Eric Reye passed away peacefully on Monday night 29.1.2007 in the Beenleigh Nursing Home. Though physically incapacitated for his last years, Eric’s mind remained keen to the end. For one so used to the outdoor life, his immobility in a nursing home must have been a great frustration, but, in typical style, he accepted his lot philosophically and without complaint.
I like to remember Eric from my times with him on his boat “Coolooloa” on the mangrove flats at Redland Bay, eating peanuts, sipping his home-made mead, surrounded by his laboratory materials and discussing Moreton Bay’s history of which, for me at least, Eric played such an important part.
All his life, Eric was a lover of boats and the Bay. From those of you who have read my books, you will recall his canoe trips from Brisbane to Southport and his search for the ‘Spanish Galleon’ which in itself has inspired many others to continue. After studying medicine at the University of Queensland, he was able to combine his yachting skills with his medicine when he became the Medical Officer for the Hansen’s Disease (Leprosy) patients at Peel Island. While there he worked constantly to improve the conditions of the patients.
It was also on Peel that he was bitten by the bug – the biting midge actually – when trying to find its breeding habits. Entomology was soon to take over his whole life and he abandoned medicine in its favour, eventually becoming acknowledged as a world expert in the study of biting midges.
He was a source of much of our knowledge of Peel Island’s Lazaret history and one of our last living links with it.
He was always willing to impart his great knowledge to others, and I for one am especially grateful for his generosity in supporting my Moreton Bay writings.
Rosemary Opala (nee Fielding) was born in Bundaberg, Queensland in 1923. She began to study a commercial art course at the George Street Technical College (now QUT) but took up nursing at the onset of World War II because as she said: “I wanted to do something more meaningful than playing with paints, seeing as though everybody was rushing off to the war.”
After finishing her nursing training at Brisbane General Hospital, she stayed on the staff at Wattlebrae, the city’s infectious disease section. It was here that she met a small and engaging group of Peel Island (Hansen’s Disease) patients, temporarily housed in one of the pavilion-type wards while waiting specialist consultation about eye problems. They convinced her to go to Peel as a nurse and she spent two stints there in the late 1940s and early 50s. While there and ever since, Rosemary worked tirelessly to “de-mythify” Peel Island folklore.
“It was a particularly interesting time, a time when a cure was on its way,” she said.
After leaving Peel Island Lazaret, Rosemary eventually became a nursing supervisor at Prince Charles Hospital in Brisbane. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, she wrote popular magazine fiction – gaining some notoriety with the publication of various short stories in women’s magazines. The University of Queensland Fryer Library recently accepted these and a collection of what she describes as “disrespectful cartoons”.
A stint at St Anne’s Hospital at Cleveland revealed another love – that of Coochiemudlo, which she visited by rowboat, returning that same day. She was later to live there, exchanging nursing for “a stress-free life as farm hand cum beachcomber”. Later she and her husband Marian built their own home on the island, at a time when the ferry only ran on weekends and public holidays.
“Building was an experience considering my husband’s previous carpentry experience was to build a bookcase,” she said.
Rosemary had a way with words.
Rosemary and Marian moved to Caloundra, in the late 1960s and despite every intention, Rosemary’s husband was never to return to Coochiemudlo. While at Caloundra, she was very involved with the Sunshine Coast Environment Council and used to send articles and drawings for the quarterly magazine Eco Echo – her pages were a regular feature. After Marian’s death, Rosemary moved down to Victoria Point where she was to continue contributing sketches and articles to local environmental groups
“These days I leave such work to the more accomplished but still like to do a bit of illustrating if the subject appeals. Hopefully the time is coming when I can vege out without feeling guilty and do nothing but re-read old favourite books and new best sellers,” she said. “There is more to life than just existing – more than being upright and breathing.”
As well as sketching, Rosemary also wrote non-fiction articles, with an emphasis on Queensland’s environment, botany and its history. She contributed to many groups.
From her time in Caloundra, Rosie and Kathleen MacArthur were members of the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland (WPSQ). Later, when she moved back to Victoria Point about 1995, Rosie continued writing articles for the WPSQ Bayside Branch newsletter. She was also involved with the Botanical Artists Society of Queensland with her friend Louise Saunders.
From her time as an early resident of Coochiemudlo Island, she had many reminiscences of her family’s early struggles to get established there. As such, she was a member of the Coochiemudlo Historical Society. However, her art was always close to her heart and she was an active member of the Coochiemudlo Art Group. Even after her admission to the Redland Hospital just prior to her death, Rosemary’s one concern was that she would not be well enough to attend an upcoming exhibition at the Redland Council’s Art Gallery, in which she was to exhibit.
Rosemary was involved in the Friends of Peel Island Association as a foundation member, was a member of U3A, a Friend of Eprapah and was an ecological writer with Eco Echo, a tri-annual Sunshine Coast publication.
Regarding her foundation membership of the Friends of Peel Island Association (FOPI), Rosemary once said’ “It’s just an excuse to get into the place (Peel). I don’t really contribute. I’m sort of the elder statesman.”
Fellow FOPI committee member Debra Henry said her involvement was far more than this. “She is a very active member. She just plays it down.”
But this was Rosie all over.
FOPI President Simon Baltais once said, “Rosemary Opala is a kind and generous soul, a willing listener, a provider of much humour and strength through words and art, a much-admired person, a truly living treasure,”
‘The History and Maintenance of Moreton Bay’s Peel Island’.
A former hospital pharmacist, Peter is now a professional researcher, biographer, and author collecting local history in the Moreton Bay area.
This presentation will highlight Peel Island’s history including pre-European occupation, its use by Europeans as a quarantine station, inebriate home, and lazaret (leprosarium), and, in 2007, the Island’s gazettal as a National Park and Conservation Park and the Lazaret Buildings as a Heritage Site. Peter will also look at Peel’s future when the island will be placed under the full control of the Quandamooka People, under whose guidance a new era of tourism and cultural exchange holds great promise.
General Public Welcome, booking required for entry
When: Friday 28th May 2021 at 7.00 pm
Where: Redland Multi Sports Centre
Cnr. Bailey & Randall Rd,
Birkdale QLD 4159
Enjoy the club facilities, food available.
Please click here to register for event, limited to 50 attendees.
This week, as part of a group from the Redlands National Trust, I paid a visit to Goompi (Dunwich) on Minjerribah (Stradbroke Island). The ferry schedule was the only timetable I needed there, for at Minjerribah, everything goes by island time. Well perhaps I shouldn’t even call it time – it’s more a feeling of relaxation. For time stops at the jetty.
Right across the road from the jetty is Goompi’s famous Cemetery which contains the graves of the ill-fated passengers and crew of the Emigrant who died of typhus in 1850; the graves of 8,000 of the former inmates of the Benevolent Asylum (Old Peoples Home); as well as Aborigines (First Nation People). People of all types in the cemetery made equal in death.
Nearby were the graves of John and Mary Cassim whom I wrote about in my recent post of 10.04.2021 (Where’s Toondah? – Part 2). And right next door, my personal connection to the cemetery, the grave of Dr Frank Carroll, who came to our rescue in 1978 when our daughter had a severe asthma attack in the middle of the night – twice.
Our main quest however was a visit to the North Stradbroke Island Historical Museum.
In 1992, I interviewed Ellie Durbidge for my proposed book ‘Moreton Bay People’. The following extract concerns her involvement with the setting up of the museum at Dunwich:
‘When the North Stradbroke Historical Museum Association was formed and incorporated, Ellie presented the museum with an aboriginal axe as its first catalogued exhibit. Since then, they have started a day book which one day will be computerized.
‘When the old Queensland museum was moving to its new premises at South Brisbane, the Association wrote to them asking for old shelving and metal cabinets for storage. After being palmed off by various departments, it went to the old building itself, selected its furniture, had it fumigated and took it away. By similar direct negotiations, the Association obtained cataloguing drawers from the Redland Shire Council, and exhibits such as a Convict‑built bed from the Dunwich Benevolent Asylum, and an old telephone from the Post Office. Then the museum asked the Earl of Stradbroke for permission to use his crest. Not only did he consent, but he came for the opening and offered the use of videos about his family as a means of raising funds.
‘With promises from the Redland Shire Council to restore a building given by Consolidated Rutile, and with the donation of a large private collection of aboriginal artifacts, the future success of the museum seems assured.’
At the museum, there are a range of permanent displays about the Quandamooka people, convict history, shipwrecks and maritime history, the story of sandmining on the island, as well as lots of photos of the old fishing shacks, boats and buses that helped kick off the tourism industry on Minjerribah. There is also a room dedicated to sharing the story of the Dunwich Benevolent Asylum, and they have a range of photographs and documents to assist family historians.
After morning tea, Howard Gill gave a lecture about the island’s history. Here are the main points:
Aboriginal population prior to occupation estimated at 600-800 on Mulgumpin (Moreton Island) and 800 on Minjerribah (Stradbroke Island). BY the end of the 19th century total for both islands reduced to under 200
The convicts Pamphlett, Parsons, and Finnegan were cared for the Aborigines in 1823
A pilot station was established at Pulan Pulan (Amity) in 1825 and a garrison and trans shipping station at Goompi (Dunwich) in 1827
Armed conflict most prominent 1831-1932 led to the withdrawal of the garrison
Mulgumpin ‘cleared’ of Aborigines in 1847 with around 40 killings
Moongalba Mission established at Myora 1893 (came under Protection Act in 1897) closed 1943
Its residents moved to One Mile which in 2018 still lacks reticulated services
We then walked to the one remaining ward from the Benevolent Asylum (Ward 13) which was built in the 1890s. It is currently in the process of nomination to the Queensland Heritage Register. It will join Dunwich Hall, St Marks Church, and cemetery as State Heritage.
On our return walk to the ferry we glimpsed the convict built rock causeway and the privy pit – the only two remaining remnants of early convict occupation.
Conveniently situated beside the jetty is the Little Ships Club where we had lunch and a beer while waiting for the ferry’s timetable to kick in and take us back to the mayhem of mainland life.
Incidentally, Minjerribah translates as place of mosquitoes, but I didn’t see any that day.