Brothers Robert (holding Ray), Bill and David Kerr in the 'tin town' in the late 1940s.
Brothers Robert (holding Ray), Bill and David Kerr in the 'tin town' in the late 1940s. Contributed.

Wild tales of Mackay's lost suburb from a 76 yr old

EVER heard of the tin town?

It might not sound fancy, but for one Sarina man it was the best place in the world to grow up.

Bill Kerr, 76, has put his skills as an award-winning journalist to good use and published a book about his life growing up in the little sugar town before flush toilets, washing machines, fridges, telephones and TVs existed.

Mr Kerr grew up on Atherton Street in Sarina, in an area known as the 'tin town' because of all the galvanised iron houses.

Tin Town Triumph is an entertaining look at Sarina life in the 1950s and 60s, told from the perspective of a kid born into a poor family that was rich with love and happiness.

Bill Kerr (left) at the launch of Tin Town Triumph with Michael Jackes, a former Sarina boy who attended Sarina State School at the same time as Mr Kerr.
Bill Kerr (left) at the launch of Tin Town Triumph with Michael Jackes, a former Sarina boy who attended Sarina State School at the same time as Mr Kerr. Contributed.

Mr Kerr said he had always thought his story was worth telling, even if it was just to preserve history.

He has dedicated the book to his mother Doss Kerr who died in 2012.

"I was born in Rockhampton, my mother had gone there to have the first of us boys because her family lived there and it was during the war,” Mr Kerr said.

"We were a family of six boys for more than 10 years until my two sisters came along.

"My mother raised us when times were tough, she was very well-known in Sarina and she did her best to give us kids the best life possible.”

The eight Kerr children at 3 Atherton St, Sarina in 1961 with Robert's first car.
The eight Kerr children at 3 Atherton St, Sarina in 1961 with Robert's first car. From youngest to oldest: Robert born 1941 Yeppoon, William (Bill) born 1943 Rockhampton, David born 1944 Rockhampton, Raymond born 1947 Mackay, Alan born 1948 Mackay, James (Jim) born 1951 Mackay, Elaine born 1959 Mackay, Leanne born 1961 Mackay (married surname Buchanan). Contributed.

Mr Kerr's father Percy Kerr worked at Plane Creek Mill for 39 years, having moved to Sarina in 1932 to cut sugarcane.

The Kerr boys would ride their bikes to the mill at lunch time to deliver their father a hot meal wrapped in a tea towel.

Mr Kerr fondly remembers when he was lucky enough to have a tour of the mill.

"Those were definitely some of the experiences that shaped my future,” he said.

"I think it was in my blood to be passionate about the sugar industry.”

Doss Kerr playing cricket with some of her family in the backyard at 3 Atherton St Sarina. Son Alan (who lives at Mackay) is on left and his sister Leanne Kerr in middle with her husband Paul Buchanan on right.
Doss Kerr playing cricket with some of her family in the backyard at 3 Atherton St Sarina. Son Alan (who lives at Mackay) is on left and his sister Leanne Kerr in middle with her husband Paul Buchanan on right. INSET BELOW LEFT: Gladys Petersen (wife of Stan Petersen of Petersen Bros butchery, Sarina) with Sarina Methodist Church children during a visit to Shinfield Methodist Church on Sarina Range during the early 1950s. Kerr boys Bill and David are standing on left. INSERT RIGHT: Bill Kerr (left) at the launch of Tin Town Triumph with Michael Jackes. Contributed.

Mr Kerr attended Sarina High School and graduated Year 10 top of his class. The school had just opened and he was in the second intake of students.

After a brief stint working at NAB as a clerk, he started his career as a journalist at Queensland Country Life at age 21.

Throughout the years, Mr Kerr had several writing gigs, including working for Canegrowers as the editor of a monthly producers review magazine.

"Before long I converted that into a fortnightly magazine which is now called Australian Canegrower,” Mr Kerr said.

"For many years I was the man behind the voice of Australian canegrowers.

"I met three Australian Prime Ministers and overseas presidents during my time as a journalist, but it was the farmers I enjoyed interviewing the most.”

Gladys Petersen (wife of Stan Petersen of Petersen Bros butchery, Sarina) with Sarina Methodist Church children during a visit to Shinfield Methodist Church on Sarina Range during the early 1950s. Kerr boys Bill and David are standing on left.
Gladys Petersen (wife of Stan Petersen of Petersen Bros butchery, Sarina) with Sarina Methodist Church children during a visit to Shinfield Methodist Church on Sarina Range during the early 1950s. Kerr boys Bill and David are standing on left. Contributed.

The decision to write Tin Town Triumph was based on a love of Queensland history, Mr Kerr said.

"It took me about five years to gather all the information and photos for the book, but I'm glad I did,” he said.

"I saw how easily knowledge could be lost, so I thought I should share what I could.

"I think my story is something a lot of people can relate to. Growing up in a small country town, no one was rich, but we all had a fantastic time.”

Tin Town Triumph is a 156 page book containing 230 photographs.

Copies of the book are available from the author at kerr.bill@bigpond.com or phone 0467990692.