Until the last ice age, indigenous peoples roamed the lands now occupied by Moreton Bay. After the ice age some 15,000 years ago, the sea levels began to rise and the coastline contracted. Sand was washed northwards from what is now New South Wales and formed the islands now known as Moreton and Stradbroke, thus enclosing the area of Moreton Bay.
The indigenous people of Moreton Island (Moorgumpin) were known as the Nugui people. With the arrival of Europeans, a massacre by British soldiers in 1833 significantly reduced the Nugui’s numbers, and in 1847 their remaining people were transferred to Stradbroke Island.
When the Moreton Bay settlement was established on the Brisbane River in 1824, sailing ships began using the South Passage between Stradbroke and Moreton Islands. This was to continue until the wreck of the Sovereign there in 1847. The wreck, with the loss of forty-five lives, was a disaster that shook the foundations of the young pastoral and business community. More than any other single event, it led to vessels using the northern entrance to Moreton Bay rather than the South Passage.
Although both entrances were then being used, the pilot station remained at Amity Point on Stradbroke Island, but pilots were made available for ships using either entrance. However, as the condition of the South Passage continued to deteriorate and more vessels used the North Passage, the Pilot Station at Amity was closed and officially moved to Moreton Island on August 1, 1848, first at Cowan Cowan and then at Bulwer. Tom Welsby notes, however, that working conditions for the pilots at Moreton were still laborious:
“A crow’s nest of ti-tree saplings was erected at Comboyuro Point to enable the lookout man to see vessels when they rounded North Point. He then had to walk about a mile to inform the pilot, and by the time he left the beach with his boat about an hour had been consumed. If it was fine weather and ebb tide, after two or three hours’ pulling (on the oars) he would reach the ship, and the boat would then return to the station.”
During 1856, with vessels now entering Moreton Bay via the north entrance between Bribie and Moreton Islands, the New South Wales Government erected the Cape Moreton lighthouse, a stone tower twenty-three metres high and 120 metres above sea level. This lighthouse, with its original lens, is still in use. 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 Spitfire carried the lantern and many of the other items for the lighthouse from Brisbane to Moreton Island, landing them at the pilot station from whence they were transported overland to the site. Such an important and interesting event did the commencement of 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, music and dancing were enjoyed on board while in the river.
An early navigation family closely associated with Moreton Island was the Clohertys. Bruce Hazel provides the following details: ‘The Clohertys migrated to Australia from Galway in 1875 in the ship Corlic. Thomas Alfred Cloherty was born in 1857 and was the pilot Master for Moreton Bay in the late 1800’s. He was stationed at the Bulwer Lighthouse on Moreton Island. He married Mary Ann Evans about 1886 and they had 13 children while living at Bulwer on Moreton Island. His brother, William, also migrated on the ship Corlic in 1875. He was a signalman and light keeper from 1884 to 1910 at South Passage Moreton Island.
The South Passage Light house location was eroded away and the settlement was relocated to Kooringal, which today is a very popular tourist resort. The stretch of water between Moreton Island and the Moreton banks at the south end of the island was originally named Cloherty’s Gutter after William Cloherty. It was later changed to Day’s Gutter after a prominent identity Frank Day. The south Passage lighthouse location was originally named Oolong, which is a Chinese tea.’
In 1952 Whale Products P/L opened a whaling station at Tangalooma. Quotas averaging 600 per year were met until 1959 when world whale oil prices began to fall due to competition from vegetable oils. The whaling station closed in 1962, and in 1963 the Tangalooma site was purchased by Greg Cavill and converted to a tourist resort. Today it continues as such with few reminders, save for the massive concrete flensing deck, of its former purpose.
While the whaling station was in operation, sharks were attracted into Moreton Bay by the dead whale carcasses towed by the catchers to Tangalooma for processing. With the sharks came the big game fishermen, most notably quiz personality Bob Dyer and his wife Dolly. At the start of the whaling season they would bring their game fishing boat, Tennessee II, up from Sydney. After much burleying the waters with whale meat and blood, Bob would try to catch the biggest shark that came in for a feed. In this way he was to claim many game fishing records at that time.
But it wasn’t just the sharks that brought fishermen to Moreton Island. It had always been legendary for its fishing catches both from the ocean and bay sides of the island. Moreton was always a good place to get away from it all, and have a break from city life – for the poor and wealthy alike. Some who came for a break liked Moreton’s relaxed lifestyle so much that they decided to stay on. Pick of the squatters’ choices was North Point, where the Hospital Fishing Club set up residence. By the 1960s there had been sufficient public interest in Moreton Island for the Government to make allotments available for sale, and in 1963 the first land sales took place at Kooringal, near the island’s southern end.
(Extract from Peter Ludlow’s book ‘Moreton Bay People 2012’ (now out of print)