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At the September 2005 meeting of the Redcliffe Historical Society, I listened to the lecture by Peter Ludlow on Peel Island. It brought back memories to me of some of the Bay islands, when I was a very young boy, about seven or eight years old.  I was born in 1910, so this would have been around 1918.  By then, the Otter, the Government vessel, took supplies over to the three islands, St. Helena, which was the penal settlement; Peel Island, the lazaret; and to Stradbroke Island, at Dunwich, where there was a home for the elderly.

In those days you had to obtain a permit from the relevant department to travel on the Otter.  I think if you had relatives at Dunwich you could travel more often, but other people were limited to visiting there once a year.  I distinctly remember going there one day with my grandmother.  We sailed firstly to St Helena where a trolley was rolled out along the jetty by men who I take it were the ‘residents’.  The supplies were loaded onto this trolley.  Then we proceeded on to Peel Island where the same procedure was followed, the trolley perhaps rolled out by the healthier patients, or possibly staff.  Then the boat sailed on to Dunwich where I think we stayed for about two hours.  This gave you time to visit residents or walk around the area.  Then of course the Otter returned to Brisbane at North Quay.  I understand that it made this trip about twice a week.

The Otter at Dunwich Jetty (Photo courtesy Ossie Fischer)

It’s marvellous how listening to Peter’s lecture has revived my memories about these events.  Also, referring to old memories, I think it must have been in late 1914 or early 1915 that my father took me to Redcliffe. I would have been four or five.  I remember going there on the Koopa.  Now the Koopa, to us young boys, was the pride of the Brisbane River.  It had to be because it had two funnels, and any ship with two funnels was marvellous, you know!  I remember pulling in to the old Redcliffe Jetty, walking along this long jetty and coming to this house in the middle – I think we called it the halfway house – then stepping ashore at Redcliffe.  That was my first visit.

The second visit to this area was landing at Woody Point, on the Lucinda.  This boat used to bring the children of the State Schools there, for a picnic once a year.  Once again, I was with my grandmother.  We left Queen’s Wharf to sail down the Brisbane River, and then cross Bramble Bay to Woody Point.  We never came to Redcliffe for these picnics, just Woody Point.  I remember doing this trip a couple of times.  They were my early memories of Moreton Bay.

The Queensland Government’s vessel – Lucinda

My memories of Bribie Island were when the Brisbane Tug Company who owned the Koopa and the Beaver had a lease of the island.  There was a caretaker there, and little huts on the Passage side.  I remember staying there with my grandmother.  The huts were simple, one room, with beds, a wood stove and a sink.  There was no running water.  You had to use the pump at the caretaker’s house and carry the water in a kerosene tin back to your hut.  I think the rent was two shillings and sixpence (25 cents) a week.  That’s all there was at Bribie.  There was nothing over at the main beach.  We walked across, about three miles, on a sandy track.  I remember my mother and me doing this walk carrying drinking water in a billycan, which was always very warm on arrival!  There was only one vehicle on the island, which belonged to the caretaker, who was the only permanent resident.  It used to be amusing.  We’d sail to Bribie on the Koopa, which was equipped with a bar.  The people holidaying on the island would be waiting for us to tie up, then, as we went ashore, they would board the boat and enjoy the bar facilities.  This procedure was reversed when we were about to leave in the afternoon.  In later years, when people came to live on Bribie, a bowling club was formed.  In those days, Brisbane had no hotels open on a Sunday.  The bowling club had a liquor license, but could sell alcohol to members only.  This resulted in many Brisbane people joining the club, which was reputed to have the largest membership of any bowling club in Queensland!

The old Koopa kept on running, year after year.  Then the Second World War broke out in 1939. I was in the Navy, and I came across the Koopa at anchor in Milne Bay in New Guinea.  She was the mother ship to the Fairmile class of small Australian patrol boats.  I never heard of her after that, and don’t know what happened to her – whether she lies somewhere still or has been broken up for razor blades.

The Koopa (photo courtesy Yvonne D’Arcy)

Later when I was about fourteen, I sailed the bay with my family and friends.  I remember that we always skirted around Peel Island, afraid that we might get washed up there.  Then we sailed on to Dunwich, where we would get lovely fresh bread and stores.  We would travel down the Canaipa Passage, on to the Broadwater and Southport, where we anchored.  Altogether we spent a lovely two weeks around the southern part of the bay.  We lived on the boat, but went ashore for events such as the New Year’s Eve festivities at Southport.  Unlike some events today, with young people running wild, these were orderly yet enjoyable occasions. In those days, too, the waters were quiet, not crowded with the shipping that there is today.  There were no ‘tinnies’ with outboard motors, no jet-skis.  The Bay was peaceful as you sailed across, and plenty of fish for dinner!

Anyway, these are memories I like to think back on, and when you hear a lecture, someone else talking about these items, it brings back more recollections.  So to have people such as Peter Ludlow revive these memories for me is indeed a real pleasure.

Jack Wheeler

Redcliffe Historical Society

September 2005

Editor: Like my lecture to the Redcliffe Historical Society, I hope this blog will invoke many such memories of our Moreton Bay for you, my reader. But if you have none to invoke, then I hope my words will stimulate you go down to the bay and collect some of your own.

(Extract from Peter Ludlow’s book ‘Moreton Bay People 2012’ (now out of print)