Farewell Iris and Bill Newbold

The Batavia Coast Maritime Heritage Association wishes to publicly acknowledge the contribution to our Association and to the Geraldton community of two of our stalwarts, Iris and Bill Newbold, who are leaving to live in Perth.

“Squander not the precious seconds” reads the inscription on one of Bill’s sundials, a motto he certainly seems to have lived by!

Bill arrived in Geraldton in 1948 where the Basile family took him under their wing and introduced him to the infant post-war crayfishing industry. Bill seized the opportunity and with a tiny scooter boat fished local and Abrolhos waters, in those days a very tough and physically demanding occupation. The Abrolhos became a place Bill continues to love, one of his discoveries there being the remains of the Zeewijk wreck on Half Moon Reef which led to the Navy recovering cannon and, with Bill’s directions, later investigations by Max Cramer, Tom Brady, Hugh Edwards and others.

In 1950 when Geraldton fishermen realized they were being dealt with unfairly by the existing buyers, Bill suggested they start a cooperative, and became the first Chairman of the Geraldton Fishermen’s Cooperative. Shares 1-10 were bought by Bill, and by the start of the 1951 Abrolhos season the fishermen had built their own processing factory. The Coop continues to this day, handles about 2/3 of WA’s rock lobster catch and is recognised as a world leader.

The tiny vessel that Bill fished from, the OO, was rolled by a breaker south of Point Moore and he was lucky to survive a 6 hour swim to shore. Bill later built a 65-foot timber vessel, the Irus, in a Wonthella backyard, using it as a fishing and processing vessel and as a carrier boat. The Irus is still afloat as a pleasure vessel in Fremantle.

When iron exports from Australia resumed in 1966 from Geraldton, Bill gained the contract for the tug operations, and continued in that business until his sons took over in the 1970’s. Propellers from their tugs were donated to the HMAS SYDNEY II memorial on Mount Scott.

Premier Charles Court sought Bill out to Chair the forerunner to our present MidWest Development Commission in the 1960’s. In 1977 he instigated a consortium that got the first commercial television station up and running in Geraldton, GTW11.

Bill has left other lasting legacies in Geraldton with his ingenious sundials at the Batavia Coast Marina, Queen’s Park Theatre forecourt, and at Geraldton Airport Greenough Terminal, the first two principally funded by Bill himself. His mind still tackles their complexities and he has other plans ready to go, should the opportunity arise.

“Behind every successful man is a strong, wise and hardworking woman” is an old saying, and nothing could be truer of Bill’s Iris, who recalls an admonition she received when announcing she was to marry Bill in 1952: “Marry a fisherman? Is that the best you can do”? Together they have lived a long and eventful life together, and we wish them well for the future, closer to their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren in Perth.

Thank you Bill and Iris!

Howard Gray
Chairman, Batavia Coast Maritime Heritage Association