A FARM ON LAMB ISLAND – PART 2

Kerry Atkins writes: 

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

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

Lamb Island showing Harry Brook Bushland Refuge

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

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

A Farm on Lamb Island

(Peggy Saunders, Lamb Island)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Extract from Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection’.

Farm Scraps

The Burgess Farm at Russell Island 1920s and 1930s 

Gary Day has contributed photos and a scrapbook of his mother, Esther Burgess who was born in 1919 and lived her first 19 years on Russell Island. She hated its isolation.
Her parents (and Gary’s grandparents) were Ernest and Alice Burgess. It is their farm that features in the photos and scrapbook. 

Taken about 1936. Arthur Youlton – very popular teacher for 10 years – starting a sack race for, from left, Joan Thomas, Lorna Park, Joan Jackson, Clive Thomas, Jean McInnes, and Lorna Burgess.
Taken at Currigee from the top of a lookout. The larger boat is the Ivanhoe.
The Ivanhoe on loading day. Produce from some fifty farms transported to the jetty by horse and cart mostly, at that time. An overnight trip to the Brisbane River and North Quay from Russell Island.
Our farm on Russell Island. Pineapples and Mandarin trees.
Mirimar at Karragarra. Hales boat from North Quay to Karragarra via Dunwich every Thursday in the 1930s.
Passengers from the Mirimar at Karragarra jetty carrying fruit.
Visitors off Mirimar buying fruit etc at Karragarra
Lorna Burgess with beetroot Wellington Point. Good legs! Note mum on verandah
Noosa – Hastings Street
Ernest Burgess and Lady, Russell Island.
Mum (Alice Burgess) and aunty Ivy at Russell Island.

Clippings from the Russell Island Scrap book of Lorna Burgess: 

From August 9, 1938: 

John Willes’son, Frederick J. Willes, retires as Russell Island postmaster after more than 50 years. He used to collect and deliver mail from the surrounding islands and take it to and from the mainland in his motor launch twice a week. His father John Willes settled from the English Midlands to Russell Island as its first European resident in 1886. 

Post office destroyed by fire. It is thought to be the first building fire on Russell Island. 

From August 10, 1938: 

10/1/1938
Aboriginal skull and part skeleton found on Stradbroke Island 

4/2/1938
Cyclonic storm strikes Russell Island and overturns 30-foot launch. A man was trapped inside for some time 

11/2/1938
350 lb shark landed. Mr. Albert Raddon of Lamb Island, fishing from a punt a few yards away from the jetty, hooked an eight feet grey nurse shark, following which he experienced an exciting half hour. The punt was towed across the channel (by the shark) to Karragarra Island and from there along the whole length of the channel between the two islands in the direction of Stradbroke Island. The shark was finally landed on the Lamb Island beach. The shark was finally landed on the Lamb Island beach and was estimated to weigh about 350 lb. A little later a 4-foot shark was caught in the same vicinity. Fishing is becoming increasingly popular round the islands and is attracting Brisbane club fishermen, who are holding a competition here during weekend. 

Residents at Canaipa Point, Russell Island, are still thrilled at the visit of Richard Tauber, who visited that beauty spot in the Atlanta, and sang for the island people.

Gary Day 2010 

(Extract from Peter Ludlow’s book ‘Moreton Bay People 2012’ (now out of print)russ