“JESSANARRY” (The Wadsworths of Moreton Island) – Part 3

 In August of 1962 Tangalooma closed down due to a lack of whales. However, this was not to be the end for the buildings at Tangalooma, and in December 1963 the Tangalooma tourist resort was opened.  The old flensing deck where the whale carcasses had been dismembered was converted to a tennis court and the factory below to a shop, squash courts, and laundry.  

            Also in 1963 with the closure of the Cowan Cowan signal station Harry Wadsworth retired from the Harbours and Marine Department.  Erosion of the shoreline had on three previous occasions forced the Wadsworths to move house.  Next to the now deserted signal station was a large cement slab which had previously been the foundation of a club for the officers of the 1000 men who had been stationed there during WWII.  This slab proved to be the ideal foundation for Harry to build a retirement bungalow for himself and Jessie.   They named it “Jessanarry”.  They played bowls on its extensive lawn, while inside, Jessie now had a home for her extensive shell collection, the result of a lifetime’s beach-combing.

            Harry knew Moreton Island like the back of his hand, and, more importantly for his many visitors, where to catch the fish.  This knowledge and news of his catches quickly spread to such an extent that prominent identities from businessmen to the Governor himself would take him fishing with them.

Harry Wadsworth holding Lunar Tailed Rock Cod, Cape Moreton 1978 (photo courtesy Alan Counter)

            Harry and Jessie Wadsworth became known as the King and Queen of Moreton and visitors to the Tanglaooma resort would ask to be taken up the beach to Cowan Cowan for an audience.  Conversely, the Wadsworths would visit the resort once a fortnight to pick up their stores and for a chat.

            When Harry became sick, because he could not see the water from his house, members of the Moreton Bay Boat Club built him a shelter overlooking the Bay.  Adrian Dalgarno, one of the Boat Club members and a frequent visitor to Moreton, recalls Harry sitting there for hours with a tape recorder capturing the sounds of the water, birds, and anyone who came to visit him.

            Harry died in 1979 after 41 years of marriage to Jessie.  She followed him in 1985.

            At age 82, Jessie was to say of her lifetime on Moreton: “It’s the sort of life I have liked – it’s never been too quiet or too isolated for me.  I think you have got to be the type of person who loves Nature and loves the quiet and doesn’t want to be rushing around to discos and all that.  I reckon I am a good advertisement for the lifestyle on Moreton Island.  I can still look after my own house, keep the garden in reasonable order, cook and teach my neighbours how to crochet.”

            During her last years she had campaigned to restrict mineral sand mining on the island and the use of 4 wheel drive vehicles, maintaining that future generations were entitled to enjoy the peace and tranquillity of Moreton’s unspoilt bush and beach.  Groups such as the Moreton Island Protection Committee are continuing the fight which she began.

            In his later years, Harry was to sum up the philosophy of his life with Jessie: 

            “We’ve always walked everywhere, and barefoot at that.  This island has been a paradise which for years we had virtually to ourselves.  To live together so isolated for so long, you’ve got to have the right woman.  And if you have your health too, what else do you need?”

            What else indeed.

Extract from Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection’.

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