Working with the Queensland Police Dive Squad

By Tim Playne

In 1962, Ivan Adams, A Senior Constable with the Queensland Police, was transferred to the Queensland Water Police. He was an avid Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus (SCUBA)  Diver.  Soon after, he was formally asked to establish the diving squad.

Tim Playne under diving instruction

Tim Playne: ‘After working as a boat builder until the 1960’s I applied for the Queensland Police force and underwent a three-month probation in the Police Barracks in Caxton Street. I was sworn in in 1961. I was then sent down to the traffic branch which I didn’t like, but had to accept because I didn’t want to leave Brisbane. However, I thought the water police looked better suited for me so I applied for a transfer to the water police. My application was successful because they needed people to form the new diving squad and required good swimmers and people experienced with boating activities.

At that time the Water Police station was situated behind the Port Office Hotel. They were housed in a small convict-built building. Underneath the building had access straight to the river and in the old days they used to launch there and do their patrols by rowing boat. They’d send about 4 constables out to row up and down the river. 

When I was transferred to the Water Police they had twenty-one staff and were led by Sub Inspector Morris. Soon after I joined, the unit was moved to Howard Smith wharf nearby. It then occupied the main office building and a large shed on the upstream side of the Story Bridge. These building are still standing and converted to cafes etc. We also had control of fair length of wharfage at which we moored the Police Boats.

At this time, about 1962, the department commissioned a new thirty-two foot timber motor launch built by Clem Masters. It was powered by a V6 Detroit Diesel.  She was called MV Seymour. We also acquired an inboard/outboard speed boat on a trailer which was towed by an F100 Ford. This was used for access to rivers and lakes and more remote jobs that required a quick response. About this time Sub Inspector Morris retired and the new Sub. Inspector in Charge was L. Ingram.

Learning the Beat (photo: Courier Mail Tuesday October 15, 1963)

‘Beside learning the physiology of diving, we also had to learn ‘dark water diving’. We were taken to somewhere like Peel Island’s Horseshoe Bay where the water was clear, and then they’d put a blank mask on each of us so we couldn’t see, then we had to learn to search where we couldn’t see anything. Most of the jobs we had to perform were in the Brisbane River where there was with little visibility searching for bodies or stolen property. The way we conducted such searches was off the back of a dinghy and they’d drop what they called a shot line down to the search area, then two of us would go down together. One of us would stay on the shot line and hold a rope for the other diver who swam in a circle round the shot line. When he had done a complete circle, the diver at the shot line would give the rope a couple of tugs and let out another couple of metres for the operation to be repleted. Once I remember I was doing the search and another bloke was on the shot. However, the rope must have become caught on a snag and I did another circle so that I came back behind him, so I grabbed hold of his legs and he thought he was being attacked by a shark and went very quickly to the surface!

Divers using the shot line

‘One of the jobs we had to do was to recover the bodies of three youths from a car that had missed the turn and plunged into Stockyard Creek about five miles from Mt. Gravatt. 

The car wreck at Stockyard Creek (photo: The Courier Mail)

Another job we performed was the rescue of crew from the ‘Kaptajn Neilsen’ a dredge that had overturned off Tangalooma in Moreton Bay. I was not involved because I was on leave at the time, but my boss, Ivan Adams, and another diver, Joseph Engwirda, showed extraordinary bravery bringing to the surface 12 survivors, for which they both received awards for bravery.

The Water Police Launch ‘Vedette II’

The police launch was Vedette II. The Water Police Vessel ‘VEDETTE II’ was launched on 15th April 1954 for use in Brisbane.  This image was taken on the Brisbane River, c1964.  Senior Sergeant Alec Powe is standing on the prow, other officers I think are Sergt McIvorRobertson on the helm and Myself. This was on some official occasion going to collect some VIP’s Both this vessel, and the ‘SEYMOUR’ attended the capsized dredge ‘Kaptajn Nielsen’ in September 1964. 

Another task we had to perform was to recover bodies from the water. They might have been derelict/ homeless people who had fallen off a wharf or some such. If they had been in the water for some time, it was a very unpleasant task. Others were people who had accidentally drowned due some mishap.

At that time, we used to be the call point for the Pinkenba pub and we got involved in some of the brawls down there. But people respected men in uniforms then. Our uniforms were very similar to those of the merchant marines so a lot of people didn’t know who we were, which suited us fine. However, a lot of the time we were in overalls.

The water police had powers that the general police did not have: we were deemed to be fishing inspectors, and we also had legal authority on foreign and Australian owned ships, but in most cases, we had to get the duty officer or skipper to come with us. Once we went down to investigate a Swedish ship on which a bloke was causing havoc with a knife. When we went aboard, he had kicked in beautiful wood panels in the rather luxurious crew cabins. 

I was a boat builder, and Senior Constable Sid Marshall was a shipwright (they do the timberwork on a steel boat) and there was another bloke who was a carpenter, Constable Kevin Morahan. We used to do most of the maintenance on boats and during my time there we became good mates and we all earned various marine tickets.  This enabled us to do the odd job crewing on Hayles tourist boats for some extra money. Mainly down to Bishop Island at the mouth of the Brisbane River which had a café and dance floor.  Bishop Island has now disappeared due to the port extension.

Another task we used to deal with in the water police was to be an after-hours VHF relay for the Harbours and Marines. In those days, the pilots were put on board the ships just off Cape Moreton. One day there was a Japanese long liner steaming at 12 to 15 knots up the port and he hadn’t taken a pilot onboard. We were called to deal with it, so with a pilot on board we sailed downriver and met the ship just off the Pile Light at the mouth of the Brisbane River. Seymour was not identified as a police boat but with the pilot standing on top of our cabin, we steamed alongside the Japanese craft. As soon as he got aboard, he slowed the ship down to a legal speed for the river.

After about six years, during which my wife and I had bought a sold a couple of houses, and due to the poor wages of the police compared to that of a tradesman, I resigned from the water police and went back to house building, where I started a small building company.

After I had left the police in 1967, I was doing a bit of work for Joe Enwirda who had designed a type of barge that could be used to remove the anchors from an oil rig that was situated just on the edge of the drop off, about 10 or 12 miles off Cape Moreton. The oil rig it was probably about a 150 foot long catamaran and the actual hulls were pulled down in the water below their normal water line to create a stable drilling platform. This was done by using large very heavy anchors splayed several hundred meters out in all directions. These were then winched down by the drill rig itself. 

Tim’s sketch of the platform anchors

We could see the Cape quite clearly from our barge. We were towed out by tug and pulled the rig’s anchors up one by one. The rig was self-propelled and steamed off after we loaded the last anchor on board. We were there about five days while they were dismantling the rig. As far as I know they failed to find oil there which is probably just as well because any spillages would have polluted the Gold Coast beaches.

Tim Playne, September 2022

The Bells of Eventide

 The casual visitor to Eventide Aged People’s Home at Sandgate may wonder at the connection of the two bells now on permanent display in the grounds near the main entrance. In fact, they represent a tangible link with the institutions past.


  Older of the two is that of the Queensland Government Steamer “Otter'”.

The Otter at Dunwich Jetty (Photo courtesy Ossie Fischer)


            Twin screw steamer.               271 tons gross 

            Hull construction:                               steel

            Length                                                                         128.6ft (39.2 m) 

            Beam                                                                           21.2 ft (6.46m) 

            Depth                                                              10.1 ft (3.08m) 

            speed                                                                           12 knots

            In 1884 the “Otter” arrived in Brisbane. It was built by Messrs.Ramage and Ferguson of Leith, Scotland, for Websters and Co of Brisbane for excursion and tugboat service of that company. In 1885, however, it was purchased by the Queensland Government’s Marine Defence Force for ₤15, 000 ( $30, 000) and was overhauled and armed because of the threat of a Russian invasion. The arms took the form of a ’64 pounder’ mounted on a race forward. This muzzle loading cannon had belonged to the sailing ship “Young Australia” and fired chain shot. Thus the “Otter” became a unit of the Queensland fleet which at that time consisted of the “Gayundah” and “Paluma”. In World War I it was requisitioned for the RAN and posted as an examination ship in Moreton Bay, and in 1939 she again saw RAN for about two years.

            However the “Otter” was better known as a means of transporting passengers and stores to the prison St Helena, the Leprosarium at Peel Island, and the Benevolent Asylum at Dunwich.

            By 1945, after sixty years of service she still had the original engines which delivered a top speed of 11 knots. Like her engines, her crew was also long serving, R. R. Robinson being her steward from 1911 until 1945+ (the year of this reference); her captains being Page, Henderson, Junner (1898 – 1932), Jack (1932 – 1934), and Thrower (1934- 1945+).

            In 1946 the condition of the “Otter” had deteriorated: water was leaking onto the crew’s bunks so that they could not be used.

            Government inaction about repairs to the vessel resulted in strike action by the crew. Premier Ned Hanlon was so incensed by this work stoppage that he set about buying the old RAAF Sandgate Station that was on the market for the ridiculous price of £25, 000 ($50,000). The quoted price to replace the steamer “Otter'” was in the vicinity of ₤200, 000 ($400,000).

            Rather than replace the ailing “Otter”, the Government shifted the Benevolent Asylum from Dunwich to Eventide at Sandgate, thus rendering the “Otter” superfluous. She later became a timber dumb barge on the Frazer Island – Maryborough run.

            In 1969, the Hervey Bay Artificial Reef Committee retrieved her hulk from a sandbank at South White Cliffs on Frazer Island, towed it to a point just off Big Woody Island in the Great Sandy Strait and sank her to form part of the Roy Rufus Artificial Reef. Today she is visited by many scuba divers to view the rich profusion of marine fauna and flora which have made the “Otter” and her sister wrecks, ” Pelican”‘ and ” Lass O’Gowrie”, their home.


            During WWII a RAAF base was built on the present site of  “Eventide” at Sandgate, and a bell served this establishment. When in 1946 the Dunwich Benevolent Institution was transferred to the site, the bell served for a further 35 years as a dinner bell.

            On completion of the re-development of Eventide in 1985, both bells were put on permanent display. For the curious, the RAAF bell has the higher pitch.

The bell of the ‘Otter’ at Eventide, Sandgate (photo Peter Ludlow)

The bell of the “Otter”, long time supply vessel to the Dunwich Benevolent Asylum and which ceased operations when the institution was transferred to Eventide at Sandgate. It was used as a dinner bell there for many years.

Extract from Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection’.

River Rats

Glenys Powell remembers:

I’m a river rat from Bulimba. We were Reliance River Rangers and we sailed out of Watt’s Boat Building Business next to the Apollo Ferry. We sailed in the sailing season and rescued little boys in the overturned moths. We had an old English-style sailing boat, clinker hulled sixteen foot – a scream of a boat. We used to sail down to Bishop Island and back in it.

When Britannia came with the queen who was a Ranger in her day, we went to welcome her, along with a whole flotilla of small craft. Our ship put up a message in flags and someone on the Britannia’s bridge read it, quickly ran down and told the queen, and she came around to our side of the ship so she could see our message, gave us a wave, and actually strung up a message in flags in reply to us.

Royal Yacht ‘Britannia’ heading up the Brisbane River on 29 September 1982

They took Bishop Island away – we used to sail there in the early 1960s. I sailed in the Water Rats from 1959 until 1965 when they kicked me out because I was getting married.

SRS (Sea Ranger Scouts) Reliance was formed after the war. We were the older girl guides. Once you got to 14 you were too old for the guides and you could become a cadet (we didn’t think they were too exciting). Then there were land rangers, air rangers, and sea rangers. If you were a land ranger you went hiking and camping. If you were a sea ranger you went sailing and camping and hiking. Air rangers were taught about flying and occasionally were given a flight by someone generous enough to offer. We used to have great regattas at Bulimba out from the Watts’ place and the 18 foot sailing club. 

I must have been 14 when we rowed from the Apollo Ferry up to the gardens in this great heavy boat. I went to school next day with great blisters on my hands and the school principal wrote to my parents saying they should curb my tomboy tendencies at the weekends because it was most unladylike and it was interfering with my school work because I couldn’t write. 

As well as sailing to Bishop Island and sleeping overnight we sailed upriver to Lone Pine and slept on the land there overnight. Watts had a motor boat called Winslow and he used to come with us so that we could change crew so that all the girls got to sail. In 1964/65 another sea ranger crew – Moresby – also started off.

We also sailed to Russell Island where we camped overnight – some camped on the island while others stayed on Winslow if they wanted to get to fish that night. Reliance was tied up behind Winslow.

I lived near the army gates at the bottom end of Bulimba – not the Aopllo end – opposite the park. When we had cyclones the surrounding roads would flood.

Then they used to ship the cattle out from Colmslie. Many a night I would go to sleep to the sound of bagpipes while the live cattle were being shipped out. The noise used to settle the cattle. Even in those days they were shipping live cattle overseas. I don’t think too much was being said about it at that time, but we locals certainly knew about it.

On the Brisbane River at the end of Taylor Street where my uncle had built a small jetty, there was quite a nice sandy beach that stretched from the army barracks to the small creek that came out next to the Cairncross Dry Dock. Mum took us there as kids to play. The water was very clear then and we could see the fish. An old gentleman called Lulla Palfreyman used to take his dinghy down on wheels and he went prawning on the river. When he came back he used to whistle a certain song which meant ‘I have prawns’ so his wife would immediately go down and start the fire under the copper. Half an hour later we could go down there, and for two bob (20 cents) mum could feed seven of us for two meals. They were very tasty.

The fishing off the jetty was good too – bream and mullet. We used to swim there and see the occasional shark. The Borthwicks Meatworks were there – blood and guts were pumped into the river but they went downriver not up. I remember seeing shark fins there – to the consternation of mum when we went swimming.

Mud crabs were also plentiful in the river. A Bretts wharfie lived next to us and used to bring home at least one mud crab every day. All the wharfies used to set their traps under the wharf at Bretts. If he got more than one he’d boil them up in the copper and send us some. This was all petty cash for him. In the 1950s the Brisbane River was a wonderful river! We knew when the Blue and Black funnel ships came in that we’d get rain, and sure enough it would bucket down! Even the teachers would look out when it was raining and see the Blue and Black funnels moored across the river.

Flying boats used to land at what we called the old hockey fields.

For a kid coming from the coal mines at Ipswich, the river was a fascinating scene. All the ships coming in and turning. I remember the Himalaya – a large ship – turning in the river, and it just made it around in the limited space for a ship of its size.

I lived at the industrial end of Bulimba – there was some noise from the Cairncross Dock but it was aircraft that were noisiest. The people at Hamilton got a reduction in their rates because of it but we at Bulimba – just across the river – never got a bean.

In the non-sailing season, we were more Navy than the Navy – scraping the boat down and re-varnishing the woodwork. We even got help from the land rangers. They came down to take us hiking but we weren’t allowed to go until we’d got the boat done so they said they’d help. They even had blow-torches and spray paint so we got the job done in no time and were allowed to go hiking then.

In all the years I sailed between 1959 and 1965, I never went in the drink once. We went over, but I managed not to get wet. They were great days.

Glenys Powell

April 2008.

Extract from The Port of Brisbane, Its People and its Personalities

The Day We Went to Sandgate (Part 2)


Originally it cost 3d for adults to get onto the pier and 1d for children, then it was broken down to 1d because people wouldn’t pay.  An Englishman named Wakefield and a fellow we called “Possum” a bald chap whose remaining hair jutted out, collected the money for entrance to the pier. The amusement arcade was in a kiosk on the other side of the pier from the dance floor.  Admittance to the amusement arcade and to the change rooms was free. There were separate swimming enclosures attached to the pier for the ladies and the gentlemen. The Sandgate Swimming Club commenced in 1924 in the Men’s Swimming Enclosure on the Sandgate Pier.  Meets were held fortnightly, during full tide.  No women swam in the swimming club for quite a long time.

A picture screen was erected to view open air films.  A fellow named Amies used to run the generator for the projector.  In the very early 1920s cinematographs were still a novelty.  People would bring their own seating rather than hire deck chairs.

“Olivene”, “Beryl” and “Emerald” were vessels owned by the Humpybong Steamship Company, and ran for a time from the pier to Woody Point.  The Redcliffe Historical Society offers the following information about the S.S.”Emerald” as she was in 1908 under Captain James Farmer: “The “Emerald” is a twin-screw steamer, with a registered tonnage of 117.  She was specially built in Sydney for the Humpybong steamship Company Limited in 1900.  The engines are compound surface condensers of over 300 i.p.h., capable of driving the vessel at 11 knots.  The vibration, which was so noticeable when the “Emerald” first arrived in Brisbane, is now reduced to a minimum through alterations affected by the present engineer, John Crawford, and the comfort of the trip is thereby considerably enhanced.  The “Emerald” is 130 feet in length, her beam being 25 feet, and she has a draught of 5 feet 3 inches.  The vessel is licensed to carry 487 passengers in the Bay, and 800 in the Brisbane River.”  

The shed on the present pier originally marked the end of the pier, but at low water no ship could berth, so they had to extend the pier a further 300 or 400 feet.  A gentleman called Street had spent a lot of money dredging Cabbage Tree Creek and extending the jetty so that boats could call in on the way from Brisbane to Redcliffe, but in 1882 they ruined things by putting the trains in and he lost a lot of money. The Penny Arcade, the kiosk, and the swimming enclosures are now long gone, but the pier remains for the area’s many enthusiastic fishermen and yachties for the start of the annual Brisbane to Gladstone Yacht Race.


            After a swim and picnic lunch, a visit to the pier’s penny arcade would round off the day.  Here, in the days before electronic gadgetry, manually operated fun machines dispensed entertainment to fun seekers.  Arthur Hancock owned the arcade machines. George Hancock, his father, ran the theatres in Sandgate.  For 1d or 3d, one could become a peeping Tom and view flickering card “movies” of beach belles undressing, play cricket with a team of tin men in their Victorian glass house, or operate a claw for trinkets.  Another popular arcade item was the Electric Volt Machine where young kids would all throw in 3d and clasp hands in a line and see how much electric current they could take.  Once the current started flowing people could not let go anyway.  If someone walked by you didn’t like, you could grab him and they would be stuck too. 

A Moving picture machine


A walk runs along the foreshore from Cabbage Tree Creek to the Baptist Church.  It was originally called Dover’s Walk, after one of the engineers associated with the Sandgate Town Council. Sometime between 1910 and 1920 an English company came out and took photographs around Brisbane to make Post Cards.  Dover’s Walk, was one of them.  As a joke, the young blokes in the firm covered part of the “D” up to make it an “L” and the cards came out from England as Lovers Walk.  It has remained that ever since.


Changing into one’s swimming gear was a more private affair than we are accustomed to today, and for the procedure, individual bathing boxes, both for private and for public use, had been erected along the foreshore.  The private boxes, such as those owned by the Allen family, the Lack family, and the Nuns of the Sacred Heart Convent, were built against the sea wall and gave more sheltered access to the water than the public ones that were built over the sea and linked by a concrete bridgeway. Between the Wars, day trippers would come to picnic at Sandgate through Easter, Christmas, New Year, and even the June weekend if the weather was fine, though people didn’t swim in the winter.  However, all this changed after WWII with the advent of the family car when the North and South Coast beaches became day trips rather than weekend outings.                                                                       

Lovers Walk circa 1920

Ray Robinson

                                                                        January 1995

Extract from Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection’.