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Walter Ernest (Wally) Bauer (1921–1992)

by Hilda E. Maclean

This article was published:

Walter Ernest Bauer (1921-1992), tourist-resort developer and operator, was born on 24 February 1921 at Gin Gin, Queensland, third of nine children of Queensland-born parents Ernest Michael Bauer, draper, and his wife Anna Wilhelmine, née Rackemann. In 1928 Wally enrolled at Gooburrum State School. After he and his brother Colin passed the 1934 State scholarship examination, the family moved to a dairy farm at Lindum, near Brisbane, so the boys could attend Brisbane Grammar School. There Wally displayed 'fair industry and ability' (BGS GR) and sat the junior public examination in 1936. The next year the Bauers took over Henry Lamond's lease of the Molle group of islands by exchanging the Lindum farm. With two other families, they started developing South Molle as a tourist resort. Wally soon obtained his master’s ticket so that he could skipper the island’s launch.

Enlisting in the Royal Australian Air Force on 21 June 1941, Bauer qualified as a pilot and flew in the South-West Pacific Area with No. 36 Squadron (1943), No. 5 Communication Unit (1943-44), and No. 4 Communication Unit (1944-45). His superiors appreciated his quiet efficiency and pleasing manner. He was demobilised on 4 September 1945 as a flying officer. On 20 March 1944 at St Paul's Church of England, Proserpine, he had married Frances Alice Beatrice Walmsley, a shop assistant; they were to have a daughter and two sons before being divorced.

After World War II Bauer took over the Kincora Hotel at Lower Tully but by 1950 he was back on South Molle as assistant manager of the resort. Keeping in touch with former guests was an important part of the family’s ethos. They conducted a number of reunions of South Molle holiday-makers at Rockhampton and other cities in the 1950s. An annual ball was held at the Cloudland Ballroom, Brisbane, for 'friends of the island,' proceeds of which went to charity.

In 1955, following Ernest Bauer's retirement, the lease was transferred to his sons. Over the following years, family members went their separate ways and Wally became sole manager in December 1959. Under his direction, South Molle gained the reputation as a place of fun, where neckties were not allowed. His outgoing personality was well suited to the hospitality industry. In the 1960s he printed his own currency, the ‘reef,’ for use on the island; it featured his portrait and was a highly successful promotional idea. On 9 August 1967 at the Court House, Bowen, he married Thelma May Martin, née Rackemann, a secretary and divorcee.

Bauer presided over the Great Barrier Reef Promotional Council and instigated the annual Whitsunday Festival and the Coral Queen competition. He fostered a spirit of cooperation with the managers of other Whitsunday resort islands to jointly advance their interests, and he campaigned for the construction of a new jetty and tourist facility at Shute Harbour to service the islands.

In January 1970 the South Molle resort was badly damaged by cyclone Ada. After a challenging year of rebuilding and re-establishment, Bauer sold the business to Peter Vaggelas in November 1971 and moved to Port Macquarie, New South Wales, where he briefly developed the Palm Court Garden sport resort. He then retired to Buderim, Queensland. Survived by his wife and the children of his first marriage, he died on 3 December 1992 at Buderim and was cremated.

Research edited by Malcolm Allbrook

Select Bibliography

  • Bauer, Ernest. Pioneering a Tourist Island: Ernie Bauer’s Story of South Molle. Bowen, Qld: Bowen Independent, n.d.
  • Blackwood, Ray. The Whitsunday Islands: An Historical Dictionary. Rockhampton, Qld: Central Queensland University Press, 1997
  • Brisbane Grammar School (BGS) Archives. W. E. Bauer, in General Register (GR), Vol III, 1927-1941: 186
  • Daily Mercury (Mackay, Qld). ‘South Molle Tourism Legend Dies at 71: Mr Wally Bauer.’ 7 December 1992, 6
  • National Archives of Australia. A9300, BAUER W E.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Hilda E. Maclean, 'Bauer, Walter Ernest (Wally) (1921–1992)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2016, accessed online 18 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 19, (ANU Press), 2021

View the front pages for Volume 19

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