Working with the Queensland Police Dive Squad

By Tim Playne

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

Tim Playne under diving instruction

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

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

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

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

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

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

Divers using the shot line

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

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

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

The Water Police Launch ‘Vedette II’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tim’s sketch of the platform anchors

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

Tim Playne, September 2022

The Bells of Eventide

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

 THE OTTER’S BELL

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

The Otter at Dunwich Jetty (Photo courtesy Ossie Fischer)

 SPECIFICATIONS :

            Twin screw steamer.               271 tons gross 

            Hull construction:                               steel

            Length                                                                         128.6ft (39.2 m) 

            Beam                                                                           21.2 ft (6.46m) 

            Depth                                                              10.1 ft (3.08m) 

            speed                                                                           12 knots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE AIR FORCE BELL

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

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

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

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

Extract from Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection’.

River Rats

Glenys Powell remembers:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Glenys Powell

April 2008.

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

The Day We Went to Sandgate (Part 2)

THE PIER

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

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

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

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

PENNY ARCADE

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

A Moving picture machine

LOVERS’ WALK

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

BATHING BOXES

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

Lovers Walk circa 1920

Ray Robinson

                                                                        January 1995

Extract from Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection’.

The Day We Went to Sandgate (Part 1)

(Ray Robinson, Taigum)

Ray Robinson has been a resident of the Sandgate area for 72 of his 75 years.  A retired hairdresser, his fascination for the district and its people is mirrored in his thorough knowledge of its history.  His photographic collection would do justice to any museum.  Here, perhaps as he did in his hairdressing days, Ray shuffles his photos and revisits in memory at least…

THE QUEEN OF BRISBANE’S WATERING PLACES

Sandgate in the early days was quite a well-to-do place.  It had better sand than Wynnum, and was a favourite picnic spot for Brisbane’s society where a lot of wealthy people retired.  Governors added their Vice Regal endorsement by holidaying here. In the time before Brisbane had its own city hall, the Town Hall at Sandgate was a mecca for opera and classical music presentations. Brisbane’s music lovers would travel here by train.  This imposed a 10 o’clock curfew on musical presentations so that the audience could catch the last train back to town at 10.20 pm.

Shorncliffe was then the busy part of Sandgate.  The shops in Sandgate Central were very quiet and had dwellings behind them so that wives could look after shop while husbands worked elsewhere.

To cater for Brisbane’s picnickers, special trains ran at the weekends and on public holidays.  On Sundays between 4 pm and 6.30 pm, there would be 5 or 6 extra trains scheduled to return the day-trippers to Brisbane.  Indeed, large organisations such as the Railway Institute and the Ipswich Coalminers would hire special trains for their Annual Picnics on the Shorncliffe foreshore. After disembarking at the Shorncliffe railway station, the picnickers would crowd off over the hill, past the clifftop boarding houses, and down onto the esplanade at Moora Park.  There was no fresh water available there so supplies had to be obtained from a local shop (now St. Pats) en route.  Each family had previously brought with them their empty 7 lb treacle tin which the shopkeeper would fill with fresh water for a fee of 3d or 6d.

Holidaymakers at Sandgate ca. 1920-1930 (photo State Library of Qyeensland)

KIOSK AND DANCE FLOOR

            The kiosk was situated on the hill up from the pier at Moora Park, and there were Tea Rooms there and an open part where you could purchase ice creams for 3d each.  The kiosk was demolished in the late 1970s.  Below the kiosk was a dance floor built by the Sandgate Swimming Club in the late 20s into the early 1930s.  Dances were held every holiday time. They ran all day and the music was supplied by 78″ records.  For a fee of 3d. each, couples could dance to the music played from each side of one record (or from 5 records for 1/-).  Each side played for about a minute and a half.

MOORA PARK

            Access to the pier cost 1d. and a fence was built to stop people getting onto the pier at low water. This fence was later demolished to make way for the shark-proof enclosure which was erected during the Depression Years (early 1930s).

            During holiday periods, there was a chair-o-plane, and a tent which the Ambulance always had.  The carnival atmosphere was also enhanced by a variety of side show tents.  There was also a boatshed on the foreshore where a gent hired out flat bottomed wooden boats.

The Kiosk at Moora Park, Sandgate

Ray Robinson

January 1995

Extract from Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection’.

CREMORNE

(Memories of Sandgate recalled by John McCallum)

The present Cremorne Theatre in Brisbane’s Performing Arts Centre is the namesake of the well-known theatre which stood in Stanley Street, South Brisbane. Founded by John N. McCallum, the original Cremorne theatre was destroyed by fire in 1952. The visitor to the Esplanade at Sandgate will note a large rambling home with a cupola on its corner, and also named Cremorne.

Cremorne house at Sandgate

John McCallum, actor/producer son of John N. McCallum explains the relationship.

“I was born in March 1918 in the Brisbane suburb of New Farm – my parents had a home called Duddingstone in Brunswick Street. At this time my father was running the Cremorne Theatre at South Brisbane. He decided to build the house at Sandgate in about 1920/21 because he found it difficult to “unwind” after spending every night in the theatre. He thought the drive to Sandgate and the sea air might help him to sleep better – and that it would be a pleasant place for my younger brother (born 1919) and myself to grow up in – as it was.

“He had a faithful “handy man” at the theatre called Joe, and he and his wife, Annie, came to Sandgate to live in the house and to help my mother with entertaining (of which they did a lot) and to look after us. I remember John Fuller from New Zealand of the famous theatrical family (the founder of it) often came to stay as did a lot of other artists – Billy Moloney, Gus Bluett and his father, Dan, Maud Fane, Claude Dampier, Harry Borradale, Arthur Aldridge, and others. Dr Paul, Health Officer of Brisbane, his wife and daughter Gwenda often stayed as did Fred Gilbert, the Brisbane tailor. Other great friends were the Stewarts, owners of the Criterion Hotel, Brisbane, and Jimmy Blair, later Sir James Blair, Chief Justice. Local friends were the McMenamins, who lived at Shorncliffe .

“My memories of the days at Sandgate were those of a very young child: the soldier crabs. .

playing in the pools left behind by the tide. . .

Arthur Mailey, the cricketer’s comment: “Sandgate is 12 miles from Brisbane and 13 when the tide is out” . . .

a house, pulled by a steamroller, being moved from one street to another . .

the ice cream bicycle man (best tasting ice cream ever.) . . .

bumping about in the car on the corrugated dirt roads. . .

the chickens we kept. . .

terrible thunderstorms. . .

raining tiny green frogs. . .

mosquitoes and joss sticks. . .

the piano at night, my father playing and the artistes singing. . .

the big verandah, since closed in. . .

the paradise under the house – toy motor cars and playthings. . .

my brother getting his finger caught in the mangle (turned by me) and taken off to hospital. . .

the billiard table and cigars. . .

heat and dust. . .

water fowl in the lagoon. . .

lots of swamps. . .

a butcher with initials I. B. – I B Best Butcher. . .

“We lived there until 1924, when we went to Sydney. However, in 1930 we returned to Brisbane and lived at Shorncliffe next to the McMenamins, and were there for about three years. Being much older by this stage, I remember far more, of course. Shorncliffe was a wonderful place for school holidays – I was a boarder at CEGS, Churchie, with my two brothers – swimming, fishing from the jetty and in the creek by the golf club, bicycling, driving (we all drove cars then – aged 12 and 13 and motor bikes).

“My father was also very interested in Sandgate (and Redcliffe) and thought they would develop as the seaside resorts of Brisbane. He took an interest in local affairs and became Mayor of Sandgate. He was keen on golf, and helped found the Sandgate Golf Course. He was the club’s first President.

“My father invested in land at Sandgate believing in its future. Ironically, when Surfers Paradise was “discovered” during and after the Second World War, one of the prominent “discoverers” was Bob Gerahty, manager at the Cremorne Theatre for Will Mahoney who rented the theatre during the war years. People wanted the surf, and Sandgate and Redcliffe lost out. My father sold the Shorncliffe house in 1933 and all his land – there used to be a hill he mostly owned just south of the town called “McCallum’s Hill”.

“The Cremorne Theatre was rebuilt as a cinema and leased to MGM in 1935, and I left Brisbane in 1936. Three years ago, while in Brisbane with a play, I revisited Sandgate’s Cremorne with my wife, the well-known actress, Googie Withers. The visit brought back a host of memories – all of them happy ones – of my early days there.

“While we were there, a rather eerie thing happened. The old house had been converted into three or four flats. The tenant of the largest flat told us that he had discovered an old oil painting in a cupboard, which she brought out and showed to us. My wife looked at it and said, astonished, ‘That is the view from Studland in Dorset overlooking Poole Harbour, and I lived in Studland from the age of seven to fourteen.’ And so when I looked at the picture in the billiard room at Cremorne in Sandgate aged seven, Googie was looking at the same, real view in Dorset.”

The house has changed little, like Sandgate itself. It’s still 12 miles from Brisbane, or 13 when the tide is out. . . . but perhaps we should be talking in kilometers now.

John McCallum

Extract from Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection’.

Wartime Aircraft Events at Sandgate

A Dialogue from Material provided by Ross Cameron at the Sandgate Historical Society

Imagine if you will that night is falling and we Ghosts of the Past are huddled round a campfire on the foreshore at Brighton. We gaze into the primeval fire and our memories of these events so long ago in our so short lives are stirring:

The American’s 80th Fighter Squadron is formed at Mitchell Field, New York, in January 1942, and by May 10th, it moves to Petrie Aerodrome, just outside Brisbane. There, for two months, the squadron trains and prepares for combat.4

There are nine aircraft accidents in the short period the Squadron is at Petrie. In mitigation, it can be said that they are a young bunch of pilots straight out of flying school.5

Those killed in air crashes in the vicinity of the RAAF base at Sandgate are:

2nd Lt Max Jones      on        May 26, 1942

1st Lt George Austin  on        July 2,   1942

1st Lt Joseph Cole      on        July 15, 1942

2nd Lt Trevis Ferguson on     July 15, 1942 1

Lieutenant Max Jones

Killed instantly when his plane hits a tree while landing at Petrie Aerodrome1

Lieutenant George Austin

 Killed instantly when his plane collides with another 80 Squadron plane while flying in formation over Redcliffe 1

“Lt Austin is the flight leader, I, Lieutenant Malcolm Sponenburgh, am his wingman. We are returning from gunnery practice, flying at about 1000 feet. He gives me the standard signal to close up the formation. I move into the spot he requires I always fly – a little below but close in. We fly along for a couple of minutes. He never looks in my direction nor can I detect any motion on his part. Then he slumps over the stick and the airplane turns into me and starts diving. I close the throttle and try to turn and dive with him. Seeing that he will soon be in a vertical dive with little altitude I try to break off, but I am not quite clear of him and we collide.”5 …

After the collision, Lieutenant George Austin tries to reach the sea, but goes into a dive. Without enough altitude to bale out, he is killed as he crashes into Charles Rossiter’s market garden situated between Josephine and Sylvester Streets. Bullets are exploding all around Mr. Rossiter when the aircraft crashes 14

Sponenbergh ditches in Moreton Bay to avoid crashing on Redcliffe. He is rescued by Mr. Larkin and his two sons who are fishing in a rowboat. Marie Mole (Moreton), who has seen the plane crash, is on the shore with a flask of tea and a blanket for the pilot 9

Lieutenant Joseph Cole

It’s winter, the sea is a beautiful pale blue with hardly a ripple. An American Airacobra fighter plane appears. The pilot really knows how to handle his plane. He runs a slalom course between the power poles and the lines. He turns seaward and then flies very low to the water as though strafing. Lifting sharply over the Shorncliffe Pier, he rolls over and flies back north belly up, and still very low over the Bay. When he goes to roll right way up, one wing tip touches the water. What happens now is incredibly graceful. The plane continues for some distance standing on its wingtip, which slides very slowly deeper into the water. Then the plane loses balance, tips over, and slides almost without a splash under the very still sea 6

It is just another routine day on the Sandgate Base, squads of WAAAF rookies marching up and down the parade ground, and RAAF personnel coming and going. Down in Headquarters orderly room, based on the foreshore of the Bay, we go about our daily duties. Suddenly the air is rent by the sound of low flying aircraft. We have become accustomed to this since our American Air Force friends had moved onto the Strathpine airfield and use the Sandgate camp as a ‘target’ for shooting up the enemy. On this occasion the pilot does a couple of low runs across the base. Coming in from the west, very low across the parade ground, making a turn out over the water and coming at us again. However, on one of these turns he is so low that when he banks to come round, the wing hits the mud, the tide being out. There before our very eyes his plane nose dives into the mud, killing the pilot 8

Len de Vene and I wade out – we dive a number of times attempting to open the submerged cockpit cowling but it could not be opened. The young pilot is still strapped in his harness, but there is no sign of life 7

In the afternoon, the Yanks have several big trucks out across the low tide sandbanks, with miles of heavy wire mesh for traction. Yanks are everywhere and armed. They are searching all the pools for wreckage, and are recovering the bigger pieces out beyond the low tide mark. They are able to recover the pilot’s body, but nobody is allowed to stand by the seawall to watch 6

Lieutenant Trevis Ferguson

We are all still in a state of unrest from this event (the Airacobra crash in the morning) and are trying to carry on with our work, when around 1600 hours, a drone is heard out to sea, immediately in front of the HQ orderly room. We all wait and watch with disbelief as a plane nose dives from a great height straight into the sea. We all hold our breath, willing the pilot to pull out of the dive, but he seems to make no attempt to do so. Speculation or rumour at the time is that he is a buddy of the pilot killed earlier in the day, the truth of which I suppose we will never know 8

It appears as though it could have been a suicide pact. Pilot Officer Don Case and other airmen swim out to the crash but cannot release the pilot; he is jammed in the cockpit and can not be extricated. It is the opinion of P/O Case that the pilot could have been alive 2… 

It is later rumoured that this pilot is the twin brother of the pilot in the first Airacobra 7

No, Ferguson and Cole were not brothers, not related in any way. I doubt they even knew one another well. Ferguson was one of the group that arrived with me, Cole had not been with the squadron very long. I haven’t the slightest idea of what caused either accident. But I can assure you that Cole wasn’t the type of person to deliberately crash, for any reason.5

Sponenburgh was appointed summary courts officer by the USAF to investigate these two incidents. Satisfying himself after investigation that the two men killed had no close association, he despatched Lt Cole’s property to his next of kin 10

The Squadron leaves piece-meal bound for Port Moresby, New Guinea, shortly after the latter two accidents 5

Footnote:

In 1947, five year old Mary Mateer is paddling on the Sandgate foreshore with her family. On her toe, she digs out of the mud a gold ring which Lt Cole had been wearing…with the inscription: Joseph P Cole, Kingstree, South Carolina,USA. Mary’s mother writes to the address, returning the ring. She receives a grateful reply from Lt Cole’s mother, who says it was his college ring, “which his sweetheart placed on his finger at the Christmas dance (called the Ring Dance) in his senior year at the Citadel Military College.”10

Flying Fortress:

Flying Fortress beached at Brighton Beach (Photo courtesy Albert Jeays)

The largest aircraft to come down near the Redcliffe Peninsula is an American B-17 Flying Fortress, which is heading for Amberley when it narrowly escapes disaster.

It is one of six planes flying from New Caledonia or thereabouts, which strikes heavy rain and a severe tropical thunderstorm well off the coast. In zero visibility and unable to maintain contact, the six split up, hoping to find a landing ground. One reaches Amberley, the others land along the coast as far south as Coffs Harbour. At 5.45pm on April 18, 1942, one of the six aircraft mistakes the Hornibrook Bridge lights for runway lights. After circling several times, the aircraft comes in over reclaimed land, making a forced landing on what is now Decker Park, just off the Houghton Highway Bridge 10

The area has recently been reclaimed with red soil: with heavy rain over the previous days, the ground is a real quagmire. 12

The crew of the circling Bomber recognise by the buildings that it is some kind of a Camp, and decide that they had enough room to put the plane down on the waste land, provided that the high barbed wire fence at the north west of the camp is taken down to extend the length of the landing field. So messages are flashed to the Camp from the Bomber, and the Airforce boys set to with a will, and dig out the fence, and remove it out of the way. Then, as the evening starts to close in, the Bomber heads out behind the Redcliffe Peninsula, and starts to come in low just south of Hayes Inlet. By skimming the mangroves beside the Pine Rivers mouth, and hurdling the concrete pillars at the end of the highway bridge, the pilot puts the Bomber down, and starts to rush towards the Air Force Station. As its speed decreases, it starts to sink into the soft ground, but it keeps going until it crosses the fence line of the Camp. Luckily for the plane and its crew, there is a ‘Bull Ring’ there, where the airmen drill, so the bomber trundles onto this, and looks like colliding with the row of buildings on the other side, but now, its wheels are well and truly in the grip of the soft ground, and, with a screeching crunch, the plane comes to rest with its wings flat on the ground, and its four propellers bent out of shape. Thankfully, the crew members scramble out of the plane and surveyed the damage 11

When their base at Eagle Farm is notified, the suggestion is made that a team of mechanics be sent to dismantle the plane, and they take it away on a semitrailer. But the skipper of the bomber refuses to entertain the idea, and asks that four new propellers be bought out, and he will fly the plane off and land at Eagle Farm 11

The C.O. Sandgate (named Rigby as far as I recall) instructs the Americans not to take off as it is too risky. To which direction the captain of the plane is alleged to tell Rigby to look after his own ‘kindergarten’. He has no jurisdiction over the Americans and they are going to take the plane off 13

So, whilst the Australian Air Force boys set about digging the plane out of the mud and turning it around, then filling in the tracks made by the wheels as they bogged, and laying down a runway of planks and branches, the Americans strip the guns and anything else they can remove from the plane, whilst the propellers are replaced. Then the crew are offered a lift to Eagle Farm on the transport, but they refuse, saying “The skipper flew us in here, and we reckon that the skipper can fly us out, so we’re staying” 11

The incident of the landing has attracted much attention and the men from the Meteorological Bureau have predicted that the most appropriate time so far as the weather is concerned for a take-off is on Tuesday afternoon. As a result, it is decided to take off about 4pm. People gather from near and far, on all types of transport, including bicycles and pedestrian 13

The plane is lightened, and fuel drained from the tanks, leaving only sufficient to fly to its destination. The engines are started and thoroughly warmed up and checked. They are then revved up seemingly to their maximum. With the aircraft straining to go, the brakes are released, ropes holding the plane are cut (flying in all directions) and the aircraft starts to gain momentum 12

Any rumour that the plane is roped to tractors, trees or restricted by combined manpower, is not correct. The only restriction preventing the plane from take-off while under full throttle on the ground is the brakes are locked on the wheels. After what is considered sufficient time to warm up, the brakes are released, but there must be a delay in one set releasing and as the plane lunges forward at a fast rate, it slews 13

There are only three crew aboard, two pilots and the engineer. After about a hundred yards, the pilot attempts to lift the plane, but it lifts only slightly, and seems to stall. It falls back to ground, fortunately landing on to galvanised roofing iron which has been used to get the plane out of the bog. The plane now bounces back into the air, and although not really airborne, falls back and almost touches the ground. However, it gathers momentum, skimming the ground, and to everybody’s amazement and relief, becomes airborne. A great cheer rings out from the crowd assembled, but suddenly this turns to a horrified gasp. During all this time, the plane is veering to the left, and we can see that it is travelling dangerously close to the overhead electricity wires on the side of the highway. The wing of the plane misses them, but the margin must be only inches. The crew are lucky, and certainly have guts to even attempt such a dangerous take off. A tremendous cheer arises from the crowd assembled, and the aircraft makes a circuit before wending its way south west towards Amberley 12

Photographers have a field day 2

It is late. The campfire is now just glowing coals. I thank the following for sharing their yarns with us:

1. HQ of the USAF Historical Centre, Maxwell Air Force Base, Al, USA

2. Cyril Montey

3. Mary Watson

4. John Stanaway in “Hard Driving Headhunters”.

5. Lt.Col.Malcolm Sponenbergh (ret)

6. Lorna Ferguson from “At School in World War II”

7. F.W.Smith, then a medical orderly NCO.

8. Jean Craig

9. Hilltop Herald January 1994

10.Redcliffe and Bayside Herald, July 3,2002.

11.Fr Len Ridsdale

12. Jack Woodward

13. Albert Wilson

14. Enid Scarborough in Redcliffe Herald 3.7.200

Special acknowledgement must be made to Grace Beecher, who has collected much of this material for the Sandgate Historical Society.

Peter Ludlow

January 7, 2007

(Extract from “Moreton Bay Reflections” by Peter Ludlow)

EARLY FAMILIES OF RUSSELL ISLAND

David Willes continues …

As well as the Willes’, the Jackson’s was an early family on Russell.  Their property was situated on the north-west of the island and looked out over the boat passage and down towards Southport.  The mangroves around the Jacksons place were a plentiful source of mudcrabs.  Originally the family had conducted a cannery for the pineapples grown on the island, but at the outbreak of WWI when the supply of tin became scarce, it was forced to close down.  Many other smaller canneries shared a similar fate at this time.  The family also had a sawmill with its ubiquitous mound of sawdust.  They also had a sports oval on their property for the locals to use. There was another hall on the edge of the sports ground.  This hall was used by the Protestants for their church services.  The Catholics probably held their services in private houses.

The Jacksons farm on Russell Island

The Field’s had a shop on Russell even before we had ours.  I remember Old Field had an old car.  There were several on the island in my early days.  One was memorable because it could only be driven backwards up from the jetty.  Mostly though, transport around the island was by horse and buggy.

The Salways was another early family on the island.  They had a property and jetty on the southern corner opposite Cobby Cobby Island. However, they moved off and opened a shop at Southport.  Another family from the southern end of Russell was the Fischer family.  Dave Fischer bought the “Kingurra” from Dad.  He kept it on a bit of beach at his property which my father would always point out as we sailed to Southport.

Other early identities included Dinny Hayes, an Irishman who lived near the jetty and who liked his grog; and Mrs Larsen, who rode a horse down to collect her mail.  Her son, Dick Watts, used to skipper the “Mirimar” down to Karragarra.  Dick also had his own boat, the “Mariner” which he sometimes used instead.

During the Great Depression of the early 1930s, there were a lot of young fellers on Russell who were out of work.  The Government let them squat there and they built themselves shacks from the native timber.  Food from the bay was quite plentiful, and they were able to carry on a hand to mouth existence.  Many did quite well.

All the aborigines had gone from Russell by my time.  Their remnants settled at Myora near Dunwich on Stradbroke Island.

EARLY LANDMARKS

Giant’s Grave on Russell Island (photo Ken Goodman)

The Giant’s Grave used to be quite a landmark for the old mariners.  Situated on the western side of Russell, just north of Brown’s Bay, this large mound of tree covered earth bore resemblance to the grave of an imagined giant.  Willes Island in the Canaipa Passage, Mount Willes on Stradbroke, and Willes and Alice Streets on Russell Island are the sole namesakes of the Willes family. There was also a lime kiln excavated into the cliff between our place “Tukabin” (grass spears) on Old House Point and the beach. I also remember the relics of the saltworks on Macleay Island.  There was no connection between these and my grandfather’s at Canaipa.  It is said that the Macleay saltworks folded soon after receiving an advance of money. The Willes family left Russell just before the outbreak of WWII in 1939, and the Telegraph Newspaper did quite an article about Dad at the time.  We went to live at Wellington Point then, where we carried on farming.

David Willes

August 1, 1994

RUSSELL ISLAND – DATES

1867    Messrs. Alexander and Armour commence saltworks at Canaipa Point

1868    John Willes settles at Canaipa Point and buys saltworks

                        Catherine Willes commences her 38 year duty as Lady of the Lamp

1908    Mr Atkins begins first mail boat service (sail) from Redland Bay

1912    Routledge Bros begin first weekly motor boat service Redland Bay to islands

1914    John Willes appointed first Postmaster at Russell Island

1916    Frederick Willes appointed Postmaster

1916    Russell Island school opened in centre of island – Eileen Willes first teacher

1920    sports club commenced

1923    First telephone connection to Russell Island. Fred Willes appointed operator

192?    Church of England Parish Hall opened

1926    school moved to present site

1931    school becomes RKLM Islands school

                        Sam Hall begins school boat service

1949    wireless telephone (the first in Queensland) between Russell Is and Cleveland

1950    Jackson’s picture theatre opened

1950    fire destroys Post Office and store

1954    two teachers appointed to school

196?    hall enlarged

1966    electricity connected to Russell Island

Extract from Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection’.

FREDERICK WILLES – POSTMASTER, BOATMAN

David Willes continues …

My father, Fred Willes, went over to England and came back to Russell with his bride.  Originally, they stayed at Canaipa House, but she was very taken aback with the toilet, a rickety affair perched on top of a cliff.  It always looked on the point of falling down.  She must have thought we were a bunch of hill-billys, but it did have a good view!

Eventually Fred and his wife moved out on their own into the original family house at Old House Point, just to the east of the present public jetty.   Before this jetty was built, boats used Dad’s private jetty at Old House Point.  Fruit from the farms was transported over primitive bush tracks, which were made and maintained on a working bee basis by the farmers themselves. There were no rates or electricity or reticulated water but we were happy without the Council.  Dad was fortunate because he had lots of tanks to collect rainwater for drinking, and three wells for irrigating our crops.  At this time, everything had to be carried by horse and cart to the jetty which had its own rail trolley to carry goods along its length.  The Gibson’s boats, “Roo”, “Grace” or “Ivanhoe” would then transport the fruit to the markets at Brisbane. 

The jetty at Old House Point was demolished during WWII.

The islands of Southern Moreton Bay

My father, Fred, conducted the passenger service around the islands to Redland Bay on the “Winifred”, a 36 footer built by the Tripconys.  It had an 18″ draught, and copper bottom.  The route, once marked on the old Shell maps of the bay, was from Redland Bay to Karragarra, to Macleay, to Lamb, to the other end of Karragarra, then past Old House Point on Russell to the Russell Island jetty.  In those days, this involved a trip through the “W” s, a series of mud banks between Redland Bay and Russell.  To negotiate them required a certain amount of mariner skills.  Nowadays they have been dredged out, thus making navigation much easier.

Willes Island

On July 1, 1914, my grandfather, John Willes, had been appointed Russell Island’s first postmaster.  For a payment of £6/-/- per year, his duty was to pick up the mail from Redland Bay every Saturday and bring it back to the islands.  After John’s death, my father, Fred Willes, took over on July 1, 1916.

When I was old enough, Dad gave me a little job to help with the mail service.  The mail service was then twice a week, and every Wednesday and Saturday at 8 am he went to Redland Bay for the mail, returning at 3 pm with the mailbags for all the islands.  My job, which I could not get out of doing for years, was to go to Tom Jackson’s (a relation of the sawmilling family) and collect his private mail bag.  People who had private bags had to pay extra for the service.  The others had to come to the Post Office at our shop to collect their mail.  The bags would be hanging at the top of the stairs or else the wife would be waving it at me.  I’d pick up their bag and deliver incoming bags.  Most of the time I’d run the distance on foot, but at others I’d use a horse.  We had two horses which ran wild on the island, Paddy and Pattie.  I’d ride Pattie who would often bolt and leave me behind as I dismounted to open the gate.  I gave that away and bought a push-bike. The Salways family also had a private bag, which my brother collected on horseback.

My family grew bananas, and also watermelons which Fred took down to the markets at Southport.  On one occasion, while sailing down alone with a boat fully laden with melons, he fell overboard.  Fortunately, he grabbed one of the ropes and was able to haul himself back on board.  It was all just part of the day’s work then!

Fred donated the land for the Church of England on the island.  Although the building was primarily a church, the altar could be shut off with sliding doors, and the hall used for dances etc.  I was only very small at the time it was built but I swear that I saw them put money (pound notes) under one of the stumpcaps.  Once, a rival shop opened up to catch the dances, but Fred objected to this competition for his shop.  Because he had donated the land to the church, his rival was forced to shut shop.  Fred must have had a bit of pull on the island.

St Peters Anglican Church, Russell Island today

Sickness was a problem.  The nearest ambulance had to come from Wynnum.  Often in an emergency (and they were usually at night), Dad would be woken up take a sick islander to Redland Bay. Being the Postmaster, he would phone the Wynnum ambulance to come to the Redland Bay jetty to meet his boat there.

 In the early days of the school, a couple of kids from one of the other islands boarded with my mother at our house on Russell.  Then old Sam Hall began to run his little put-put around the surrounding islands to pick up the kids for the school.  He would drop them home again in the afternoons.  Eileen Willes was the island’s first schoolteacher.  She was uncle William’s daughter.

Mount Cotton used to conduct floral competitions which Russell Island school used to enter.  We kids would be given the day off to pick wildflowers which were sent over to Mount Cotton for the competition.  Quite often, we’d win.  Although I attended the Russell Island school for a while, Dad thought it unsuitable for me, possibly because he wanted me to be a minister, and I was later sent to Windsor state school and then to Churchie, after the Scholarship Examination.

David Willes

August 1, 1994

Extract from Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection’.

(To be continued)

THREE GENERATIONS AT RUSSELL ISLAND

RQYS base at Canaipa Point on Russell Island

In addition to its Manly facility, the Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron (RQYS) also has its own private island retreat at Canaipa Point on Russell Island in southern Moreton Bay, complete with a caretaker, campsites, open fire pit, an amenities block and swimming pool, for the exclusive convenience of their Full Members and their guests. 

FOPIA Cruise 2004

In 2004 the Friends of Peel Island Association (FOPIA) held a money raising cruise down Southern Moreton Bay and stopped off at Canaipa Point for morning tea. While waiting in line for my cuppa I reflected on the Willes family, who originally lived here. 

David Willes remembers …

An Oxford man, my grandfather, John Willes had arrived in Queensland as one of England’s landed gentry in 1865.  First settling at Gladstone, he became a partner in a successful saltworks there.  When he learnt that a similar saltworks had been established at Canaipa in 1867 by Messrs. Alexander and Armour, he left Gladstone and purchased the Canaipa plant.  At that time, there was an import duty of £4/10/- per ton on salt coming into the country, so the saltworks flourished.  However, when this duty was abolished, sailing ships were able to bring salt in as ballast and the price of salt plummeted as it became freely available.  My grandfather then turned his attention to farming.

After settling at Old House Point, he then built Canaipa House for his wife, Catherine, and their five children.  It was a decent size with large glass doors all round and a detached kitchen which we later purchased for use as a shop.  The site of Canaipa House is presently occupied by the Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron (RQYS).

Firstly, my grandfather grew sugar cane so that he would be entitled to employ Kanakas, cheap labour bought in from the South Sea Islands.  Often my grandmother would be left alone while the menfolk were out working and the Kanakas were a source of protection from the aborigines who would come ashore from time to time.  In keeping with their English origins, the Willes had their Kanaka labourers dressed in livery, the traditional dress of English servants.  I never knew them myself, but Dad did.  He reckoned they didn’t work much anyway!

Next he brought cattle and pigs to the island and when they were ready for the market they were ferried across to the mainland in large flat punts towed along behind a sailing boat.  On occasion the punts would capsize, throwing men and pigs into the water together, or the cattle would jump overboard and would have to be swum across behind the punt.

CATHERINE WILLES, THE LADY OF THE LAMP

Often night would fall before the men’s boats returned to the island.  In those days, there were no navigation lights nor house lights to guide them home, so my grandmother, Catherine Willes, developed the habit of lighting a hurricane lamp and hoisting it onto a pole outside their home at Canaipa to guide her menfolk to safety.  

Other mariners using the Canaipa Passage on their journey south from Brisbane to Southport also came to depend on Catherine Willes’ beacon, thus earning her the title of “The Lady of the Lamp”.  Eventually, the Department of Harbours and Marine acknowledged her contribution to maritime safety by erecting a more substantial affair and supplying her with kerosene.  For thirty-eight years she tended the lamp, only relinquishing her duty when old age intervened.  In 1910, boat owners presented her with an Illuminated Address, a scroll formally acknowledging her services.

My grandmother died on Russell when I was very young. I still remember watching her body being taken to the mainland on the deck of the Gibson’s fruitboat “Roo”, nestled amongst its cargo of bananas and protected from the sun by a huge tarp strung up like a tent from the mast.

Extract from Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection’.

(To be continued)