David Willes continues …

My father, Fred Willes, went over to England and came back to Russell with his bride.  Originally, they stayed at Canaipa House, but she was very taken aback with the toilet, a rickety affair perched on top of a cliff.  It always looked on the point of falling down.  She must have thought we were a bunch of hill-billys, but it did have a good view!

Eventually Fred and his wife moved out on their own into the original family house at Old House Point, just to the east of the present public jetty.   Before this jetty was built, boats used Dad’s private jetty at Old House Point.  Fruit from the farms was transported over primitive bush tracks, which were made and maintained on a working bee basis by the farmers themselves. There were no rates or electricity or reticulated water but we were happy without the Council.  Dad was fortunate because he had lots of tanks to collect rainwater for drinking, and three wells for irrigating our crops.  At this time, everything had to be carried by horse and cart to the jetty which had its own rail trolley to carry goods along its length.  The Gibson’s boats, “Roo”, “Grace” or “Ivanhoe” would then transport the fruit to the markets at Brisbane. 

The jetty at Old House Point was demolished during WWII.

The islands of Southern Moreton Bay

My father, Fred, conducted the passenger service around the islands to Redland Bay on the “Winifred”, a 36 footer built by the Tripconys.  It had an 18″ draught, and copper bottom.  The route, once marked on the old Shell maps of the bay, was from Redland Bay to Karragarra, to Macleay, to Lamb, to the other end of Karragarra, then past Old House Point on Russell to the Russell Island jetty.  In those days, this involved a trip through the “W” s, a series of mud banks between Redland Bay and Russell.  To negotiate them required a certain amount of mariner skills.  Nowadays they have been dredged out, thus making navigation much easier.

Willes Island

On July 1, 1914, my grandfather, John Willes, had been appointed Russell Island’s first postmaster.  For a payment of £6/-/- per year, his duty was to pick up the mail from Redland Bay every Saturday and bring it back to the islands.  After John’s death, my father, Fred Willes, took over on July 1, 1916.

When I was old enough, Dad gave me a little job to help with the mail service.  The mail service was then twice a week, and every Wednesday and Saturday at 8 am he went to Redland Bay for the mail, returning at 3 pm with the mailbags for all the islands.  My job, which I could not get out of doing for years, was to go to Tom Jackson’s (a relation of the sawmilling family) and collect his private mail bag.  People who had private bags had to pay extra for the service.  The others had to come to the Post Office at our shop to collect their mail.  The bags would be hanging at the top of the stairs or else the wife would be waving it at me.  I’d pick up their bag and deliver incoming bags.  Most of the time I’d run the distance on foot, but at others I’d use a horse.  We had two horses which ran wild on the island, Paddy and Pattie.  I’d ride Pattie who would often bolt and leave me behind as I dismounted to open the gate.  I gave that away and bought a push-bike. The Salways family also had a private bag, which my brother collected on horseback.

My family grew bananas, and also watermelons which Fred took down to the markets at Southport.  On one occasion, while sailing down alone with a boat fully laden with melons, he fell overboard.  Fortunately, he grabbed one of the ropes and was able to haul himself back on board.  It was all just part of the day’s work then!

Fred donated the land for the Church of England on the island.  Although the building was primarily a church, the altar could be shut off with sliding doors, and the hall used for dances etc.  I was only very small at the time it was built but I swear that I saw them put money (pound notes) under one of the stumpcaps.  Once, a rival shop opened up to catch the dances, but Fred objected to this competition for his shop.  Because he had donated the land to the church, his rival was forced to shut shop.  Fred must have had a bit of pull on the island.

St Peters Anglican Church, Russell Island today

Sickness was a problem.  The nearest ambulance had to come from Wynnum.  Often in an emergency (and they were usually at night), Dad would be woken up take a sick islander to Redland Bay. Being the Postmaster, he would phone the Wynnum ambulance to come to the Redland Bay jetty to meet his boat there.

 In the early days of the school, a couple of kids from one of the other islands boarded with my mother at our house on Russell.  Then old Sam Hall began to run his little put-put around the surrounding islands to pick up the kids for the school.  He would drop them home again in the afternoons.  Eileen Willes was the island’s first schoolteacher.  She was uncle William’s daughter.

Mount Cotton used to conduct floral competitions which Russell Island school used to enter.  We kids would be given the day off to pick wildflowers which were sent over to Mount Cotton for the competition.  Quite often, we’d win.  Although I attended the Russell Island school for a while, Dad thought it unsuitable for me, possibly because he wanted me to be a minister, and I was later sent to Windsor state school and then to Churchie, after the Scholarship Examination.

David Willes

August 1, 1994

Extract from Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection’.

(To be continued)


RQYS base at Canaipa Point on Russell Island

In addition to its Manly facility, the Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron (RQYS) also has its own private island retreat at Canaipa Point on Russell Island in southern Moreton Bay, complete with a caretaker, campsites, open fire pit, an amenities block and swimming pool, for the exclusive convenience of their Full Members and their guests. 

FOPIA Cruise 2004

In 2004 the Friends of Peel Island Association (FOPIA) held a money raising cruise down Southern Moreton Bay and stopped off at Canaipa Point for morning tea. While waiting in line for my cuppa I reflected on the Willes family, who originally lived here. 

David Willes remembers …

An Oxford man, my grandfather, John Willes had arrived in Queensland as one of England’s landed gentry in 1865.  First settling at Gladstone, he became a partner in a successful saltworks there.  When he learnt that a similar saltworks had been established at Canaipa in 1867 by Messrs. Alexander and Armour, he left Gladstone and purchased the Canaipa plant.  At that time, there was an import duty of £4/10/- per ton on salt coming into the country, so the saltworks flourished.  However, when this duty was abolished, sailing ships were able to bring salt in as ballast and the price of salt plummeted as it became freely available.  My grandfather then turned his attention to farming.

After settling at Old House Point, he then built Canaipa House for his wife, Catherine, and their five children.  It was a decent size with large glass doors all round and a detached kitchen which we later purchased for use as a shop.  The site of Canaipa House is presently occupied by the Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron (RQYS).

Firstly, my grandfather grew sugar cane so that he would be entitled to employ Kanakas, cheap labour bought in from the South Sea Islands.  Often my grandmother would be left alone while the menfolk were out working and the Kanakas were a source of protection from the aborigines who would come ashore from time to time.  In keeping with their English origins, the Willes had their Kanaka labourers dressed in livery, the traditional dress of English servants.  I never knew them myself, but Dad did.  He reckoned they didn’t work much anyway!

Next he brought cattle and pigs to the island and when they were ready for the market they were ferried across to the mainland in large flat punts towed along behind a sailing boat.  On occasion the punts would capsize, throwing men and pigs into the water together, or the cattle would jump overboard and would have to be swum across behind the punt.


Often night would fall before the men’s boats returned to the island.  In those days, there were no navigation lights nor house lights to guide them home, so my grandmother, Catherine Willes, developed the habit of lighting a hurricane lamp and hoisting it onto a pole outside their home at Canaipa to guide her menfolk to safety.  

Other mariners using the Canaipa Passage on their journey south from Brisbane to Southport also came to depend on Catherine Willes’ beacon, thus earning her the title of “The Lady of the Lamp”.  Eventually, the Department of Harbours and Marine acknowledged her contribution to maritime safety by erecting a more substantial affair and supplying her with kerosene.  For thirty-eight years she tended the lamp, only relinquishing her duty when old age intervened.  In 1910, boat owners presented her with an Illuminated Address, a scroll formally acknowledging her services.

My grandmother died on Russell when I was very young. I still remember watching her body being taken to the mainland on the deck of the Gibson’s fruitboat “Roo”, nestled amongst its cargo of bananas and protected from the sun by a huge tarp strung up like a tent from the mast.

Extract from Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection’.

(To be continued)

Phoning Home

The Postmaster-General’s Department (P.M.G.) of Australia was created in 1901 with Federation taking control over all six Colonies (States) Postal and Telegraphic services within Australia to form the national Postal and Telegraphic services within Australia. The Department was administered by the Postmaster-General. The PMG was broken in two in 1975, becoming the Australian Telecommunications Commission (Telecom, then later Telstra) and the Australian Postal Commission (Australia Post).

A century ago in the early 1920s, the telegraph system was extended to Stradbroke Island. It did this via an undersea cable from Cleveland to the south-west of Peel Island, then overland on Peel (on poles parallel to Horseshoe Bay), then again via an undersea cable to Dunwich on Stradbroke. Later, because of the danger of fallen trees due to storms, the overland cable was put underground. Nowadays, with the advent of wireless technology, all these cables have become obsolete.

Western telephone cable hut 2018 (photo courtesy Janet Bailey)

At Peel’s Lazaret, although there was a telephone in the office of the Nurses’ Quarters, it was out of bounds for patients who, it was feared, would always be trying to contact the Health Minister.  It was not until the latter days of the Lazaret, that patients were given access to a public telephone.

Telephone pole, Peel Island 2018 (photo courtesy Janet Bailey)
Repairing PMG cables near Peel (photo courtesy Graham Day)

Karragarra Coves

Geoff Ross relates…

‘One Christmas I was forced by my employers to take holidays. My boat was not yet finished, so Dick Tripcony suggested I become a deckie for his vessel’s maiden voyage from Breakfast Creek down to Southport. I gladly accepted. Dick was well into his sixties at this stage. On the trip down from Brisbane, we were approaching Canaipa Passage when suddenly Dick turned the boat due east and tied up to a small jetty on an island. We each grabbed a carton of beer and followed Dick ashore and into the bush. Soon we came to a clearing where there was a white house and some sheds, with what can only be described as a lot of character! The land and buildings belonged to Ollie Rowney (see his chapter in “Moreton Bay People – the Complete Collection”). Ollie greeted us warmly and swapped yarns and drinks with us for quite a while. This visit began my love affair with Karragarra Island.

‘Ollie Rowney was a man of many skills and experiences. He came to the Bay Islands originally to visit a former schoolmate and his family who had taken up farming on Russell Island. Things were pretty tough for a youth at that period without much work being available. Ollie had a very shallow-draught sailing dingy capable of penetrating the mangrove forests. He would sail down from Brisbane and collect branches and trunks of a specific shape from the mangroves which he knew were in great demand by the builders of wooden boats as they made the very best knees for the bow and stern posts of the boats that plied the Queensland waters. (This was long before mangroves were protected).

‘Ollie owned about 14 acres of land on Karragarra island and had lived in the sheds while building his house. The house was interesting because it measured 40 foot by 16 foot – the same dimensions as his deep-sea fishing boat, “The Roamer”. Ollie reckoned that he had got used to living in this space when he was fishing in north Queensland, so he built his house to the same dimensions!

Mirimar caling at Karragarra (photo courtesy Neil Bishop)

‘Ollie was a great storyteller, and one of note concerns the “Mirimar” which began visiting Karragarra in 1934. Every Sunday, the launch would bring up to 320 passengers (at 5/- or 50 cents each) to the island where they would be treated to afternoon tea in a Polynesian style grass hut that Ollie had constructed. The afternoon tea involved the serving of a delicious fruit salad made from fruit grown on the surrounding island farms. It was delicious, but little did they know that Ollie’s wife and her nephew had collected the farmers’ over ripe fruit at greatly reduced prices!

Mirimar passengers sampling the Karragarra produce (photo courtesy Gary Day)

Insert image Mirimar passengers sampling the Karragarra produce (photo courtesy Gary Day)

‘Ollie had bought his land towards the end of World War II. Some years later, he gave three-quarters of an acre to his brother who had been a fencing contractor out west, but unfortunately his brother died. Ollie decided to sell this piece of land, but wanted to sell it to someone he knew. Through working on my own boat at Dick Tripcony’s slip, I got to know about this and decided to buy it from him. This happened not long after my first visit to Karragarra and I still remembered walking up from the jetty, through the trees, to Ollie’s house, and what an impression it had made on me.’

(Extract from “Moreton Bay Reflections” by Peter Ludlow)

Early Days at Bribie Island

Editor’s note: This article was given to me many years ago.  It appeared in a 1963 souvenir issue of the now defunct “Bribie Star” newspaper.  I am reprinting portion of it here because of its historical significance. 

Reg Campbellwrites…

In the year 1905 our family set sail in the cutter “Salina” from Hayes Inlet, just up from Clontarf, for our new home at the mouth of Ninghi Creek, Pumicestone Channel.

My father, the late Joe Campbell, came to take charge of Mr J. Clark’s extensive oyster farming operations. The oyster leases and dredge sections extended as far up the channel as Donnybrook, and some of them went up as far up as Mission Point, which is about 10 miles north of Toorbul Point.

Our near neighbours were Mr C. Dean and Mr Fred Turner. Other families in the area were the Days, Bestmanns, Bastins, and still further up Ninghi Creek were the families Freeman, Davis, Dux, and Bishop. Mr Harry Wright lived on Bribie Island and Mr W. Mohr and J. Gallagher lived at Whitepatch. Mr H. Bowles lived at Mission Point, and a little further up the Passage was Mr T. Tripcony. Mr August Wilson and Mr C. Bardon were at Donnybrook.


Oystering was the foremost industry carried on in those days, and the main oyster lesees were James Clark, Moreton Bay Oyster Company, J. Markwell, and T. Tripcony.  Apart from oystering, there was also dairy farming, and a good deal of log timber was handled in and around Toorbul and Bribie Island. 

All goods from Bribie Island were carried by J. Clark’s SS “Sunset” and later the SS “Sunrise”, the Moreton Bay Oyster Company’s schooner, “Sir Arthur”, and later still by the auxiliary cutters “Result” and “Caloola”.

The log timbers for James Campbell’s mills at Brisbane was shipped by the paddle-wheelers “Lintrose” and “Bell” from the rafting grounds at Ninghi Creek, Donnybrook and Coochin Creek.

Mr T. Tripcony ran a service with his motor auxiliary to and from Caloundra and Brisbane, carrying Government stores to Bribie and “lead lights” to the northern end of the Island and Caloundra. On the return trips he carried shell-grit, oysters, citrus fruits and also pineapples from Westaway’s orchard near Caloundra.


The only school was on Toorbul Road, not far from Elimbah Creek, and as this was too far for us to attend we did not receive any schooling until 1908 when Mr James Clark built a small provisional school at Toorbul Point.  This building still stands there but during the last war some additions were made to it. Miss Eustace was the first school teacher and there were only 14 pupils.

            In 1910 Mrs Sarah Ball established a fish cannery on Bribie Island, and the building stood opposite to where “Shady Glen” now stands.  The cannery operated until 1914 when it was forced to close down because of a shortage of tin plate which occurred just after the war began.  The building was sold to a Brisbane jam factory and it was removed to the city on the SS “Porpoise” owned by Burke and Sons.

            In 1911 the E. and A. liner SS “Eastern” ran aground on Salamander Reef off the southern end of Bribie Island. After unsuccessfully trying for some days to refloat the vessel it was decided to jettison some of the cargo, after which the liner was freed from the reef.

            The jettisoned cargo, which included bags of rice, canned foods, cases of petrol in 4-gallon drums, shark oil and bags of peanuts, was washed up on Ocean Beach. The bags of peanuts burst and loose nuts were blown from one end of the Island to the other. Eventually there were peanuts growing on many parts of the Island.


            It was not long before customs officers were sent from Brisbane to inspect and destroy the cargo washed ashore on Ocean Beach. The officers rode along the beach on bicycles and cut holes with hatchets on all the tinned goods that could be found.

            Some of the cases of petrol (it was called benzine in those days) were salvaged at the Caloundra end of Bribie, and Mr Charles Godwin was engaged to ship it to Brisbane in his auxiliary launch “Victory”. Returning from the second trip, Mr Godwin was accidentally drowned after being hit by the sail of the “Victory” and thrown overboard into the Passage. The body was found several days later floating near the fish cannery jetty.

            From 1906 to 1911 the Royal Australian Naval Reserve carried out annual gunnery practice in H.M.A.S. “Gayundah” off Bribie Island.  The targets were erected in Horseshoe Bay, just opposite where Mr Gazzard’s home now stands in Webster Street, and the “Gayundah” anchored near the Deception Bay beacon.

            During these same years, 1906 to 1911, the Brisbane Tug Company sent their tugs, “Greyhound” and “Beaver”, which had been fitted up to carry passengers, to Bribie Island on holidays such as Easter, King’s Birthday etc.  A square-end punt with seats all around was used to take passengers ashore. A rope was tied to a tree and to the boat, and the punt was hauled to and from the bank just opposite the Bongaree water tower near the Bribie Island Bowling Club.

            Other visitors to the island in their sailing yachts in those days were Messrs. T.Welsby, I.Bond, J.Plumridge, B.Fox, the Ruddles and many others.


            About this time a building was brought over from South Passage, Moreton Island, erected just about where the Bongaree water tower now stands, and used as a dance hall. It was in this hall that the first Bribie Island school was conducted under the guidance of Mr L.Diplock, Bribie’s first school teacher. There were about 16 to 20 pupils attending when the school first started. Later the building was sold to the Bongaree Bowling Club and it now forms the main portion of the present club house.

Bribie Island – Bathers at Bongaree, showing also the dance hall and Twelve Apostles, 1920s (Photo courtesy Jan Burge)

            Sometime in 1914 A.Tripcony and Son began a motor-launch service which connected with the “Koopa” and ran from Bribie to Caloundra.

            In 1915 the “Avon”, now referred to as “the wreck” on Blackbuoy Bank, near the mouth of Dux Creek, was placed in its present position to form a breakwater to protect the oysters on the bank from heavy southerly weather. The “Avon” was a condemned coal hulk which, in earlier days, had been a schooner engaged in bringing South Sea Islanders to Queensland to work the canefields.

© Ludlow, Peter, Moreton Bay Letters, 2003