had experienced trauma and/or serious injury (including loss of limbs) during their overseas service.
One of Lieutenant Proposch’s tasks was to help the men find meaningful employment when they were ready to return to civilian life. However, according to Evelyn, Bill didn’t know what work he would do himself after he completed his military service!
At the beginning of 1946, Bill and Evelyn moved to Rockhampton.
Rockhampton is located 632 kilometres (about 400 miles) by road north of Brisbane. Bill and Evelyn chose to settle in Rockhampton because it was the major city in central Queensland and about 2 hours’ drive from Rannes, where Evelyn’s parents lived. At the 1947 Australian census, Rockhampton had a population of 34,988. It was the third most populous city in Queensland at the time. By 1954, the population of Rockhampton was 40,670. It was a busy, growing regional city.
Not long after their move to Rockhampton, Bill and Evelyn welcomed their first child, a son. They made their home in rented accommodation, a large highset timber dwelling in Bolsover Street, not far from Rockhampton’s city centre.
A civilian again, Bill had to find work. He had a wife and child to support.
Following his army experience, Bill was sure about one thing: He wanted to be his own boss. Prior to the war, he worked as a clerk for an accountancy firm in Melbourne city and took night classes as part of a commerce degree at The University of Melbourne. After a 5½ year hiatus, Bill was keen to re-enter the world of commerce. But this time under his own steam.
In March 1946, Bill established his first commercial enterprise.
The “Central Trading Company”, as he called it, included wholesale and manufacturers’ agencies and a dressmaking arm (“The Evelyn Frock Salon”). He rented premises upstairs at 97 East Street (Rockhampton’s main street), next door to the National Bank of Australasia and over the road from Stewart’s, a leading Rockhampton department store.
In 1946, Bill and Evelyn bought their first car.
It was an Austin 8 Saloon, small by today’s standards. I guess it was all they could afford. Bill took this vehicle on most of his business trips. It served our family well for many years (not that my mother had a licence or drove a car in those days).
Bill was a representative for various wholesale and manufacturing agencies.
He promoted products such as haberdashery, fabric, Manchester and homewares. I still have samples of haberdashery my father peddled during those years and I well remember the many lengths of fabric, lace and ribbon my mother stored in suitcases at our home and used in her dressmaking long after my father’s travelling days were over.
According to my brother, our father was also an agent for MacRoberston’s chocolates and confectionery and drove a big MacRobertson’s delivery van, which he used on some of his trips.
My father’s agency work meant he had to travel, visiting clients (and prospective clients) and marketing his agency products throughout central, northern and western Queensland. He was often away from home and his Rockhampton-based business.
I’ve recently discovered that my father established the “Central Trading Company” and its dressmaking arm (“The Evelyn Frock Salon”) as a partnership between him and Evelyn and Norman Robert Browning. As is the case with many a business partnership, the partnership between Bill and Evelyn and Mr Browning did not work. Bill and Evelyn dissolved the partnership in December 1948 soon after the company fell foul of the Australian Taxation Office. 
In October 1948 my father and Mr Browning (as company directors) were charged with three offenses under the Income Tax Assessment Act. The charges related to a four-week period (two of which my father was away on a trip) in which they failed to purchase tax stamps of a face value equal to the amount of deductions made from the wages of three of their employees. In January 1949, both (now former) partners pleaded guilty in the Rockhampton Magistrates Court to three offenses under the Income Tax Assessment Act and were fined accordingly. 
In 1951, Bill, Evelyn and their 5-year old son moved to a house they purchased in North Rockhampton.
Like so many couples in post-World War II Australia, Bill and Evelyn wanted a home of their own. As a returned serviceman, my father qualified for a low-interest 30-year term Commonwealth Government war service home loan. He was able to borrow 95% of the total cost of the home (around ₤3000). Typical of dwellings built in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the house was lowset, modest in size, and constructed from cheap readily available materials (fibrolite, timber and corrugated iron). [3, 4]
I was born soon after my parents and brother moved into their new home. This dwelling was to be our family home for the next 20 years.
My father’s 1952 business trip
In early 1952, my father made one of his business trips to north and north western Queensland. It was not his first. “So far I have had a very good trip indeed and certainly far above my expectations – in fact it’s been about my best trip up here so far,” he wrote in his letter. Bill visited Mackay, Bowen, Townsville, Charters Towers, Mount Isa and Cairns (and probably many other places in-between).
The trip lasted four or five weeks.
It was a long time to be away from home, but not long enough for Bill to achieve his business goals. In his words, “It’s too much for me to do in such a short time.” To make the best use of his time, on most days he worked day and night. “I have been flat out”, he wrote. One day he made 28 calls to clients and potential clients!
Despite his busy schedule, Bill took time out to relax.
Always a keen sportsman, Bill played a couple of games of bowls and attended the Bowen Championship (Swimming) Carnival during his stay in Bowen. At the carnival Australia’s much-acclaimed Olympic swimming champion at the time, Nancy Lyons, gave swimming demonstrations. She was visiting Bowen at the invitation of Bowen’s Railway Swimming Club. 
In his letter Bill refers to two racehorses, “Glen Lyon” and “Osmond”, both of which belonged to Evelyn’s father, Donald Beaumont, of Rannes. My father was always interested in horseracing and, not surprisingly, for many years he was a keen punter.
On this trip, Bill took the Austin 8 Saloon.
“The car has behaved very well and we have not had a moment’s worry in that regard,” Bill was happy to report. A man named Alan accompanied Bill as co-driver and travelling companion. I don’t know whether my father always took someone with him, but I’m sure it would have helped during the long hours on the road.
In those days, Queensland roads weren’t in good condition.
Not all of the main roads were sealed and even those that were sealed were narrow with rough edges. In 1948, for example, Mr J Lawrence, chairman of the Central Queensland Advancement League, reported that a 75-mile section of the Bruce Highway between Rockhampton and Mackay (a distance of about 200 miles) was still unsealed. Indeed, Mr Lawrence described this section of the Bruce Highway as “a bush track”. 
If it rained, the unsealed roads became slippery and dangerous, even impassable. Even in good weather, travel times were much longer than they are today. In his 1952 letter my father commented on the state of the roads on which he travelled:
I think the following photographs my father took on this (or a similar) trip are most revealing.
According to his letter, Bill stayed in Townsville for 6 days.
Townsville is located on the Queensland coast, a little more than 700 kilometres by road northwest of Rockhampton. Today, with a population approaching 200,000, it’s by far the largest city in northern Queensland. In 1952, Townsville was the fourth most populous city in Queensland (after Brisbane, Toowoomba and Rockhampton). At the 1954 Australian census, Townsville had a population of 40,471.
I presume there were plenty of clients (and potential clients) in Townsville for Bill to call upon. As the following photograph shows, Bill wore a suit and tie when he was travelling and meeting clients. He was always impeccably dressed.
Bill and Alan (his travelling companion) lodged at the Sea View Hotel, located on Townsville’s famous seafront, The Strand. The Strand and the adjacent seashore has long been a popular destination with locals and visitors alike. As early as 1887, the Townsville City Council approved plans for public baths to be built on The Strand, at the end of Gregory Street. In February 1940, a cyclone totally destroyed the then privately owned Sea View Baths. [7, 8]
Commencing in 1941, the Townsville City Council erected new baths on the site, naming them the Tobruk Memorial Baths, in memory of the Australians who fought and died in the Battle of Tobruk (which took place from April to November 1941). The Tobruk Memorial Baths finally opened to the public on 14 October 1950. 
I wonder if my father visited these baths on this or any of his other trips to Townsville? After all, he did enjoy swimming.
Townsville’s Sea View Hotel
The Sea View Hotel, where my father and his travelling companion stayed in March 1952, was not the first hotel by that name erected at the corner of The Strand and Gregory Street, Townsville.
Mr Richard Long, a well-known local hotelier, erected the first Sea View Hotel on the site in 1889. The two-story timber building was built right in the centre of The Strand, close to the central business district of Townsville, 100 yards (91 metres) from the sea. According to a newspaper report written soon after its completion in 1889 , the Sea View Hotel:
As predicted, the Sea View Hotel proved a very popular holiday destination for north Queenslanders.
Unfortunately, early in the morning of Monday 5 November 1928, a fire completely destroyed the hotel and the adjacent building, a set of eight flats known as the “Sea View Maisonettes”.  The owner of the hotel, Mrs Walsh Magee, decided to rebuild. She purchased the block of land formerly occupied by the maisonettes and took out a contract for a large two-story brick and concrete building, at a cost of £18,000. 
Townsville-based Joe Rooney (architect) and Doyle and Sons (builder), respectively, designed and erected the new building. Construction work commenced in 1929. The new Sea View Hotel opened to the public with a grand ball on the evening of Monday 14 July 1930.  The new building was described as a fine, modern hotel, unrivalled in terms of its comfort and artistic appearance, inside and out. 
Interestingly, during World War II the Sea View Hotel was used as an Officers’ Mess. Perhaps Bill (an officer) visited or stayed there during his wartime service. He passed through Townsville on many an occasion during the war years.
The Seaview Hotel (as it is now known) is still operational today. Apparently the oldest part of the hotel, which dates from 1929, is one of the few remaining Art Deco brick and concrete buildings erected in Townsville in the first half of the 20th century.
In 2019, the Townsville City Council approved an application from the hotel’s current owner, Sydney-based Paul Irvin Hotel Group, to refurbish the building. 
By the time I visited the Seaview Hotel in March this year, the refurbishment was complete. As promised, the owner has retained and enhanced the iconic features of the original (1929) Art Deco inspired structure. It’s a truly magnificent building.
No wonder my father chose to stay here during his visits to Townsville all those years ago.
My father’s 1952 letter
Sea View Hotel
Thursday 13 Mar 52
My Darling Evelyn, Bevan & Judith
We arrived in Townsville last night just as the clocks were striking 12 and we were both very glad to get to bed. So far I have had a very good trip indeed and certainly far above my expectations – in fact it’s been about my best trip up here so far, but it’s too much for me to do in such a short time.
As I had a large amount of writing to do this morning I decided to take time off to catch up on it and so far have spent the morning writing my reports and orders. But before sitting down to it we drove down to the P.O. and picked up my mail, including your letter, which was very good to get, but I was upset to think you were having such an awful time of it. I sincerely hope you are feeling better. If not, why not get Mrs Frazer or somebody to look after Judith while you see a dentist?
I have been working most nights or travelling therefore have not had the chance really to drop you a line before this although I suppose I could have done so last weekend, but it seemed too early to write a few words.
The car has behaved very well and we have not had a moment’s worry in that regard. Alan has driven me around about and kept himself amused that way whilst I have been flat out – I did just on 28 calls yesterday. Last Saturday and Sunday I played bowls in Bowen, losing each time, but had a really good time. On Sunday night there was a swimming carnival in Bowen & we went along to that – quite good, and we saw Nancy Lyons giving demonstrations.
At the moment we will be in T’ville till next Tuesday when we will push off to Charters Towers and then gradually work our way out to Mt Isa, probably getting there about Tuesday or Wednesday week, and I shall probably leave Alan there, fly back to T’ville and carry on up to Cairns. However, I’ll be writing again at the weekend and will probably be able to let you know more then.
There has been no rain on the trip and consequently the roads have been dry and good. I only hope it remains that way so that we can get to Mt Isa safely, for otherwise we could be held up for days.
I saw from last Sunday’s papers that Glen Lyon must have been scratched. And so he goes home without another race – perhaps it’s just as well as personally I don’t believe he could win a 5th div. And Osmond is coming down – well well.
The time has now advanced to 12.50 and very shortly I must close this and have lunch and then see some of my Townsville clients – I must get round to get home as early as possible.
Now Bevan, are you looking after Mummy and your sister? Don’t forget you are the only man about the house at the moment & I want you to be good – and manly. Are you keeping well? What about writing to me, eh?
Evelyn, please give my darling Judith a hug and kisses from me & tell her that Daddy misses his little girl, his little boy and his ‘fat chicken’.
Will close now – hope you are feeling better – look after yourself – we are both fit up here. And to all of you my fondest and deepest love & kisses.
Bill / Daddy
X X X X X X X X X X X X X For Mummy
X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X For Judith
X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X For Bevan
That will give you something to count, Bevan.
What happened in the ensuing years
Two years after my father wrote this letter he relinquished his agency work. By early 1954, his days as a commercial traveller were over. Bill’s many trips away from home, which commenced in 1946, had taken their toll on Evelyn. For eight years, she had the responsibility of managing the dressmaking arm of the business as well as caring for first, one child, then later, two small children. There was no childcare in those days, and Evelyn had no family living nearby to help her with the children.
I was too young at the time to know or understand how much my father’s absences during those eight years adversely affected my mother and our family life. My brother (who is five years older than me and who remembers) tells me it was a good thing that our father gave up travelling.
My father’s subsequent commercial ventures
In 1954, my father registered a new company (W E Proposch and Co), doing business in and around Rockhampton as general commission agents, house and property salesmen and auctioneers. This was the second of my father’s post-war commercial ventures (and not his last). As before, my mother assisted him in every way she could, a pattern that continued throughout their married life.
Whenever my father conducted auctions, he dressed in white – from top to toe. I remember him wearing a white long-sleeved shirt, white long trousers, a white belt, white socks and two-toned brown and white leather shoes. During his auctioneering days, he gave himself the name “The Man in White”. My father always came up with gimmicky ideas for promoting his business.
In 1954, Bill opened an auction mart (and second hand goods store) at 128 William Street, Rockhampton. For a time he continued to trade under both names “Central Trading Company” and “W E Proposch and Co”. As an auctioneer, he presided over land, house and vehicle sales (for example).
For several years, Bill conducted weekly poultry auctions at a warehouse in Denison Lane.  I’ve never forgotten that, from time to time, he would bring home a live fowl, and I would watch as he chopped off its head. (I’m horrified at the thought of this now.) Then my mother would pluck the bird’s feathers over boiling water (I hated that pungent smell) and prepare the fowl for cooking for our Sunday lunch.
In 1956, Bill opened a real estate office at 9 Fitzroy Street, Bridge Square, Rockhampton. About a year later, in 1957, he opened a fruit and vegetable mart at the corner of East and Stanley streets. I remember visiting my father at his Fitzroy Street office, and later at his East Street premises. Indeed, given the number of years my father operated his fruit and vegetable business in East Street, I came to know it well.
The business that stemmed from the fruit and vegetable mart proved to be a winner. In this venture, Bill gave himself and the enterprise another gimmicky name, “The Fruit King”. In 1966, reflecting on the success of his fruit and vegetable business up until that time, my father wrote:
I know that my father provided this “pastoral service” for many years. He employed a large number of staff who packed fresh fruit and vegetables for weekly or fortnightly dispatch by rail to customers, particularly those on rural and remote properties, all over central Queensland.
From 1960, my father was on the road to becoming a successful businessman. Not that this success came early or easily. From 1946 up until the late 1950s, my father’s life was marked by struggle, ambition, hard work, determination, innovation, and meagre gains.
The rewards and recognition came during the mid-late 1960s and through the 1970s.
FOR FURTHER READING
Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2011). Census of the Commonwealth of Australia, 1947 Australian Bureau of Statistics. (ABS Statistics electronic collection). Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics. Retrieved August 18, 2022, from https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/cat/2109.0
Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2011). Census of the Commonwealth of Australia, 1954 Australian Bureau of Statistics. (ABS Statistics electronic collection). Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics. Retrieved August 18, 2022, from https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/cat/2108.0
- Advertising (1949, January 22). Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1878 – 1954), p. 6. Retrieved May 3, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article56891881
- NINE GUILTY OF 18 TAXATION OFFENCES (1949, April 2). Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1878 – 1954), p. 5. Retrieved May 3, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article56899361
- Powell, G. & Macintyre, S. (2015). Land of Opportunity: Australia’s post-war reconstruction. National Archives of Australia Research Guides (website). Retrieved August 11, 2022, from https://www.naa.gov.au/help-your-research/research-guides/land-opportunity-australias-post-war-reconstruction
- Australia. War Service Homes Commission. (1947). An outline of the provisions of the War Service Homes Act, 1918-1946 : for the information of intending applicants. Retrieved August 18, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-617545947
- OLYMPIC TEAM FOR BOWEN (1952, March 14). Bowen Independent (Qld. : 1911 – 1954), p. 1. Retrieved January 14, 2019, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article203945053
- ROCKHAMPTON-MACKAY ROAD “BUSH TRACK” (1948, August 26). Daily Mercury (Mackay, Qld. : 1906 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved January 10, 2019, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article171189327
- Queensland Government. Queensland Heritage Register. (20 January 2016). Tobruk Memorial Baths. Online: Retrieved August 17, 2022, from https://apps.des.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/explorer/detail/?id=601575
- CYCLONE AT TOWNSVILLE ON SUNDAY (1940, February 19). Townsville Daily Bulletin (Qld. : 1907 – 1954), p. 5. Retrieved August 18, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article62419123
- Queensland Government. Queensland Heritage Register. (20 January 2016). Tobruk Memorial Baths. Online: Retrieved August 17, 2022, from https://apps.des.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/explorer/detail/?id=601575
- THE STOKERS’ STRIKE. (1889, December 25). The Northern Miner (Charters Towers, Qld. : 1874 – 1954), p. 3. Retrieved August 16, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article76971908
- TOWNSVILLE BLAZE. (1928, November 6). Queensland Times (Ipswich, Qld. : 1909 – 1954), p. 7 (DAILY.). Retrieved August 16, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article115334299
- £18,000 CONTRACT. (1929, July 9). The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), p. 15. Retrieved August 16, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article21424654
- The Townsville Daily Bulletin. TUESDAY, JULY 8, 1920. (1930, July 8). Townsville Daily Bulletin (Qld. : 1907 – 1954), p. 6. Retrieved August 16, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article60785174
- THE HOTEL SEAVIEW. (1930, July 26). Townsville Daily Bulletin (Qld. : 1907 – 1954), p. 11. Retrieved August 16, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article60783220
- Townsville City Council. (2019, March 28). Council approves refurbishment of much-loved hotel. Retrieved August 11, 2022, from https://www.townsville.qld.gov.au/about-council/news-and-publications/media-releases/2019/march/council-approves-refurbishment-of-much-loved-hotel
- Poultry Sale. (1958, January 16). The Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld), p. 20.