Stories from Bulimba – 2

Old postcard from Bulimba
Old postcard from Bulimba

Ralph Duffield:

‘When Frank Duffield arrived in Brisbane from Townsville in 1922, he purchased the motor launch “Appollo'” and commenced a ferry service across the Brisbane River from Bulimba to Hamilton. Prior to this, river crossings had to be made laboriously by rowboat. However with the motor launch service, it became quicker for the residents of Bulimba to cross the river to Hamilton and then catch a tram into the city rather than to walk to the tram at Balmoral. For the added pleasure of the ferry’s patrons, a draft board was set up at the Hamilton terminus.’

Reference: Moreton Bay People, The Complete Collection

John Wilson:

‘The first (heavy/large) flying boat to visit was Imperial Airways S.23 Empire flying boat G-ADUT “Centaurus” when it arrived on the first survey flight from England on 21 December 1937. It alighted on the Bulimba Reach of the Brisbane River just off the Bulimba ferry terminal, turned around near the Newstead wharves and taxied up to a buoy off the gardens, a little upstream from where the new footbridge is now.’

Reference: Moreton Bay Letters

Graham Mackey:

‘During WWII, Anti aircraft guns were being installed around Brisbane and its river. One 3.7 gun had been installed at the back of Bulimba Cemetery and we were hoping if ever it was fired it would not awaken the dead. Fortunately it was never fired for any purpose. Incidentally, 3.7 means that the shells fired from the gun were 3.7 inches in diameter at the base of the shell.’

Reference: Moreton Bay Reflections

Graham Mackey:

‘Opposite Bretts Wharf and the Apollo Ferry at Bulimba there used to be what was known as Bulimba Hill. The Yanks were looking for extra areas close to the river for workshops and camps and Bulimba Hill was chosen. We had never seen so many bulldozers and large graders working together at the one time. The area below Bulimba Hill was all swamp almost down to Cairncross Dock. The moved some houses from the top of the hill and bulldozed that part of the hill down to fill in the swamp. That reclaimed area was where they housed all the Chinese labourers. There was also a massive Small Ships Yard there, with long, wide concrete ramps running up from the river, suitable for handling barges, Catalinas, Fairmiles, torpedo boats and other small craft. There were workshops and housing for the workers as well. It was all constructed in next to no time with earthmoving machinery from the Sea Bees Camp at Whinstanes.’

Reference: Moreton Bay Reflections

Alex King:

‘When the Japanese invaded China during Word War II, many Chinese escaped from China and Hong Kong, with the assistance of the Americans, I would say. Several hundred of them arrived in Brisbane and the Americans set up a camp for them at Colmslie, where they worked for the American engineers. The Americans were building big barges– refrigeration barges, oil barges, and crane barges. The construction site was set up by the Allied Works Council, who was working under contract to the Americans. The Americans employed the Chinese and a lot of Australians. I worked for them for a while.

‘The Chinese were part of the workforce that built the bow of the wrecked Rufus King, which they towed away to New Guinea. Before they could tow it up the river, they had to put a bulkhead in her and seal it.

‘They had a working pace that never changed – not too slow, and certainly not too fast. I worked with them sorting out the parts for the oil barges, which were being constructed on huge timber platforms. I would pick out a part from a plan and tell the Chinese foreman where it should be placed. I might casually say ‘Could two men pick up this part, and two men that part.’ He would look at it and say ‘No. That part three men one’ or ‘That part four men one’ despite the fact that I could probably lift it on my own. But you could not argue with them. If he said ‘three men one’ then that’s what it had to be.’

Reference: The Port of Brisbane, Its People and Its Personalities

Dennis Burchill:

‘The Chinese workers caused quite a lot of friction with the local workers.  The yanks paid them well and they always had plenty of money.  As beer in those days was rationed and was only served in sessions, the Chinese who had worked all night would have a sleep and then stroll down to the Balmoral Pub when the session started.  When the meatworkers and the stockmen arrived after work they found that the Chinese had downed most of the beer on tap.  This led to several nasty brawls with the stockmen chasing them down Oxford Street on their horses and hitting them with palings that they had ripped off fences.’

Reference: Bulimba @ War

Stories from Bulimba – 1


Bulimba House in 2015 (Photo courtesy Shiftchange)
Bulimba House in 2015 (Photo courtesy Shiftchange)

Early Settlers

The native name of Bulimba was “Tugulawah” (heart shaped). The first European settler was David Cannon.McConnell who built Bulimba House in 1850 at the end of Bulimba Point. The house was built of grey freestone, obtained from the Black Ball Quarry – a site later occupied by Baynes Brothers, as a meat works known as Queensport. McConnell grew maize and oats as fodder for his cattle, which he imported for his pastoral holding he had taken up at Cressbrook.

McConnell had planned to make Bulimba his home, but found the climate unsuitable for his wife, who was in poor health. Donald Coutts then bought the Bulimba property, and after cultivating it for some years, cut some of it up into small blocks and auctioned them in 1864. When Coutts died the remaining property was sold to Thorpe Riding who cut it up into 4 ha and 5 ha farms that were sold and worked for many years.

The only practical way to Brisbane was by boat, and the Bulimba Ferry dates from 1864 and was operated by John Watson, a boat-builder by trade, who also built Fort Lytton near the mouth of the Brisbane River. He also built the Mercantile Wharf on the bank opposite his home at Bulimba.

The earliest settlers at Bulimba grew mainly vegetables and maize, but in 1856 bananas were planted, and by 1862 they became the principal crop. At about this time, sugar cane growing was introduced with the first sugar being crushed by the floating sugar mill named Walrus, which steamed along Bulimba Creek and later the Brisbane River. Later, with the introduction of steam powered crushing mills, the Walrus went out of existence as a sugar mill, but later became established as a distillery. Walrus Rum was well known in the late 1860s.

Later as the sugar industry expanded, more land was required for growing the cane, and the industry gradually transferred from the Bulimba area up along the Queensland coast.

Boat Builders

 As a young man, Norman Reginald Wright had spent some time with his parents on a mixed farm on Coochiemudlo Island in Moreton Bay. The venture proved to be unsuccessful and the family returned to Brisbane where Norman worked for the firm of Laycock-Littledykes. However, due to an accident, he suffered a hand wound and was unable to work for several weeks, and during this period he spent most of his time at the boat shed of John Hawkins Whereat at McConnell Street. It was here that he decided to enter the boat building business and applied successfully for a job with Whereat’ s. During his employment at Whereat’s Wright designed and built ‘out of cedar picked up in the mangroves on Peel Island and scraps’ the ten footer Commonwealth with which he won many sailing championships.

In the off season, fishing trips in George Crouch’s fishing boats to the sand hills on Moreton Island never failed to secure ample supplied of fish. (The Crouch Brothers, fishermen, arrived from Botany Bay early in 1865 and later bought land on the river bank at Bulimba).

In 1909 Norman Wright commenced business on his own account initially at Newstead. However a Brisbane City Council decision to resume the water frontage caused the removal to Bulimba.

With the outbreak of World War II, the Bulimba boatbuilding industry shifted to wartime construction and contributed all types of craft from small motorboats to coastal patrol boats, with the Fairmiles being the best known.

Just as Norman Wright owed a debt to John Whereat for his start in boatbuilding, so too did he pass on his skills to many other boatbuilders, initially to the likes of Jack McCleer, Roy Bliss, Charlie Crowley, the Tripconys, and Lance Watts, who in turn continued the tradition as the Bulimba boatbuilding industry continued to evolve to the present today.

Reference: Ludlow, Peter Moreton Bay People 2012

Madame Mallalieu

Madame Mallalieu
Madame Mallalieu

When I first heard that our next Probus guest speaker was to be Professor Peter Roennfeldt whose topic would be Madame Mallalieu, (an early colonial musician), I immediately thought of Lola Montez. How wrong I was, for Madame Henrietta Mallalieu (nee Percival) and later known as Mrs Willmore, was one of Queensland’s greatest musicians. Well known for her chamber music and solo piano performances across a 60-year career, she was also ‘undeterred by popular prejudice’ in becoming the colony’s leading female organist, and was closely associated with the Willis pipe organ which is now the cultural showpiece of Brisbane’s City Hall.

Henrietta Willmore believed in women’s political rights and responsibilities. She served on the executives of the Queensland Women’s Suffrage League and the Woman’s Franchise Association of Queensland. She was a founding member of the Brisbane Women’s Club and was president of the Queensland Women’s Electoral League’s Toowong branch.  During World War I, she was President of the Belgian Relief Fund for which she was awarded the “Medailles de la Reine Elisabeth”.

Henrietta was organist at St John’s Pro-Cathedral from 1882 to 1885, at Wickham Terrace Presbyterian Church and at other churches, and pioneered organ recitals and organ-based concerts in Brisbane.

In recognition of her advocacy for women’s political and social rights, the Willmore Discussion Club, which was formed in her honour, commissioned the Willmore Memorial Chair for Women’s College at the University of Queensland.

Her wartime charitable work was also recognised by the King of Belgium. Henrietta’s legacy lived on, notably through her family’s bequest of their Toowong home as a female music students’ hostel, known as QCWA’s Mallalieu Home.

Sadly, Henrietta’s names (she was married four times) are all but forgotten today. However Professor Roennfeldt from the Queensland Conservatorium of Music has now recorded her achievements in a new book entitled ‘Madame Mallalieu – an inspiring musician and her legacy for Queensland’.

For further details, visit

Stories From Coochiemudlo Island – 2

Coochiemudlo Island as seen from Victoria Point
Coochiemudlo Island as seen from Victoria Point

Edward Field (‘Ted’) Jones:

‘The first re-enactment of Matthew Flinders’ landing took place in 1981, and was an utter disaster, at least to my way of thinking, when the “Norfolk” ‘s volunteer crew of Coochie residents were unable to keep stroke with their oars, and were consequently late for the sextant reading. Next year, the locals were replaced by Cadets from the Naval Reserve T.S.Norfolk, who have managed to keep the proceedings on an even keel ever since.

 ‘With succeeding years, and increasing support from the local Progress Association, the ceremony has continued to grow in importance for Coochie. Today, on a Sunday near to July 19th, depending on the tides, hundreds of visitors flock to the island for a pleasant day of history, fun, and outdoor entertainment.’

Reference: Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection

Rosemary Opala: (Recalling the tale of Gerald Elliot’s “African Queen”):

‘It was another difficult engine to start. On one occasion Gerald went to the mainland to pick up a 200 litre drum of petrol. The drum was loaded into his leaky dinghy, which he commenced towing back to Coochie behind his launch. Unfortunately the dinghy began filling with water and when Gerald jumped into it to try to rectify the situation, his extra weight sent the dinghy under and he was left holding onto the drum while the “African Queen” sailed off “Mary Celeste” style!  Only when it sideswiped the jetty did locals realise that something was wrong, and a rescue party organised for the hapless Gerald.’

Reference: Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection

Joan Bland:

‘In 1919, Phillip Forrest who owned a small farm cottage on Coochiemudlo established Doug, then 22 years of age and Eric Gordon, another young soldier who had been wounded, on the farm as share farmers to help with their convalescence. Eric left soon after due to the loneliness of their solitary life there, so Doug set about farming on his own – an occupation he was to pursue on the island for the next 41 years.

‘Like everyone who had managed to live through the horrors of battle during the war, his experiences had left him extremely traumatised – physically, mentally, and emotionally. The metal plate at the back of his head caused him much pain, and pieces of shrapnel in his legs would surface through his skin for years afterwards. But it was the emotional and mental trauma he suffered, which were hardest for him to endure.

‘In 1921, Doug married Beatrice Mary Colburn a member of an old Victoria Point farming family. Together, they set about establishing their farm and their family. Doug was tough minded, a hard worker, and impatient with people. His wife, Mary, was more down to earth, had a wonderful sense of humour, and became a tireless worker for the CWA (Country Women’s Association).

Doug and Mary Morton with Bonnie

Doug and Mary Morton with Bonnie

‘There was no regular water supply on Coochiemudlo until a pipeline from the mainland was laid in September 1971. All crops on the island had to be hand watered, using kerosene tins of water hauled from wells. All ploughing, harrowing, and scuffling was undertaken using a draught horse. The crops they farmed included custard apples Navel oranges, Ripley pineapples, and Lady Finger bananas. The Morton farm on Coochiemudlo Island became a showpiece of Moreton Bay. Doug and Mary planted avenues of trees; roads were dug, levelled and graded with their own hands. In 1941 Doug and Mary Morton set up the island’s first tourist venture, including a jetty and trolley railway and sold fruit salad and cream and Devonshire teas on their farm. Mary had established tearooms underneath the farmhouse and a small produce shop, for day visitors who called from the Wednesday and Sunday tourist boats. Here they sold tropical fruits flowers and fresh vegetables to the day-trippers.

‘In all, Doug built five jetties during his 41 years of residence on the island. Doug also built with his own hands a sister jetty on Victoria point to allow access for his boats carrying their farm produce between the island and the mainland. Doug also constructed a six-hole golf course on the western flats.

Doug Morton's jetty at Victoria Point

Doug Morton’s jetty at Victoria Point

‘Doug and Mary eventually retired firstly to Karragarra Island and later to Cleveland. Doug passed away in 1980 and Mary in 1989.The residents of Coochiemudlo Island honoured the Morton family and their contributions to the island by the declaration of a reserve in their name on the high Western sector of the island.’

Reference: WWI Heroes of the Redlands (unpublished at this time)

Stories From Coochiemudlo Island – 1

The name Coochiemudlo is a misspelling of the island’s original aboriginal name, Kutchi Mudlo, the place of red ochre stones. Closest of the Bay islands to mainland ‘civilisation’, tiny Coochiemudlo Island nestles off the tip of Victoria Point in the southern section of Moreton Bay.  

Matthew Flinders (alias Ted Jones) lands at Coochiemudlo Re-enactment
Matthew Flinders (alias Ted Jones) lands at Coochiemudlo Re-enactment

Matthew Flinders:

‘Traces of men were scarcely visible: there were, however, several fire-places, and many other marks of the island having lately been visited. They met with some boughs so ranged as to keep off the southerly winds; and from the fire-places which they were placed to defend it was inferred that not less than five or six natives had made this their place of residence, probably a temporary one only, as they do not meet with any huts regularly constructed.’

Reference: Journal entry describing his men’s exploration of the Sixth Island (now called Coochiemudlo) on July 19, 1799


Norman R. Wright: 

‘Dad had an idea of running pigs so we bought a couple, a Berkshire Boar that we named “Dennis” and the sow “Bridget”.  They lived on yams, roots, prickly pear etc. and soon multiplied.

‘We lived on side at the eastern end of the beach.  Our humpy for a start was 8’ x 8’ all galvanised iron and later we made a lean-to on the eastern side in which we stowed the dinghy and odd gear.  For the first year we collected oysters, shell grit, peat and firewood.  We were generally three weeks on the Island and one week at home trading our goods, cutting a supply of firewood etc.  We brought a pig home from time to time and it was slaughtered and sold.  We were the only people on the Island.  ‘Once a few steers appeared, they walked across from Victoria Point at low water and I had seen a couple of stockmen round them up.

‘The aboriginals learned our habits so when we were away they came after the suckers but left as soon as we returned.  The oysters were fair for a couple of years then the worm showed up and destroyed the best of them.’

 Reference: Letter addressed to Mrs F.G.Elliott, Coochiemudlo, November 21, 1966


Edward Field Jones:

‘During the last week of August 1883, a cataclysmic event hit the island (Coochie). What was described as a wall of water like a chalk mountain, surged down the Bay, flooding low lying contiguous areas as it swept towards Innis Island (now known as Coochiemudlo) at great speed. Four men were washed overboard from a southern bound boat and were lost from view. On the western side of the island the wave tore through the mangroves before smashing into the cliff. On the eastern side, the (Morwong) Beach bore the full force of the wave as it crashed through the casuarinas, and continued on its way to the southward, ripping off branches, snapping trunks, uprooting trees, and leaving a trail of destruction in its wake.

‘When the inundation had drained away, the Island resembled a battlefield, with debris strewn all along (Norfolk) Beach and out into Moreton Bay.

‘As the wave continued down the Bay, a load of bananas which had been piled up on the Redland Bay Jetty awaiting shipment to Brisbane, was swept away & never seen again.

‘After twelve hours immersion, the four men who had been washed overboard, were rescued when they were discovered clinging to floating tree trunks, totally exhausted after their terrifying ordeal.’

Reference: “Chronicles of Coochiemudlo”


Rosemary Opala:

‘Well, in the middle of, after leaving Peel the first time and going back the second time, I was working at the Cleveland Hospital, and I met Mrs Morton there, who was one of the farmers from Coochie. Her mother was in St Anne’s Hospital, and she pointed the island out the window to me, and said that’s where she lived.  I thought it looked a very interesting place. It looked just lovely then, didn’t have all the buildings down the foreshores on Cleveland like there is now.  You could just look down the street and see the mangroves, and you could just see the island.  It didn’t have Toondah Harbour or any of that – it was just very undeveloped round there.  There was just a farm where the hospital was. The hospital stood in the middle of somebody’s farm, actually, with cabbages and things round it.

‘So I had this dinghy, and on my day off once I rowed up to Coochie to see if it was as nice as it looked, and it was, so that’s how I started to get interested in Coochie.’

Reference: Redland Shire Council Oral History Project.