Working at Dunwich (Noel Brown)

My father, Mark Brown

My grandfather, George Brown, was a descendant of Fernandez Gonzales, a ‘Manila man’ who Tom Welsby once described as ‘the Patriarch of Moreton Bay’. George married Granny Mubue, an Aborigine from the mainland, and their children included my father, Markwell “Mark” George Brown, and my five aunts Daisy Campbell, Tilly Martin, Ethel Close, Vera Perry, and Mabel Brown (she remained unmarried). Our family lived at the Two Mile, which as the name implies was a community situated two miles north of Dunwich. Mark Brown, my father, worked at the old people’s institution at Dunwich as an engineer. He looked after the gas and steam engines there.

Apart from fishing and oystering, the old people’s Institution was the only source of employment for the people of Stradbroke Island. So, when it closed down in about 1947, my father worked at the Lazaret (leprosarium) on Peel Island just across the water from Dunwich. He remained working there until the sand mining started up on Stradbroke Island. At this stage our family moved from the Two Mile to Dunwich. My father worked for the mining in the carpenters’ shop until he retired and went to live at Southport.

Noel Brown

I went to school in Dunwich and when I left, I worked with Bonty Dickson, one of the personalities of Stradbroke and who later became its first Councillor. I worked with him on his oyster leases, then started boat building with him. One of the things I remember about Bonty was that he rode a three-wheeled bike.

Bonty Dickson’s store at Dunwich (photo courtesy Ray Cowie)

When the sand mines started up, I worked on the dredge on Main Beach. The dredge was used to pump the sand mix into the separating towers where the heavy mineral sands were separated from ordinary sand by centrifugal force. Then I helped put through the ropeway from Main Beach to Dunwich, via the Blue Lake and the 18 Mile Swamp. This ropeway (wire) was to transport the mineral sand in buckets across Stradbroke Island to Dunwich from where it was taken by barge to Brisbane and thence overseas.

The company mining the mineral sands then was called Tazi, which was located at Tazitown on the 18-mile swamp. This is now called Con Rutile. Now (1996) there are two sand companies, one at Dunwich (Con [Consolidated] Rutile) and the other at Amity Point.

 (Editor: Consolidated Rutile was a fixed mining operation on North Stradbroke Island with a workforce of up to 150 men housed in accommodation centered at Dunwich. The mineral concentrates were barged to Meeandah near Brisbane airport for separation into heavy mineral components.)

D9 Bulldozers hitched up to move a section of the plant on N.Stradbroke c.1976 (Photo courtesy Felix Fries)

Noel Brown, Southport, 1996

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

(Editor: Sand mining ceased on Stradbroke Island in 2019).

Moreton Bay’s Frontier Islands –  Stradbroke Island (Allan Gilmour)

My first association with Amity was as a Boy Scout when I was very young.  We used to visit Stradbroke for camps. There were only a couple of houses at Amity then – notably that of John Campbell and Bill Bacchus. Although they were no longer living there, a story persisted about Bill going for walks with his Foxie dog and a white goat called Snowie. They made an unusual sight.

Bill Bacchus outside his hut at Amity Point

I was at Straddie before there was a road built from Amity to Point Lookout, and the only access was by Campbell’s truck via the beach at low tide. About halfway to Point Lookout a survival hut had been built. It contained some tinned food and water for shipwreck survivors. However, some louts wrecked it. It was about 11 miles from Amity to Point Lookout and we had to carry with us all our gear and enough food to last us for the week of our stay.

There was no one living at Point Lookout then, but there was a story that cattle had once been grazed there. Once, when I was about 16 years old, I saw the gorge in a storm and our group was nearly washed off the rocks at its entrance by a freak wave. The water came right up to our chests and we only survived by holding on to each other. At New Year, there would always be a big bonfire at Point Lookout, and on one of these occasions 2 or 3 people were drowned. Their fate was less fortunate than mine.

Point Lookout’s North Gorge Looking East (photo courtesy of David Liu)

Near the lighthouse, there was a natural spring of fresh water and a hut had been constructed close by. A ship’s tank had been positioned there to collect the water for anyone’s use. Inside the hut, some unknown artist had painted directly onto the wooden wall a magnificent panorama looking from the Point. It was so good that I decided to bring a saw with me on my next visit and cut out the section of wall containing the painting. But someone else must have had the same idea because on my next visit, the painting had already been cut out and removed.

During the Great Depression in the 1920s, everyone used to have an enforced one-week off in every six so that more people could be employed. It was during my week off that I used to visit Amity. A couple of old crabbers used to take us to Amity. They were on the dole but this didn’t stop them collecting orders for up to 50 sand crabs at a time!

Allen Gilmour

October 2007.

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

Moreton Bay’s Frontier Islands – Moreton Island (Allan Gilmour)

            In my later working life (I had my own bricklaying business), I was asked by my mate, Doug Schroder, to help him construct a dwelling at Toulkerri, which you will find on the map of Moreton Island to be just south of the Little Sand Hills on the bay side of southern Moreton Island.

            Doug had an oyster lease there and made his income by supplying Tangalooma Resort with oysters. He had been a squatter at Toulkerri for some time – long enough to have worn out two tents! Desiring something more permanent, Doug asked me to help him with the brickwork. For the concrete, we were able to use sand from the Little Sand Hills because it was salt free. At Moreton I worked 10 days on and 4 days off. I did this for the ten years that the construction work continued. My wife, not liking boats at all, preferred to remain with our family in Brisbane.  As one wag once said, the perfect recipe for a happy marriage!

            First, we built the house, then later, just 7 foot (2 metres approx) away beside it, a two bed-roomed dwelling for Doug. Doug could lie in bed and look straight out the window onto the Bay.  It was a bed with a view that you’d kill for today!

            Later, another 7 foot beside Doug’s bedrooms, we built another room, which was intended to be a garage, but was never used as such. Instead it was used to house a generator for electricity. We had other mod cons as well: a gas refrigerator bought from Macleay Island, a gas deep freeze, two large baker’s ovens, and a bar, shower, and septic toilet that Hawkins had brought over on his barge. In those days, the barge used to come into Day’s Gutter but it silted up, possibly because of the mineral sand mining, so it used to come in on the surfside lagoon. We also installed a pump to get fresh water from just 12 foot (3.6 metres) below the surface, which we pumped into a tank.

            All these structures were just a stone’s throw away from the beach. Later still, we built a large gazebo between the house and the water. It was literally right on the water’s edge and contained 5 or 6 Cyprus Pine tables, which Doug had constructed, using a circular saw. The gazebo also contained Doug’s pride and joy: two pianos – an upright and a baby grand!  Doug played them beautifully, and loved to entertain. He used these talents with tour groups who used to visit us from Tangalooma.

            A typical tour would go something like this: the group would board one of the 4WD buses at Tangalooma resort and travel south towards our settlement at Toulkerrie. Atop the Little Sand Hills, they’d stop and have a look at the magnificent view westwards across Moreton Bay to the Mainland. While there, they’d be treated to a glass of champagne. Then it would be on to Toulkerrie where we would explain oyster farming to them, have an oyster tasting, then we’d give them a BBQ lunch with some of Doug’s home-made bread (he was a baker by trade). To cap it all off, Doug would open up on his pianos! The foreign tourists were amazed at seeing a baby grand in the middle of the bush!

View from the sandhills of Moreton Island (Ron Peterson)

            A lot of boaties used to call in to see us, but they had to leave before the tide went out. Because Moreton was a place away from the constraints of ‘civilization’ things used to happen which would be best not taken back to the mainland gossips or, as the saying on Moreton went, “What happens on the island stays on the island”!

            Many groups visited Moreton. Billy Dewar, brother of Alex, the Member of Parliament, often brought a crowd down with him. Fishing and sightseeing clubs were able to drink without the restrictions of city life. I used to brew my own beer in 20-gallon (90 litre) kegs – and sometimes their contents didn’t last very long!

            Campers needed a permit, but some camped without one. One even ‘borrowed’ an SAS tarpaulin to use as a tent but was sprung by a policeman friend of ours who was on holidays. He showed no hesitation in confiscating the tarpaulin from the protesting camper – even though it was pouring rain!

            Fishing, of course, was wonderful. I was friendly with the Cape Moreton lighthouse keepers and once on a visit we passed a couple of Taylor fishermen on the beach just to the south of the lighthouse. They were pulling in the Taylor so easily that Doug and I went back to our camp 5 miles down the beach to get our own rods. We caught over one hundred Taylor that day – a fish with every cast.

            Another friend of ours was less particular about the size of the fish he kept and on one occasion, while night fishing from a boat, an inspector sprang him. Knowing he had an undersized catch, he was forced to dive overboard before the inspector could board.

            They were ten memorable years I spent at Moreton with my friend Doug Schroder. He loved playing the piano and he loved company but unfortunately had a heart attack and died on the job at Moreton. This was a sad end to my days at Toulkerrie.

Sunset from Moreton Island

            Editor: The story of Toulkerri continues to this day under the name of the ‘Moreton Bay Rock Oysters’. To learn more, copy this web address to your browser:

Map of Toulkerrie today (Google Maps)

Allen Gilmour

October 2007. 

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

A Visit to Kooringal – Part 2

            Recent times have seen two significant changes to Kooringal’s essential services: First it was Kooringal’s ferry service to Amity Point that closed in April 7, 2010. This virtually cut off the village of Kooringal on the southern tip of Moreton Island.  What could have been a death knell for Kooringal was reversed on Thursday December 2, 2010 with the reopening of the ferry link between North Stradbroke Island and Moreton Island. This time the Amity Trader barge is the Scorpio owned by Steve Wallace, and under the Captaincy of Moreton Bay marine industry identity Allan Chaplin. The additional choice of access to Moreton Island has already proved a boon when the Brisbane River flood of January 2011 closed the other access point from Pinkenba.

Kooringal’s Gutter Bar (photo courtesy Kathy Brinckman)
Kooringal’s Gutter Bar – with remembrances of three of its best loved residents – Ray, Frank, and John Day (photo courtesy Kathy Brinckman)

              On a sadder note is the closing of the Gutter Bar at Kooringal on January 30, 2011. Once a favourite haunt for both locals and visitors alike, this Moreton Bay icon will be sorely missed. However, as Kathy Brinckman says, the shifting sands of Moreton usually refill a hole. Let’s hope it won’t be too long.

Editor: Since the publication of ‘Moreton Bay People 2012’ the Gutter Bar has reopened. You can check it out on its own Facebook page at:

            Our next stop in John’s 4WD tour is at the grave of Edward Jones, an oysterer of earlier times, who died on 1stNovember 1916. His is a lone grave on a hilltop out in the bush behind the settlement. No path leads there, and we have to rely on Nancy’s expert guidance to find it.  The grave’s metal fence is in excellent condition and still very sturdy after all these years, but the marble headstone has broken again (a former attempt to glue it has come unstuck). Also, as Kathy notes, it has been moved off-centre. 

            (Editor: Since the publication of ‘Moreton Bay People 2012’ there has been an update to the story of Edward Jones. See Barbara Dummer’s comments of 18th April 2018 in the Readers’ Forum page of this website, or click here.)

We leave Edward to the company of the bush, walk back to the vehicle, and drive to our next stop atop the cliff overlooking Moreton Bay. A table has been erected here and everyone agrees that this is an ideal spot to have a drink and watch the sunset. Unfortunately, we cannot wait for the sun to set today, because the tide is ebbing and we have still to call in to visit Tom Peebles before we set out for the mainland.

            Tom, along with Nancy, is one of the original landholders still residing at Kooringal. Opposite his home is a tree to which are nailed dozens of thongs – the lost legacy of many a boatie. The trunk is well covered with them now, and a long ladder is required to add more. We cross over the sandy street to Tom’s house where he is waiting to greet us.

Tom Peebles

            ‘I’ve been living at Kooringal since 1987 – the same as Nancy, but I first came here with the Wynnum-Manly Fishing Club in 1968. We came over in Harold Walker’s Vega and at that time, the Moreton Fishing Club has an old Blitz (an ex-army truck) over on Reeder’s Point, which I slept in. I liked the place so much that I began squatting here at Kooringal in 1969. I came over with Frankie Boyce in his Fairmile (an ex World War II vessel) called Hurry Up with my small caravan across the stern. We got the van on at the Ampol Refinery at the mouth of the Brisbane River, and unloaded it at Campbell’s. We got a lot of painter’s planks for the job and eight of us got it onto the beach, then we towed it to the waterfront just near the Unity Fishing Club. 

            ‘When the Government held their second land auction in about 1970, I bought this present block. We didn’t know where we had bought because the block was in the bush and there was no road there then, but we thought we might as well move the caravan onto our own block. A couple of weeks later our present neighbour, Harry Jackson, moved in as well. There were only survey pegs in the bush to mark our blocks, and to our consternation he came up to me and said. “I think you’re on my block!” We had to do a lot of peg searching to sort out the problem! 

            ‘I was in the trucking business then, and there were seven or eight of us truckies who bought land here. Now there are only two of us left. 

            ‘For eighteen years we did the paper run every Sunday. We’d go over to Amity, collect the papers, and bring them back to Kooringal. Things were fairly primitive here then. Old Frankie Day got us an old ex-Cabarita kerosene fridge. He was into ex – World War II Army demolition materials, and got us an ex-army 12-volt battery charger, with a little Sunbeam motor on it. Within a few months everybody had one. Lights were originally kerosene wick lanterns, then came the Primus pressure lanterns. These gave a good light, but the cloth mantles were fragile and were easy to prick, after which they had to be replaced. Refrigeration was also very important to us here, especially since we were a fishing community, and eventually the kerosene fridges were replaced by gas operated ones. These days, people are getting out of gas and going into electric fridges operated by generators or solar power.’

            Regrettably, time and tide wait for no one, and John Watt reminds us of this fact. We take our leave, and head off in his 4WD to the beach, his boat, and a smooth trip back to Raby Bay and ‘civilisation’.

Peter Ludlow

5th July 2011

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

A Visit to Kooringal – Part 1

            I deem myself fortunate to be invited by John Watt to visit the village of Kooringal (‘Home Near the Water’ 1) on the southern tip of Moreton Island. I have never visited this last bastion of civilization in Moreton Bay, mainly because of its remoteness and difficulty of transportation, so I feel honoured to be asked. As we leave John’s beautiful home in prestigious Raby Bay, I am prepared for a big contrast in housing standards. Will I find just a few small fishing shacks on the water’s edge?

            The trip across Moreton Bay is in perfect weather – a relief from the windy conditions we have been having for the preceding days. The approach to Kooringal itself is fraught with sandbanks, and the channel only navigable near high tide. John’s son, Daniel, meets us with the 4WD and takes us to meet the locals. First stop is morning tea with Nancy Cameron, who, along with Tom Peebles, has been residing longest at the settlement…

Nancy Cameron

            Nancy and her husband, Robert, migrated from Glasgow in Scotland in 1956. They first visited Kooringal in about 1970, liked it so much they built a house there in 1976, and have lived there since their retirement in 1987. Robert passed away in 2003, and since then Nancy has lived here alone, but is an integral member of the Kooringal community.

            We sit in the sun on the verandah of Nancy’s home and eagerly devour her legendary cooking. Nancy’s is a neat house that has all the mod cons, remarkable, because, like all the other homes at Kooringal, all building materials have to be brought in by barge. This includes all the bricks of her recently paved courtyard.

            Nancy: ‘There are 163 blocks of land surveyed at Kooringal, and the majority of houses are now solar powered. Next door are the Telstra phone towers, which are also solar powered. A pair of Ospreys have decided to make their nest there. It’s fascinating watching them build their nest. The just drop branches into it, and if they miss, that’s too bad, they just fly off and get another branch. There are marks on the solar panels below the nest from their failed attempts.’

Map of Kooringal showing airstrip

A Drive Round the Settlement

            After morning tea, Nancy’s friend, Kathy Brinckman, joins us for a tour of the settlement. First John drives us Cloherty’s Peninsula on the ocean side of Moreton opposite Kooringal, Kathy and Nancy point out the former rubbish tip on the embankment now in the process of falling into the sea. Hundreds of dead tree trunks strewn along the beach remind us of the extent of the surf’s erosion here.

One of the problems with living on one of the world’s largest sand islands is that the land is unstable. Since records have been kept following European occupation, erosion has been occurring on Moreton Island and at Amity Point across the South Passage on Stradbroke Island. The lighthouse at Cowan Cowan was moved back 200 metres because of the encroaching sea, but most of the erosion has occurred on the Southern tip of Moreton in what has become known as ‘the timbers’ because of the large number of trees undermined and felled on the beach. An early casualty of such erosion was the planned township of Booloong on the ocean side of what is now the village of Kooringal. An official plan of Booloong in 1906 shows it as having at least 30 large building allotments situated along a central thoroughfare called Walloo Street, a waterfront street called Rous Esplanade, and a connecting Yerrung Street. The village was surveyed on the ocean side of what was known as The Lagoon, a feature accessible from the South Passage and which provided a safe anchorage for boats. Old diagrams of Booloong show sites for buildings such as private beach houses, a government residence, stables, a beach pavilion, and bathing sheds. The settlement was intended as a holiday spot for adventurous Brisbaneites. The encroachment of the sea soon put paid to all such plans, and now Booloong and The Lagoon are submerged nearly a kilometer off the shore. 2

Kooringal’s former rubbish tip is being eaten away by the sea

            Nancy continues: ‘My husband, Robert, and I conducted a project for the Government, which involved us coming here every day to measure the height of the tide, and the way the tide came in (we used to put a dye in the water to measure the sweep). We did this for ten years in the 1990s. We used to have markers and at regular intervals we’d lose a mark to the tides. During that ten-year period we measured that we had lost 125 metres depth of shoreline. We used to have a picnic area here but that has gone as well. This is also where the settlement of Booloong was proposed in the early days, but the erosion forced the shift to Kooringal. There was also an island off the point that we called Indecision because it was sometimes there and sometimes not – it’s couldn’t make up its mind. We used to take a boat across there but it got very dangerous – I think a man was drowned there at one stage.’

            These days, the rubbish dump has been moved inland away from the encroaching ocean. To minimize landfill, there are half a dozen skips on site for residents’ rubbish. These are removed once a week and taken to the mainland for dumping. Residents green waste is collected at the dump and is burned once a month under the watchful eye of the Rural Fire Brigade volunteers. 

            Next John drives us to the Rural Fire Brigade shed in which are housed their two fire trucks. Beside the shed is the water tank from which the trucks refill. There are two other Rural Fire Brigade units on Moreton – at Bulwer and Cowan to service the northern end of the island.

            Also in the Fire Brigade shed is the First Response headquarters from where the first response team is able to contact the Flying Doctor by radio and obey their instructions to treat injuries. For example, if a 4WD should capsize on the beach. There is no resident doctor but the community has a unique first response team, which is a band of volunteers trained regularly by the Queensland Ambulance Service. Their presence optimises response times to patients and provides communication between the scene and the QAS and facilitates an earlier evacuation, if needed. A chopper takes a medical emergency to Brisbane from the village’s Dr Carl Cilento Memorial Helipad. 

Kathy says: ‘In 1976 Frank Day suffered a stroke and had the distinction of being the first person to be flown out of Kooringal by an aircraft. It was piloted by Brian Cheras and took off from the new airstrip built by Brian. This airstrip is on the land base of the K.O. oyster lease on the north end of the settlement. Another man, who helped build the airstrip, was Frank Dennis. I looked after Frank in his failing years when I worked in age care. Nothing would make him happier than talking about his Kooringal days and the fishing there.’

            There is also a large shed, which can be used for meetings and community get -togethers. On the wall is a plaque listing the members of Dad’s Army. ‘It’s a fishing club,’ John explains. ‘By invitation only.’

Kooringal – main street in 2011

Peter Ludlow

5th July 2011


1. From Sydney J.Endocott in the 1955 edition of Australian ‘Aboriginal Words and Place Names’ publication

  1. From a special report by Ken Blanch in ‘The Sunday Mail’ October 14, 1990

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