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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

            What else indeed.

Extract from Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection’.

The Cape Moreton Light

During 1856, with vessels now entering Moreton Bay via the northern entrance between Bribie and Moreton Islands, the New South Wales Government erected the Cape Moreton lighthouse, a stone tower 23 metres high and 120 metres above sea-level. This lighthouse, with its original lens, is still in use.

The stone for the lighthouse and the light keepers’ cottages was quarried at first from the immediate neighbourhood of the works, but it was found to be of bad quality underneath the hard top and the remainder was obtained from a nearby hill. The lantern was of iron with 16 sides. The government schooner Spitfire carried the lantern and many of the other items for the lighthouse from Brisbane to Moreton Island, landing them at the pilot station (at Yellow Patch) whence they were transported overland to the site. Such an important and interesting event did the operations of the new light prove to be that pleasure cruises to view the lighthouse were run on the (paddle) steamer Breadalbane, taking about 100 passengers from Ipswich and Brisbane, with music and dancing enjoyed on board while in the river.

Cape Moreton Light early 1900s. To right is Superintendent’s House. The picket fence surrounds the well.

Clair Craig (daughter of early 1900’s keeper, George P. Byrne):

When shipping approached from south or north the Watch House at Cape Moreton would signal (with flags during the day, Morse at night) “Do you want a pilot?”  If the ship required a pilot to guide it into port, we then notified them on board the pilot boat which was anchored near us at the Yellow Patch in the shelter of the island, and they went out to meet the approaching ship. The pilot would then board the ship and guide it up to Brisbane, the entrance being rather hazardous due to sand banks.  After berthing he might stay in Brisbane for a few days break before re-joining the pilot boat.  The pilots lived aboard, so they were always glad to visit us for a break on dry land.  We used to watch them coming up the narrow track to the Cape.  We always knew Captain Scott by his attire of white duck pants and a black coat.  He would stay with us for a few days.  We had an upright piano in our house which my father imported from America in 1900.  Both my mother and Captain Scott were good pianists, and they loved playing duets together. 

Cape Moreton Lighthouse 1854

Kevin Mohr (relief keeper):

Cape Moreton is the worst lighthouse I’ve ever been on because it has a spiral staircase and when you get to the top, there is no flooring and you have to step out onto a vertical ladder with nothing between you and the ground floor far below. I never liked that – especially in the middle of the night when you’re half asleep.

I went up to Cape Moreton Lighthouse a couple of times. After the American Liberty ship Rufus King mistook Point Lookout for Cape Moreton during the war and went aground, it was decided (in 1942) to paint two red bands on the Cape Moreton Lighthouse to prevent any further repetition of this mistake.

Cape Moreton Lighthouse today (Photo Rebecca Heard)