Merv Hopton has an almost daily routine that involves a little gardening but a lot of computer time.
Perched at the computer in his home, scenically located above the waters of the Burrum River at Buxton, Merv, now nudging 70, loves nothing more than researching history.
Merv has established himself as a credible source of information through hours of trawling the volumes of files at the Queensland State Archives (QSA). In fact, some of his documents and findings are stored at QSA.
“I really do believe the QSA to be a remarkable source of factual information. It is amazing what you can find once you have the ability to navigate the information stored there.”
And it is securing accurate and factual information where Merv believes a lot of researchers let themselves down.
He is not a man to rely on computer search engines and the writings or claims of others. He trusts nothing less than viewing the original written evidence.
The Childers area has produced some noted historians or people with a fabulous recollection of the district and its development.
Harold Blake, who lived past 100, the late Richie Webb and Ron Frost and more contemporary researchers like Scott Coleman have been among the notables.
Merv Hopton is certainly on another level as an amateur historian/researcher. Merv digs deep and the treasures he uncovers have, at times, turned accepted findings or beliefs on their ear.
He has a strong family association with Paddys Island in the Burnett River with his ancestors (Dittmans) owning a 20-acre block on the island way back in the mid-1870s. Merv’s research findings on the history of Paddys Island, its people and its occupiers certainly challenge more popular views.
Merv researched and wrote “The History of Paddys Island Burnett River” in 2016.
Earlier, in 2011, he partnered with seniors advocate Nina Higgins to produce “Lot 76” a recorded piece produced by Arts Bundaberg under its 2011 “The Story Project” initiative.
“Lot 76” dealt with Merv’s family ownership of the land on Paddy’s Island.
In more recent times Merv has busied himself researching the pastoral runs of the district and their ownership in the mid 1800s.
“I find it extremely interesting to uncover names and dates associated with these properties. It leads me to be able to build a bit of a picture how the region took shape and how our townships evolved,” Merv said.
Magistrate’s ledgers from the 1920s
Access to Magistrate’s ledgers of the 1920’s era also revealed much to Merv about local criminal activities and punishments in the Bundaberg area.
He maintains the records indicate quite a deal of what could be termed as ‘social injustice’ with people charged with minor offences they were driven to commit, he believes, mainly through poverty.
The origins of the Bundaberg Post Office are also among the material uncovered by Merv through an 1877 petition to the Queensland Parliament.
The document pleads Bundaberg’s case for a new post office as the “room where our postal business is now transacted is inadequate to the wants of the people of this district….is only 18 feet long and 14 feet wide” (i.e. 5.49m x 4.27m).
The petition signed by many of the town’s notable citizens at the time was obviously a starting point as the Post Office was not constructed until 1891.
Unlike many retirees who may have an aversion to new technology, Merv enjoys researching his projects via the internet or sometimes through personal visits to the State Archives.
When computer time becomes just a bit monotonous Merv takes a break in his small garden where tomatoes, carrots and butter beans are currently cropping.
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