Disaster ‘Down the Bay’ (contributed by Nick Moffatt)

(Editor: Moreton Bay has always been a popular boaties’ escape from the confines of life in up-river Brisbane. It was a chance to ‘get lost’ for a holiday without the cares of its business world.  To be uncontactable. It was also not without its risks, as the moods of Moreton Bay were unpredictable. Such was the experience of William Gillespie Moffat who with his brother, James Campbell Moffat, owned a Drug Store (Moffat Brothers) on Edward Street, Brisbane at the time.)

Mouth of Brisbane River 1920s (photo contributed by Tony Love)

THE LATE BOAT ACCIDENT (12 May 1882)

A MAGISTERIAL inquiry relating to the late boat accident at the mouth of the Brisbane River was commenced before Colonel Ross on Monday, and resumed yesterday. In all, four witnesses have been examined, and their testimony is to the following effect:-A party, consisting of William Gillespie Moffat and son, James Phelan, Wilfred Bartley, Robert Waine, E. S. Diggles, and Alfred Edwards, started in the Native, a boat belonging to Mr. James Edwards, of Kangaroo Point, from Mr. Edwards’s shed at 4 o clock on Saturday afternoon on a fishing excursion to Mud Island.

They reached their destination at half-past 9 o’clock on the same evening, and anchored for the night. The weather was rough, with a heavy sea during the night, and in the morning a stiff breeze was blowing from the south-east. The party fished the next morning until about half past 9 o’clock, when a start was made for home. 

When they got to the mouth of the river, near Luggage Point, Phelan, who was in charge of the boat, reefed the sails, putting two reefs in the mainsail and one in the jib, and made one tack to Fisherman’s Island, and then stood in towards Luggage Point. When within about twenty yards to the leeward of the black buoy a heavy puff struck the beat, and laid her down to the combings. Both sheets were at once slacked, and the boat partly righted, when another stronger squall struck her more abeam, and a heavy sea struck her on the weather bow at the same time. 

Although the crew were all sitting up to windward, the ballast shifted to leeward; and the craft commenced to sink immediately. Moffat’s little boy was under the deck, and Bartley pulled him out and gave him to his father, who took him. Phelan got into the dingy at once, and tried to cut the painter which secured it, to the boat, but was unable to do so, as the boat sank stern first. He went down with the dingy while endeavouring to free her, and when he came to the surface, he was exhausted and could see nobody. He struck out for the shore, but after going some little distance came up to young Edwards, who sang out for help. 

Phelan, seeing the dingy’s paddles floating some distance off, swam to them and brought them to him. He kept in company with Edwards for some time, encouraging him to keep on. After a while he lost sight of Edwards and could not turn to help him as he was quite exhausted himself, the sea being very rough. Phelan reckoned he swam about a quarter of a mile before getting ashore; he passed Bartley and Waine as he swam ashore. When near the shore he sank from exhaustion, but recovered himself sufficiently to gain the bank. Diggles reached the shore first, Phelan next, then Bartley, who was followed by Waine. 

They remained on the beach where they first landed about half-an-hour, and then walked along the beach looking out for Moffat and the others, but could see nothing of them. They picked up one of the paddles Phelan had given young Edwards to assist him in swimming, and also the rudder of the boat, and continued to walk along the beach until they came to a fire, where they remained another half-hour. After warming themselves they felt stronger, and walked to the house of a German settler, who gave them some tea. Diggles was in advance of the party. They met a fisherman, who took them to his house and gave them some refreshments. Phelan related the occurrence to the fisherman, and he went with another man to look for the bodies. 

Phelan stated he had been down the Bay in the Native several times, and considered her perfectly safe. He attributed the accident entirely to the weather. The sheets were not fast at the time of the accident. He also stated he had sailed in the Bay for several years, and was competent to sail a boat. The party were driven to town in two spring carts- Diggles arriving first and reported the occurrence to the police. The last that was seen of Moffat alive was just after the boat went down. He then struck out for the shore, with his son in his arms. George Payne, a Customs boatman, went over to Luggage Point on Sunday afternoon, and found the dead body of W. G. Moffat on the beach, in charge of a fisherman. He had the body brought to Brisbane.

(Extract from The Brisbane Courier, Wednesday 24 May 1882.)

The Road to Cudgera

Hastings Point lies at the mouth of Cudgera Creek, just a few km south of Kingscliff on the far north NSW coast. It’s still a quiet respite from the housing developments that are constantly moving towards it. However, it was once a focus for (mainly Queensland) fishermen in the post WW2 years, with its foreshore camping area invariably crowded with their tents every Christmas and Easter holidays. Our family was just one of the many to spend its holidays there. It was known to us then as Cudgera. Just getting there then by the sand track from Kingscliff or by the narrow winding dirt Round Mountain road was a feat in itself, but made the reward of arrival all the more worthwhile. 

The old bridge at Hastings Point (Cudgera)

Invariably, dad chose the sandtrack and our overloaded Zephyr Six was always in imminent danger of getting bogged. So it always a relief when we finally trundled over the rickety bridge and set up camp (usually in the middle of the night).

I am told the bridge had been constructed by a Mineral Sand Mining Company, the beaches having had their wealth extracted and sent to US markets. In building the bridge, the abutments filled up half the creek and in doing so created a deep hole which abounded in fish. The Black Bream were so thick in number that they could be easily jagged by pulling a three barbed hook through their shoal (illegal of course).

Dad fishing at Hastings Point (Cudgera) from the old bridge

The alternative to fishing the creek was the beach, and my father would spend hours casting all along the beach. He was nothing if not persistent. No wonder his favourite book was Ernest Hemingway’s ‘The Old Man and the Sea’. Yes he really was a Santiago at heart.

Strangely, when the coast road and the bridge at Hastings Point were upgraded, the campers went elsewhere. Today, though, visiting this unspoiled area still holds many happy memories for me.

Cudgera Creek in 2020

A Fisherman’s Daughter (Lyne Marshall) – Part 1

My Father’s Family (Crouch)

My parents were Fred and Eileen Crouch. There were also other branches of the Crouch family on Bribie – George Shillington Crouch, and Edgar Crouch. Dad’s father was Charles Frederick who they called Charles (‘Tiff’ or ‘Tiffie’). Dad was also Charles Frederick but they called him Fred. Charles’ brothers were Edgar and George.

My Grandfathers head stone (Photo courtesy Lyne Marshall)

Dad’s father died of peritonitis while fishing. This was in 1915. They got him into shore but there was not a lot they could have done at that time because this was before the time of penicillin here. Dad was born in 1904 and he left home when he was about 14. He was always involved with the sea. He joined the Navy and became a marine engineer on the HMAS Penguin and as such travelled the world.  When he left the Navy, he went to Bribie, where he married my mother. He was 29 then, and she was 17. This would have been in 1933. When World War II broke out in 1939, dad joined up again. This time it was in the Army. When the war finished, he came back to Bribie and recommenced fishing. The sea was always in dad’s blood, and he was only happy when he was there. He always said that people underestimate the sea, so they do silly things and they die. You can’t underestimate the sea.

Dad worked with the Leo Brothers, from Scarborough. They went to sea in their little inboard motorboats. On their homeward journey they dropped dad off at Bribie before continuing on to Scarborough. Dad then rowed home across the Pumicestone Passage.  One of my memories was watching this little dot in the distance getting bigger and bigger as he drew closer. He stood up to row – he was only very short, about 5’7” but very nuggety. He had what we called punts – grey boats, very solid, with nets in the back. I don’t think he ever used outboard motors – he always rowed.

When the men were fishing, they followed the mullet so we went to Scarborough for three months of the year, which was pretty traumatic because mum put us in a school there. This is when I was in primary school. I was born in 1948 so this would have been in the 1950s. This was a Catholic school and the nuns caned me because I couldn’t hear the bell, which was a tiny hand bell that had to be heard by the whole school. It was all so foreign, the whole thing. 

So for these three months of the year, they fished for mullet off Scarborough, but for the rest of the time they fished from Red Beach on Bribie.

At weekends we used to walk around from our house at Bongaree to Red Beach. It was quite a long hike. It was winter then, and by the time we got there – it was probably just gone daybreak – dad would had already been in the water twice up to his waist to pull in the nets because the fish would run early. He’d have all his wet flannels hanging up to dry.

My mother also went fishing on her own and she’d bring home buckets of whiting, but then dad would come in with his fish, and when they were fishing around Red Beach, they piled them all up on our front yard. They had these old army Blitzes – snub-nosed trucks left over from the war. They brought all their fish in, dumped it on our front yard, and then cased it in wooden cases. They were primarily mullet, which they sent off whole – no gutting. The fish were grouped according to size, and then sent to the Brisbane Fish Markets by boat.  They left some for us and we ate a lot of fish and their roe (eggs) – white and yellow roe. When the trawlers were in, dad also swapped some of his fish for prawns and crabs so we got a bit of everything. It was a good diet for growing kids.

Hauling in the Mullet (colourised) (Photo courtesy Lyne Marshall)

Dad would be away for weeks at a time and the bread he took with him would go mouldy, but when he came home, it was a big event, and if I was at school at the time, I was allowed home for lunch with him and mum. He’d pick us up at school and we’d have our roast dinner, then he’d take us back to school. We fishing family kids were the only ones that did it. The others had to sit and eat their sandwiches at school. I always thought it was lovely to be included in our family’s homecoming meals, because it could be that he would be off again straight away, and if I were at school, I would miss out on seeing him.

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