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 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.’
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
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.’
5th July 2011
1. From Sydney J.Endocott in the 1955 edition of Australian ‘Aboriginal Words and Place Names’ publication
- 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)