A Visit to the Royal Flying Doctor Service (Queensland)

When the Friends of Peel Island Association Inc. was wound up in June this year, its remaining funds were dispersed to the Royal Flying Doctors Service (RFDS), Redland Museum and the Fort Lytton Historical Association. $10,000, which had been donated by Dr Ted Reye on behalf of Rosemary Opala, a former nurse at the Peel Island Lazaret, went to the Royal Flying Doctor Service to help buy a Hamilton Ventilator which has the capability of being used on patients ranging from premature babies right through to adults. The Ventilator – costing in the vicinity of $50,000 – is at the RFDS base at Brisbane Airport for use in any of the planes requiring the equipment.

RFDS Ventilator and Dr Ted Reye

On 15 May 1928, John Flynn’s dream became a reality with the opening of the Australian Inland Mission Aerial Medical Service in Cloncurry, Queensland (later to be renamed the Royal Flying Doctor Service). From the first flight in a single engine, fabric covered bi-plane, the RFDS steadily grew in size, scope and reach. 

Over the next few years, the RFDS began to expand across the country: The RFDS Brisbane Base commenced operations out of Queensland Ambulance’s Terminal at Brisbane Airport, on 3 July 1995, with the current base location commencing operations next door in 1998. The Base is exclusively an emergency aeromedical base, providing retrieval and inter-hospital transfers. The terminal facilitates receipt of patients transported to Brisbane by the RFDS, as well as receipt of patients transported by other aeromedical providers such as Queensland and NSW Ambulance Services. Clinical coordination is provided by Queensland Health employed doctors and aircraft tasking by RSQ.

Tours of the facility are available to the public with tour groups limited to 15 people maximum. For further details telephone 0428054990.

Conditions are cramped inside the Beechcraft Kingair

Three Moreton Bay Yarns with Bob Bartlett

1.The Sea Monster 

I used to take my two boys fishing from virtually when they first could talk. I had a small cabin boat and we used to go fishing every weekend. We always went down to Jacob’s Well where we’d put the boat in and go off around the islands. We’d always take something to eat and cold drinks. On one such occasion in about 1967/68, we were fishing just north of Jacob’s Well in about 3 or 4 metres of water, and not doing much – just sitting in the boat with hand lines, when suddenly – it wasn’t a head – this hump came out of the water, and behind it was another hump! And the first hump moved further along. So I said to the boys, “Put your life jackets on straight away!” 

Bob indicating the position of the sea monster sighting at Jacob’s Well

I’d never seen anything like it in my life – almost a foot (0.3metres) in diameter, but we never saw the bottom of the humps under the water. So the boys put their life jackets on, and both remember it starkly to this day. Young Terry who was the baby then is now 47 and it has stuck in his mind ever since. His brother Graham is now 55 and also remembers it. 

I have drawn a picture of how it appeared to us: 

Bob’s sketch of the sea monster

There were several humps and they were all in a straight line behind each other. We never saw the head. They couldn’t have been dolphins because there were no fins, and dolphins stick their nose out. Dolphins also blow. This was just a series of humps that kept going through the water. It was just like a worm wriggling along but instead of wriggling sideways like a snake it was doing it vertically. No fins on its tail, and we didn’t see its tail at all. It was a dirty grey-brown colour. 

It just kept going until it disappeared out of sight. I have never seen anything like it before or since. When we got back home, the boys immediately told their mum, and she said, “Oh! It’s no good telling anyone – they would never believe us.” 

But the boys said, “What would happen if we did tell people?”
I told them, “People would look at you and say you were crazy!” Anyway I told a couple of blokes at work, and they said, “Have you 

been drinking, Bob?” so I said to myself, “That’s it. I’m not telling anyone else about it.”
Unfortunately we didn’t take a camera round with us in those days. 

They weren’t digital like now. But if we had taken a picture of it then, it would have been wonderful. If this had been in Loch Ness, it would have caused a sensation! What we really needed was somebody, independent of our family, to have also seen it. 

Any takers? 

Editor: – By a strange coincidence, just after I had interviewed Bob Bartlett about the Moreton Bay sea serpent, I was reading Mark Twain, A Biography by Albert Paine in which Mark Twain made a similar observation on a visit to Australia: 

On the night of September 15th – a night so dark that from the ship’s deck one could not see the water – schools of porpoises surrounded the ship, setting the water alive with phosphorescent splendors: “Like glorified serpents thirty to fifty feet long. Every curve of the tapering long body perfect. The whole snake dazzlingly illumined. It was a weird sight to see this sparkling ghost come suddenly flashing along out of the solid gloom and stream past like a meteor.” 

They were in Sydney next morning, September 16, 1895… 

I had mentioned such an occurrence to Bob, but he was adamant that there were no heads, fins, or tails visible, which would have been the case if the serpent had been a line of dolphins (or ‘porpoises’ as reported by Mark). 

The mystery deepens. 

2. An Unfortunate Chain of Events 

I tipped a boat over once. I was in the water for three and a half hours – without a life jacket. I was chugging along in the dinghy off Coochiemudlo picking up crab pots when the propeller got caught in one of the lines and pulled the boat backwards. I went to the stern to try to release it, but what happened was that the stern went under water, the boat filled with water and turned upside down. I went in the water, and the life jacket floated off. So did the oars. 

I thought the easiest thing would be to ditch the motor so that I could get the boat the right way up again. So I undid the clamps. However, when a motor is upside down, it won’t ditch, and you can’t push it forward to let it go. So I swam around to the bow of the boat and held on by putting my finger through the eyelet used for pulling the boat onto the trailer. 

I wondered what on earth was going to happen. It was during the day, but there was nobody out on the water because it was a weekday. The ferry came by, and I kept waving, but they didn’t look. 

I kept drifting and drifting towards Redland Bay. Fortunately, my wife and I had a waterfront property and she was looking out. She realized the boat was upside down, but she couldn’t see me. So she rang my son in Brisbane and he rang his brother. They rang the Air Sea Rescue. They weren’t manned. They rang the Water Police. The Water Police were busy somewhere else. She ran over to our neighbour who was my age. He took his trousers off and was going to swim out but realized it was too far for him, so he ran down to Thompson’s Beach and took one of the fisherman’s dinghies with all their nets and fishing gear in it. They spotted him pinching it, and got one of their boats. So he’s heading off to find me, and they’re chasing him

Talk about a circus! He arrived where I was to pick me up, and they arrived at the same time ready to beat the hell out of him. When they saw me in the water, they picked me up. My neighbour couldn’t have picked me up anyway because he was in his 70’s and unfit – like me! 

So the fishermen got my boat, turned it up the right way, and took me back home. By then the Air Sea Rescue bloke had arrived; the local police had arrived; and the Air Sea Rescue bloke wanted to book me for not having a life jacket. I explained that my life jacket was now out in the bay somewhere, and the local copper used some very colourful language telling the Air Sea Rescue fellow where to go! 

The fishermen got our wheelie bin, tipped all the rubbish out, filled it up with water, put my motor in it upside down, and said they’d take it out the next day and it would start. This they did, and they were right. It did start! 

3. The Room 

On the farm property we had bought was a very old house and we had modernized it and put in air conditioning etc but there was one particular room at the end that was always cold. People would come to stay and they could feel the cold there. 

One day some friends of ours called in for a visit, and one of the women was sitting where she could see down the hall, and she suddenly said, “Oh I’m terribly sorry we called tonight. I didn’t know you had visitors.” 

“There’s no one here,” we assured her.
“But I saw someone going across the end room.” What followed was a VERY pregnant pause. 

On another occasion when our English friends came to visit, we said, “Look, the farmhouse is empty. You can stay in there.” 

So I put things in the fridge and made the place up nicely for them. 

Now Sally had contact lens, which she used to have to soak for an hour before she could go to bed. Her husband, Ray, had gone to bed and he was asleep, but Sally was sitting waiting for the hour to pass, when suddenly she heard loud music. Now we were on acres of land and were very isolated and when she mentioned it next morning nobody else had heard it, so where did it come from. Odd? 

“Oh, not again,” we groaned. 

Bob and Irene say that they had lived in the house for a while, but it never happened to them, but Bob adds, “I’ve got to admit that sometimes when I walked into that room, the hair on the back of my neck used to bristle!” 

When our daughter Trish stayed, she used to sleep on the put-up bed settee down in this room which we called the billiard room – Bob had this billiard table there – and when she stayed there she used to keep the light on all night – we didn’t know about this – because she was so worried. 

“I’d wake up at night and feel like someone was standing right there beside me.” 

I think the house has been pulled down now. 

Bob Bartlett
23 September 2010 

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

Ralph Munro’s Reminiscences – Part 2 – Coral Dredging

At this stage I joined Queensland Cement who were working from Ormiston and dredging coral from Raby Bay. We had our own private island, which we accessed via a causeway from the road next to the little church just down, from Ormiston House. The island was formed from ironstone that was pumped up while they were dredging. We closed it down for years but when they built the Gateway Bridge, we opened it up again. All the coral sent up river to make the cement used in the Gateway Bridge came from Raby Bay. We kept the dredging going for five years to get the stockpile up to build the gateway bridge. We put the old dredge Kawana into use for two years while the new dredge Amity was being built. The loading barge for it was the John Oxley, which could carry three and a half thousand tons. 

Coral Dredge in Raby Bay (photo courtesy Ralph Munro)

The Kawana was a suction dredge and had been used to cut channels and pump the sand up to raise the land level at Kawana Waters Estate. At Raby Bay there was a floating line out to the loader barge so that we could put a barge under either side, and get about 1200 tons in each. The sucker-cutter would work side to side pumping the coral back in through a 16-inch pipe. There were five 16-inch pipes on each side of the loader barge. 

We used the tide to help the tug take the barges upstream. By dredging at low tide, the tug would get the tide helping all the way up the Brisbane River to Darra and on the outgoing tide she would take the empty barge back to Raby Bay. Over the period of 5 to 7 years of the dredging that would save well over $1 million in fuel. The tug was the Moreton Tug and Lighters pusher, then later when we built the new dredge for Mud Island and St Helena it was the John Oxley, a giant split barge that was self-propelled. When it got up to Darra, the bottom opened and it dropped the load of coral into a clay hole and then it was grab loaded onto a conveyor belt into the kilns where it was crushed and burnt to form the lime that makes the Portland cement, the strongest engineering cement. The Gateway is made from the strongest engineering cement in the world. 

After coral dredging finished at Raby Bay, we went to Mud Island and St Helena. The prisoners at St Helena, of course, were the first to use the coral from the island in the kiln that still is to be seen on the island. The wash up coral travels up through the island and destroys the vegetation. It is very light and at Raby Bay at low tide you can see it washing towards the beach. 

I had gone back to yacht sailing by this stage, and was able to use my weekday dredging to benefit my yacht racing at the weekend. I was able to dig away at the coral on the Eastern side of St Helena to my benefit in yacht races because our vessel would know where to cut corners and thus give us an advantage. On Monday there might have been 2 feet at low tide but by Friday there might have been 38 feet. We could go down through the coral until we reached ironstone and then we would have to stop because we couldn’t have more than 4% ironstone otherwise it wouldn’t go through the kiln properly. On some spots off St   Helena we went down 65 feet. As we dredged closer into the island, we had to keep lifting our cutter when we hit ironstone. 

Coral dredging got traded off for a section of Mount Etna in Central Queensland but I think that too is now exhausted and Queensland Cement bought a new ship the Warden Point which goes to Whyalla to get the fly ash (90% pure lime) and to New Zealand on alternate trips to bring the lime to our Darra Cement works. 

My last job with Queensland Cement was the clean-up of the buildings at Southbank after the finish of Expo 1988. To save 2000 to 5000 truckloads of rubble from rebuilding the Expo site passing through the city, I suggested to Chris Sorrensen that we hire out our barges to Expo and take the material to the designated dump ground on the inside of Mud Island. This we did. 

After that I worked at the Prawn Farm and then ran a boat for Kerry Bell who owned Queensland Fasteners. The boat was a 52 footer and was called the Lady Bell. It was my job to take customers on Night River cruises, two or three times a week. Or weekend fishing parties. Kerry was building the company to make it more attractive for a takeover, and succeeded. This went on for three years until my mum got crook, so I came home. 

I was keen to get into houseboats in the NSW Northern Rivers, but the NSW Government banned live-aboard boats. (Living aboard was limited to 10 nights every 6 months unless it was a charter boat). I am still exploring the rivers there and a houseboat would have been the ideal way to do it. 

Coral Dredge cutting gear (photo courtesy Ralph Munro)

Ralph Munro 12 January 2008 

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

Ralph Munro’s Reminiscences – Part 1 – Early Days

Right from when I was just three weeks old, I have had a close association with boats and the water. Our family boat was the Seamark. Dad bought it after World War II at the Government sale of commandeered boats. For some reason all the motors had been removed and these had to be bought separately at auction. Dad had to make do with a Grant petrol motor for the first few years until he could get his hands on a Grey marine diesel. We had the fuel tank on the footpath, which we used for ball games. Dad was always paranoid about the boat catching fire from the petrol motor.

We regularly went down the Bay for weekends or weeks at a time. The 18-foot skiffs club at Bulimba now owns our former house. While I was still a baby, dad used a wooden fruit crate which he lined inside and out with canvas to swim me ashore in. Seamark was known as dad’s nappy boat because he had bought it off the NAP at auction – and because it was always festooned with my nappies. (Editor’s note: – During WWII, inspired by the British small ships evacuation of stranded troops at Dunkirk, the Naval Auxiliary Association of Queensland (NAP) was formed. Its duties in Moreton Bay were mainly civilian patrol work, but it was limited by the small number of vessels left available after most had been commandeered by the Government. It continued after the war as a ‘men only’ club and is now the Little Ships Club at Dunwich). 

NAP 582 exploding a depth charge off Mud Island (photo courtesy Ralph Munro)

My first recollection was of porpoises. We never called them dolphins then; always porpoises, and I thought a porpoise was a truck tyre with 5 or 6 fins, because this is the way they looked rolling through the water. 

About the age of three, I was diagnosed with nock knees and put in steel braces, but when dad found me hanging off the stern plate of the boat unable to clamber aboard, he took them off, never to be seen again. They’re still on the bottom off Peel Island. Dad had polio when he was four years old and had a massively built-up boot and steel leg support but he still took me sailing in a little 9 foot open dinghy then training in 20 knot breezes. If we had of capsized, the weight of his steel boot and leg would have taken him straight down to the bottom. But this didn’t stop him. Nor did it stop him taking me fishing. At Point Lookout on the south side of the gorge there was a one-inch cable strung out to the outer rock and he would go hand in hand along it with his fishing creels and me around his neck. There was also the added problem, if there was a good catch of fish, of getting them back again. Once Lennie and Wendy Goebbels caught 64 big ones and it took them all afternoon to take them back, four or five fish at a time, across the rocks and up cliffs to where they live in North Street. 

Life at Work

I started work in the family typewriter business but soon after my father died, I parted ways and went to Olivetti who sent me to North Queensland. Later I went on to Papua New Guinea and got into the prawn trawling on two American boats Bulolo I and Bulolo II. After New Guinea I moved back to North Queensland to Port Douglas then to Townsville. Then I went to the Gulf of Carpentaria prawning for three seasons where I worked on the bigger boats. That’s where they brought in skipper tickets in 1974/5. Because they couldn’t shut down the entire industry for the want of tickets, the test they brought in was originally quite simple. We all had to go into Cairns, do a one-day course, then answer a verbal questionnaire, and we got our tickets. Captain Bauer did the verbals because some of the fishermen couldn’t read or write. The forms were printed, “can/cannot read or write” and of course we all ticket “cannot” to get the easy exam. 

Most people thus employed started working in Brisbane and slowly worked their way up the coast, but I started at the top and worked down the coast. 

In the 1980s I was working a prawn trawler out of Southport when my right arm was caught in a winch and I spent the next 33 months in the Gold Coast Hospital. I was one of the first patients to get the infection Golden Staph. What an honour! While my arm was healing, I came home to Thornlands and went to work at the firm of Golden Cockerel. 

Later I helped Joe Dryberg run schools to teach people going into the fishing industry as deck hands. Joe would teach the engineering theory and I would teach the practical side such as making nets, rope splicing etc. Most of them came from CES (Commonwealth Employment Service). 

Although the trawlers where primarily prawn trawlers, they were fishing boats and prawns would be about 60% of the catch and the rest would be the off catch such as crabs, squid, fish, and returnable soft drink bottles, but politics have slowly banned the off catch. Then I got back into yacht racing in the 1986 Brisbane to Gladstone with Ron Doolan for whom I worked at Golden Cockerel. He had been desperately looking for crew and when he was told that I had the experience, he told me that I was racing for him! His yacht was the 28- foot Bolero and we were the smallest in the race. We won on handicap that year. In the five races I went on that boat, we never came in lower than sixth on handicap. 

Ralph Munro 12 January 2008 

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