Bird Island as it was in the early 1990s

Bird Island as it was in the early 1990s

Tiny Bird Island, situated just off Dunwich, is now little more than a sandbank that is exposed only at low tide, but up until recently, it was everyone’s idea of a ‘tropical desert island’. Here are some stories from those who remember the island as it once was:

Noel Flor:

“My mother’s grand parents with her father and six siblings arrived in Moreton Bay in the sailing ship “Wandrahm” on 13th January 1866. There were 49 deaths on the ship coming out and on arrival at Moreton Bay, it was placed in quarantine with the passengers accommodated in tents on Bird Island. During this time, a number of men were in the water trying to bring a log around the island to burn at the camp, but clinging to the log were swept further out and, being unable to swim, four were drowned.” (2)

Thomas Welsby (from his book “Early Moreton Bay”):

“Later on in the day we managed to get to Bird Island, where we had a strange and gruesome experience. In those days the island was a beauty with numbers of high oak trees allover it, and some lovely branches, where a spare rope could be fastened, and a tent and camp easily prepared. We anchored our craft well in in a customary manner when it blows hard. We ran the Vendetta close to the sandy beach, and then took the anchor ashore placing the flukes around the trunk of an oak tree. Our tent was a good one. We camped there for two days, reading and loafing generally until we were informed by a boat. ing party from Peel Island that our camp was immediately above the graves of four fever patients who had died in quarantine about four months earlier. Lucky it was for us that the day was Monday, for that was the last day of our Easter pleasure, and we romped home with the south-east wind behind, never mentioning or seeking conver- sation regarding our camp at Bird. How that pleasant island has changed since then. Few trees, not one of any height, all cut and hewed by the Vandal. How it would look if it were planted with cocoa- nut, that is, if that tree would grow there.”

Rowland ” Snow” Port:

“Once in the 1920s while netting mullet with my father on the eastern side of Bird Island, we hauled in a lot of metal coffin hinges and handles in our nets.” (When the quarantine station was in operation on Peel Island, it was reported that many of the victims of the more virulent strains of disease were buried on nearby Bird Island. Time and tide had evidently eroded the sand from the coffins, and rotted the wood, leaving only the metal hinges and handles).” (1)

“Alex”, a patient at the Peel Island Lazaret:

“Keith Spencer’s grandfather planted the trees on Bird Island. When I was on Peel (1940s), Bird was tree-less.” (1)

Vivian Cooms (nee Ruska):

“Doctor Turnbull, the Superintendent of the Dunwich Institution, was a man of fiery temperament, but was always polite to me and always raised his hat in greeting.  As a doctor though, he never knew anything about bringing babies into the world and always made sure that expectant mums were sent to Cleveland for the birth.  One of the Institution’s nurses, Mona Davis, had done maternity and used to accompany the patients on the “Karboora” to Cleveland.  However, on one occasion, when May Martin had her first baby, they cut things a little too fine and the boat was forced to pull in to tiny Bird Island where the birth duly took place.  May named the baby Mona after her midwife.  Incidentally, it must have been a great worry for May’s father, Alfie Martin, who was the engineer on the “Karboora” for the trip!” (1)


(1) Ludlow, Peter. Moreton Bay People-The Complete Collection. privately published, Stones Corner, 2000

(2) Ludlow, Peter. Moreton Bay Letters. privately published, Stones Corner, 2003

(3) Ludlow, Peter. Moreton Bay Reflections. privately published, Stones Corner, 2007

(4) Ludlow, Peter. The Port of Brisbane, Its People and Its Personalities, published by the Port of Brisbane Pty Ltd, 2013