Queenslanders (with Bob and Mardi Spencer)

I had met Bob and his wife, Marjorie (Mardi) Spencer some 20 years previously on the beach at Peel Island’s Horseshoe Bay. Bob is now well into his 80s and Mardi is 90 as I call at their comfortable old Queenslander home on top of the hill at Bulimba. In the early days, when it was first built, it would have commanded expansive views across the river and Brisbane itself. Unfortunately, other houses and trees have now stripped them of this privilege. A massive ship’s anchor greets me at the bottom of the front stairs – a testament to Bob’s lifelong fascination with Moreton Bay and its vessels.

The Spencers’ house ‘Mount Lang’

The original owner of this property was James Johnston who was one of Dr. James Dunmore Lang’s emigrants and came to Moreton Bay in the Lima, the third and last of Dr Lang’s immigrant ships. The ship arrived in Moreton Bay on 1st November 1849. Ships did not come up the river in those days. The passengers were brought to town in the steamer Tamar and landed at the old Queen’s Wharf where the immigration barracks were at that time. A certain Mr. Sutherland took James’ wife and her two children to his place on Windmill Hill, where they were put into a bark humpy which was built to keep out the rain. There was a terrific thunderstorm during the night but no water got in.

James’s first job was with George Raff at New Farm. George and Alexander Raff were merchants in Eagle Street. He then entered the employment of David Cannon McConnell as gardener at Bulimba House. James’ wife, Helen, was also employed there attending to Mary McConnell and looking after their first baby. After James Johnston had been working with McConnell for some time, he purchased 70 acres of land adjoining McConnell’s property in 1851 for £70 ($140). This was the first scrub farm along the riverbank, which he named Mt Lang Farm in respect of Rev Dr John Dunmore Lang who he thought highly of.  

James Johnston went into sugar growing and erected a mill at Tingalpa. In 1874 he had a bad accident in which his foot was caught in the machinery and was so badly crushed that he had to have it amputated. The sugar mill at Tingalpa was afterwards removed to the old home at Bulimba.

            Bob and Mardi’s home is a veritable treasure trove of Moreton Bay history. Bob shows me a roomful of books and photos of early Bulimba and Moreton Bay. He had been polishing a mint condition Primus Stove engraved with the Swedish Royal crest.  ‘Another thing I collect,’ he says with understandable pride.

            Here’s one of the photos Bob has collected:

1934 newspaper article ‘A House Afloat’

            Radio was the name of the passenger-carrying vessel in the photograph. During World War II it was used for towing target practice in Moreton Bay. Bob Dath supplied the timber for this house, which was built for Jim Crouch in McConnell Street, Bulimba. The house and contents were transported to Bishop Island at the mouth of the Brisbane River on May 1st, 1934. Mr Flynn was the removalist. After approximately five years on Bishop Island, the house was transported back to the same site at Bulimba. In 1952 Ted Millis bought the house and he and his wife lived in it until it was sold in 1978.

            When Ted Millis and George Kretchman founded the boatbuilding firm of Millkraft, Ted’s house was moved further over on the site to make room for Millkraft buildings. The house was purchased by the Ramblers Parachute Club in 1978 and moved to Toogoolawah. It is still used by the club as their clubhouse.

            Another photo catches my eye:

The Crouch property at Bulimba (photo courtesy Bob Spencer)

            It’s the old dance hall from Bishop Island that I had used in a previous book (Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection). The advertisement on the roof is a dead giveaway. So, the dance hall at Bishop Island also was transported down the river from the Crouch property at Bulimba – but unlike the other house, it never came back again.

The Dance hall Bishop Island (photo courtesy Ted Crouch)

There are dozens of other historic photos on the dining room wall, but time does not permit a detailed inspection. Suffice to say that Bob and Mardi’s home ‘Mount Lang’ is a veritable museum of Bulimba and Moreton Bay history, and one which is worthy of preserving for future generations.

Bulimba Point (photo courtesy Bob Spencer)

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

On the Other Side – 2

A river is a natural divide within a community and to my experience, the inhabitants of each side remain loyal to the one they have chosen. But other elements, can also separate us: train tracks (‘he came from the wrong side of the tracks’), roads (‘on the sunny side of the street’), TV advertisements (‘We’ll see you after these words from our sponsors’), graphs (‘let’s flatten the Covid19 curve’), or even time itself (‘They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning. We will remember them.’)

Looking with envy on the other side

But back to rivers, for as well as dividing us, they also present a challenge to cross them. In my younger days, in the 1960s, the folk singing era was in full swing and the River Jordan was a source of inspiration for many folk poets. Our Australian singing group, The Seekers, released their contribution with their 1967 hit ‘On the Other Side’, co-written by Tom Springfield with Gary Osborne and Bob Sage.

You can hear them even now by following this YouTube link:

On the Other Side – 1

All things are relative – even where we like to spend our holidays. This has been brought home to us all when, thanks to the Covid 19 virus, we are forced to holiday at home rather than jet off overseas to anywhere in the world that we choose.

I like this observation from Brian McGrath in ‘The Port of Brisbane, Its People and Its Personalities’: ‘During the port development days, we had a series of tide gauges near where we were doing our work, and one of them was on the jetty at Bishop Island. I was down there one day and was putting a new chart on the tide gauge and there was a dear old lady fishing there. I got talking to her and she told me how much she enjoyed coming to Bishop Island every year for her holiday. When I asked her where she came from, I was expecting her to say something like Western Queensland, but she pointed across the river and said, ‘From over there at Cribb Island.’

(Cribb Island, nicknamed ‘Cribbie’, was once an isolated, tight knit community of Aussie battlers who found refuge and cheaper living during The Great Depression. ‘Cribbie’ was demolished to make way for the Brisbane Airport in the early 1980s.)

(Bishop Island, a manmade island formed from spoil after the deepening of the mouth of the Brisbane River, has now been engulfed by the development of the Port of Brisbane and now resides under the area taken up by berth 9.)

Working the Dredges (by Vern Dinden)

I started out as a deckboy on the dredger Morwong. It did three 8-hour working shifts per 24 hours. Then I went to the larger dredges RemoraPlatypus etc. I worked on the dredges all the time. When one dredge went into dock, they’d send me down to another if it were short of a crewmember. Altogether I was 46.5 years on the dredges StingareeBreamSeal, Dugong, Grouper, Nautilus, Cowrie, Trochus, and Sir Thomas Hiley, but eventually had to give it up because of ill health.

I also worked on the tug Koala. We used to go up to the Port of Brisbane and collect the stores and take them down to the dredges. We also took stores to the supply vessel Matthew Flinders when she came in from outside for the changeover. We transferred the crew down to Pinkenba. On one occasion we had one chap fall over the side accidentally. We got him out of the water, put a blanket round him, and took him back to the Matthew Flinders where they put his clothes in the washing machine, dried them and he was good as new. At that stage, I was based with Harbours and Marine when Cecil Fison was in charge.

I later worked from the Port of Brisbane at Whyte Island where the tugs were eventually moved to. We used to board the new dredge Sir Thomas Hiley from there.

‘Sir Thomas Hiley’ (photo courtesy Alex King)

The dredges used to tie up at whatever berth they could get into, sometimes it would be the grain wharf, or the coal wharf, or Patrick’s, or whatever wharf was unoccupied.

At Fisherman Islands, when they started to expand the bund wall out, I saw one truck run off into the water. They built the wall first, then filled it in behind later. I was a deckie on the Hiley that did a fair bit of the filling. They first started pumping the sand ashore up near the coal berth. They had a pipeline down near Patrick’s where they had a little pumping station. Every time they shifted the pipeline, the dozers would move the sand around. 

We had the Pearl River, a Danish dredge, working at the Spitfire Channel in Moreton Bay, and she used to bring the sand in from out there. She had a floating pipeline, drop her stern anchor, and pump the spoil ashore. She could move along, too, and her dredge hopper was twice as big as the one on the Hiley.

One skipper on the Hiley reckoned we were eating too much ice cream so he ordered a smaller scoop, but the cooks used to pile it on just as much. Then the small scoops gradually disappeared and they went back to using the big ones.

We crew used to steer the Hiley until they put in an automatic pilot. Then they started axing the crew. There were 33 on board. They were thinking of getting rid of all the older ones and keeping the younger ones. But someone in the office must have thought that we’d better hang on to the old ones because they understood what goes on better.  We had two crews A and B which they used alternately and which enabled the Hiley to work continuously. We lost six on one crew and six on another. It started off as 8 hours ON and 8 hours OFF, then one day we came back to work at 4pm and found that we were not to start until 6pm because our shifts had been changed to 12 hours.

We had two crews worked a fortnight each. When our fortnight was up, we’d come in and we’d change crews. We’d talk to the other blokes and tell them what goes on and all that, and that was it. This enabled the dredge to operate 24 hours a day. During the day, they had three day-workers who used to perform maintenance work, which could be noisy and interfere with our sleep in the forward quarters. When the A crew had finished their fortnight shift, they’d come in and be replaced by the B crew. 

I used to drive my car down to Whyte Island and leave it there. It would be there for a fortnight until my duty was over. We used to work it with the other watch so that when we knocked off, we would finish early and go up home, and the same with the other watch when they finished, so they could go off early too. The skipper knew all about it.

We also used to do the northern ports on the Hiley – Townsville, Cairns, and Weipa. We also did a job in Western Australia for a month. We flew over there and had been working for about a week when the airline pilots pulled the plug out, went on strike, and left us high and dry. We eventually got back when they got light aircraft to bring us back. One lot went off early in the morning on a Lear Jet, but we copped a Cessna. We had to land at Alice Springs to take on fuel and provisions and go to the toilet (none on board!)  Later in the flight, we had a scare when the fuel line iced up and the engine began spluttering. We had to fly lower to avoid this reoccurring.

One time we were working at Weipa. The phone rang on the bridge where I was at the wheel and the skipper was told that there was a fire on board. They had overhauled one of the engines and when they fired it up there must have been some oil, which ignited. If they hadn’t got the fire out, she might have been a burnt-out shell and everyone might have been out of a job. When they pushed the fire alarm some of the crew slept through it. They had to knock on the doors to wake them.

I was a deckhand, but I used to relieve the operator for his cup of tea etc. I was a temporary leading hand there for a while when the operator went away on long service leave. I was operating for a fortnight up in Gladstone. It’s a difficult harbour to work in especially if there is a good south-easter blowing side on to the ship. On another occasion, one of the dredges turned over in Mourilyan Harbour. She was working in the entrance and took in water as she bounced up and down on the swell. A couple of blokes got drowned. 

The Hiley also had her share of accidents. One night she knocked the outer beacon over. I had just been relieved at the wheel. It was 5 pm at teatime, and as the dredge slowed while the Captain got the pipes over the side, the wind blew us sideways and onto the beacon. We couldn’t do much to avoid it. Dredges aren’t as maneuverable as other vessels.

There was another time the Hiley ran over the Government launch Boyne on a Friday night. I was in bed and one chap came along and said we’d run over a fishing boat. Fishing boats used to go out Friday night.  However, it turned out to be the Boyne. We weren’t told about the boat being in the area – they were testing a new light at Bulwer Island to see how far out they could pick the light up. We’d just come back from the dumping ground, and the Hiley had been lit up like a Christmas tree, but as soon as they’d finished dumping and got the doors up, they switched the light’s off, so when we turned into the channel that was when we clobbered her. Sadly, one chap was drowned.

After I left on sick leave, the Hiley was replaced by the dredge Brisbane.

Dredger ‘Brisbane’ (painting courtesy of Marine Artist Don Braben)

Vern Dinden

Coolum Beach

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

Shaping Stone (contributed by Paul Seto)

John Labbett (his mother’s maiden name) Sanders was born about 1856 in the English village of Northam. After marrying Elizabeth Puncher there in August 1877, they had one daughter, Mildred, before he departed for Queensland in about 1879. 

John Labbett Sanders (photo courtesy Paul Seto)

In this year, 1879, the prison workshops had been relocated to St Helena Island following the demise of Brisbane Gaol on Petrie Terrace. From the 1880s, then, prisoner rehabilitation through trade instruction became the focus of the Government of the day.1 It is recorded that John Sanders was employed on St. Helena Island between 1879c – 1895c, as a masonry tutor for the prisoners. (A trade instructor was in charge of each workshop on the island. In addition, a warder, called a shop walker, whose duty it was to see that no prisoner misbehaved during working hours, patrolled each shop. Other workshops run on the island included bookmakers, saddlers, brush makers, bookbinders, tailors, tinsmiths, blacksmiths, and carpenters.) 1

Stone ruins at St Helena Island in Moreton Bay

His wife, daughter Mildred, and another daughter, Florence (born later in 1879) did not leave Northam until 1887, arriving on June 1st on the Waroonga in Moreton Bay, Queensland. After her arrival, she went straight to St Helena Island. John Labbett Sanders, junior, was born on St Helena Island on July 1st 1888, and was followed by that of Charles Philip Sanders on January 19th 1890. This would make this family quite unusual with two children born on St Helena Penal Settlement. 

There were also two other children: Gladys born 1891 and died November 27th 1891 from cholera, and Montague died November 1892 from cholera. The Sanders’ family address on these death certificates is listed as corner of Ernest and Hope Streets, South Brisbane, so by 1891, John and the family are off St Helena Island, assumedly when the schoolhouse was closed on the island. John is then listed as a bricklayer.

John Labbett Sanders died on October 19th 1910 at the age of 54 and is buried in with his wife Elizabeth in the South Brisbane Cemetery.

Paul Seto

Moffat Beach

September 2011 

Reference: 1. “The St Helena Story” by Jarvis Finger.

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