Friday, 22 August 2014

Pirongia Bells in Australia part One

David and Winnie's Visit to the Aussie Bells, July, 2014
                                                                      Part One
                                                                      By David Bell

Taken at Ravenshoe, Queensland, Australia

Over time our Bell whanau (from Peter and Jean Bell) has been steadily growing  across the Tasman in Australia; so much so that the number now living there permanently rivals those resident in our native New Zealand. In July, 2014, Winnie and I spent two incredible weeks with Colin and Stewart and their families. We should all be immensely proud of our Australian connection and the great lives they have carved out for themselves in their adopted land. It's great to have family in such diverse places; it all adds to the richness and culture of our extended family and provides us with stories and adventures galore! This blog article will give the reader a glimpse into the lives of our Queensland Bells.

Our Aussie 'Pioneers'

The leaders of the drift west across the Tasman Sea were Colin and Beryl Bell who left New Zealand in 1969 to begin a new life dairy farming on the Atherton Tablelands, North Queensland, giving them their rightful place as the first of our family 'pioneers' to Australia.

Colin was born in Te Awamutu in 1941, and lived his early years in Pirongia. He was schooled at the Pirongia Primary School and Te Awamutu College. Upon leaving high school he took his first job at a clothing store in Te Awamutu before becoming a linesman with the Power Board constructing power lines to homes and farms in the remote areas around Kawhia and Hauturu. He later worked at the Kawerau pulp and paper mill for a few years before getting into the dairy farming business at Reporoa which lies about half way between Rotorua and Taupo. Upon leaving Reporoa he farmed at Ngarua in the Waikato and answering an add in the newspaper sold up to begin a new life dairy farming on the Atherton Tablelands in Queensland Australia. He was soon joined by his younger brothers Maurice and Stewart.

Maurice in Australia with Amanda and Carl (sitting)
Maurice went to work on a dairy farm but returned to New Zealand shortly after. Stewart travelled to Queensland on what was intended to be a short holiday with his brothers but it turned out to be a permanent stay. Both Colin and Stewart have remained permanently in Australia with no intention of returning to Aotearoa. Both have raised their children in Australia and while they recognize their New Zealand ancestry, they are now thoroughly Australian.

Colin married Beryl Johnson in 1963 in the Methodist church at Pirongia, New Zealand and produced two children, Vicky May and Darrell Graham before emigrating to Australia. Steven Bruce, Renee Jean and Julia Maree were all born in Australia. Their eldest son, Darrell, married Leslie Ann Scott on June 15th, 1989, and have given Colin and Beryl three granddaughters: Emma, Sarah, and Elise. A fuller account of Colin and Beryl's family history will be given sometime in the future.

Stewart was born at Te Awamutu in1955. Like his brothers, he was raised on the old Parihoro Road family farm and schooled at Pirongia Primary and Te Awamutu College. His first job after leaving high school was as a forester in the Kiangaroa pine plantations and later at Rai Valley near Nelson in the South Island of New Zealand. It was tough work which hardened him up for the adventures that lay ahead in the heat and dust of Australia; adventures he no inkling of at that early age.

At eighteen years of age he made the trip across the Tasman to visit with his brothers Colin and Maurice and while there took up what he intended to be temporary work as a truck driver at a tin mine near the town of Herberton. It was while he was working here he was introduced to Myra Morris, an attractive lab technician from the nearby town of Malanda. A romance followed culminating in the two being married which in turn put paid to Stewart's plans to return to New Zealand.

Stewart and Myra during their courtship
It was also while working for the tin mining company Stewart and another workmate secured claims to a couple of old abandoned tin mines which they worked on their days off in the hills behind Irvingbank. While this mining venture turned out to be a one-load endeavour ( his partner had to quit due to a family tragedy), it was, nonetheless, a marvellous experience and adventure from which he learned priceless life lessons as well as gaining a fascinating knowledge about mining tin. Additionally, his one and only load of tin ore paid off handsomely, grossing a pay-out of $10,000 giving him $5,000 in the hand after splitting it equally with his partner. All this while in his nineteenth and twentieth years.

After his mining career he and Myra took to dairy farming, believing it to be a more permanent and fulfilling career. They milked cows for many years in the Malanda-Topaz area and raised three daughters there: Jessica, Bethany, and Kathryn. Stewart and Myra are the proud grandparents of eight grandchildren. A fuller account of Stewart and Myra will be the subject of a later article in the Bells of Pirongia.

Jan in Perth
Jan, our baby sister, should also be considered as one of the 'pioneers' as she and her then husband, Mark Lear, made the trip across the Tasman; not to Queensland, but to Perth in Western Australia where they lived for several years. Mark, who took out his engineering degree from Canterbury University in Christchurch, New Zealand, landed a great job with an aluminium company outside Perth. But, unlike Colin and Stewart, Jan and Mark eventually returned permanently to New Zealand. Their three children, Andrew, Steven and Matthew, were all born in Perth. Andrew and Steven have since returned to reside in Australia with Matthew living in Wellington, New Zealand.

Last but not least are Maxine and Kyle, the children of our older sister Glenda who both live in Sydney. Maxine and her husband Darren reside in Miranda and Kyle in central Sydney.

Our 2014 Holiday

Winnie and I left Christchurch early on Tuesday July 29th., a cold wintery morning,  and arrived in tropical Cairns around 4pm Aussie time where Colin was waiting at the airport to take us to the farm on Old Boongie Road, Topaz. The farm is about  two hours by road from Cairns; 130 acres set among the lush rain forest high up on the Atherton Tablelands. The altitude makes it considerably cooler than that of the lower regions around Mareeba and Cairns, both with decidedly tropical temperatures. The Topaz farm belongs to Colin and Beryl's son Steven who is an airline captain flying for Cathay Pacific based in Hong Kong where he has been living for many years. The original family farm is further north at Tarzali, about 300 acres and currently occupied by Darrel and his wife Leslie; their three children all now living and working in Cairns. While the whole area is good for dairying, these two farms are more lifestyle blocks with a few head of cattle on each.

It was wonderful to catch up with Beryl and Colin again; especially under more pleasant circumstances - we were last together in Pirongia watching Mac, our oldest brother, die. This time it was purely holiday and what a holiday it was! Following is an event-by-event account of the highlights of our two week stay.

Therapy with Dr Phil: First on the bucket list was a long awaited fishing trip on Colin's boat, Dr Phil, so named because whenever they start feeling depressed they consult Dr Phil who, being a big boat, invariably recommends a days fishing out on the ocean. It has never failed, the cure rate is one hundred percent!

When the weather was right and a good crew arranged, we all headed up to the old Tarzali farm where Darrell had the boat and fishing gear all primed and ready to go. The crew consisted of a few friends to help pay for the gas and other incidentals and someone with a good four-wheel-drive vehicle to tow the boat to the ocean. Thus it was on this day.

Colin and I set off in his little car behind the 4WD and boat to a small bay not far from Innisfail. It was a beautiful warm day with only a light breeze and a little rain off to the east but no threat to us. We launched Uncle Phil and set off over a lightly choppy sea to the fishing ground about twenty minutes away. I asked Darrell how he knew where the fish would be schooling and he said he did it very scientifically; he watched where the professional fishermen went and followed them. It had the added benefit of not having to buy all the fancy electronic fish-finding gear.

When we arrived at the spot it was quite crowded with boats of all descriptions from substantial cabins to small dinghies with a single outboard motor. Apparently, the professionals like this arrangement as well because all the recreational boats that soon surround them bring in fish by tossing burley into the water. You could distinguish them from the recreational fishers by their larger boats and superior equipment. They also seemed to have the knack of hauling in more fish than the rest.

Darrell chose a suitable place to park and we dropped anchor. From then on it was all action to bait our hooks and cast off. I got my line in and within moments had a massive strike. I hauled in a good-sized mackerel and earned the distinction of catching the first fish. This was a good sign because from that point on the mackerel threw themselves onto our hooks and our big ice chest began to fill up quickly.

Colin baiting up
Mackerel are a fast swimming, powerful fish that when in the mood take the bait without messing about. The result is a powerful thump on the rod followed instantly by the line singing as the fish pulls it from the reel. Fortunately, we were using heavy line so the objective was to hook and haul in as fast as possible. As Darrell our skipper said, mackerel was the 'bread-and-butter' fish and the sooner we met the boat bag limit the better. As it turned out we reached our limit in about two and a half hours which was an excellent result because it meant we could haul anchor and head home to clean and fillet the fish, a job that could take a few hours.

At one point during all the excitement I got a particularly powerful strike and I knew I had a big one on the hook because it took off  out to sea and I had a tough job getting it under control. At one point it went around the boat and I had to scramble past everyone to prevent it getting caught on the underside of Dr Phil. Eventually, he tired and I was able to pull him in close enough for the net. I was thrilled to see that it was a biggest fish of the day so I had the double distinction of catching the first and biggest of the day.

I also had the distinction of being the only one on board to get seasick. Since arriving in Aussie I had developed an ear problem; it felt like there was considerable pressure in my inner right ear which was making me feel a little uncomfortable at times. On the boat out I was fine and for the first couple of hours fishing seasickness was the last thing on my mind. Then, about two hours in I suddenly started vomiting over the side. Thankfully it was near the end of the expedition and I had had plenty of fun and success catching six or seven mackerel. Nevertheless, I was compelled to put my rod up for a while and try to recover a bit so I could start fishing again. My vomiting wasn't helped by the huge bacon and egg pie I had bought on the way over from an early morning bakery in a little town near the bay. Colin and the others pulled in proclaiming it to have the best pies in Queensland. When I saw them I had to agree and bought a large bacon and egg and a bottle of Bunderberg ginger beer, both of which I devoured before we got to the dock. It all came up and went over the side of the boat at about 10am. The worst part was looking at the bacon, egg, peas and corn floating about under the water in a big, milky mass and Tony, Darrell's friend next to me, pulling his fish up right through the vomit.

We hauled anchor and headed home just as I was thinking of having another go at catching more fish. Thankfully, the sickness happened near the end of our day when I had already caught some good mackerel and it disappeared the moment I set foot on dry land. We got home a couple of hours later and began cleaning and filleting the mackerel at the Tarzali farmhouse.

Thus ended a fantastic day fishing.

Checking the gear
Above:Trying to catch the good luck rainbow for good fishing

Below: The ice chest full of mackerel

Above: Colin showing how to cut a good fillet of mackerel

Below: The other fishermen hard at work

Above: a pile of fresh mackerel fillets

Below: Me with my first and biggest catches
 The Girls Go Walkabout: While the boys were out fishing, the girls decided to have an adventure of their own. Beryl, Winnie, Myra and Jess (with baby Kip) took
off to lake Eacham for a girls-day-out. It was sunny and a perfect day for a good walk. They walked and talked around the entire circumference of the lake which was quite a good distance. 

The Gang of Four

Walking the Eacham Trail
Julia's section in Malanda: In a few months a
new house will stand here
 They topped off their day with lunch at the Morris (Jess' parents) residence before coming home to check out how many fish the men caught. 
A panoramic shot of the three Belles at Lake Eacham
End Part One



  1. Loved reading about the early years for the Aussie connection! So great to see you Uncle Dave & Aunty Winnie!!

  2. Hi Beryl and Colin, I used to be Brenda Collins in Atherton and had my 21st birthday there. Has been a very long time since we have seen each other. My married name is Stapleton and hubby is Mark. I see you have a photo of Ray Stuart helping to fillet the fish - he is an old friend of ours from Gladstone. Great to see you are well and on the go. love Brenda

  3. I have been meaning to track down your blog again Uncle David (I had been waiting for the next issue to land in my email inbox but it never Turns out there are a whole lot of posts that I missed!! Mum and Dad are over in Perth with us at the moment and the conversation turned to family and I think Dad was quite chuffed to feature prominently in these latest posts! haha I love reading about our family history, recent and past, and even though I have a lot of back reading to do, I just wanted to say that I really appreciate the fact that someone is documenting it all!! Love Beth (another part of the Aussie connection)

  4. David, my name is Ben Hardcastle. I live in Cache Valley, Utah. I ran across you blog on a sleepless night while reminiscing about my LDS missionary service in England in 1985-87. I did an random Google search on one of my old companions, Darrell Bell, who I trained as a new missionary in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire. My Google search led me to your blog where I read you comments about Darrell and Leslie Bell. I'm sure it is the same Darrell with whom I served. We were great mates. I spent Christmas 1986 with Leslie and her mother Mary in Doncaster England which is the ward I was serving at the time. I would love to be able to contact Darrell and Leslie if possible. I have not seen or spoken to Darrell since 1987 when I left the mission field. I would greatly appreciate it if you could contact me via my email at and let me know if you would have email or contact information for Darrell and Leslie. It would love to catch up with them again - assuming they are the same couple I knew. One of my life's ambitions was to go on a wild pig hunt with Darrell Bell. Thank you