HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Centenarian Sylvia in the old International during the 2018 Cooktown street parade on her 100th birthday on June 16.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Centenarian Sylvia in the old International during the 2018 Cooktown street parade on her 100th birthday on June 16. Contributed

This is a pick-up truck fit for a queen

A 1954 INTERNATIONAL pick-up truck transported "a queen” in 100-year-old Sylvia Geraghty when it led the street parade during the popular Discovery Festival Weekend celebrations at Cooktown in far north Queensland.

It was on June 16, the day Sylvia turned 100, and she was aptly named the "Queen of the Parade” and was cheered on by hundreds who lined the route.

For the men, women and children who watched beside Cooktown's main street during the parade, it felt like they were catching a glimpse of royalty.

For her part, Sylvia, who was dressed in a tiara, gloves and ball gown, waving as the International slowly cruised along.

Queen Elizabeth, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove sent letters of congratulations to Sylvia who has been a member of the Cooktown RSL for 67 years.

"It was fun and they lifted me up onto the back of the truck in my chair and I really did feel like the Queen. The crown on my head kept slipping off though but I enjoyed it so much,” she told Big Rigs on June 29.

Sylvia in her air force uniform.
Sylvia in her air force uniform. Contributed

The message from Queen Elizabeth read, "Mrs Geraghty, I am pleased to hear that you are celebrating your 100th birthday. My sincere congratulations and best wishes on this very special day”, and it was signed by Elizabeth R.

The 1954 International pick-up AR110 is still fitted with the original 220-cubic-inch motor and for the last two years has been used as the Cooktown RSL Sub Branch float.

Cooktown RSL welfare and pensions officer Jody Andrews said: "Last year we had 'women in uniform' and then 99-year-old Sylvia was dressed in a World War II air force women's uniform with a couple of other girls in various era outfits. This year, as you have obviously seen, we used it for Sylvia's 100th birthday float - it was her actual birthday on the day of the parade and she has been an RSL Sub Branch member of Cooktown for over 67 years”.

Owner Peter "Ozzie” Osborne told Big Rigs he bought the International two-and-a-half years ago when it was a burnt-out wreck.

"It was used as a yard truck here at the wreckers and I was delighted to have Sylvia on the back as she is a legend around here,” he said.

Ozzie said it had been a "great honour” for him to drive the International, especially as more than 30 of Sylvia's relatives had travelled from as far away as Perth, WA, for the event.

"I was delighted to let people, including the relatives, write happy birthday wishes on the truck with chalk,” he said.

Ozzie said the International had a 1954 body on a 1956 chassis.

Flashback to last year's   street parade when Sylvia was in air force uniform in the back of the truck.
Flashback to last year's street parade when Sylvia was in air force uniform in the back of the truck. Contributed

When she spoke to Big Rigs by phone from the Sunbird Cottage Nursing Home, Sylvia said she was almost blind and a bit deaf.

"I lived on my own until a year ago, when I had a fall and broke my hip,” she said.

This grand old lady was born in Rossville, about 50km from Cooktown.

Her father Edward Parsons was born at Maytown and had been a tin miner and also ran cattle.

"I remember way back then when I was young, all the horse-drawn drays and people being pulled along in a buggy. The roads were very rough back then,” she said.

Before Sylvia joined the RAAF in World War II, she was a sheet metal worker and that was hard yakka.

"It was a lady doing a man's job,” she said.

"They wouldn't release me at first because it was war work, however I eventually was able to join the air force and I was a stewardess in the officers' mess at Amberley.”

Sylvia has been married twice. She wed first husband Tom towards the end of the war, and her second marriage to Jim Geraghty lasted for 32 years before he passed away.

"I met Jim at Mt Molloy and later again at the Sovereign Hotel in Cooktown where I worked as a housemaid and waitress,” she said.

There were plenty of events during Discovery Festival weekend, including a truck pull, mud crab races, billy kart racing, pie-eating contest, singing, with an undoubted highlight being the re-enactment of Captain James Cook's famous landing on the banks of Cooktown's Endeavour River in 1770.

Cook's ship Endeavour had hit a reef and needed repair before it could continue on its way back to England. Cooktown is named after the explorer.

The re-enactment featured two small boats landing at the spot near where Cook and his men, including renowned botanist Sir Joseph Banks, got out onto shore.

A commentator told the crowd that a re-enactment committee was formed in 1959; the first event was in 1960.

"The costumes and weapons used are from the era and cost more than $50,000,” he said.

After the re-enactment, those playing Capt Cook and his men and the Aborigines who had greeted them with caution shook hands and posed for photos with tourists after the firing of an old cannon.

The International with Sylvia as its VIP passenger won the prize for the best community-minded float.

Jody is confident that Sylvia will again be on the float at next year's event when she turns 101.

"I've been doing the street parade for the last three years as the sub-branch has been hosting and sponsoring it,” she said.

"Last year was the first year that I got Ozzie involved and he volunteered again for Sylvia's special day this year. Needless to say, I am sure I can get him next year if Sylvia is up to it.”

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