Memories of the Hero

David Smith writes:

I remember with great interest the many incidents which were told to me by my father, the late James Smith, who was a professional fisher, initially on the Brisbane River at Bulimba, then later, when he and his family moved to Wellington Point.  When he was a young man he worked for a time for the Moreton Bay Oyster Company and the Kleinschmidt’s.  Around the 1917 – 1920 period, he was employed to gather (oyster) culture around the Blue Hole area off Moreton Island and transfer it by boat to Tulleen Island, South Stradbroke Island, for fattening.

The oyster boat they used was called the “Hero” and it was powered by a single cylinder Wilson kerosene engine that was to be used sparingly.  The main propulsion was by sail and oars, with 16 foot (5 metre) sweeps, rowed in a standing position from a catwalk.  The oyster boat was stationed in the Blue Hole.  At low tide an area was cleared and raked then at high tide the “Hero” was anchored over the clearing, and as the tide went out it settled on the bottom, the oysters were sorted and bagged and loaded on the boat when it was high and dry.  This (process) was repeated day after day until the boat was full and the trip to Tulleen Island was made.

My father recalls the time when anchored in the Blue Hole, a loud noise like a surf beach was heard.  On going up on deck to investigate what it was, he was thrown in the water by a series of great waves.  He later was to be told that a tidal wave had smashed two professional fishing boats owned by the Crouches, at Yellow Patch, Cape Moreton.  To his recollection, he thought the boats were called the “Gee Whiz” and the “Wynnum”.

The ‘Maid of Sker’

On another occasion, when returning from Tulleen Island, they encountered the paddle wheeler “Maid of Sker” aground on a mudbank.  As the “Hero” was empty, they unloaded the cargo from the “Maid of Sker” onto the “Hero” and got her floated again.  The next time they passed one another, the “Maid of Sker”’s skipper put two £1 notes (four dollars in today’s money) into a bottle and threw it into the water, to be picked up by the oyster boat and divided amongst the crew, in appreciation by the owners of the services rendered.

George Willoughby, skipper of the ‘Maid of Sker’ at the helm

There are presently still three generations of Smiths in the fishing industry, over 80 years of professional activity, four in all with a fifth showing great interest (period 1917 – 2002).

(Extract from ‘Moreton Bay Letters’)