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Map of Moreton Bay showing the main shipping channel

Map of Moreton Bay showing the main shipping channel

Cowan Cowan is a tiny settlement on the western side of Moreton Island a few kilometres north of Tangalooma. On this map, it is situated just where the main shipping channel almost touches Moreton Island. In the early days, when a ship entered Moreton Bay, a pilot vessel would be dispatched to guide it safely into port. In 1848 because of its proximity to the shipping channel, the Pilot Station was moved from Amity to Cowan Cowan on Moreton where, by 1860, it was recorded as having in residence two pilots, nine boatmen, and others, all living in wretched conditions. Later the Pilot Station was shifted still further north on Moreton to Bulwer.

Crew of the 6 inch gun at Cowan Cowan

Crew of the 6 inch gun at Cowan Cowan

At the commencement of WWII, there were three Forts built to protect the entrances to Moreton Bay. The main shipping channel, via the North West Channel between Bribie and Moreton Islands, was guarded by Fort Bribie, a garrison situated on the northern end of the island where the channel passes closest to the beach, and by a similar Fort at Cowan Cowan where the channel passes closest to Moreton Island. Fort Rous, on the southern end of Moreton Island guarded the bay from any shipping attempting to enter via the South Passage. At each of these Forts was a pair of six inch guns. Bribie was sea firing, Rous was sea and bay firing, while Cowan was bay firing only because the height of Mount Tempest proved too large an angle for the guns to fire over to sea.

Roy Gardner, of Bechmere tells us of his wartime experience at Cowan Cowan:

‘In 1939 when war was imminent, I was sent with the Engineers over to Cowan Cowan to build facilities for a garrison to be stationed there. We firstly cut our own timber to build a bridge over the swamp behind Cowan, then constructed a rifle range where the land begins to rise to Mount Tempest. I’ll bet it’s still there today because we made it out of ironbark. It was backbreaking work shovelling sand.

‘Next we sank a well on the Cowan side of the swamp. Up until then we depended for our fresh water on supplies brought down on the “Grazier”. Washing was done in the bay with the sharks! Then we constructed wooden towers to hold the corrugated iron tanks for the water, then ablution blocks for the showers. We then cut stumps and had them sunk and levelled ready for pre-cut huts brought down on the “Grazier”.

‘Then the artillery and foot soldiers moved in to join us 120 engineers. I remember we had Church Parade on Sundays conducted by Padre St.George from Sherwood. Sickness was the only exemption, but one Sunday a few of us buzzed off and went for a walk along the beach. We saw a lot of sharks in the water nearby and one of my mates fired off three quick shots at them. The parade heard this and thought the island was being attacked. The alarm was raised. Needless to say we were not very popular!’

‘Curly’ Meath, of Wilston writes:

‘The fort at Cowan Cowan possessed two 6 inch guns to protect the entrance to Moreton Bay. In one encounter, the bridge was blown off a mystery vessel which failed to respond to its challenge of identification. The vessel turned out to be a ‘friendly’ minesweeper and several crew were killed in the encounter.’