The People of the Passage – Part 2

Bribie in its Golden Era of the 1930s (continued)

Here comes the “Koopa”! That speck of soot has now formed into a hull and superstructure.  People can be seen crowding the rails. Looks like a full shipload – a thousand at least.  The jetty surges with locals. This is their social highlight.  When the ship finally docks, passengers surge down the gangplank. Bob Davies is there spruiking on the jetty at the top of his voice “Fresh fish dinners this way!” and Mrs Moyle rings a bell from her restaurant’s verandah. Bill Shirley’s Tin Lizzies have now arrived and their motors idle in anticipation. Aboard the “Koopa”, engines throb, steam hisses, passengers jostle, bells ring, whistles blow. The trippers have found their release from the workaday world.

The Koopa (photo courtesy Yvonne D’Arcy)

Soon everyone has disembarked and the crowd disperses to eat, swim, fish, or just laze on the beach and soak up the atmosphere. Bribie obliges in all departments.  

For some, the afternoon lapses into anticlimax. They fill the emptiness with sleep.

Wally Campbell leases Clark’s oyster banks. It’s low tide now, and his sisters, Millie and Rosie, are at the banks, chipping off oysters from the rocks with little hammers.  They load them into chaff bags and leave them on the banks for the tide to come in.  When it does they’ll bring the dinghy and load it up with the oyster bags.

It’s 2 o’clock and the water tanks are now open. Mr Freeman, the Postmaster, is in charge of this precious commodity. Unlike the city, there’s no reticulated water on Bribie, and drinking water is brought down on the “Koopa” then pumped into tanks at the end of the jetty. When the taps are unlocked each day campers and locals line up with their empty kerosene tins which they fill for 2d each.  

By 2.30 the sun hovers over the Passage waters which the afternoon breeze fans into a shimmering sheet. A woman fishing on the beach throws her line into its midst while seagulls perch on the seawall and wait for results. She watches the slow passage of time trek across the sky to leave a dazzling path across the water to Toorbul Point.  Still later, the sun touches the mountains in the distance. Clouds have appeared, and into their pink billows the Glasshouse Mountains thrust their weird shapes.

The “Koopa” is getting up steam. It’s whistle blows. That’s the first sign to the passengers to get ready to embark. It’s also a signal that the “Koopa”‘s bar is about to open. (Its had to remain closed while in port). There is no hotel on Bribie and the “Koopa”‘s bar run by Elsie Davis is eagerly sought by those locals who fancy a drink.  A second whistle blows and the drinkers gulp more quickly. The passengers hurry aboard and the gangplanks are withdrawn. Bill Shirley’s Tin Lizzies pull up at the jetty and the last of the passengers hurry aboard. With the third whistle, the ropes are cast off and the “Koopa” is homeward bound. The drinkers clamber off onto the jetty across the widening gap of water but one lingers in the bar too long. He’ll come home on the next trip.

Soon the “Koopa” is once more a shrinking speck, a piece of soot on the horizon that is eventually whisked away on the cool evening breeze. Mozzies descend with the evening and citronella mingles with the aroma of cooking fish and smoky fires.

Dave King sends his son, Eric, to the shop for sugar. There the lad sees Wally Campbell about to leave for a few days fishing. Wally consents to Eric’s pleas and to let him come along. As the boat passes Dave King’s hut Eric sees his father looking out and does what any kid would do, waves. The sugar will have to wait another four days until he returns.  So will his father’s anger.

Beneath the jetty, in the deep dark waters now left vacant by the “Koopa”‘s departure, giant Grouper lurk in mysterious caves. Their mouths are so large they could swallow a child whole. On the jetty, a young boy ponders the monsters lurking beneath the boards on which he stands. He’s seen photos of Peter Rich, the “Grouper King”, and his monster catches. The stuff of future dreams…..

Bribie – Giant Grouper caught at Bribie Jetty, 1920s (photo courtesy June Berry)

Fred Bell Senior is at the far left while Fred Bell Junior is fifth from the left (in white hat).

Extract from Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection’.

The People of the Passage – Part 1

Bribie in its Golden Era of the 1930s

In the semigloom of first light, a silhouette moves about hut number 4. The wheezing breath identifies Dave King. He was gassed in WWI and has spent much of his later life in Rosemount Hospital. When they let him out, he comes to Bribie and rents one of these cottages – the locals call them the ‘Twelve Apostles’ – from the Moreton Bay Tug Company for 2/6 a week. It’s a “Koopa” day, and Dave instinctively looks out beyond the beach and the jetty and the dark waters of the Passage across the bay to Redcliffe where the “Koopa” will call first.

Bribie Island’s Koopa jetty, 12 apostles cabins, and tents (photo courtesy Marian Young)

Dave, a seaman of old, still splices the wire ropes for the “Koopa”. Beer money.  There’ll be a few pots today.

Bribie is a bastion of isolation; the Passage its protective moat. There are no bridges to connect with cities and bustle and people and the conformity of urban life. The only timetable here belongs to the “Koopa” and her sister ships: arrive 12.30pm, depart 4.30 pm every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.

It’s Saturday and Dave’s son, Eric, is here for the school holidays. So are hundreds of campers in white tents that fill the foreshore beneath its thick mantle of trees. With the approach of dawn, tent life stirs. Hurricane lamps flicker silhouettes of dressing figures on the canvas. Fires are being lit, twigs crack, people yawn, wind passes, billies boil.

Further up the Passage, beyond Dux Creek, the air reeks. It’s the Campbell’s, Wally and Reg, preserving their nets. They boil them in tar in a 44 gallon drum on an open fire. They’re Aborigines descended from the Campbells of Dunwich.

Another Aborigine from Stradbroke Island is Lottie Tripcony. She’s Tom Welsby’s housekeeper and came with him when erosion forced him from his property at Amity.  It is said that Lottie was once married to a German named Eisler. During WWI she suspected him of spying so she had him interned.  End of marriage.

With the daylight Lottie is up and cooking breakfast for herself and Welsby, while he sits on the verandah overlooking the Passage and ponders the next chapter of his memoirs. Welsby’s a quiet, shy man who keeps to himself. He saves his words for his books. Later in the day Lottie plans to row up the Passage to collect Boronia flowers. She does this for her own pleasure and not to sell them to passengers on the “Koopa” as do the other locals.

As morning progresses, the autumn chill melts. On the beach Bribie pulses with passion: Freddie Crouch has just returned with a big haul of mullet.  He is packing them in ice for the “Koopa” to take to the Brisbane markets.  Fred, like everyone else on Bribie, depends on the “Koopa” for his livelihood. Ned Bishop has come over from Toorbul.  He’s there every “Koopa” day with his oysters and meat, his boat tied up at the jetty waiting for his customers to arrive at noon. He is a short plump oysterman who has a little shed just to the north of the jetty. Ned never wears shoes and has cracks on the bottom of his feet large enough ‘to put your fingers in’.  He’s been known to carry a 44 gallon drum of fuel from his half cabin cruiser up the soft sandy beach to his hut.  Not a task for the weak!

Someone has spotted the first smudge of smoke from the “Koopa”‘s funnels. She’s left Redcliffe. The day trippers will soon be here! To the north of the jetty, Mrs Moyle prepares the china at her restaurant; to the south Bob Davies and his sisters lay places at their Gardens. It’s fresh fish on every menu.

Across the island at the Ocean Beach, Bill Shirley and his drivers assemble their convoy of Tin Lizzies and set off for the “Koopa” jetty. They’ll nab their share of customers for a hot fish dinner too.

Pumicestone Passage basks in the noon sun. To the north, its waters are masked by fingers of mangroves prodding out into its banks of mud and sand.  Donneybrook is somewhere up there, too. Billy Dux, the crab man, has made it his home. He doesn’t like the fisherman coming up because they kill the muddies that get caught in their fish nets. To a crab man, that’s just a waste.

But here comes the “Koopa”!

Bribie Island’s ‘new’ Bongaree jetty in 2006

Extract from Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection’.

The Island of the Living Dead

Part of Father Gabriel Nolan’s duties as Parish Priest at Manly was to service the Moreton Bay islands of Peel and North Stradbroke. Here Father Nolan reflects: 

‘On my first visit to the Lazaret at Peel Island, I was very apprehensive. The Bible, of course, is full of references to leprosy and to the exclusion of lepers from the rest of society. It was difficult not to view the patients at Peel Island in such a manner, so I sought the advice of those who worked amongst the patients: the Matron and the nursing sisters. After their reassurances that it was quite all right to have contact with the patients without the need for any special precautions, I followed their example and moved freely amongst these unfortunate souls. The only warning I was given was to keep my feet covered because at that time it was thought that the Leprosy bacteria might survive in the ground.

‘I visited Peel once a month, arriving on the Wednesday morning, and leaving the next afternoon. My first duty was to chat with the staff over a cup of tea and then visit the patients individually. After a short rest in the heat of the afternoon, I would visit the patients again that night, hearing Confession where appropriate. I visited anyone who wanted to see me, however I was warned that a Japanese patient was particularly violent, so I only went as far as his door to talk to him. He was very resentful, understandably, about being kept there against his will. 

‘Next morning, after sleeping in the Superintendent’s quarters, I would conduct Mass in the Roman Catholic church. Anyone, regardless of their religious beliefs, was able to attend. To minimise the risk of cross infection, patients did not receive wine from the Chalice during Mass. They were offered the bread only. As well as the Catholic Church, the Anglicans had a large Church. Ministers of other religions, notably Cannon Miles, visited on alternate dates to myself.

(EDITOR: The Catholic church was situated at the back of the men’s compound and had once been a hut for several female aboriginal patients. After the aborigines were shifted off Peel up to Fantome Island off Townsville, the hut was shifted using a sled affair to its new position. For a time, it was used as a common room for the men, before being converted to the Catholic Church. Today, its wooden altar remains as well as the nails in the wall on which hung the Stations of the Cross. The fate of the Stations is unknown, but Father Nolan remembers taking the stone relic from the altar back to his Manly Parish when the institution at Peel was closed down.)

Peel Island Lazaret’s Catholic Church following Restoration 11.8.2011. (photo Scott Fowle)

Each patient had their own wooden hut and the whole place was rather beautiful. The only problem was that no one was allowed to leave until they were cured. I visited Peel Island throughout the 1950s, perhaps the best decade of all for this troubled place, because just prior to this, the cure for this ancient disease had been discovered. Most patients responded immediately to the drugs, and only the most advanced cases showed no improvement. To be pronounced ‘cured’ the patients had to produce negative blood smears for each of thirteen months. Thus, the minimum stay for a patient would have to be 13 months. In the past before the cure had been found, this procedure could be heart breaking when after, say, 12 negative smears, a positive one would show up and the patient would have to start the whole process from scratch again.

As well as Mass, I presided over many funerals. These were full ceremonies conducted in the church and at the graveside in the island’s cemetery. All patients used to attend where possible. The Doctor at that time, Morgan Gabriel, was a mighty man. When he first arrived, there was a serious alcohol problem with many of the non-medical staff. Doctor Gabriel had replaced Doctor Lennan, who was himself an alcoholic and unable to control the drinking problems in his staff. As well as being appointed Medical Superintendent of the island, Doctor Gabriel was also given control over non-medical staff. Risking great personal unpopularity, he firmly set new rules for behaviour. Anyone not shaping up would have to ship out. Within a short time, the troublemakers were removed, and morale improved.

I had a problem with some of the relatives of the patients, who tried to get me to use my influence with the Doctor to obtain favours for the patients. I always refused because I thought Doctor Gabriel already had the situation well in hand. Eventually as the curative effects of the drugs became apparent, patient numbers declined to such an extent that there were more staff than patients. Eventually in 1959, the remaining nine patients were transferred to a special annex at the Princess Alexandra Hospital. I never attended them there, though.

Extract from Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection’.

Two rivermen are remembered by Mabel Persson -2- Ted Humphreys


            As a youngster I lived at Wynnum, and used to love going over to Myora at The One Mile with my Uncle Ted Humphreys and his wife in their boat, “Mersey”.  This was in the 1920s and it was mostly sailing boats then, and on the Christmas and Easter holidays about a hundred of them would sail to the One Mile and anchor there.  At night it became a tradition for them to have hurricane lamps alight all the way up their stays and on their masts.  We used to call this the Lantern Festival and the scene was like a small town with all the boats anchored together.  It was never rough there and the boats were tied onto each other so that we could walk from one to another.  The boats were mostly small, and Ted’s “Mersey” was the biggest at 36 foot.  There were plenty of fish in the Rainbow Channel then and Ted had another little boat which he used to sail up and down the Channel with three people fishing from her.  They caught enough whiting and squire to supply all the boats with fresh fish.

            Uncle Ted was a shopfitter and did a lot of the Queen Street Department Stores.  It was fashionable then for the wealthy store families to own boats, and it was probably this that influenced Uncle Ted to buy the “Mersey”.  Ted Humphreys was a man who owned a boat because he could AFFORD a boat, not because he was a boating man.  In this respect he was the opposite of Charlie Persson.  Ted was a big man who used to panic when he couldn’t get the engine started.  He also had trouble managing the sails.  Fortunately, his wife, Kate, a tiny little thing, was wonderful with the boat and used to bail him out of trouble.

            For example, one night we were anchored at the Horseshoe on Peel Island when a South Easter sprang up at midnight.  The boat began dragging her anchor and we were heading towards the rocks.  Ted could never get the engine going, and half the time it was because he’d forgotten to turn the petrol on.  True to his form, Ted could not get the engine started on this occasion either, but when I suggested that he check that the petrol was turned on, I got into trouble for my impudence – even when it turned out my diagnosis was correct!

Coming ashore at Horseshoe Bay

            On another occasion I was sent below and told not to move, but I opened the porthole and looked out.  However just at that moment the “Mersey” rolled and I took all the skin off my nose.  Then to add insult to injury, Uncle Ted reprimanded me for not doing as I was told.

            However, the most memorable occasion occurred just off St Helena when the island was still being used as a prison.  Once again, Ted was having trouble starting the motor, and the boat was drifting in towards the island.  Now it was a rule that the Warders on the island would fire warning shots over approaching boat’s bows to shoo them away from their prohibited waters.  Sure enough, bullets soon began to whistle across our bow, and Ted got very excited.  Still he couldn’t get the motor started and the boat kept drifting in.  As usual, though, his wife calmly got the sails up so we could get away!

            “Mersey” was a beautiful, two masted boat and Ted had his own slip at Wynnum.  Once, he was offered £1000 ($2000) for her but refused.  Next morning “Mersey” went missing.  She was seen up at Bribie, but when the thieves saw the Water Police coming, they set fire to the boat and she was burnt to the waterline. 

 Mabel Persson, July 1997

Extract from Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection’.

Two rivermen are remembered by Mabel Persson -1- Charlie Persson

            Charlie Persson’s parents owned a large house at Gladstone Road, Dutton Park close to the Brisbane River.  One of their neighbours was Thomas Anderson, Captain of the “Lucinda” and often the young Charlie would wag school to go on cruises down the river to Moreton Bay.  Once in the Bay Captain Anderson would let Charlie take over the helm because he reckoned that Charlie knew the channels as well as anyone. 

            Charlie was a river man long before we were married.  He had a skipper’s license and used to run the cargo boats down to Southport for the Kleinschmidts.  He was doing that when I met him, and I went down with him for the trip one day.  He also skippered the “Wilfie” boats for the Port family.

            I suppose you’d call him a freelance skipper – he could take any boat out.  While skippering a boat, this was his total preoccupation.  He and the boat were one – and the river.  Charlie, the boat, and the river – they were one. This was why, when he died in 1995, we took his ashes back to the river.  It was the only place we could think to put them that was right.

            Charlie was not a talker.  Although he helped form the Southport Yacht Club, we never went there for dinner.  He didn’t like getting dressed up, and his feet rarely knew a pair of socks.  His great love was mucking around in boats.  He could fish, but preferred to have a sleep while others in his boat did the fishing.  He loved sleeping out on the boat, and on weekend trips down the Bay would prefer to sleep overnight amongst the mossies in the Boat Passage rather than leave from Brisbane early the next morning.

Charlie Persson’s Gold Crest at the Bremer River 1930s (photo courtesy Queensland Newspapers)

            Charlie bought the “Crest” in 1935 before we were married. She had been a cargo boat and was ‘pretty rough’ but he altered her for passenger cruises.  He used to moor her at Kelly’s at the mouth of Norman Creek. 

            After our marriage Charlie worked as a crane driver, initially at the New Farm Powerhouse, then from about 1947 at the Darra Cement Works.   Although he could have supplemented his income by chartering the “Crest”, Charlie was not a ‘money person’ and was happy to take friends for river cruises or fishing parties down the Bay or outside.  If he just got enough to cover the cost of food and fuel, he was happy.

            “Crest” was a beautiful old boat – 39.5 foot in length with an 11 foot beam and very big side decks with big railings.  She didn’t roll and people could sleep on the decks in comfort.  She had a very large engine – possibly a Wilson – which was run on kerosene.  This made her very ‘fumy’.

            The name “Crest” was shortened from “Gold Crest” because it was once owned by R.M.Gower who owned the flour mill of that name.  Charlie bought her from J.D.Valentine for £275 ($550)

            Charlie eventually sold the “Crest” because it drew too much water for Bay use.  It was renamed the “Hero” and was used as a fishing boat.  It was later wrecked on the Tweed bar and her upturned hull was washed ashore on the beach there.  People used to camp and light fires in it.  

            In 1945 he bought the pleasure boat “Diane”.  It had a big Packard engine, and the year before it had won the race to Myora.  He later replaced it with another engine, which turned out to be slower.  The Packard is still under the house.

            Charlie had a habit of filling the petrol tank while we were going along.  On one occasion in 1970 we were near the Apollo Ferry crossing on the Brisbane River after a fishing trip down the Bay.  Charlie had just filled the tank, and we were experiencing a big wash from another boat.  I jumped down to the galley to take the kettle off the stove, when I saw flames.  I had a bag of money from my job in the West End and just had time to grab it before the fire took hold.  We were both lucky.  Charlie burnt his hands badly and was in hospital for three weeks.  The “Diane” was burnt to the waterline.

            That fire was the end of our boating for Charlie and me. 

Mabel Persson, July 1997

Extract from Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection’.

The Atkin Family

Two Irish Patriots

Dr Kevin Izod O’Doherty

Kevin O’Doherty was born on 7 September 1823 into a Catholic family in Dublin.

Kevin Izod O’Doherty

O’Doherty first arrived in Australia in 1849, when he was transported to Tasmania from Ireland for advocating the cause of a free Ireland. After his pardon in 1857, O’Doherty became a doctor. Eventually he and his wife, a radical nationalist poet, Mary Eva, known as ‘Eva of The Nation’, settled in Brisbane, where he became a leading surgeon. As a Member of the Legislative Assembly, O’Doherty introduced Queensland’s first public health Act, the Health Act of 1872, and contributed to public education.

Robert Travers Atkin

Robert Atkin was born on 29 November 1841 into a Protestant family at Fernhill, near Clonakilty, County Cork, Ireland. 

After the early death of Robert’s father, his mother took the family to France where Robert was educated. Back in England, Robert was found to be suffering from early indications of consumption (tuberculosis). So, Robert, with his family, decided to emigrate to Queensland on medical advice to seek a warmer climate. They arrived in Brisbane in March 1865. Robert worked as a campaigning journalist and Member of the Legislative Assembly, and promoted the cause of liberal democracy.

Robert Travers Atkin

In Brisbane

The Fenian (Irish Nationalist) Dr O’Doherty and the Protestant Robert Atkin became friends and made common cause to make Queensland a more democratic and fairer place. Robert Atkin and Kevin O’Doherty may have had their differences over Irish independence, but as public figures and unpaid Members of Parliament, these friends had a shared vision about Queensland’s future. They and other reformers, like Charles Lilley, opposed the vested interests of the squattocracy. Robert Atkin argued for fairness towards people in the North, for new railways, and for new industries of cotton and sugar. Atkin described the Polynesian Labourers Act as a legalised system of kidnapping. He and his colleagues did not want Queensland to become a plantation state, built on slavery, like the Deep South of the United States had been.

ON 28 November 1867 in Tank Street, Brisbane the birth on Robert’s son, Richard, was attended by Dr Kevin O’Doherty. Robert Atkin’s career as a campaigning journalist, newspaper editor and MP was short. By late 1871 his health was in terminal decline, and he died at Sandgate in May 1872, aged only 30.

Robert’s widow took his son, Richard (Dick), back to Wales where he was raised in Wales by his loving mother and by his grandmother, Mary Anne Ruck. He won scholarships and was educated at Magdalen College, Oxford. Lacking connections in the law, Dick struggled financially at the junior Bar. However, his intelligence and work ethic were recognised and he became a successful barrister. In 1913, he was appointed as a judge, and shortly after was elevated to the Court of Appeal. His judgments were of exceptional quality and in 1928 this led to his appointment to the highest court in the United Kingdom – the House of Lords.

Dick Atkin

The Robert Travers Atkin Restoration Project

The original St Margaret’s church at Sandgate. Both Robert Atkin and his sister, Grace Atkin donated 50 pounds each toward the building of a church on the hill at Sandgate. The first stone was laid by Walter Barrett, the Mayor of Sandgate on 9 August 1891. In 1892 the building was rendered unsafe due to strong winds. The Atkin memorial can be seen on the right.

The original St Margaret’s Church at Sandgate

The memorial was restored in 1937 and is currently undergoing a further restoration. It is to dedicated on 29 May 2022. Full details available here

See also the Robert Travers Atkin Restoration Project on Facebook:

The Atkin Family Memorial today

Working at the Hamilton Facilities

Hamilton facilities (photo Rob Poulton)

Kerry Atkins writes: I worked at BW&WD (Brisbane Wharves and Wool Dumping) & P&O  at Hamilton Wharves from 1977 – late 1979. I worked in the container operations building, where we had a room full of container planners, which people may not be aware of. Their job was to arrange containers on ships, per weight/load, which with thousands on containers coming in and out of the port each day, was a huge task. There was a tower in the building where traffic controllers oversaw the movement of containers on and off ships using huge gantry cranes and the movement also of straddle cranes around the wharves, which are very dangerous machines. After many earlier accidents and deaths from straddles, which are impossible to see from when being driven, manned crossings were installed, where the crossing guards used walkie talkies to communicate with each other and it was mandatory that everyone on the wharf had to wear hard hats and I guess these days, also hi-vis. I worked as one of two switchboard operators, for both the wharves and P&O, but part of my job was as a relief operator on the telex machine, where it was our job to transmit and receive very long telexes with individual container numbers listed. This was a job which required extreme accuracy. One day we had very high winds and one of the gantry cranes took off on its rails, it got to the end, where huge bollards were in place, stopped with a thud, nearly overbalanced, but just in time, righted itself. I enjoyed working here and only left as I was due to have my son.

Straddle crane (photo Rob Poulton)

World War II Comes to Brisbane

Australia followed Britain into war against Germany when World War II began on 1 September 1939, but it was not until Japan bombed the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbour on 7 December 1941 that America retaliated and joined its allies Britain and her Empire against the Axis powers of Germany, Italy, and Japan.

As the Japanese military pushed southwards towards Australia, Brisbane suddenly found itself in the front line of defence. 

The Port of Brisbane was important to the Allies during World War II, as it was used for General Douglas MacArthur’s Southwest Pacific Headquarters, from which he managed the one million United States troops that passed through Australia. His office was situated in the AMP Building (now called MacArthur Central) on the corner of Queen and Edward Streets in the city. MacArthur had previously rejected use of the University of Queensland complex as his headquarters, as the distinctive bends in the river at St Lucia could have aided enemy bombers. Also used as a headquarters by the American troops during World War II was the T & G Building on the corner of Queen and Albert Streets in the city.

General MacArthur with Admiral Nimitz in his Brisbane Headquarters (Photo from the US National Archives and Records Administration, Bethesda, MD courtesy of the MacArthur Museum Brisbane)

Brisbane’s population before the war was 350,000, which increased to 750,000 with troops during the war. Some friction between so many troops in so small a city was inevitable, and in 1942, the so-called Battle of Brisbane resulted from a violent clash between US personnel and Australian soldiers and civilians. 

The proximity of enemy shipping to Brisbane was brought home when, in 1943, the Australian hospital ship Centaur was sunk by a Japanese submarine off Cape Moreton with the loss of 268 lives.

To protect the entrance to Moreton Bay, the RAN No 2 mine control station was established at Fort Bribie and the RAN No 4 antisubmarine detection loop station became operation at Woorim on Bribie Island in 1942. There were also three Forts built at the commencement of World War II to protect the entrances to Moreton Bay. The main shipping channel, via the North West Channel between Bribie and Moreton Islands, was guarded by Fort Bribie, a garrison situated on the northern end of the island where the channel passes closest to the beach, and by a similar Fort at Cowan Cowan where the channel passes closest to Moreton Island. Fort Rous, on the southern end of Moreton Island guarded the bay from any shipping attempting to enter via the South Passage. At each of these Forts was a pair of six-inch guns. Bribie was sea firing, Rous was sea and bay firing, while Cowan was bay firing only because the height of Mount Tempest proved too large an angle for the guns to fire over to sea.

The effects on the Brisbane River and its shipping were profound. In1939 the Commonwealth and State Governments cooperated with the firm of Evans Deakin & Co to set up the Evans Deakin shipyard at Kangaroo Point for the building of large ships. From 1941 the South Brisbane Dry Dock was used by the US as their submarine base and World War II blockhouse. In 1945 reclaimed land between Hamilton, the training wall, and the back water was extensively developed for the Royal Navy as a naval repair base. For the repair of American vessels too large to fit into the South Brisbane Dry Dock (e.g aircraft carriers) the Cairncross Dockyard was constructed on the Brisbane River opposite the Hamilton wharves. This was opened in 1944. Nearby at Apollo Road in Bulimba, approximately 800 Chinese evacuees from Nauru and Ocean islands in the Central Pacific were involved in building landing barges for the Americans.

There was also a US submarine Base at New Farm wharf where the US Navy’s submarine tender Fulton was moored.

‘During World War II, seventy-nine US subs operated out of Brisbane, sinking over 100 enemy ships, supporting coastwatchers, carrying out rescues and training local forces. Seven Brisbane-based US submarines with their 426 crewmen were lost.’

David Jones

co-author of US Subs Down Under. Brisbane 1942-1945 

The Japanese surrendered on 15 August 1945. World War II was over and Brisbane could revert to peacetime activities.

(Extract from ‘The Port of Brisbane – Its People and Its Personalities’ Peter Ludlow 2012)

The Truckie Who Developed the Concept of Containerisation

One day in the US in 1937 while sitting in his truck waiting in a line of other trucks to unload his bales of cotton onto a ship, Malcolm Mclean first began to think of improving the efficiency of this transport process. It was not until nearly twenty years later, when increased road trailer charges began to bite that it became economically feasible to do something about it. With sea transport becoming cheaper than road haulage, Mclean envisaged trucks feeding centralized sea terminals rather than traversing the entire east coast of America by road. In other words, making the ship responsible for the majority of the travel.

Malcolm McLean at railing, Port Newark in 1957)

Although the concept of containers was already being used by Seatrain with its roll-on-roll-off containers on wheels, McLean redesigned his trucks as a truck bed on wheels on which could be carried an independent container. But further than this, he thought that the containers should be of a standard size and design so that they could be stacked aboard ships.

To this end McLean acquired the Pan-Atlantic Steamship Company that had shipping and docking rights in prime eastern US ports, and immediately began construction of special ships to carry his containers. The first voyage took place in 1956 from Port Newark to Houston. The cost savings proved spectacular and McLean had little trouble finding new customers.

Persuading Port Authorities to redesign their ports to accommodate the new intermodal transport operation was a bigger task. In spite of the backing of the New York Port Authority chairman, other port authorities were slow to come to the party – until the huge cost savings became apparent. The other threat was to the livelihood of the waterside workers because many of them would no longer be required. However, the very existence of seaboard shipping was being threatened by road and rail transport, and port officials thought it better to have fewer workers in a prosperous enterprise than many workers in a declining one.

In less than fifteen years Malcolm McLean had built the largest cargo-carrying business – SeaLand – in the world. Although the idea of containers was not his, McLean’s efforts to standardize their design, and his courage to put it into practice lead to a revolution in the world’s cargo trade.

Ship loading containers at Port of Brisbane (photo Karen Ludlow)

(Extract from ‘The Port of Brisbane – Its People and Its Personalities’ Peter Ludlow 2012)

A Day’s Routine at the Peel Island Lazaret

(Eric Reye & Rosemary Opala, Peel Island)

The Lazaret (Leprosarium) operated at Peel Island from 1907 until 1959 as the home and treatment centre for Queensland’s leprosy patients.  Like all medical institutions, it was run to a daily routine. Doctor Eric Reye, the island’s resident Medical Officer from 1945 until 1949, and Rosemary Opala (nee Fielding), a Nurse there during the late 1940s and again during the early 1950s have supplied the following,” typical” day’s duty roster for Peel’s medical staff. Two events were to modify their duties there in 1947: the introduction of electricity generation, and the introduction of Promin, the intravenous sulphone drug which was to finally control leprosy, the most dreaded of all contagious diseases.

Peel Island Lazaret – c.1955 – day surgery (red roof) and hospital (silver roof) (photo Dr Morgan Gabriel)


Nurses worked several weeks ‘on’, then took cumulative leave off the island. Originally no overtime was ever claimed but by Rosemary’s second term on the island during the 1950s, overtime payments were the norm.

Doctor Eric Reye spent alternate weekends off duty.


4.30AM            Nurses go to the surgery to start the two primuses that heat the big sterilizer. Water takes about an hour to boil.

6.00AM            The helpless hospital patients are washed, beds made, and medications given. The hospital orderly bathes the mobile male patients and takes care of the hospital generally.

8.00AM            Staff breakfast.

8.30 AM           Surgery (“clinic”) commences. Patients present themselves for dressings, check-ups, plasters.

On Mondays, “smears” are taken on a monthly rotational basis.

These involve the removal of a small blood sample from the patient’s ear lobe or eye brow (where the Leprosy bacteria is most intense).

These samples are sent to the Health Department Laboratory in Brisbane for testing. positive for the presence of the leprosy bacillus, negative for its absence. The patients are vitally interested in the results because they will be allowed to leave the island only when they have accumulated twelve monthly continuous negative smears. If one positive smear should be recorded, even after eleven months of negative results, they must begin counting all over again from their next negative smear. Such a result can be heartbreaking.

Chaulmoogra oil injections are given by nursing staff. (The only treatment for leprosy until the advent of Promin, chaulmoogra oil injections were very painful. It was also available as an extremely nauseating oral liquid. Although it produced symptoms indicating it was helping to kill the leprosy bacillus, it may have been only a placebo effect.) 

10.00AM          Medical & administration staff morning tea on the quarters’ verandah.

                                                Mail arrives at about this time.

10.30AM     Medical rounds of hut-fast patients either with the doctor or for routine dressings. Medical equipment has to be carried on a large tray.

 Basically, nursing care on Peel is as much as for any hospital ward.

 Doctor Reye’s particular jobs include:

 1. Fitting walking plasters for trophic ulcers.

These are time consuming to put on and remove.

     Staff make the plaster bandages by hand.

 2. Sharpening IV needles (non-disposable).

 3. Minor surgery. First aid.

 4. Dispensing (usually afternoons).

 5. Microscope work.

 6. Simple dental work (foot pedal drill and wooden barber’s chair).

 NOON:                       Lunch.

Life at Peel is “governed by the cook’s roster”.

All activities must be slotted in around the cook’s self-declared meal times.

  PM:           All staff have free afternoons until compulsory afternoon tea at 3.30 pm. This afternoon break is used for recreation with or without patients (tennis, swimming, bikes, etc.) also for reading to blind patients.

 Sometimes extraneous work is performed such as whitewashing the inside of an old hut for use as a makeshift laboratory.

 4.30 PM          Evening meal (cooks again!)

5.30PM            Evening surgery lit by pressure lamp on table. Usually minimal patient attendance. Day jobs finished. Patients’ temperatures charted. A medical round is held of any sick patients. No night nursing staff are rostered. Matron is called if there are any problems.


* Only tank, no sink. Hands are washed in a basin on a tripod, ‘Dettol’ is first added to the water.

* Zephiran solution (benzalkonium chloride) is used for skin preps and gloves.

* While on duty nurses wear theatre gowns.

* Hagedorn needles (for eyebrow and ear smears) are”flamed” between patients.

* “Sharps” are soaked in lysol.

* Blunts and enamel dishes are boiled up in primus operated boiler.

* Phenol is used for disinfecting commodes and sanitary tins.

Minimal cross infection recorded, except when “self-inflicted” by patients using their own ulcer treatment etc. (e.g. Grated apple and flower paste). Occasionally fly maggot infestation.

Eucalyptus full strength or iodoform sometimes needed as deodorant for discarded dressings.


6.00 AM           * Doctor Reye administers intravenous (IV) doses before breakfast, firstly in the surgery to the mobile patients.

 * Syringes (glass, luerlock) and needles are boiled between patients.

 Only 3 or 4 syringes are kept because they are expensive. Needles are sharpened at night. No disposables originally.

 * Patients’ blood is tested before Promin treatment is started.  Hb, WCC, and MCV are done weekly by Doctor Reye. Nurses help with slide preparation. Eventually, to ease the workload, a laboratory technician and assistant are employed.

 * A Blood bank is set up in case a patient experiences an adverse reaction to the Promin. Six bottles of blood are kept in the kerosene fridge on the hospital’ s south verandah.

* With the success of Promin in the treatment of leprosy, patient numbers gradually fall as the patients are allowed home. This lightens the nursing workload to the extent that it is necessary to “make work” on the afternoon shift.

Extract from Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection. This book is still available from Boolarong Press at Boolarong