OYSTERS IN THE BILGE – Part 2

(Ray Barrett, Dunwich)

When the Queensland Cruising Yacht Club was formed, fashioned after its Sydney counterpart, yachting here was dominated by Doug Drouyn who ran a music shop called Drouyn and Drouyn.  His boat was a double ender which he sailed in the Sydney Hobart Race, and when he returned to Brisbane, he, Ray, and others started the QCYC, on the premise that it only takes two boats to have a race. Then they started the Brisbane to Gladstone race. “In those days, we were farmers, really, and how we ever made it to Gladstone I’ll never know.  We started at Humpybong, and it was a matter of leaving the bay and turning left.” Freddie Markwell was another of the early participants.

When Ray left for London at the end of 1958 to try to break into films overseas, he sold his boat “Countess” to fellow yachting enthusiast, Noel Stanaway. The only film work Ray had done at that stage was a TV show with Spike Milligan in Sydney. Whilst in London he did the “Troubleshooters” series, and became a well-known face on TV screens around the world.  Although the work was high pressure, it suited him because he was able to have three months off at a time to sight-see around Europe.   A floor manager at the film studios had a house on a Spanish island and offered it to Ray to have a break from filming.  He immediately fell in love with the place, bought a block of land nearby, and built his own home there.  He still owns it to this day.

Insert image Ray-Barrett-pic

Actor, Ray Barrett

 When Ray returned to Brisbane in the 1970s, he was visiting his brother’s boat showroom at Breakfast Creek.  It so happened that Noel Stanaway was in the showroom at the same time.  They got talking about the fun that each had had on the “Countess” during their respective years of ownership, and Ray wondered where she had ended up.  Remarkably Noel had just seen her sail past on Breakfast Creek on the way to Tripcony’s slip. Thirty-five years had elapsed since Ray had begun building the “Countess”, so after a few beers at the Breakfast Creek pub to fortify his nerve, Ray ventured round to the slip to see if Noel was right.  Sure enough he was!  There was a fellow underneath the boat painting its bottom.

“Who owns it?” Ray asked him.

“Got her up for sale,” was the reply. “It’s got a good bottom in it, you know.”

“Yes, I know.  I built it.”

The fellow’s mouth fell open “You Ray Barrett?”

Ray nodded, and the fellow went into Tripcony’s shed and came out with spars, and the old stainless-steel bolt which a German toolmaker had made for Ray during the war.  He gave them to Ray as souvenirs.

Ray’s son, Reggie, was then about 5 or 6, and Ray bought the “Countess” back for him.  He’d always had a painting of it in his bedroom in London. The pair used to bring it over to Dunwich where they kept it on the bank at the One Mile, and they would come over and go fishing on it. They cruised all around the bay and met a lot of people.  It was a great thrill for Ray to take his son out on the boat he had built some 40 years previously.  When Ray’s work forced him to move away from Brisbane again, he didn’t want to leave the “Countess” rotting on some bank, so he gave it to the girls’ Sea Rangers at Sandgate to use as their mother ship, and as far as he knows, it is still there today.

Later, when Ray returned again from overseas, he lived in Brisbane.  He’d sold his house in London, and he decided to buy a boat here, called the “Odette”.   He met his second wife, Gay, through sailing in Sydney, and they used to visit Dunwich regularly on the “Odette” to see Ray’s boating friends.  Ray had often thought that he would like to live at Dunwich, and it so happened that this property was on the market.  The pair bought it as soon as they saw it. He also had a mooring at the One Mile. It had been his original intention to stay in Australia only for six months, and perhaps do some fishing up the reef.  But the film industry here was going through a resurgence at that stage, and he was offered a lot of work, so he decided to stay on.  

During these later years as a resident of Dunwich, Ray and his wife have taken up the cudgel to ensure that progress doesn’t destroy the intrinsic nature of North Stradbroke Island.  As a member of Water Watchers, he’s added his high profile to the islanders’ negotiations with the Redland Shire Council to prevent the council pumping Stradbroke water to the mainland. “All these islands are sand islands with huge reserves of subterranean waters.  Pumping them away is likely to interfere with the freshwater swamps upon which so much of the island’s fauna and flora depend.  There were well over 100 Stradbroke residents who turned up at the Dunwich hall.  But even as we negotiated with the council, the council had already laid the pipes.”

Ray also supports SIMO (Stradbroke Island Management Organization) and FOSI (Friends of Stradbroke Island) and is ever willing to make a resounding speech on their behalf.  Other conservation measures also concern him: “I know that trawlers have to earn a living, but I am against them dropping their nets at the One Mile which upsets the young crustaceans, and spawning grounds.  Ellie (Durbidge) and I think it would be marvellous to stop all trawling inside the bay for 3 or 4 years to give everything a chance to regenerate.  The trawlers don’t seem to be doing so much netting of late, so our protests must be doing some good.  My young son just recently came back from the Dunwich jetty with the biggest bream I’ve seen in years, so it has given me heart that there is still some hope for the fisherman in the bay.

“Up at Myora beyond the springs they want to put a huge sandpumping pipeline all across the Fish Habitat to the deep water of Rainbow Channel. You can imagine the shipping constantly coming up there would ruin the fish habitat. The Myora Fish Habitat was declared on the 23rd of January 1969.  It was Queensland’s first habitat reserve, and now they are in danger of destroying it.

“From the One Mile all the way to the Point at Myora beacon, all the sandy flats are full of crabs and yabbies.  Mangroves line the shore.  The mangrove must by the most amazing tree in the world.  The leaves drop and rot, and the roots aerate and cleanse the soil, so much depends on them.  Arthur Borey was one of the older fraternity who had arranged to show three Redland Council engineers the swamps and danger areas.  The engineers never even bothered to turn up.”

            On the way back to the ferry, Ray shows me Jack Borey’s grave in the picturesque cemetery overlooking the water. Nearby is the site of Bonty Dickson’s first shop, on the bank of the creek just beside the present caravan park.  The shop was just a corrugated iron shed, two roomed, with a counter with a piece of corrugated iron which he held up with a stick.  He had a pianola in the shop although it had only a mud floor, and the rum would be passed around and there would be great sing songs whenever Ray came down.

Bonty Dickson’s store at Dunwich (photo courtesy Ray Cowie)

Extract from Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection’.

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