Thursday, 3 May 2012

Special Collections Fossickings 1: One Man's Castle?

North Queensland Photographic Collection ID 4193
This photograph, from the Mary Cheetham collection, shows the rudimentary hut erected at Nelly Bay by one of Magnetic Island’s more colourful characters, Otto Bottiger. Built around 1915 it appears to have been his home for the next two decades. At high tide the hut was entirely surrounded by water and over the years as the beach gradually shifted and the sea eroded sand from around the stumps, it became increasingly dilapidated.

Later photographs show it apparently adrift in the bay. Danish by birth, but educated in England and France, Otto had travelled widely before coming to the island in the 1890s.

Variously described as a hermit, a recluse and a nomad, he was certainly an unusual character: a former bank manager and bookkeeper, frequently of unkempt appearance, who could recite classical poetry or entire Shakespeare plays. But he was hardly a hermit, reportedly happy to recount fishing stories or share his extensive knowledge of astronomy and natural history with anyone who asked. He served on the Picnic Bay school committee and was later involved in setting up a small school at Nelly Bay. He also held positions as a Ranger and as the Nelly Bay post-master.

 Otto’s death in 1934 prompted a lengthy obituary in the Townsville Daily Bulletin and in 1936 a memorial archway was erected at Nelly Bay. Nearly 100 years after its construction Bottiger’s hut could still fire the imagination of local artist Tony Cuthbertson, who recreated a smaller version for the 2009 Strand ephemera exhibition.

Story by Miniata

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