I rise today to acknowledge the life of a local legend, Herbert 'Junior' See Poy, who passed away on 21 October at the age of 85.
Junior was born on 2 May 1931 to a well-known Innisfail family who were direct descendants of Tom See Poy, a Chinese migrant who came to Queensland to work in the Palmer River goldfields in the 1870s.
Tom likened searching for gold to 'trying to catch the moon at the bottom of the sea', but his luck changed when he answered an advertisement for labourers to develop a sugar plantation on the Johnstone River. He saved money and purchased a peddling business, which developed into a merchant store and by 1925 was a substantial department store in Innisfail. Tom and his wife had five children, one of whom was Herbert, Junior's father.
Junior's formative years coincided with the time of post-war prosperity. Innisfail was booming, and the family business, See Poy & Sons, was prospering and would eventually become the largest department store in North Queensland.
Junior inherited a love of music from his father, who used to play saxophone to entertain the US troops at the end of World War II. In fact, Junior and his cousins Bernie Lee Long and Brian How Kee are credited with launching Far North Queensland's jazz scene. They were described as 'inseparable' as they played their way through local clubs and social dances. They formed the band Three Blind Mice in 1968, and Junior's first wife, Anne, sometimes joined the band as a singer and dancer. Both of his children have become talented musicians.
Having heard him play many times, I certainly became one of those local fans of Junior's, and I can attest very much to the fact that his music had the ability to make the audience stop and listen intently and applaud tremendously at the end.
Junior's hobbies included water-skiing and game fishing. He was quoted in a Sydney Morning Herald article on 3 December 1978 titled 'Skippers' homes are where the big fish bite'. The journalist writes of spending a day on the Great Barrier Reef with Innisfail motel owner Junior See Poy and other keen marlin fishermen:
“As dolphins circled the boat, we caught 45 skad and mackerel averaging 1-2 kilos in an hour—a haul Sydney fishermen could never match. Then we baited the lines and waited for the marlin to bite.”
The journalist was fortunate enough to haul in a 1,501 pound marlin which was tagged and let go. But, Junior's comment to all of this was: “Anywhere else in the world that would have been a good day's fishing. But by our standards it was a bad one.” A talented businessman in the hospitality industry, Junior built a motel in 1971 and even called it the Black Marlin Hotel and Restaurant. He spent countless hours building it with his own hands.
He was also involved in numerous community projects, including the motor cycle club, the game fishing club and the Chamber of Commerce. This dedication to community is something that is characteristic of the wider See Poy family.
Thousands of music fans enjoyed Junior's tunes at local establishments around Far North Queensland for many years and, in 2012, he was awarded the Cairns Regional Council Australia Day Cultural Award. At the time, he had been entertaining the Far North with this skills on the saxophone for more than 60 years.
Even during his retirement, he would practice the sax for most of the day and ensure that he continued his love of fishing whenever the weather allowed. He recorded his first jazz CD at the age of 69 and continued to donate his time and talent to any worthwhile cause.
Junior was a devoted husband to second wife, Andra, loving father to John and Tommy, and cherished grandfather who will be truly missed in our community. At his funeral in Cairns on 28 October, friends and family remembered a man who was deeply involved with the place he loved, and lived his life to the fullest.
Junior's son, Tommy See Poy, recalled his dad's very strong sense of community and sense of fun. Junior was one of those very special people in our community who clearly achieved iconic status. He was farewelled with a jazz band jamming on the street—something he would have certainly loved.
Vale Junior See Poy.