Wilbur Smith, who said the famous author stole his name, turns 95 this month.
Wilbur Smith, who said the famous author stole his name, turns 95 this month. Helen Spelitis

The real Wilbur Smith, a thorn between roses

WHEN Wilbur Smith was a baby his sister tried to kill him.

She was a little girl herself at the time and knew only that she "didn't want a little brother".

Wilbur, who will turn 95 next week, was born in Brisbane where his parents owned a grocer shop on Lutwyche Rd.

One day his mother was downstairs in the shop while baby Wilbur was upstairs.

His mother thought to go check on him and arrived just in time to stop Wilbur's sister throwing him over the balcony, Wilbur said.

"I had one older sister and one younger; I always told people I was the thorn between two roses," Wilbur said.

A few years after nearly being thrown over the railing of the produce shop, Wilbur's parents moved to Ipswich and he's lived here ever since.

Wilbur, who said the famous author stole his name, went to Ipswich Boys Central State School and left when he was about 14.

The produce shop where Wilbur lived as a baby in Brisbane before his family moved to Ipswich.
The produce shop where Wilbur lived as a baby in Brisbane before his family moved to Ipswich.

His first job was working in a pharmacy on Brisbane St, near where the Coles centre stands today.

"It was my job to wash bottles for the chemist," Wilbur said.

"In those days most, if not all people, used to take their prescriptions in and bring their empty medicine bottle in too.

"Of course you would clean it yourselves but my job was to do the main clean."

Wilbur's father, Ron Smith, worked for Cribbe and Foote but as the Depression set in, many feared job losses.

Wilbur Smith as a young man.
Wilbur Smith as a young man.

So Wilbur's father Ron decided to open his own produce shop on Brisbane St, near the old fire station.

"My poor father. He was a mighty fellow and there were so many farmers that didn't have any money but wanted produce so he would give it to them," Wilbur said.

"I remember one day when I was only about 13 or 14 and my father had to go to the Brisbane markets so he left me in charge of the shop.

"The phone rang, and this dear old soul who had rung up said: 'Is that Ron Smith's produce - I think you do deliveries down this area (in Silkstone). Is there any chance of dropping off a bushel of bran and a bushel of pollen?'

"We used to do it all by horse and cart in those days and I said 'sure'.

"Eventually I hung up and afterwards I realised... what's her name? The poor thing. I don't think she's still around waiting for her produce."

Wilbur worked for years selling fertilisers to farmers in the Lockyer, Brisbane and Fassifern Valleys.
Wilbur worked for years selling fertilisers to farmers in the Lockyer, Brisbane and Fassifern Valleys.

Eventually the produce shop closed and Wilbur went to work on a property at Pine Mountain for a man who made props for the coal mines.

"There was an arrangement with old Sam Rice out at Redbank Plains. It was a very important job and we used nothing but an axe and a hand saw (to cut down the trees to make the props).

"There were no chainsaws in those days."

Wilbur was partway through setting up a poultry farm when war broke out. He joined and served three years.

When he got home, he married a girl from Warwick.

Eventually Wilbur scored a job selling fertilisers to farmers and although others scoffed at his chances of success, Wilbur succeeded in becoming the regional representative covering the Lockyer, Brisbane and Fassifern Valleys.

He stayed in that position for 20 years.

Wilbur and his wife lived in Laidley until moving to Rosewood.

About eight years ago Wilbur lost his wife and today lives in Cabanda Care.


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