Stories from Bribie Island – 1


S.S.Cormorant (hulk at Bongaree)
S.S.Cormorant (hulk at Bongaree)

Les Bax: 

‘I was on the fishing boat that towed the hulk of the ‘Cormorant’ to its final resting place on Bribie Island. The ‘Cormorant’ had been purchased by Bribie resident, George Sharp, with the object of using it to stop the erosion of Bongaree foreshore frontages. As planned we arrived at Bribie at 5:00pm at the top of the tide. Arrangements had been made to meet up with Council employees, who would help put the hull in place, but there was no sign of anyone from Council, after a short time, we decided to go ahead and beach the ‘Cormorant’ ourselves. We fitted ropes to the shore, attaching one to a tree and the fishing boat guided the hull into position. The ‘Cormorant’ rested on the bottom about half way up the beach. Billy Woods had been engaged for the following morning to blow a hole in the hull, ensuring it was stay where it was placed. He arrived as planned and assuming the hull was where the Council put it, proceeded to place the explosives in the hull and detonate them. The ‘Cormorant’ would remain exactly where me and my mate, Ron Duell, had beached her until 1990 when its remains were removed for safety reasons.’

Jim Ormiston:

‘I was four years old in 1919 and my family lived in Terrace Street, New Farm. It was just after WWI and Brisbane was in the grip of the Bubonic Plague. So bad was it that the authorities had a horse and wagon which used to go round the suburbs to collect the dead. It was reminiscent of the Black Plague in Europe centuries earlier.

‘One morning dad heard the wagon in the street outside our house and the call of “Bring out your dead.” When he looked out the window he saw four bodies from the house next door being loaded on the wagon. It was all he needed to make up his mind and he called to my mother, Elsie, to pack a port. Then our family caught the S.S. “Koopa” down to Bribie Island.

‘We had no money and nowhere to live, so we went up about a mile south of the jetty where the RSL Club now is. It was all bush then and dad had packed a small tomahawk in the port which he used to strip bark from the pine trees and build a little humpy for shelter. Fortunately food was plentiful. We’d put a lasso out with food to attract goannas, which we’d skin, fillet and cook. Or we would boil up a bucket of yabbies. Fish were also plentiful which we caught using bent pins on a line.’

Lisa West:

‘I visited Bribie’s reclusive artist, Ian Fairweather’s hut many times. If we happened to meet at the shops, I would have a cup of tea with him at Joe’s Jetty Café. Fairweather was then heavily involved with his translations of ancient Chinese novels, a task which required enormous concentration and perseverance.

‘So fine were his translations that the Buddhist Society of America, of which he was a member, honoured him by sending him an exquisite rectangular seal. Although Fairweather was not a man to receive honours gladly, But I remember that he was especially pleased with this seal, and the recognition of his Buddhist peers.

‘Best known of these translations was THE DRUNKEN BUDDHA, which had been accepted by University of Queensland Press for publication. Fairweather needed a typist and approached me to do the job for him. Although I couldn’t type myself, I did refer him to another resident of the island who proceeded with the task. However, as the work progressed the woman’s husband became alarmed with Fairweather’s accounts of the main character’s somewhat unorthodox personal habits and thought it best if his wife passed on the task to someone else. As Fairweather himself was a bit of a mystery to the other residents on Bribie, the typist’s husband was probably equating Fairweather’s habits with those of the drunken buddha!

‘Another typist was duly found.’

Ian Fairweather and hut (Photo courtesy Ron Powell)
Ian Fairweather and hut (Photo courtesy Ron Powell)

References: Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection

The Malcolm Frazer Experience

Collin Myers speaking to the Toondah Probus Club at their August General Meeting
Collin Myers speaking to the Toondah Probus Club at their August General Meeting

Our Toondah Probus Club’s August Guest Speaker was journalist Collin Myers whose topic was ‘The Malcolm Frazer Experience’. After leaving school Collin worked for the Courier Mail, then Reuters in London, then for Malcolm Frazer, and then headed corporate affairs at Mount Isa Mines. During his long career, he accumulated a long list of memories and anecdotes. Here are just a few:

‘After I left school I worked as a journalist for the Courier Mail covering the Queensland State Parliament. It was an interesting time then and I interviewed many of the political personalities of the day: Les Dipplock, who was the last Minister for Public Instruction (now the Education portfolio); Premier Vince Gair, who used to float ideas with the journalists before introducing them into Parliament; Jack Duggan, with the Mount Isa strikes, Colin Bennett, and Clem Jones. In 1965 my boss at the Courier Mail announced that there was a journalist’s job going in Canberra. I had visited Canberra in my final year at school, so I applied for the position. I was the first person to have actually asked to go there, so I got the job.

‘These were the Menzies’ Years, and I was impressed that he was always courteous and valued the Westminster System of Government. As Prime Minister, Robert Menzies was especially courteous to the Opposition Leader, Arthur Calwell, because he thought that as long as Arthur was the Leader, he would have little chance of being toppled. Menzies also removed threats to his leadership from his own party by appointing would-be rivals to overseas postings such as the High Commissioner in London.

‘In 1967-8 I worked for Reuters in London. I found the politicians there interesting too: Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, if he didn’t want to answer a tricky question, always spoke quickly in his Yorkshire accent; Margaret Thatcher, at that time spoke in a high pitched voice – unlike her later lower tone as Prime Minister. These were interesting times politically, too: the 1967 Falklands crisis, the Rhodesian crisis, Common Market membership. Interestingly in the House of Lords, Notice Papers were written in Latin.

‘I returned to the Courier Mail in the late 1960s and early 70s. At that time the so called ‘Ginger Group’ of pollies used to have clandestine meetings with the journalists; and journalists were able to walk in to Ministers offices unannounced.

Prime Minister Malcolm Frazier of Australia is welcomed upon arrival for a visit to the United States.
Prime Minister Malcolm Frazier of Australia is welcomed upon arrival for a visit to the United States.

‘Then I got a job in Canberra as Malcolm Frazer’s Press Secretary. In those days he had a staff of just 4 people in his office, whereas today there would be 15 to 20 on the Prime Minister’s staff. I became very close to the Frazer family and even had my own bedroom in their homestead, ‘Nareen’. Frazer’s electoral seat was always a marginal one and he had to work hard to keep it. I remember he once visited 36 pubs in a day during a campaign, and on another occasion in a small country town, he gave a policy speech to an audience of one (at the audience’s insistence!).

‘1972 saw the Aboriginal Tent Embassy crisis in Canberra, and Malcolm played a pivotal role in negotiations with them. I was surprised that when some of the Aboriginal Elders arrived from the Northern Territory, Malcolm knew them all by name.
‘Malcolm Frazer recognized my loyalty as a Senior Adviser, and on one occasion he asked me to cost the ALP’s election policies, which I did in a few days – much to the amazement of McMahon who had a team of economists working on it for three months.

‘And finally, another personality who I knew well was Tom Burns who liked to say ‘A politician is not worth two bob until you have made an enemy.’

Brisbane in the 1950s

Because Melbourne’s climate was not suited to his respiratory condition and lead to constant bouts of pneumonia, George Symons brought his family to live in Queensland in 1950. After a short stint in Ipswich they settled in Brisbane.

Although its population was just over 500,000, Brisbane in the 1950s, had the reputation of being ‘Australia’s biggest country town’. It slumbered, still wrapped in the euphoria after the end of World War II and hopes for the future, as families settled back into a normal existence, boosted, too, by the cessation of rationing of petrol, butter and tea.

City Hall, Brisbane 1950s
City Hall, Brisbane 1950s

The City Hall tower was a Brisbane landmark, and towered over all the other buildings in the city centre. Its shops opened on weekdays from 9 to 5 and on Saturdays from 9 to 1 pm. Sundays were a day for rest and church attendance – and the Sunday roast.

‘Eating out’ was a rare family occurrence, and was reflected in the lack of nightlife in the city. Pubs closed at 6 pm resulting in the so called ‘six o’clock swill’. Greeks still owned and operated the majority of cafes in Brisbane, and their long shop hours enabled workers to snack before work, or after the pictures at night. Friday night was the family’s night out at the pictures in the city at the Regent and Wintergarden Theatres in Queen Street while around the corner in Albert Street the St James and the art deco Metro theatres vied for business. Every suburb, too, had its own picture house with deck chair for the audience to sit in. On Saturday afternoons the kids attended their matinee sessions – noisy affairs with much enthusiastic shouting!

To get around, people caught trams that trundled along Queen Street, and out in all directions to the suburbs.

Queen Street, Brisbane 1950s
Queen Street, Brisbane 1950s

At Christmas the man from Hunter Brothers would leave his crude Christmas card as a reminder of his year’s service to the household’s backyard dunny, and the following week the family would leave out a carton of Fourex longnecks for him as thanks. There were all sorts of home deliveries, too: early in the morning, the milkman would have replaced the empty milk bottles left out on the back step with ones full of milk each with a thick collar of cream – and the change if you didn’t have the correct money for him.

On the front lawn, or in the bushes or trees, would be the day’s ‘Courier Mail’ newspaper neatly folded into a square for easy throwing from the delivery car. At night on the way home from work, paperboys hawked the ‘Telegraph’ newspaper for workers to read the on the tram trip home.

There were also deliveries from the baker and the aroma of freshly baked bread on lifting the lid of the bread tin. A van also would come around with fresh fruit on display for housewives to come along and choose from.

However, the post war peace in Brisbane was not to last. Its citizens, like those in the rest of the world, were gripped with fears of the Cold War between Russia and the West, of the atomic bomb that had ended World War II – and that was likely to start World War III. Cloaked behind the ‘Iron Curtain’ Russians and Communists seemed to be infiltrating everywhere: trade unions, the Communist Party, the 1954 Petrov Russian spy affair, even troops were sent to Malaya in 1956 to fight Communism.

Brisbane’s youths were also becoming restless: teenage rebels nicknamed bodgies (the blokes) and widgies (their sheilas) were beginning to make the news when they challenged the social norms of the time. The era of rock n roll had begun. ‘Blackboard Jungle’, the first rock n roll movie was shown in 1955 at the Metro Theatre and in 1956 the Tivoli showed ‘Rock Around the Clock’ – both of which raised a few eyebrows from the more conservative Brisbaneites. In November 1956, the era of the bodgies and widgies climaxed with a confrontation between them and the police during a street rock n roll riot…

It was into this Brisbane environment that George Symons Suits entered – and flourished – in the 1950s.

(Peter Ludlow is currently researching the family history of the firm George Symons Suits).

Stories from Moreton Island – 2

Cape Moreton Lighthouse (photo courtesy Kevin Mohr)
Cape Moreton Lighthouse (photo courtesy Kevin Mohr)

John Gladstone Steele:

During 1856, with vessels now entering Moreton Bay via the northern entrance between Bribie and Moreton Islands, the New South Wales Government erected the Cape Moreton lighthouse, a stone tower 23 metres high and 120 metres above sealevel. This lighthouse, with its original lens, is still in use. (1)

Winifred Davenport:

The stone for the lighthouse and the light keepers’ cottages was quarried at first from the immediate neighbourhood of the works, but it was found to be of bad quality underneath the hard top and the remainder was obtained from a nearby hill. The lantern was of iron with 16 sides. The government schooner carried the lantern and many of the other items for the lighthouse from Brisbane to Moreton Island, landing them at
the pilot station whence they were transported overland to the site. Such an important and interesting event did the operations of the new light prove to be that pleasure cruises to view the lighthouse were run on the steamer Breadalbane, taking about 100 passengers from Ipswich and Brisbane, with music and dancing enjoyed on board while in the river. (1)

Clair Craig:

‘When shipping approached from south or north the Watch House at Cape Moreton would signal (with flags during the day, Morse at night) “Do you want a pilot?”  If the ship required a pilot to guide it into port, we then notified them on board the pilot boat, which was anchored near us at the Yellow Patch in the shelter of the island, and they went out to meet the approaching ship. The pilot would then board the ship and guide it up to Brisbane, the entrance being rather hazardous due to sand banks. After berthing he might stay in Brisbane for a few days break before rejoining the pilot boat. The pilots lived aboard, so they were always glad to visit us for a break on dry land.  We used to watch them coming up the narrow track to the Cape.  We always knew Captain Scott by his attire of white duck pants and a black coat.  He would stay with us for a few days.  We had an upright piano in our house, which my father imported from America in 1900.  Both my mother and Captain Scott were good pianists, and they loved playing duets together.‘ (2)

Kevin Mohr:

In 1946 I was employed as a lighthouse keeper at Cape Moreton for 12 months. The army was still using Cowan then and I went over to Moreton on one of their 300-ton cargo carriers. There was a wharf at Cowan then and we tied up there. The ship Cape Moreton used to come down to North Point once a year and send ashore an army DUKW to replace the gas bottles at the North Point Light and to carry out maintenance on the petrol motors used to turn the Cape Moreton Light.

They’d finished using kerosene lights before I was there, and although the light’s lens was turned with an electric motor, there was no electricity installed in the house for lighting or refrigeration. Our stores were delivered to Bulwer or Cowan every 28 days, and any fresh meat we got, if it hadn’t already gone off, we had to eat straight away. Then it was a matter of killing a goat or catching fish for any fresh meat. Fishing was fabulous on Moreton then. Tere was no one around except the lighthouse keepers and the army at Cowan, who were just about to leave when we arrived. (1)

Jessie Wadsworth:

‘It’s the sort of life I have liked – it’s never been too quiet or too isolated for me.  I think you have got to be the type of person who loves Nature and loves the quiet and doesn’t want to be rushing around to discos and all that.  I reckon I am a good advertisement for the lifestyle on Moreton Island.  I can still look after my own house, keep the garden in reasonable order, cook and teach my neighbours how to crochet.’ (2)


(1) The Port of Brisbane, Its People and Its Personalities

(2) Moreton Bay People, The Complete Collection