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Scotland Island - Western Shores - Mackerel Beach

November 1, 2023

Newsletter for the Offshore Residents of Pittwater, Australia - Volume 24, Issue 1200

We acknowledge and pay our respects to the Traditional Custodians of Pittwater, as well as our Indigenous readers



Dodgy Dr Elmslie

The quack who owned Scotland Island, 1892 - 1900

Roy Baker

Scotland Island photographed sometime around 1870, during its occupancy by Joseph Benns and Charles Jenkins.
Rocky Point is in the foreground.

In 1892 two farmers, Charles Jenkins and Joseph Benns, finally secured ownership of Scotland Island after decades of grazing livestock on its steep slopes. No longer were they young men. Benns, a former sailor, was already approaching middle age by the time he took up residence on the island in the 1850s. Now aged 76, he must have felt that retirement was overdue. Jenkins was still only 65, but in ill-health. They may have wanted to remain on the island, but no doubt they would have welcomed a steady income that didn’t involve tilling its hard soil. 

Fortunately for them it seems that a solution was at hand. Within days of securing title to the island, Benns and Jenkins sold it. But rather than having to pack up and leave, they came to an arrangement with the new owners. In return for accepting payment by instalments, Benns and Jenkins would be allowed to remain on the island.

In the event, Jenkins died within months of this agreement being reached. But Benns, along with his wife Catherine, the fabled ‘Queen’ of Scotland Island, was to live there for a further eight years, until his death in 1900.

Elmslie’s advert under the name Dr Wm Wallace, The Telegraph (Brisbane), 21 Sept 1900
The island’s new owners were three men: a tailor called Charles Bond, a civil servant named Thomas Wiltshire, and William Wallace Elmslie. Little is known about Bond and Wiltshire and anyway they quickly drop out of our story, because in 1894, just two years after the sale of the island by Benns and Jenkins, its ownership passed into the sole name of William Wallace Elmslie.

Scotland Island seems to have an uncanny knack of attracting dodgy characters, present company excepted, of course. In previous articles on island history we encountered the bigamist Murray, who almost certainly faked his baronetcy. Then we met John Dickson, purported owner of the island, who absconded to England rather than face trial in Sydney for forgery.

Enter now William Wallace Elmslie. Dr Elmslie first appears on the public record in 1886, when he was appointed government medical officer and ‘vaccinator’ for the district of Junee, a small town in the Riverina region of New South Wales. Elmslie quickly acquired considerable local status, first being appointed returning officer for Junee, and then magistrate. 

Elmslie ran a surgery and apothecary in Junee. On the morning of 27 December 1887 the premises burned down. The subsequent inquest failed to establish arson, but Elmslie was obviously under suspicion, especially since he was facing competition from a new physician who had recently moved to town. What’s more, Elmslie had significantly increased his insurance cover just three months before the fire.

We can only speculate as to whether Elmslie torched his own premises. But he doesn’t seem to have been the most savoury of characters, because within three years he found himself in Sydney, giving evidence before a parliamentary select committee examining medical quackery. Apparently the city was awash with charlatans selling fake remedies, and Elmslie was suspected of being one of them.

Was Elmslie even a qualified physician? Quizzed by the select committee, Elmslie claimed to have a doctorate in medicine from an American state. But could he remember which one? No. Such details are so easily forgotten, aren’t they? Anyway, he’d purchased the qualification by mail order, so how was he to know?

Elmslie didn't even practise under his own name. He had taken up residence in the consulting rooms of a specialist by the name of Speer, who had gone overseas. Elmslie claimed that he was merely filling in for Dr Speer until his return. But everyone else seemed to know that Speer was never coming back. Indeed he never did.

The headline for the Truth’s exposé on Elmslie, 17 Feb 1901
‘Do you tell patients that you are not Dr Speer?’, enquired the committee. ‘If they ask me the question I say I am not’, Elmslie replied. And if they don’t ask? Then Elmslie didn’t tell.

The medical profession was poorly regulated at the time, and despite these startling revelations Elmslie continued to practise, although only ever under a pseudonym. Besides presenting himself as Dr Speer, he took to producing ‘ladies’ irregularity pills’, first as ‘Dr Colewright’ and later as ‘Dr Cartwright’. The ‘irregularity’ in question? Apparently this was a euphemism for pregnancy. Elmslie was capitalising on the prohibition against abortion to offer a solution to unwanted pregnancies that was almost certainly ineffectual.

Another of Elmslie’s specialisations was to offer cures for ‘loathsome diseases’, better known to us as STIs. Apparently he once charged a young man the then massive sum of £10 to cure his embarrassing condition. After the young man’s teeth fell out, the pills sold by Elmslie were found to contain large doses of mercury.

Elmslie’s Sydney-based quackery seems to have continued throughout his ownership of Scotland Island. But in 1900 something must have happened, because he left Sydney for Brisbane. Now practising as ‘Dr Wallace’, Elmslie continued to offer ‘unfailing remedies’ that would ‘produce vigour and potency to every function’. This prompted Sydney’s Truth newspaper to publish an exposé on Elmslie, warning the people of Queensland about this ‘protean practitioner’ and his ‘cloud of aliases’.

When he moved to Brisbane Elmslie defaulted on the mortgage which he had used to buy Scotland Island. His mortgagees foreclosed on the loan and the island was sold, thus precipitating a chain of events that led to the departure from her island of ‘Queen’ Catherine Benns, Joe Benns’ now widow. It also brought about the island's development for housing. How that came about will be a tale for another day.

This article is based largely on records held by the NSW Land Registry, combined with contemporaneous newspaper coverage of events.


$2 Million For Island Roads

Scotland Island to get a disaster funding boost

Scotland Island is to receive $2 million to help rebuild its road and drainage system. The money is to come through the jointly-funded Infrastructure Betterment Fund and Community Local Infrastructure Recovery Package – Community Assets Program. The purpose is to build better infrastructure on the island, making our community more resilient to extreme weather and local flooding.

The Infrastructure Betterment Fund is focused on restoring essential public assets, such as roads and drainage impacted by the storm and flood events in 2021 and 2022, as well as the 2019 / 2020 Black Summer bushfires. The intention is that assets will be repaired to a more resilient standard that can better withstand future natural disasters and increased rainfall.

Sharon Kinnison, whose group helped secure funding for island roads
The funds are intended for the reconstruction of road formations to reinstate eroded sections of pavement. We can also expect to see new precast table drain units to collect and convey stormwater runoff safely to the piped drainage network, which will be amplified where necessary.

In 2022, SIRA was invited to submit ideas to Northern Beaches Council for improving roads and drainage on the island. SIRA’s Roads and Drainage and Environment Subcommittee, headed by islander Sharon Kinnison, submitted ideas and photos. NBC then applied for funds from the Infrastructure Betterment Fund and the Community Local Infrastructure Recovery Package.

'This is an excellent outcome', says Robyn Iredale, SIRA president. 'Our thanks go to Sharon Kinnison and her group for their efforts. Of course, $2 million will not cover the whole island and priorities will now need to be identified'. 

For more information on the funds that have been directed towards the island, click here and here.


The PON: Celebrating its 1,200th Edition

Leicester Warburton
Paul Purvis
Julian Muir
Roy Baker
Leicester Warburton
(1972 - 2000)
Paul Purvis
(2000 - 2008)
Julian Muir
(2008 - 2021)
Roy Baker
(2021 - )

The more observant among you might notice something a little special about this edition of the PON: it's the 1,200th edition.
For a small, community publication to be so productive Is something to celebrate. To realise that 1,150 of those editions came out under the editorship of just two men is even more impressive.

The history of the PON stretches back to March 1955, although in those days it was known as Scotland Island News, abbreviated to SINEWS. Volume 1, edition 1 reported on the foundation of the Scotland Island Progress Association, as SIRA was then called. In 1972 SINEWS was taken over by the indomitable Leicester Warburton. Leicester's tenure as editor was to last a daunting 28 years. Leicester died last year at the age of 101.   

SINEWS had been a paper publication, printed and circulated door-to-door around the island, often by Leicester himself. In 2000 the new editor, Paul Purvis, introduced an online 'Scotland Island Newsletter monthly update', distributed via email. Originally this was intended to supplement, rather than replace, the hard-copy newspaper. But the new format proved so popular that it quickly became a free-standing publication, adopting the name Pittwater Offshore Newsletter in 2001.

When Paul took the PON online he also started a new numbering system. The reports included in volume 1, edition 1, released in May 2000, have a familiar ring about them: problems with Council, issues with the emergency water system and, guess what, a SIRA survey on roads and drainage.

In his eight-year tenure as editor, Paul put out some 340 editions before handing over to Julian Muir in 2008. Julian was to remain editor for the next 13 years, racking up over 800 editions, which means an average of 63 a year, ie more than one per week. How did you do it, Julian?

I took over in April 2021, by which time we'd reached vol 22, issue 1150. It's humbling that I've produced less than 5% of PON editions. That said, much has changed over the last 23 years, particularly with the advent of social media. Facebook didn't appear until 2004, and today many islanders choose to communicate via that medium, particularly when it comes to selling or giving away items. What's more, SIRA, besides lending financial support to the PON, now produces its own emailed newsletter, SIRA News. This tends to handle notices of a more quotidian nature: road closures, interruptions to the community vehicle service and so on. A great deal of this work is done by my industrious friend and neighbour CB Floyd, and I'm grateful to her for taking much of the burden off the PON.

Despite the advent of Facebook and SIRA News, I hope there is still a role for the PON on Pittwater. No longer the sole conduit for routine island notices, I see a monthly PON as a forum in which we celebrate offshore life, not just endure it. Encompassing the western foreshore, I envisage this as a platform for more thoughtful and exploratory writings relating to our past, present and future, free of the rancour sometimes witnessed on Facebook.

And on the subject of considered and informative writing, I remind readers that there is an open invitation to submit articles for consideration for the PON. Please email them to editor@scotlandisland.org.au.

Roy Baker, editor.


Fine Fuel Collection

Bush fire support on Scotland Island

To help reduce the risk of bush fire on Scotland Island, Council is organising a fine fuel collection. This will occur on Monday 27 November 2023 – have your bags ready by 7am.

Fine fuels include leaves, twigs and bark that can easily catch fire. Fine fuels are less than the diameter of your little finger. Other vegetation will not be collected.
What you need to do:
  1. Pick up a fine fuel bag supplied by Northern Beaches Council. One bag ONLY per household, please. You may pick up from Tuesday, 7 November outside the fire shed. 
  2. Clear your roof and rake up all the fine fuel around your house. Then tip it into the fine fuel bag. Only Council supplied bags will be collected.
  3. Place your filled bag on the road outside your property for collection, leaving a 3m space to allow passage of emergency vehicles.
Who can I ask for more information?

Damaged Playgroup Shed

Recreation Centre, Scotland Island

Too sad! No toys today!

Someone tried again to break into the shed below the Recreation Centre and this time really wrecked the door. It took a lot of patient hammering to open it.

What's inside? Only a few toys for preschool children to enjoy at playgroup, the last remnants of the kindy. If it's wrecked, Council won't replace it, because there is no kindy.
PARENTS - please talk to your children and teenagers about what's happening so they help keep the island fun for everyone.

Jenny Cullen


Gardening Tip

Bronze Orange Bugs

Robyn Iredale

Juvenile Bronze Orange Bugs
Bronze Orange Bugs in their adult form

On my walks around Scotland Island I have noticed quite a lot of Bronze Orange Bugs. These are those smelly, ugly bugs that crawl over citrus trees. Commonly called stink bugs, they are very damaging to citrus trees as they suck the goodness out of stems. New shoots wilt and fruit and flowers will drop prematurely. You also need to be careful of the foul liquid they eject as their defence mechanism. This will burn skin and eyes on contact.

Bronze Orange Bugs change colour as they grow. Young green nymphs hatch from eggs, then turn orange/pink as they grow before eventually becoming black when fully grown. By this stage they are about 25 mm long.

Control Method:
During winter – spray trees with NATRASOAP or ECO-OIL.
Spring/summer – physically remove bugs with tongs or an old vacuum cleaner. On hot days Bronze Orange bugs will withdraw from the foliage and congregate on the lower trunk of the tree where it is cooler. This is the perfect opportunity to squash them with a stick or collect them via the above methods.

For further information, click here.

Thanks, Robyn, for the above tip.

If readers would like to submit gardening tips for future PONs, please email them to editor@scotlandisland.org.au. The PON regularly goes out on the first of each month. If you can email me your tip at least three or four days prior to that deadline that would be appreciated.

Roy Baker

Markus Plattner Concert

Scotland Island Community Hall

Sunday, 5 November, 3 - 6 pm

For tickets, click here.


Photo Exhibition

Art Space on The Concourse, Chatswood

8 - 19 November (artists' talk 19 Nov, 2 - 4 pm)

Many readers will be familiar with islander June Lahm, an enthusiastic and gifted photographer. June is part of the Blue Hour Photographic Collective, seven like-minded artists bringing a unique voice to their love of photography. 

For this Exhibition June and her colleagues have responded to the theme 'Mending', each artist taking different perspectives on the need for mending, and repair in our society and environment.

All are invited to attend the closing afternoon on Sunday 19 November, 2 to 4 pm, when you can meet the artists and listen to them talk about their inspiration for the images.

Artists are Susan Buchanan, June Lahm, Jilly Perrin, Carolyn Pettigrew, Janet Tavener, Kirry Toose and Carmel Wellburn.

June will also be at the Gallery on Thursday 9 and 16 November, as well as Friday 17 November. But please visit any time during the opening hours: 11 am to 4 pm Wednesday to Friday, 11 am to 4 pm Saturday and Sunday.

The exhibition is at the Art Space on the Concourse, 409 Victoria Ave, Chatswood. The gallery is next to the Box Office and parking is available beneath the building.


Ceramics Workshop

58 Florence Terrace / 29 Thompson St, Scotland Island

11 & 12 November, 10 am - 4 pm

Have a go at making with clay — hand building or on the pottery wheel — at Mike Hall’s workshop and home on Scotland Island, as part of the Australian Ceramics Open Studios weekend.

Mike Hall with some of his ceramic creations
This national annual event involves more than 200 potters and ceramic artists in cities and regional areas opening their studios to the public.

Mike will demonstrate on his wheel, explain his making and firing methods - including how to find and process local clay - and invite you to have a go at making something yourself.

He’ll open his kiln at 11am on Saturday to reveal the results of his latest firing. These fresh pots will be for sale and some of his other work too.

This is a free event. Stay as long as you like, ask questions and learn as much as you can.

Enjoy a slice or two of homemade cake and coffee or tea. Celebrate clay, community and creativity by visiting your local potter!

Mike's studio can be found close to Eastern Wharf.

Call Mike on 0404 028 253 or Melinda on 0404 028 259 for any inquiries.


Jazz & Gin Tasting

Scotland Island Community Hall

Saturday, 18 November, 6 - 8 pm

For tickets, click here.



Scotland Island Community Hall

Sunday, 19 November, 10 am - noon

Photo courtesy of Ross Hardy

All members are invited to attend the annual general meeting of the Scotland Island Residents’ Association. At the meeting, brief reports about SIRA activities over the last year will be provided, and members will elect a new committee.

The Committee needs new people to join! If you feel you can contribute to the volunteer work that the Committee undertakes each year, SIRA strongly encourages you to do so. Meetings are held about once every six weeks.

Nominations for officers (President, Vice-Presidents (2), Secretary, Treasurer) or for ordinary committee members (5-10 people) are invited. They must be sent to the secretary at secretary@SIRA.org.au at least 7 days before the AGM (ie by 12 November for the AGM on 19 November).

Nominations must be made in writing, signed by 2 members of the association and accompanied by the written consent of the candidate (which can be on the nomination form or provided separately). For the nomination form, click here.


The Tuesday Discussion Group

Scotland Island Recreation Centre

Tuesday 21 November, 11 am - 12.30 pm

The Recreation Club runs a discussion group, meeting on the third Tuesday of each month, from 11 am to 12.30 pm in the Recreation Centre. Everyone is welcome.

Members take it in turn to design a session. At the September session, CB Floyd led a discussion on the concept of 'meritocracy', and what they mean in practice.

For the October meeting, Roy Baker asks us 'what is intelligence?' This topic has been carried over from October.

Sometimes missing from the current brouhaha over artificial intelligence is clear agreement over what we mean by 'intelligence'. We use the term a lot, but how does it butt up   against concepts such as intellect, knowledge, recall, understanding, empathy, morality, conciousness, self-awareness and so on? What's emotional or social intelligence? Are plants and other animal species intelligent? How do we best measure intelligence, develop it, use it and maintain it? And is AI as smart as it's cracked up to be?

To prepare:

1. Read the Wikipedia article on intelligence, which offers at least ten different definitions of the word. (The listed references throw up additional reading suggestions).

2. Read this Conversation article on the topic of human and AI hallucination. 

The group is administered via a WhatsApp group, which will be used to distribute further information about this and future discussions. If you would like to be added to the group, send your mobile phone number to editor@scotlandisland.org.au.

Alternatively, contact Jane Rich (janebalmain@hotmail.com) for more information or to express your interest in participating.

The Recreation Club asks for $5 per person per attendance to defray expenses.


International Folk Dancing: end-of-year special

Scotland Island Community Hall

Saturday 25 November, 6 - 9 pm

To mark the end of the year, this extended dance will begin at 6 pm.
Please bring a bottle and/or finger food to share.
The Recreation Club asks a minimum of $5 per person per attendance to defray expenses.


Scotland Island Café & Christmas Market

Catherine Park, Scotland Island

Sunday 26 November, 10 am - 1 pm


Carols Afloat

Thursday, 14 December

5.30 pm (Scotland Island)

7.30 pm (Church Point)


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Past newsletters, beginning May 2000, can be found at https://ymlp.com/archive_gesgjgm.php.

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The views expressed in this newsletter are not necessarily the views of the Scotland Island Residents Association (SIRA),
or the Western Pittwater Community Association (WPCA)
Original Newsletter Design:Paul Purvis & Julian Muir