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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)