The native name of Bulimba was “Tugulawah” (heart shaped). The first European settler was David Cannon McConnell who built Bulimba House in 1850 at the end of Bulimba Point. The house was built of grey freestone, obtained from the Black Ball Quarry – a site later occupied by Baynes Brothers, as a meat works known as Queensport. McConnell grew maize and oats as fodder for his cattle, which he imported for his pastoral holding he had taken up at Cressbrook.
In 1887 Edward Griffith, the manager of the Royal Bank of Queensland, acquired Bulimba House. Bulimba House is the oldest stone house still standing in Brisbane. (State Library of Queensland)
McConnell had planned to make Bulimba his home, but found the climate unsuitable for his wife, who was in poor health. Donald Coutts then bought the Bulimba property, and after cultivating it for some years, cut some of it up into small blocks and auctioned them in 1864. When Coutts died the remaining property was sold to Thorpe Riding who cut it up into 4 ha and 5 ha farms that were sold and worked for many years.
The only practical way to Brisbane was by boat, and the Bulimba Ferry dates from 1864 and was operated by John Watson, a boat-builder by trade, who also built Fort Lytton near the mouth of the Brisbane River. He also built the Mercantile Wharf on the bank opposite his home at Bulimba.
The earliest settlers at Bulimba grew mainly vegetables and maize, but in 1856 bananas were planted, and by 1862 they became the principal crop. At about this time, sugar cane growing was introduced with the first sugar being crushed by the floating sugar mill named Walrus, which steamed along Bulimba Creek and later the Brisbane River. Later, with the introduction of steam powered crushing mills, the Walrus went out of existence as a sugar mill, but later became established as a distillery. Walrus Rum was well known in the late 1860s.
Later as the sugar industry expanded, more land was required for growing the cane, and the industry gradually transferred from the Bulimba area up along the Queensland coast.
As a young man, Norman Reginald Wright had spent some time with his parents on a mixed farm on Coochiemudlo Island in Moreton Bay. The venture proved to be unsuccessful and the family returned to Brisbane where Norman worked for the firm of Laycock-Littledykes. However, due to an accident, he suffered a hand wound and was unable to work for several weeks, and during this period he spent most of his time at the boat shed of John Hawkins Whereat at McConnell Street. It was here that he decided to enter the boat building business and applied successfully for a job with Whereat’ s. During his employment at Whereat’s, Wright designed and built ‘out of cedar picked up in the mangroves on Peel Island and scraps’ the ten-footer Commonwealth with which he won many sailing championships.
In the off season, fishing trips in George Crouch’s fishing boats to the sand hills on Moreton Island never failed to secure ample supplied of fish. (The Crouch Brothers, fishermen, arrived from Botany Bay early in 1865 and later bought land on the river bank at Bulimba).
In 1909 Norman Wright commenced business on his own account initially at Newstead. However, a Brisbane City Council decision to resume the water frontage caused the removal to Bulimba.
With the outbreak of World War II, the Bulimba boatbuilding industry shifted to wartime construction and contributed all types of craft from small motorboats to coastal patrol boats, with the Fairmiles being the best known.
Just as Norman Wright owed a debt to John Whereat for his start in boatbuilding, so too did he pass on his skills to many other boatbuilders, initially to the likes of Jack McCleer, Roy Bliss, Charlie Crowley, the Tripcony’s, and Lance Watts, who in turn continued the tradition as the Bulimba boatbuilding industry continued to evolve to the present today.
(Extract from Peter Ludlow’s book ‘Moreton Bay People 2012’ (now out of print)