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Monkey business: A thief with no remorse
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by DanielleJesser

When you walked into the Bayersville Zoo at Mackay Harbour, chances were your first encounter was with a cheeky monkey sitting on a pole wearing a red and white polka dot vest – a renowned thief with no remorse.

Nothing was off limits, from a blanket in a baby’s pram to the sunglasses on the head of an unsuspecting visitor to a packet of smokes tucked in a top pocket, anything and everything was up for grabs – literally.


Hearts were also stolen every Easter when the rabbits were dyed all shades of pastel to the delight of children who not only got to see, but also pat the fluffy wonders. Decades after closing the Bayersville Zoo still holds a special place in many hearts, not only for the animal antics but for the rare chance a zoo visit gave to appreciate and interact with amazing animals.

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The story of how the Bayersville Zoo came to open is best told by founder Beth Ayers who explained how a butcher’s shop led to the opening of a zoo.  Her carefully typed 1976 original manuscript on three sheets of thin paper is now at the State Library of Queensland in the John Oxley Library collection and available on special request.


Beth explains how she and her husband Philip, her sister and her husband’s employer moved to a 2ha property fronting Mackay Harbour in February 1947. At that time the dairy farm had a herd of 50 cows that grazed on the natural grasses around Mt Basset and from which the blue granite was taken to build Mackay Harbour.


The property had a three-room galvanised iron house, a milking shed and a quaint cream shed.  Instead of taking milk to the factory the new owners decided to deliver cream door-to-door. “One of our friendly neighbours gave us his Hawaiian pineapple crop so for a portion of our first year it was pineapples and cream, either fresh or boiled (clotted), and the venture was most successful,” Beth wrote.


Even then, the dairy attracted visitors at milking time and the addition of Jersey stud followed and the family settled on the name Bayersville as a prefix for their goods. B for Beth, Ayers, their name and the ville tagged on. Later they established a large stud piggery which attracted more local attention and visitors. The standard litter was 10 to 12 piglets and the Bayersville record was 21 – all of which one survived.


The pigs proved a profitable income and in time the dairy was phased out and the obvious next phase for the family was to try their hand at butchering beef. They built a first-class slaughterhouse and opened a shop adjoining the family home. For the first time, Mackay could buy tenderised beef and yearling beef. “The response from the public was tremendous and in return for their patronage we gave them tender meat, good service and Saturday trading,” Beth wrote.


While Saturday trading was legal, it was unheard of and came at a time when few households could refrigerate the meat. After trading on Saturdays, the union (unspecified) stepped in and the shop was declared ‘black’ and despite efforts to stop them trading, business flourished. “We opened a shop in Mackay and employed women to oversee the meat which was delivered from the main shop at Bayersville, already cut up and trimmed.”

At this time, a craze for tropical fish tanks swept Mackay and within months the Ayers family had no less than 40 aquariums. “It was when the shop was so crowded with customers that we used to invite them to view the fish, so as to relieve the problems of having to wait. “It was those people, who by saying ‘why don’t you open your house to the public’, were responsible for us doing just that.”


After organising the necessary permits, the family was granted a B Class zoo licence which allowed them to import stock from overseas and to exchange stock with other Australian zoos. “From then on we learned the art of keeping animals captive, but content, by using kindness, common sense, advice from other zoo keepers and reference books, plus having as our partner a retired veterinary surgeon whose knowledge was invaluable during those odd times of having an ill animal.”


Writing in 1976, Beth said there was just her and her husband to manage the property. “Bayersville still retains the popularity of former years, for we are never content to ‘leave things as is’. Accommodation for the animals is constantly being improved and animals are exchanged from time to time with other zoos. “The breeding of many animals has been most rewarding and includes raccoons, agoutis, baboons, monkeys, rat kangaroos, sugar gliders, wombats and hosts of wallabies and kangaroos,” she wrote.


Their home was also open to display with artefacts ranging from 19th century hand carved furniture from India to an 18th century grandfather clock and a more recent shell and coral collection. There was a souvenir and giftshop at the front entrance as well as light refreshments and a host of children wanting to go on guided tours.

“My husband and I are humbly but justifiably proud of the continuing patronage of our business, evidence of the goal that we wished to achieve, that being to offer to local and visiting folk a place of visiting interest for a reasonable admission fee, at the same time enjoying a busy but full life ourselves,” Beth said.

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