Robert and Sarah Smith’s descendants gather in front of the historic bottle tree
The memorial plaque has been mounted on a rock in front of the Hivesville bottle tree

April 14, 2021

Hundreds of motorists would drive past the bottle tree on the corner of Hivesville’s Memorial Park every day, but few would have any idea why that tree is there.

The bottle tree was planted in 1932, three years after a level crossing tragedy which occurred just metres away.

On October 1, 1929, local farmer Robert Smith apparently stalled his Ford ute on the railway line which then crossed Wondai-Proston Road.

Seconds later the Proston steam train ploughed into the vehicle, trapping it under the engine.

Mr Smith, 58, suffered fatal injuries in the horrific collision.

The death rocked the local community, even though Mr Smith – a former sergeant in the Royal Irish Constabulary – and his family had only arrived from Ireland seven years earlier.

According to family records, Mr Smith was a trustee of the local hall committee, a JP, a member of the Wondai Hospital Board, secretary of the Local Progress Association and a member of the committee which successfully campaigned for the re-establishment of a school in Hivesville in 1924.

An obituary published in a local newspaper noted:

“Quite a gloom was cast over the Wondai-Hivesville district on Tuesday, October 1, 1929, when it became known that Mr Robert Smith had met an untimely end by misadventure”.

“In accordance with his usual custom, Mr Smith had on Tuesday morning driven his Ford utility truck from his farm ‘Bellevue’, situated a mile on the Wondai side of Hivesville, to the railway station at the latter township and delivered his cream for railing.

“After conducting some business in the township he started for home at 11:30am and when motoring over the line at the railway crossing the inward bound tri-weekly Proston train struck the truck amidships, cutting it in two, striking also the driver and hurling him to instant death.

“The visibility of an approaching train at this crossing is bad and as the train was moving at a fairly rapid speed it is improbable (sic) that the unfortunate man even knew by what means he was launched into eternity.” 

He left behind his wife Sarah (d. 1965), six sons and one daughter.

The local newspaper noted his funeral cortege was one of the largest seen locally, consisting of more than 50 cars and 300 people.

The death obviously made a large impact on one Hivesville resident, local school headmaster Alex Wilson, who planted the bottle tree in his memory near the site of the tragedy.

Members of the Smith family, including 10 grandchildren, gathered at the foot of the tree on Sunday afternoon to make sure their forebear – and Mr Wilson’s tribute to him – would not be forgotten.

With assistance from local councillor Kathy Duff, the family organised for a rock plinth to be placed in front of the tree, bearing a plaque recording Mr Smith’s death and Mr Wilson’s tribute to him.

Grandson George Smith told the assembled group the tree was now in the process of being listed on the National Register of Heritage Trees.

Smith family members watch on as Cr Kathy Duff and Robert Smith’s great-great-great-granddaughter Summer Thomas, 8, from Yarraman, unveil the memorial plaque

Robert and Sarah Smith (Photo: Smith family)

The new plaque placed in front of the bottle tree
The 10 grandchildren of Robert and Laura Smith in the shade of the Hivesville bottle tree
Grandsons Derek and George Smith presented Cr Kathy Duff with flowers and a small gift at the end of the ceremony
Smith family descendants watch as the memorial plaque is unveiled on Sunday afternoon
The Smith Family resided at ‘Bellevue’ near Hivesville … Robert Smith is fourth from the left in the front row (Photo: Smith family)
How newspapers reported the tragedy on October 2, 1929 … left, Maryborough Chronicle – Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser; top right, Brisbane Courier; bottom right, The Age (Photos: Trove)

Anderssons Fruit Market for quality fruits and vegetables

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