Family Memories of Kate Millar

From Scotland – by Sea

When Kate Millar’s father, Pete, died, a diary written by her grandfather was found in a compartment of his writing desk. Previously unknown to any other family members, it records her grandfather’s impressions of their boat trip out from Scotland to Australia aboard the Onderlay, a coal fired ship, in 1906. Here are a few highlights from the diary, where the reader can see that although the journey was an improvement on that of the old sailing ships, it was still a mammoth undertaking:

Some shipping routes from London to Australia

‘We travelled by train to London … could not be put up at the Northumberland Hotel as had been arranged… spent the night at the Scandanavian Sailors’ Home instead… we had to leave early next morning for Kings Cross Station and thence to Tilbury Docks… set sail about 1 o’clock and it was very calm til we got to the Bay of Biscay… on Tuesday morning off Gibralta we saw the porpoises in their hundreds plunging along the sea…had a three hour stay in Gibralta Bay and a lot of the foreigners came aboard to sell lace table cloths, tobacco, cigars, trinkets, and all sorts of fruit cheap… when we came to Marseilles Kate and I (my grandfather) went ashore… 

‘Tuesday August 15th was a very rough day and many of us were sick, women and children gone at the top and the bottom end… the ship was running in the trough of the sea from early morning til night and the waves were breaking over us… forty feet high… Kate (my Grandmother) and Pete (my father who was about 6 years old at the time) and all were sick at the same time… 

‘… Naples… I was up on deck before 6am and Pete was throwing pennies to the little Italian boys in the water. They are fine swimmers and divers. I never saw water dogs like them. When they came up with money, they showed it to all and put it in their mouth. I am quite sure some of them had a shilling’s worth (12) of coppers in each side of their mouth. The Italian dealers were all around and on the ship selling all sorts of flowers, brandy, wine and trinkets, coral necklats (sic), and Camay bracelets. I don’t mean to make your teeth water but the three star brandy was only 2/- per half gill bottle. We lay in Naples Bay about nine hours taking on a cargo of coal. The stewardess was telling me last night we burnt 250 lbs worth of coal in the 24 hours so you have an idea how much we took aboard… the cabin Jack, Jamie, and I are in had eight beds in it and is only about 14 feet long by about 7 feet wide…Pete and his mumma have 6 beds in their cabin. It’s getting very warm at night. We have abundant food – more than we are able to eat… 

‘August 18th we came into the Gulf of Suez at 9 am. They tell me it is 70 miles long and the heat is excessive. Yesterday I caught a fine specimen of a moth aboard ship. It had a head like a rat and small beautiful fish eyes and long feelers like hair and a tail like a young bird. It was a silver blue plush colour. When I got it I stuck it through the head with a hat pin but found in the morning I had lost both moth and pin…

‘August 20thRed Sea… the heat is terrible… Pete and his mumma sleeping on the top deck…  I tried to sleep on my bunk but it was impossible with nothing on but a white cotton sheet. I was kept working all night drying the sweat out of my eyes… 

‘Monday, Gulf of Eden (sic)… we had a splendid day sailing, but rather warm til about 6 o’clock when a very fresh cool breeze struck up and got gradually worse til we were caught in a monsoon. The waves were breaking over the top deck and the ship rolling and heaving over thirty feet. Within half an hour most of the passengers were vomiting.  Kate, Pete, Jack, and I were all very bad. It was a sorrowful sight to see both mothers and infants both sick. That storm kept up all night and we thought we would be pitched out of our bunks. Jack involved in a pillow fight… In the Arabian Sea, still very rough and a terrible lot of people sick… 

‘Wednesday 21st August. When it became dark at night we saw large patches of phosphorus and small patches like stars in the water.

‘Friday, 26th August… We arrived in Colombo about 6 o’clock in the morning. We bought a hatpin and a pair of little black elephants (Kate shows them to me) for Peter. They are ebony and ivory. And a pair of silk handkerchiefs, and silk scarfs, and silk shirts, and half a dozen white shirts, and two pair of lined trousers, and a comb and a lot of fruit.’

‘Friday 26th August (continued). At Colombo we had a good look around… We got into a rickshaw and had a drive out to the public park, then to the museum, the Cinnamon Gardens, then the Buddhist temple. From there to the market (fruit and fish) and through the native quarters where I saw a sight I will never forget. They are a very dirty race. Narrow dirty, smelling streets. Back at the ship, they were taking on a cargo of tea, and the natives that were packing and carrying it into the ship were a wild and dirty looking lot of creatures. It was laughable to hear the sing-song they had when they were working. Pete was so frightened that he would not come out of his bunk until his mother came back. He was looking very white. But his mother took him out and they soon made friends with the darkies…

‘Monday 5th September. We were lying at Fremantle at 6 am waiting for all the passengers to be passed by the Fremantle doctors before landing. They were afraid of trouble amongst the children…but we all passed satisfactory so we got ashore. It was a lovely place – very fresh and clean. We were all ashore for a few hours. It was springtime, and there was a fine display of spring flowers, and beautiful plants. Lily of the Nile and Pansies. There was a great deal of excitement when we came back on board the ship because some of the sailors had become tipsy, and were ill using some of the flower sellers when some of the officers interfered. The sailors got the worst of it and one of them got his kit bag made up, threw it overboard, jumped after it, and swam ashore. There was a cry of “Man overboard!” and in a very short time a motorboat came alongside him and picked him up. There were just two men in the motorboat and they had a job keeping him in the boat as he struggled hard to get out again.

‘Wednesday 7th September. We are getting it just as cold now as it was hot. This morning it was bitterly cold. Any of them that got up on top deck had on their overcoats and did not wait long on deck at that time. We got into the Australian Bite (sic) at about noon today and we were getting it pretty rough. Jamie would not accept his prize that he had won for a race around the deck the week before because it was broken so the committee raffled it today. We are still getting very rough sea and plenty of wind and spray washing over the decks. It was so stormy that most of the women and children were sick and vomiting. It was the dirtiest day we had since we left Tilbury Dock. The sun broke through a little, but still it was patchy and wet.

‘Saturday 10th September. We arrived at Adelaide about 7 am and grounded in the port. We had to wait until 4 pm until high water and then we got into the port. We all went ashore to see Adelaide. It was a beautiful place with fine buildings and great wide streets. The pavements were 20 feet wide and covered with verandahs all along the street. They were wider than the widest streets in Glasgow. It is 14 miles from the port to Adelaide…

‘Sunday 11th September. The ship should have left at midnight but the incoming current was so strong that the tugs could not fetch her out. … we managed to get out of the harbour into the sea about 6 am Monday morning…

‘Monday 12th September. The ship is humming along to make up for lost time. We are getting a nice view of some bits of the Australian coast…

‘Tuesday 13th September. We got into Melbourne at 3 o’clock in the afternoon…

‘Friday 16th September. Sydney! We got into the Heads about 7.30 am and it was a splendid sight going right up the Harbour. We had a view of part of the Dutch fleet…

(The family disembarked at Sydney and then made their way up to Queensland where they settled for them remainder of their lives)

“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’.

“JESSANARRY” (The Wadsworths of Moreton Island) – Part 2

            Liverpool born Jessie Hill first went to Moreton Island in 1903 at the age of four.  As daughter of the assistant lighthouse keeper at Cape Moreton, she recalls the school lessons with a dozen other lighthouse children from four families at Cape Moreton and one at Yellowpatch.  On Sundays, the children were taken for a picnic down to the beach.  After eating, everyone would collect the week’s firewood in the horse and cart. 

            Jessie’s father later transferred to the Department of Harbours and Marine for whom he kept the Cowan Cowan light from 1911 until it became automatic in 1927.  He then took charge of the Cowan Cowan signal station.

            In 1931 Jessie met a young Lancashireman, Harry Wadsworth, who was then holidaying on Moreton Island.  The child of a mill weaver, Harry had been raised in the poorer area of the industrial town of Oldham.  During World War I he had been a signaller, and later in civilian life became an instrument maker.  In 1927, fed up with the tough conditions that existed in England, he migrated to Australia.

            With the Great Depression affecting Australia too, jobs were almost impossible to find, and Harry moved north from Melbourne to Sydney, and then to Brisbane.  It was then that he discovered Moreton Island and Jessie, and fell in love with both.

            Harry’s World War I experience as a signaller was to prove useful at Cowan Cowan, and he would often help out Jessie’s father at the Signal Station.  After numerous temporary jobs, Harry landed a full-time job with the Harbours and Marine Department in 1934.  As relief lighthouse keeper for the Howard Range and Bulwer lights on Moreton, Harry recalls that he had to walk four miles to work, which included a 400 yard wade through a neck deep swamp while carrying a can of kerosene on his back.

            Jessie and Harry were married in 1938 and in the following year Harry was put in charge of the Cowan Cowan Signal Station. The couple’s love affair with Moreton Island was to continue for the rest of their lives.  It was an idyllic existence – the stuff of story books.  A casual, shoeless lifestyle with seemingly endless beaches stretching away in either direction from the door of their comfortable bungalow.

Harry and Jessie Wadsworth in 1978

            Although they had Moreton Island almost to themselves, theirs was not a lonely existence, for quite apart from the constant contact with shipping through Harry’s work as a signalman, Moreton Island played host to a large number and variety of people over the ensuing years.

            A military fort was built at Cowan Cowan between the wars and strengthened during WWII.  A naval station and jetty were also established at Tangalooma then, as well as a road across the island at that point.

            After WWII a huge demand for whale oil triggered a world-wide interest in whale hunting. To help satisfy this demand, a whaling station was opened at Tangalooma in 1952.  Over the next decade Harry and Jessie Wadsworth would often play host to the families of the whalers, notably for christmas dinner.

            The Tangalooma whaling station had an annual quota of 600 Humpback whales.  However, when vegetable oils were introduced to replace whale oil in margarine production, the price of the whale oil fell dramatically.  Quotas were increased to 660 to offset the price drop but the increased cull served only to deplete the whale numbers to such an extent that in the 1962 season, only 68 whales were taken, and in August of that year Tangalooma closed down due to a lack of whales.

Extract from Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection’.

(To be continued)

“JESSANARRY” (The Wadsworths of Moreton Island) – Part 1

Looking seaward from Bribie’s Ocean Beach, the huge shape of Moreton Island sprawls southward along the horizon.  At various points, its vegetation gives way to patches of white: reminding us that the island is mostly sand.  Its tallest point, Mount Tempest at 280 metres is reputed to be one of the highest sandhills in the world.

Between Bribie and Moreton Islands, the wide stretch of water is known as the North Passage, shipping’s gateway to Moreton Bay.  To the south of Moreton Island, and separating it from Stradbroke, is the old South Passage, the original and more dangerous entrance to the bay.  


Following the huge loss of life when the “Sovereign” was wrecked in 1847 while trying to cross the South Passage bar, there was an increasing transference of shipping from the South Passage to the North Passage.  Until that time the bay’s Pilot Station had been located at Amity on Stradbroke.  From here, when a ship entered the bay, a pilot vessel would be dispatched to guide it safely into port.   In 1848 then, the Pilot Station was moved from Amity to Cowan Cowan on Moreton where, by 1860, it was recorded as having in residence two pilots, nine boatmen, and others, all living in wretched conditions.  Later the Pilot Station was shifted still further north on Moreton to Bulwer.

To mark the new entrance to Moreton Bay, the Cape Moreton lighthouse was built on the northern seaward end of Moreton Island in 1856.            Constructed of stone quarried from the island itself, the lighthouse is now under control of the Commonwealth Government, unlike those within the bay, which come under the auspices of the Queensland Government’s Department of Harbours and Marine.

Because of the inaccessible nature of Cape Moreton, stores for the Cape Moreton light had to be offloaded at Bulwer in the early days and hauled across the island on horse-drawn sand sleds.

In the first few years following Queensland’s separation from New South Wales in 1859, a number of lights with large kerosene burners fitted with dioptric apparatus were erected at various strategic points around Moreton Bay, including Comboyuro Point and Cowan Cowan on Moreton Island.  In 1867 the height of the light at Cowan Cowan was increased from 18 feet to 34 feet, so that vessels approaching port would not lose sight of it before the next light was picked up.  In the following year, to cater for navigational changes within Moreton Bay, an additional lighthouse was built at Yellowpatch on Moreton Island.

Extract from Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection’.

(To be continued)


(Dr Charles Roe, South Stradbroke Island)

After several holidays at Southport between 1878 and 1882, Reginald Roe, Headmaster of the Brisbane Grammar School, and two friends each bought 10 acres of land on South Stradbroke Island.  They proceeded to camp there in tents on their holidays until 1885 when a permanent hut was built on Reggie’s block.  It was built on a knoll overlooking the plain where the tents were erected, and which were prone to flooding in wet weather.

The hut had one large room which was a dressing room for the ladies, a large brick floored open space with a fireplace, kerosene stoves for cooking, an ice-chest for food storage, and trestle tables for eating.  On the Broadwater side there was another open space – a verandah where the ladies slept.  Men and boys were accommodated in the tents nearby, sleeping on home-made bunks.

Pit latrines and rubbish pits were dug well away in the surrounding bush which made a long walk on a rainy night with a kerosene lamp usually blown out in a Southeast wind.

In the days before WWI the regular visitors were generally the school boarders.  Reggie and his wife, Maud, often took the maids from the School House to help with the big parties.  The boys roamed the scrub, fished, sailed, swam in the ocean and in the calm Broadwater, and sat down to huge meals at the long trestle tables.  Card games and sing-songs followed the energetic bustle of the day, and everyone slept soundly and long.  An idyllic existence, and it set the pattern for the Kamp parties unto the present day.

In its title “Camp” became “Kamp” through an association with the first name initial of a young regular visitor Katherine Jones who was devoted to the Roe family.

Harpooning sting-rays, shovel-nose sharks and saw fish on a wide sandbank in the middle of the Broadwater was an unusual and extremely popular pastime – the fun was fast and furious, particularly when the quarry swam directly at the line of hunters, and harpoons flew through the air from all directions.  On one occasion a saw-fish was disturbed and swam straight for one of the party, a young lady named Bessie.  Bessie wore a two-piece swimming costume – a dark serge high-neck tunic with a long skirt and serge pants below the knees with white trimmings on all loose ends.  As the saw-fish reached her, Bessie spread her legs and the fish swam through the arch, cutting the cloth on both sides.

Human tower on the sands at South Stradbroke 1922 – image State Library of Queensland

Expeditions such as these often interfered with other more essential Kamp duties, such as rowing to the mainland for milk, bread, and other stores.  Maud spent many exasperated hours on the beach watching the boat with the milk churns in it cooking in the summer sun while the boat crew chased sting-rays on the central sandbank.  At least the party who remained on the island to chop wood could not slide off to fun activities ’til their task was completed to Maud’s satisfaction.

Extract from Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection’.


Kerry Atkins writes: 

Being a resident of Lamb Island for 9 years, I thought people may appreciate this update to your blog of 10.12.2022.

Peggy Saunders, continued to live here until her death in 2002.

Lamb Island showing Harry Brook Bushland Refuge

A reserve was donated to the Council by Peggy Saunders in memory of her late husband, and it was declared a nature reserve in 1996. Harry Brook Reserve is comprised of 2 hectares of mature bush adjacent to Harry Brook’s former house and shed. It contains examples of red gum forest, most of which was cleared from the Island during timber getting phases. The broader parcel of land that incorporates the Reserve retains a section of remnant red gum forest which is consistent with the natural habitat that existed on the island prior to settlement.

Things are still a lot slower here on the island than the mainland. Many passenger and vehicular ferries which leave from Redland Bay are available to residents and visitors to the island, these days, with brand-new jetties being built on all 4 islands at this time. A green seal road programme was completed on Lamb 5 years ago, but the roads still do not have curb and channelling. Septic is still the only option available to Lamb Island residents at this time. Only hobby farmers or those growing for themselves exist now on Lamb Island, we still have our corner store and Woolies deliveries a few times a week. We still get to enjoy our wonderful bird life, with many varieties still aplenty to this day.


(material supplied by his nephew, Jack Sands)

When J.D.Lang set up his scheme for free settlement in Moreton Bay he personally selected proved tradesmen who would be useful in the community and who would never be a burden on the colony. Among his approved emigrants was my great-great grandfather, Thomas Sands, who arrived in the sailing ship “Chaseley” in 1849 after 5 months at sea. Included in his nuclear family was his grandson (my grandfather), John Sands.

John Sands was only 5 months when he arrived. The family settled at Bowen Hills. John Sands, like his grandfather, became a carpenter and builder who had a hand in many of the early buildings of Brisbane including Central Railway Station and Brunswick Street Railway Station.

Living at and working from Hines Street, Bowen Hills, John Sands raised a family of three boys and a girl. The eldest son, Frank, was born in Fortitude Valley.

Frank Sands (my uncle) commenced his working life at Webster’s Bonded Stores, but later was apprenticed to a cooper and gained considerable experience in this trade which, together with his family’s ‘carpenter’ background fitted him for becoming an amateur boat-builder and, I understand, he built quite a few.

Frank subsequently married Emily Clayton (distantly related to the Claytons at Point Lookout) and started farming at Hemmant near what later became known as Morgan’s Moorings (Aquarium Passage) and took part time work at the Aquarium Theme Park which was destroyed during the 1893 flood.

As a boy, Frank spent a lot of time down the southern end of Moreton Bay and was there when the great storm of 1894 caused the break through at Jumpin Pin.

After leaving the farm at Hemmant he leased Garden Island as a one man’s farm for several years. Garden Island became too small for his farming operations and when Macleay Island was sub-divided he took up the first allotment. With the help of his wife Emily (who could use an axe as well as he could) he cleared it and set up a first class farm. I was always told (and I have no reason to disbelieve it) that despite the then current belief that citrus fruits could not be grown profitably on the Bay Islands, he was the first to grow them there and did so very successfully. Likewise, we were led to believe that he introduced avocadoes, and I certainly remember him on the family launch in 1930 when he was expounding their virtues to us. He marketed a lot of his crops through Sydney and his farm was the best on the island.

The Sands’ house at Macleay Island about 1920. Frank and his wife are standing out the front.

As Macleay Island prospered and the number of farms grew, Frank was the Postmaster, as a part-time job, but I guess Aunty Emily did most of the work. One thing I know, though, is that he had a large ship’s bell which Aunt Emily would ring exactly at 1 p.m. each day. It was heard on all the farms spread over the island. Although unofficial, it was the only recognisable time-piece on the island, and should this time signal be neglected or a few minutes late, the farmers and their hands were very upset and soon let him know about it!

As a lad I remember occasionally helping out on the farm, and welcoming a billy can of cold tea which was always on hand at the end of the fruit or vegetable row.

Uncle Frank knew every part of South Moreton Bay intimately, no doubt because he had spent so much of his time there in his youth. My grandfather owned a motor launch “Wilga” which he kept moored in the Brisbane River, but once a year he and the family took off down the bay for three weeks holiday, and as a boy of about 14 years of age I was included in the party.

With the old Wilson Marine In-board doing a maximum of 3 to 4 knots we would spend the first night in the Boat Passage and at dawn would plough our way slowly against the south easter to get past Cleveland and to the shelter of the islands.

At Macleay we would pick up Uncle Frank and Aunt Emily and start on a magnificent boat holiday. We lived and slept on board the boat and only went to the mainland once a week to renew our supplies of bread and water. This we did always at the Broadwater, Southport, and by that time the bread had a hairy blue mould about 50 mm all over it, and it had to be seriously pruned each day before it could be eaten.

Stopping for a picnic. Frank Sands (on left) with wife and relatives on way to Point Lookout, 1920s

Living down the bay was very basic. We lived on fish and crabs and obviously spent much of our time catching worms, fishing and crabbing. We caught all the crabs we needed by using a ‘crab-hook’ in the crab holes or by hand netting at night with a hurricane lamp on the sandbanks on the flood tide. There was never a shortage of fish, and fishing in those days was real fun.

I recall Uncle Frank taking us into Swan Bay to Duck Creek – in on the up tide and out on the down tide. I do not know what Duck Creek is like now, but in those days it was a very difficult operation to navigate a motor launch to this primitive creek.

As I said previously Uncle Frank knew the bay intimately and if at any time the weather changed suddenly he could always at a moment’s notice move to another anchorage even if it was pitch dark in the middle of the night. When I was at the tiller he would direct me with uncanny accuracy along the unbuoyed channels and across the sandbanks between Jacob’s Well and Southport. He always seemed to know just how much water he had underneath the keel and I have no doubt he could “feel” this in the way the boat reacted. On some occasions he would say “Now, slow down, Jack; we will touch here” and sure enough that was always what would happen. We would rarely be caught stuck on a bank with a receding tide.

Uncle Frank’s intimate knowledge of the Bay was well known and he was often called upon to pilot the Government launch around South Moreton Bay when important G’ment visitors were being shown around. There was no telephone to Macleay Island then but the skipper of the G’ment launch, when within a few miles of Macleay, would signal to him with a mirror. He would then have time to leave his work on the farm and be waiting for them at the jetty near the Salt Works.

Uncle Frank and Aunt Emily were pioneers of Moreton Bay and they would have died there if it had been possible. But bad health made it impossible for him to continue farming. When they retired to live at Sandgate, South Moreton Bay lost two of its real pioneers.

Jack Sands


September 1995

Extract from Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection’.

A Farm on Lamb Island

(Peggy Saunders, Lamb Island)

Peggy Saunders came to Brisbane in 1933 from ‘out west’ but the sixteen year old didn’t like city life.  However, while on a visit to Karragarra Island she got a taste for island life, and was able to secure a job on nearby Russell Island doing housework – that was all that was available – for 10/- ($1) a week.  She stayed there for six months, and during that time she and her other teenager friends would occupy their spare time by rowing over to Karragarra Island where there was a pleasant sandy beach for swimming.  While relaxing on the sand, they would look across to Lamb Island where a bloke with a white horse would be ploughing his field in the hot sun.  Peggy used to feel sorry for him having to work so hard.

Another source of amusement on Russell Island at that time were the Saturday night dances.  These were attended by folk from Russell and its surrounding islands.  Music was supplied by Arthur Poynton on the fiddle, while a lady accompanied him on the piano.  They were typical of many country dances of the era, where the women sat round the perimeter of the hall on forms, and the men congregated in groups on the porch until the music started playing.  On one such dance, Peggy went as a gypsy and was asked to dance by Harry Brook.  In the course of their conversation Peggy learnt that Harry was the poor bloke toiling in the sun for whom she used to feel sorry!

This wasn’t quite the beginning of their romance, because Peggy left the island soon afterwards to work on a dairy farm at Burleigh for 17/6 ($1.75) a week.  However, she must have made a big impression on Harry Brook because he often wrote to her and went to visit her whenever he had time for the trip.  After three years on the dairy, Peggy said ‘yes’ and she and Harry were married.  At the age of 20, in 1937, Peggy Brook came to live as a farmer’s wife on Lamb Island.

Harry Brook’s bag humpy on Lamb Island c1923 (photo courtesy Peggy Saunders)

Harry Brook had bought the land on Lamb in 1922 in partnership with his brother Sam, and a friend, Colin Price (“Pricey”).  It was 26 acres of virgin scrub and they cleared the land using gelignite and grubbers (mattocks). After they had finished the clearing, Harry bought out his two partners and commenced farming.  He built himself a bag hut where he lived for three years.  This consisted of a basic wooden frame over which were draped hessian bags woven together to form walls. They were sprayed with cement to give them some stability and to make them waterproof. Later, Harry had a more substantial dwelling constructed, which remains, with additions, to this day

When Peggy arrived at Lamb, there were ten farms on the island.  These  included those of Percy Lovell, his brother Bob, the Hines, the Robinsons, Thelma Field, the Noyes, Harry’s brother Sam Brook (whom Harry later bought out), Albert Raddon who managed for a Mr Raff, and the Barkers. There were two groups of crops farmed: spring crops (tomatoes, cucumbers, and beans) and standard crops (bananas, papaws, and pineapples). For the farmers, clearing the land of tree stumps was the first problem, and usually these were burnt out. However, one resident the habit of blowing up tree stumps with gelignite – very effective!  On Guy Fawkes Night (November 5th) Albert Raddon threw it around instead of fire crackers and on one occasion managed to blow out a neighbour’s gate post.

Life on Lamb then was primitive by today’s standards: kerosene lamps inside or carbide in the shed; then kerosene pressure lamps were introduced to be followed later by 12 volt electricity generated by petrol motors, then gas, and finally electricity. Provisions were ordered by letter once a week from Strachan’s shop at Redland Bay (later Lovell’s).  The farmers paid for them after the spring crops had been sold.  There was also a standard meat order from Ridings at Woolloongabba which was delivered every Tuesday night on the “Roo”.  Peggy had no refrigeration and no ice so she had to spend every Tuesday night cooking the fresh meat on her wood burning stove because it wouldn’t keep.  The salted meat she hung in the meat safe under the house.

Mosquitoes were an ever present problem and every farm had its ‘smoke pots’ in which rotted mangrove trunks were burned in tins with holes cut in the bottom.  Even the horses used to stand over the smoke tins to keep the mossies off!  

Because of the shortage of water on the island, bathing was “economical”. This meant that bath water had to be recycled, with the dirtiest member of the family going last. This was usually poor old dad who had been labouring all day!

After the tomato and watermelon crops had been picked, Aborigines from Dunwich were asked to come over to Harry Brook’s farm to pick up the remnants.  These Aborigines included members of the Ruska, Levinge, Borey, Iselin, and Newfong families.  As “payment” the aborigines often brought with them a live pig.  Peggy remembers them coming in single file up to the house, and there were so many that as the first members reached the house, the last were just coming in the Brook’s farm gate.

The Brooks’ farm had a water frontage and at their jetty they kept their two boats: “Jill”, a 16 foot shift, and “Jack” a dinghy.  Harry and Peggy still attended the dances on Russell by rowing across in the dinghy.  It could be very romantic in the moonlight. Between the years 1938 and 1948, Harry and Peggy had three children, Shirley, Ron, and Hazel      The children all went to primary school on nearby Russell Island, but for their secondary schooling they were forced to go to the mainland.  Shirley and Ron were sent to boarding school, but Hazel, the youngest, was able to attend the newly opened Cleveland High on a day student basis.  This involved leaving home at 6am, catching the “Dawn” “Mist” or “Titian”, special school boats run by Lamb Island’s Ian Ward,  then by bus to Cleveland.  Returning home at 5 pm made a very long day.

Harry Brooks died of a coronary in 1963.  It had occurred in the middle of the night. Peggy had rung the Post Office who had in turn phoned the doctor on the mainland who waited at the Redland Bay Flying Boat Base for Harry to be brought over from the island.  This had been a slow trip in itself because the dinghy they had to use was sunk and first had to be raised.  Had the coronary occurred on the mainland Harry might have survived, but health was a matter that had to be risked by the early settlers of the bay islands. Peggy remained on Lamb and does so to this day, a well-known and much loved pioneering personality of the island.

Peggy Saunders pineapple farm on Lamb Island (photo courtesy Peggy Saunders)

Extract from Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection’.


Pip Williams book ‘The Dictionary of Lost Words’ provides a very original slant to the early history of women’s suffrage. However, apart from all the unusable words, I was particularly taken with the cook’s response when asked why she did so much needlework (see page 41): ‘It (the needlework) proves that I exist. It is permanent whereas cleaning and cooking are temporal.

I am reminded of this recurring question when I add each week’s entry to my internet blog page: what will happen to all my words when I and the internet cease to exist? At least my books will have a more secure existence in private and public libraries.


(Jack Borey, Dunwich)

One of a large family of Boreys from Portuguese and Aboriginal parentage, Jack was to combine the navigational skills of his father, Johannes Borey, with his mother’s inherent Aboriginal knowledge of Moreton Bay. In the words of Ray Barrett, one of his closest friends, Jack practiced conservation in times when the word had not been popularised.  Ray explains:

“Jack had a fisherman’s eye and he could see fish in what was just empty water to my untrained eye.  I remember I was with Charlie Campbell at the One Mile on one occasion, when Jack predicted it was going to be an early winter.  When I asked him why, he pointed out all the hardigut mullet coming in.  I still couldn’t see any, but Jack estimated there were enough fish there to fill 150 cases.  When I urged them to go and get them immediately, Jack merely said that they’d still be there tomorrow.”

Jack and Ray often went fishing off Peel Island.  With the efficiency of a true pro, Jack would line up his marker points, drop the pick and even bait Ray’s hook, much to Ray’s disgust.  However, when he immediately pulled up a huge sweetlip, Ray’s enthusiasm was ignited.  When they had caught four such sweetlip, Jack thought it time to up anchor and go.

“But we’ve just got onto them,” protested Ray.

“Can you eat more than four?”

“No.  I’m flat out eating one.”

“Well, leave ’em down there, they keep fresher in moisture.”

So they took the four sweetlip which Jack reckoned would feed his family and Ray, went back to the One Mile, filleted the fish and collected four or five dozen oysters.  The fish-heads and backbones he would put into the cooking pot with the oysters to make a delicious soup.  Jack would never waste anything.

Often, Jack would take his whitie mate, or townie, as Ray describes himself then, on his walkabouts through the bush on Stradbroke.  There were no roads then, and walking on the hot sand at the back of Myora forced Ray to up the pace.

“Slooow down, Ray, sloow down,” Jack urged.


“You’ve got to come back.”

Jack was a real bushie.

On another walkabout Jack and Ray went into the scrub.  They had to cross the stream coming down from the Brown Lake and Jack said, much to Ray’s puzzlement: “We’ll cross on the wallaby pads.” Apparently, the wallabies laminated the long spindly grass growing beside the creek, and by laying them one on top of the other, they were able to hop across on top of the water.  Jack and Ray were able to emulate this practice by taking a run onto the pads and cross the short creek.

When townie Ray would get tired of walking, Jack would clear away the leaves to make a fire, cook up some snags, boil the billy, and tell Ray to have a sleep while he’d go off into the bush.  When Jack returned, he’d pour the remainder of the now cold tea over the fire and replace the leaves which he had carefully put to one side in exactly the same way that he had found them.

“In the old days,” Ray Barrett recalls. “Jack Borey and I would swim at Myora springs which then had a waterfall from Brown Lake.  Jack was able to point out the different age stratas in the Aboriginal middens there, but now, since someone built a cement causeway over the creek, it has silted up and the middens are ruined.  So much for so called progress.”

At about 8.30 pm on April 1st 1961, the launch “Jennifer” with members of the Maile family aboard was anchored about 400 yards (metres) from the Ropeway Jetty at Dunwich.  With little warning, a storm blew up with gale force winds of up to 50 knots.  Amid heavy rain and lightning, the launch was carried towards the jetty and was damaged against a pipeline.  After an unsuccessful attempt was made to get Dorothy Maile on to the jetty, Alfred (Junior) crawled along the pipeline to the shore to get assistance. At 11 pm, without regard for his own safety, Jack Borey took a small row-boat and rowed out to the “Jennifer”. Intending to try to tow the launch from its position under the pipeline, Jack tried to throw it a line but the heavy seas made this impossible.  He then rowed to a diesel yacht “Patricia T” which was anchored nearby.  He boarded the boat and, after explaining the situation to its occupants, was able to enlist their help. Eventually the “Patricia T” was able to attach a line to the “Jennifer” after it broke clear from the pipeline, and the drifting boat was towed into the jetty and tied up.

Recognising the risk to which Jack Borey subjected his life in the high wind and heavy seas, and the danger of his small dinghy being swamped with little chance of personal survival once being thrown into the heavy seas, a submission was made to the Royal Humane Society of Australasia that Jack’s courageous and resourceful action be recognised.  In 1962, Jack Borey was awarded the Society’s Certificate of Merit.                

Jack was always invited onto peoples’ boats because he knew where the fish were.  He never refused, and he could never do enough to help them.  On shore, Jack was a member of the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes’ Bayview Lodge 99 (being its secretary from November 1952 until December 1953) then the Stradbroke Lodge 142 at Dunwich. As well as comradeship, he advanced to its highest order, the ROH.

Jack Borey died on the 28th September 1979 and is buried in the picturesque cemetery beside the water at Dunwich. “When Jack died,” recalls Ray Barrett, his lifelong friend.” he was 63, the age at which I am now, and it was a great loss to both the island and to humanity.” Just offshore from the cemetery, at the entrance to the One Mile, the Jack Borey Beacon still remains a constant memorial to the unselfish contribution to bay life of John Henry Benjamin Borey, one of Nature’s gentlemen.

View of Peel Island from the Dunwich cemetery 1986 (photo Peter Ludlow)

Extract from Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection’.