A romance that history passed by

The quaintly named Basin Pocket was once favoured to be the principal settlement of the district, but that never came to be. Today it’s a sleepy suburb of Ipswich and is bounded on three sides by the Bremer River. The place takes its name from ‘The Basin’ which was a natural widening of the river that was noted by the explorer Allan Cunningham in 1828. It later became a popular place for river steamers to turn around before berthing at Ipswich. Today it’s a residential area with no shops but where a disused weatherboard church provides a portal to a romance of the past.

The church was dedicated on the 11th of September 1921 by Gerald Sharp, the Anglican Archbishop of Brisbane. Sharp was president of The Royal Geographical Society of Queensland until his death in 1933.

Archbishop Gerald Sharp - Wikimedia
Archbishop Gerald Sharp was there in 1921

After scratching around the church, I found relics that may have been dropped around the time of the Archbishop’s visit. The oldest was an English 1907 King Edward VII penny. Near it was a Saint Joseph and Saint Jude medal that had evidently meant a great deal to someone. The loop through which a necklace once threaded had broken off, so a hole was put in the medal itself.

20200719_140748 (2)
Relics found that history passed by

Living just two minutes’ walk from the church was Arthur and Abigail Simpson. Arthur had lost a brother on the battlefields of France in 1918 during the First World War. He was a labourer who in the mid-1920s had fallen on hard times, so much so that the East Ipswich Vaudeville Party ran a benefit concert in the church hall for his family. Arthur later became a tradesman’s assistant at the Queensland Railway workshops. He travelled to work across the river and back each day via the Basin Pocket ferry. Both Arthur and Abigail lived their whole lives in Basin Pocket.

Come the Second World War in 1939, Australians rushed to enlist with over 980,000 signing-up by war’s end. Ten men from the little hamlet of Basin Pocket donned military uniforms, two with the Royal Australian Air Force. One of them was 21-year-old George Simpson who was the second son of Arthur and Abigail. He enlisted eighty years ago next month on the 7th of August 1940 and was the only one of the two Basin Pocket air force men to attend the little Anglican church.

Arthur George Simpson - Abigail May Porter 1915 - robin simpson shared this on Ancestry 13 Nov 2016 (2)
Arthur and Abigail Simpson of Basin Pocket

George was sent to Ascot Vale in Melbourne with the RAAF’s 1st Engineering School. That’s where he met attractive young munitions worker Mavis Coonerty. Mavis had joined the many women doing traditional men’s factory work while the men were away at the war. Her own brother was destined to be captured by the Japanese with the Fall of Singapore the following year. Mavis’s father Jim had been a horse breaker when he enlisted in the First World War and was serving the Australian Artillery Veterinary Corps in France when he was awarded the Military Medal for bravery in 1917. One witness wrote, “When a German gas attack is impending the first thing the men do is to don their gas masks; Jim Coonerty’s first act, on the other hand, always is to see that his horses have their masks on.” Jim was quite a character. After leave to visit England and Ireland, Jim wrote, “Half-a-dozen colleens wanted to marry me, but they got shy of me when I showed them photos of Mrs Coonerty and the children.” Mavis was born in 1919 nine months after Jim rejoined his wife at home after the war.

Mavis Lorraine Coonerty 1938 - Ancestry janetrmacdonald56 shared 25 Mar 2020
Mavis Coonerty married Sergeant George Simpson

George Simpson and Mavis Coonerty announced their engagement in June of 1941 and George brought her home to Basin Pocket to meet his parents. They married in January 1942 at Ipswich’s Anglican St Paul’s church.

It was during this short time home in Basin Pocket that George lost the RAAF badge that was pinned to his air force forage cap. I found that badge near his local church along with a number of 1940s coins. George was the only man serving in the RAAF who lived in Basin Pocket and went to the church. It’s literally a million-to-one chance that an item lost so long ago is clearly linked to one individual.

After being discharged, George and Mavis returned to Melbourne where he worked first as a tram employee and then a fitter’s assistant. They lived the last thirty years of their lives in Moe not far from where Mavis’s family had lived.

Their only child passed away in 1989 which means George’s wartime badge is possibly the sole tangible reminder of George and Mavis’s time on earth together. His badge along with some beautiful silver coins provide reminders of a wartime romance that otherwise history would have passed by, much like Basin Pocket itself.


Photo credits:
Archbishop Gerald Sharp – Wikimedia
Relics found – my own
Arthur George Simpson and Abigail May Porter 1915 – Robin Simpson shared this on Ancestry
Mavis Lorraine Coonerty 1938 – Janet Macdonald shared this on Ancestry

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s