Wartime Brisbane, Through the Eyes of a Lad (by John Thornton)

The definitive histories of Brisbane during World War II have all been long written, sometimes accurately, so these are just the recollections, often inaccurate, of what Brisbane looked like to a schoolboy and youth of that era.

We lived in New Farm from the early 1930’s. New Farm was a very river-oriented suburb; the wharves and warehouses were a big part of life. Big liners like the Strathnaver and Strathaird seemed to tower over the whole suburb. Each year the Navy sent the Canberra and Sydney at Ekka time, and we would visit them at New Farm wharf. It was a personal thing when each in turn was lost during the war.

Things were looking up in the late 30’s, the Depression was over, buildings were going up, and I could watch progress on the Storey Bridge from my classroom at St James in Boundary St. But war was obviously coming, there was no euphoria about it, just dread, an attitude of “oh no, not again”. And so, it started, slowly at first. Evans, Deakin finished their Storey bridge, and were persuaded that ships were not much different from other tanks and silos, so Kangaroo Point got its shipyard.

            At Nudgee in 1941, we farewelled two members of the previous senior class, and within 6 months had memorial services for them. Things then got really bad. Sydney was lost with all hands, then Parramatta with heavy loss, then came the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, the fall of Singapore, and their repeated attacks on Darwin – all within a few months. Current history writers talk of cover-ups, that’s nonsense, information was plentiful, it’s just that disasters were unremarkable, there were so many.

It was a bit of a worry as all our trained forces were half way around the world. Us school kids were sent bush, heaven knows why. But sanity prevailed and by Easter we were back home. The digging of slit trenches was begun around the schoolyard, but boys turned practice drills into a re-run of WW1 trench warfare, so they were stopped.

One day I was watching two fighters stunting over Sandgate, when one nosedived, followed by a thump. He was gone.

            There was a big anti-aircraft unit, searchlights and guns, near Nudgee Station, and for most of 1942 they practiced on aircraft, we thought this more fun than homework. I left school and started work as an apprentice Toolmaker at the Rocklea ammunition factory in early 1943. They were making 3.5 million .303 shells per week plus .38 and .455, and 25 pounder shells. And this was the smallest of 7 factories in Australia! Where did they all go? At the end of 1943 they had enough, and switched to rebuilding aircraft engines, with test bays in the bush at the end of Compo Rd, now Evans Rd. The factory hadn’t really get going properly when the war moved too far north to make it worthwhile, so it closed and I shifted to Evans-Deakin shipyard.

Brisbane was a real mess by this time. It was the first decent port this side of the troubles, so things tended to concentrate here. Macarthur turned up, Canungra was set up for jungle training, all wharves were occupied and other temporary piers were put in wherever possible, USS Benson (or was it Benton) arrived at New Farm with its submarines, Eagle Farm grew new hangars and became the major bomber base, Archerfield housed fighters, and light bombers. I think the river could dock over 1000 ships, and the Bay was thick with others waiting.

I recall watching the arrival of a spectacular mass ferry flight into Eagle Farm of light bombers, mainly Mitchells and Bostons that took most of one day to get in and down. Crashed aircraft were stripped and piled four high in dumps at Eagle Farm, Bulimba, Enoggera, and Meeandah, each of 20 or 30 acres – a lot of grief there.

All this stressed Brisbane quite heavily. The civilian population was only about 250 thousand, and I was told once that about 1 million troops were quartered within 50 miles, a 4 to 1 ratio. All these fit and trained men were very toey, so the brawls were legendary. It was almost an entertainment to go into the Valley to watch the fights. The best riot, because it was harmless, was by the entire 7th Division. They had been overseas since 1940, did Kokoda, and were not allowed beer in camp. They all marched out of Enoggera, down Queen St, acquired a large keg from a pub near the Post Office, broached it there, and went back to camp. They got their wet canteens.

Brisbane was dim and gloomy, and not pretty. The combination of aboveground water mains, ugly concrete blast shelters, blackout lighting, lack of upkeep, and shabby austerity made for a general run-down look, and it did not really brighten up for another 20 years. The Americans kept their black troops, who were mainly labour battalions, segregated on the south side, and they were quite severe on any transgressions. A workmate told me that he saw a Negro shot on Victoria Bridge over this. In fact, the treatment of their blacks probably did more harm to our opinion of them than any other single factor. Actually, the individual American was usually a very nice bloke, but in the mass, they were a lot more foreign than Hollywood had led us to expect. Just in odd little ways. Macarthur himself was too flamboyant for our taste and his army was not much respected, but the air force and navy, and especially the Marines were highly regarded.

I joined the Evans Deakin shipyard late in 1945, installing the main engines in HMAS Murchison, a sister ship to the frigate now permanently on display at Southbank. I was thus a little late to be personally involved in their wartime work, but I knew and heard much about it and it was magnificent. There were few trained tradesmen, so apprentices matured early and it was nothing to see a handful of 17 year-old’s under one or two tradesmen heading off to Colmslie Dock to do a major job on a crippled ship. The submarine flotilla could provide some nasty jobs, like flooded compartments with dead crew, and one had its whole forward compartment blown off, which Evans Deakin rebuilt.

Shipbuilding was very satisfying: to see a pile of rusty steel take shape, get launched, fitted out, and then come alive as the boilers fire up and the engines turn over, is one of life’s great experiences. Sea trials were always a great day, I was out with Murchison, then DalbyDubboBinburra and Bilkurra – all good ships that gave no trouble. It was a pity that the yard could not last, but too much of inefficient work practices, demarcations, and union restrictions had been inherited from the Clyde so it had to go.

            Even though the Mirimar had been impressed for wartime service, it continued to service Amity and even in the black days of 1943 a group of fellow apprentices introduced me to beautiful Pt Lookout. Not that it was any picnic getting across the island, I recall midnight in winter, pouring rain, on the back of an Army FWD truck, bashing through bush. On a later visit we were standing on the beach looking at the half of the Rufus King wreck, then quite close inshore, when some air force planes turned up for target practice. First came a Spitfire, very pretty and interesting to watch. Then a Mosquito. Lots of guns, its speed would check noticeably when firing. Then a Liberator bomber. Gun turrets all over, all firing. Now there were spurts of sand kicking up not far away, so time to drop the rods and run.

One day it was all over, they all left, and we wondered at the quiet. Brisbane slept for years.

USS Chicago in Brisbane River (photo courtesy Ralph Munro)

John Thornton


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

Redlands Before the War

On April 19, 2018, Redlands Library published a book entitled Remembering Them to which I was a contributor. It’s a tribute the Redlanders who volunteered to serve in WWI and it’s still available as a free download at:


It includes much of what I had written but omits the following piece, which I now include as a reminder of that far away era:

‘We, therefore, by and with the advice of Our Privy Council, have thought fit to issue this Our Royal Proclamation, and We do hereby declare that on and after the first day of January, One thousand nine hundred and one, the people of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, Tasmania, and Western Australia shall be united in a Federal Commonwealth under the name of the Commonwealth of Australia.’

and so, with these words, Queen Victoria in England issued her Proclamation of Federation of Britain’s former Australian colonies to become the Commonwealth of Australia. 

Although now independent of Westminster’s rule, Australia chose to remain within the British Empire, and retained a direct link to the Monarch through its Governor General and its individual State Governors. Australia also retained its strong ties with Britain both economically and emotionally, and for the majority of Australians coming from British stock, ‘home’ was still Great Britain.

Crowds gather to listen to his Excellency the Governor reading the Queen’s proclamation on Federation from the balcony of the Treasury Building in Queen Street, Brisbane in 1901. (State Library of Qld 2 202947)

After Federation, the following factors were to affect the average Australian’s outlook, and, in some cases, more so the people of the Redlands:

  • In 1901 the Australian Government passed a range of legislation, which marked out the racial boundaries of the nation. The Immigration Restriction Act restricted the entry of non-Europeans by means of a dictation test, which could be given in any language. People suffering physical or mental diseases, convicted criminals, prostitutes and those reliant on charity were also refused entry. The Pacific Islands Labourers Act, 1901, enabled the deportation of over 9,000 Pacific Islander labourers, who had been working in the sugar cane fields of Queensland and northern New South Wales. In 1903, the Commonwealth Naturalization Act excluded all non-Europeans from becoming naturalized and severely restricted their ability to bring spouses and children to Australia.1
  • Australia was fast becoming a homogenous people. The ideal of the white, egalitarian Australian became increasingly widespread around the time of Federation. Publications such as the Bulletin, and organisations such as the Australian Natives’ Association, fostered this identity, contrasting it with Great Britain’s ‘old world’, class-based society. Yet Australian nationalism and loyalty to the Empire went hand-in-hand.1
  • Ideas about racial superiority dominated the development of policy. Prime Minister Edmund Barton, 1901-03 was to state: ‘The doctrine of the equality of man was never intended to apply to the equality of the Englishman and the Chinaman. There is a deep-set difference, and we see no prospect and no promise of its ever being effaced. Nothing in their world can put these two races upon an equality.’ Unions had long argued against the influx of immigrant workers, particularly Chinese, fearing an erosion of jobs and pay. The Labor Party won control of the House of Representatives in 1910 after and election run on an explicitly racist platform.1
  • The new Constitution gave the Commonwealth Government power to legislate on matters relating to migration, naturalisation and aliens, but not Aborigines.1
  • The White Australia Policy was born from such policies.

So, with these factors influencing their outlook, just what was life like for the Redlanders in the pre World War 1 era?

The Redlands was then basically a series of isolated fishing, oystering and farming communities connected by the waters of Moreton Bay and on the mainland by a series of dirt tracks encompassing tiny settlements from Wellington Point in the north, to Stradbroke Island in the east, to Mount Cotton in the west, and south to Redland Bay and the Southern Moreton Bay islands. If Australia felt isolated from Europe and the rest of the world then Redlanders must have felt more isolated not just from the rest of the world, but also from the rest of Australia.

Before the war, Redlanders travelled by horse and cart, or walked. The farmers rose early with the sun and after dark they lit their houses with candles or hurricane (kerosene) lanterns. On Sundays they dressed up to go to church, not just to worship their Maker, but to socialise and break the monotony and isolated life on the farm. Then the hot roast Sunday lunch would be the highlight of the family’s week. Their families tended to be large and they stayed together, often labouring together in the family livelihood. They made their own entertainment, often with a sing-song around the piano. Or they made their own music on the violin, harmonica or accordion. They could borrow books from the library of their local School of Arts. The men could quench their thirst at their local hotel after a hard day’s work in their fields, and while there, swap stories on farming problems such as the epidemics of the flying fox and the dingo, the drought, the incessant rain, or just gossip. Sometimes a travelling entertainer, singer, or band would put on a performance for them at the School of Arts, or they would present an amateur play production themselves. Then of course were the dances in the local hall. They could contact others living further afield by using a communal telephone often situated in a store, post office, or railway station. To communicate even further afield they could write letters or, if urgent, send telegrams. Life then was uncomplicated and predictable.

From 1885 the area from Tingalpa Creek, Capalaba, to Eprapah Creek, Victoria Point, and north of Boundary Rd, had come under the control of the Cleveland Divisional Board. Previously, it had been administered by the Tingalpa Divisional Board.

Cleveland Central railway station 1890 (photo Qld Govt Railways)

The railway line to Cleveland, opened in 1889, led to the development of urban areas along its length, as it became possible for commuters to live some distance from Brisbane. The railway line also meant that the district’s farmers were more easily able to transport their produce to the Brisbane markets. Other users included day trippers and others visiting the area for its fresh sea air. Train Stations then were Birkdale, Ormiston, Barinia Siding, Raby Bay (where present Cleveland station is situated), Cleveland Central (down the hill from the present RSL), and Cleveland (Paxton Street). In 1906 special fruit excursion trains to Wellington Point, Ormiston and Cleveland were run on Saturday afternoons during the strawberry season and excursionists were encouraged to visit the fruit gardens and vineyards. Cheap excursions of one sort or another continued to draw crowds to the district throughout the early decades of the century. The Railway Department introduced rail motors or McKeen cars on the line between Manly and Cleveland, considerably improving the service.2

Cleveland Point Western Jetty

To showcase the produce of the area’s farms, the Wellington Point Agricultural Horticultural and Industrial Association’s Hall, next to the school, was used for local shows and community activities for many years.2 Cleveland, too, had its agricultural show. Its showgrounds were situated adjacent to the Cleveland Station at Paxton Street.

In 1909, residents of Capalaba and surrounds renewed their request for a railway service to the area. A line opened to Belmont and operated until 1926 when it was declared uneconomic. It never went through Capalaba, Mt Cotton and Redland Bay.3 Also, the Sunnybank-Mt Cotton Railway League and the Redland Bay Railway League were formed about 1912 to lobby the Queensland Government to establish a railway between the two centres and on to Redland Bay. This too was to no avail.3

Wilhelm Schmidt’s cab (Wilhelm Schmidt’s horse drawn cab used to take passengers from Cleveland train station to Redland Bay Hotel)

Across the waters of Moreton Bay, the Dunwich Benevolent Asylum had been set up since 1867 to house Moreton Bay’s elderly and homeless.4 In 1893 a new Aboriginal mission had been established at Myora/Moongalba, and in 1897 the Aborigines Protection Act came into being. It was effective until 1977 and was based on isolating Aborigines.4 In 1903 Billy North won a contract to supply beef to the Dunwich Benevolent Asylum. He also established a fish canning business at Two Mile near Myora. 

Land in the township of Amity, the island’s other settlement, had been proclaimed for sale at the end of 1886. The purchasers were enthusiasts, mainly bay folk and yachting men like Tom Welsby. 4

On Peel Island, situated between Cleveland on the Mainland and Dunwich on North Stradbroke Island, a lazaret (leprosarium) was established in 1907 to house and isolate Queensland’s leprosy patients. Both the Lazaret at Peel Island and the Benevolent Asylum at Dunwich were serviced from Brisbane by the Government supply vessel ‘Otter’.

At Mount Cotton, a large German community was busy farming the area. They had been recruited by Johann Christian Heussler who had been appointed by the new Queensland Government in 1859 to recruit German settlers for the new colony. In the following years, many Germans settled in Queensland, including at Mt Cotton. Chinese farmers also began taking up land at Mt Cotton in the early 1880s. By the turn of the century, dingoes and flying foxes had become a perceived pest in the Mount Cotton and Redland Bay area.5

In the early 1900s Mr Henry Heinemann worked to secure a telephone service from Cleveland to Redland Bay, which he later had extended to Mount Cotton in 1910. He ran the Post Office from his home and also the telegram service. This was a popular means of communication for the Mount Cotton settlers from 1900 onwards.5,6 (In the latter part of World War 1this war the Post Office was to be transferred from Henry Heinemann to the home of Dennis O’Hara Burke for ‘security’ reasons.) 6

At Redland Bay by the turn of the century, at the sugar plantation established in 1870 fruit had almost replaced sugar as the main crop in the district.7 Farmers, too, began to move to the islands in the 1860s. At first, they grew cotton and sugar but these crops were not very successful so they started growing fruit instead. Later on, they grew vegetables. Some farmers swam cattle across to the islands and tried to set up herds. One of the early fruit crops was mangoes. Later on, pineapples and bananas were very popular.

Butcher’s cart (John Dawson with Tom Cross’ butcher’s cart, Cleveland)

Sources of Information:

  • Immigration Museum, Melbourne
  • Redland City Council – Wellington Point Timeline
  • Redland City Council – Capalaba Timeline
  • Redland City Council – North Stradbroke Island Timeline
  • Redland City Council – Mount Cotton Timeline
  • Deutsche Auswanderer – Hope and Reality
  • Redland City Council – Redland Bay

Beyond the Bay – 1 – Stourhead Revisited

Recently, I was asked to deliver a Cameo speech for my local Probus Club. I had been reflecting that it had been three long years since my last visit to the Stourhead Gardens in England’s West Country, so naturally, I welcomed the chance to share with my fellow members one of my favourite places in the world – in memory at least…

Stourhead’s bridge and Pantheon

I had long been intrigued by pictures in travel magazines of the Roman Pantheon incongruously nestling somewhere in England’s green and pleasant countryside, so it was a great surprise to find it at Stourhead when taken there by my English friends. Stourhead – another strange English placename – is located near the village of Stourton. It’s situated at the head of the River Stour – hence the name. Stourton takes its name from the Stourton family who had lived on the Stourhead estate for 500 years, until it was sold in the early 18thcentury firstly to the Mere family and then to the Hoare family.

The Hoare family had made a vast fortune out of the South Sea Bubble Crisis in 1719. Like so many wealthy English families of the day, they built an imposing manor house, but it is the gardens that attract the visitors today. The Hoare family dammed the River Stour to form an artificial lake and built the gardens around it. Following a path around the lake is meant to evoke a journey similar to that of Aeneas’s descent in to the underworld.  Also in the gardens are a number of structures inspired by scenes of the Grand Tour of Europe, which was fashionable among the wealthy at the time. Such structures include the Temple of Flora, dedicated to the Roman goddess of flowers and Spring, and a Gothic Cottage Summerhouse.

Stourhead Spring blossoms


Interior of the Gothic Summerhouse

Next the path leads to a Grotto. These grottos were popular in Italian Renaissance gardens as places of retreat from the summer heat. Stourhead’s Grotto is a circular, domed chamber built to resemble a cave. The Grotto recreates the scene from Virgil’s Aeneid in which Aeneas meets the nymphs and the River God and is shown the way to the Pantheon and the altar of Hercules.

The Grotto nymph

But it is the Pantheon that is the showcase of Stourhead.Inspired by the Pantheon in Rome, this structure was built in 1753-54. It’s the largest garden building at Stourhead. ‘Pantheon’ means a temple sacred to all the gods. The temple is filled with statues of classical deities, including a marble Hercules created by Rysbrack. The interior of Stourhead’s Pantheon, as were the other buildings in the garden, was modelled on the classical art of that time. 

The painting on which was based the Pantheon’s interior

Yet still the path beckons us on, across the dam to the Temple of Apollo, God of music and the arts.Then the path leads us back to the restaurant and lunch. Stourhead is a wonderful place to celebrate important occasions with long-time friends.

Stourhead is a wonderful place to celebrate a significant birthday
More Stourhead blossoms

Stories from Peel Island – 7 – The Lazaret’s Buffalo Lodge

The Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes (RAOB) is a fraternal organisation started in the United Kingdom in 1822 and is known as the Buffs to members. The RAOB organisation aids members, their families, dependents of former members and other charitable organisations. The Order’s motto is “No Man Is at all times wise” (Latin: Nemo Mortalium Omnibus Horis Sapit) and it has the maxim of “Justice, Truth and Philanthropy”. The Order has a Rule Book, Manual of Instruction and Ceremony Lectures issued and revised by the Grand Lodge of England. The ‘lodge’ description for branch organisation and headquarters was adopted in imitation of Freemasonry. (Source: Wikipedia)

Peel Island’s Recreation Hall 1956-7 (Photo Barbara Walker)

Peel’s Buffalo Lodge – Bayview 99 – was consecrated on the third of April 1950, by Bro. E.Franklin, ROH, W.G.P. who was also a founder of the lodge. The man behind the formation of the lodge was Bro. Frank Bennett. He was the live wire, spurred on with enthusiasm to get the lodge started, and to give the male inmates of the institution another avenue of enjoyment to break the monotony of life on the island.Bayview Lodge 99 used to hold their meetings in the old billiard room at the settlement, after the billiard table had been removed to another location in the new recreation hall. On large occasions the recreation hall had to be used and this was often filled to capacity.

A night at lodge was something to be enjoyed and remembered. Membership at the lodge peaked at about 15-20 per meeting on a fortnightly basis. Visitations from city lodges and also from Stradbroke Lodge from Dunwich, was always a highlight. Not only were patients members, but a large proportion of the staff were active Buffs, especially during the latter days of the institution’s existence, and these staff brothers were the ones who actually kept the lodge going as patients were systematically transferred to the mainland, pending the closure of the institution. Lodge meetings were well conducted, and played an important part in the social life of the island.

Bayview 99 was indeed a unique lodge, formed under never to be repeated circumstances. It may go down in history as the only lodge ever to operate or be constituted within the precincts of a Lazaret. May the memory and the achievements of Bayview Lodge, No. 99, remain an integral and vital part of the history of the Buffalo Order in Queensland. Bayview 99… a unique lodge in a unique situation!.

Story by Barrie Shrimpton, July 27, 1988

Vintage Vikings

Vintage Vikings 2019 – Ron Oudolf and Peter Ludlow

I have rarely returned to my old school since finishing year 12 there in 1961. However, on the suggestion of my good friend, Ron Oudolf, we recently returned there for a morning tea and lunch as Vintage Vikings (Old Boys of 70 years or older). I have often wondered what had become of my old classmates, so here was a chance to find out. In my final year at “Churchie”  (Brisbane’s Church of England Grammar School and now renamed the Anglican Church Grammas School), I was one of 89 year 12 boys. 

At this reunion, I was wondering how many of them I would recognise, because, after 58 years, the ravages of time are beginning to show. Sadly, I was only one of two attendees from my year. The fate of most of my other classmates still remains a mystery.

Between morning tea and lunch, we were taken on a brief tour of the school (the bits that were not occupied by students still in class.) Since my day, “Churchie” has become a truly international school and this status is reflected in the quality of the buildings and facilities available: the homely old wooden buildings we used for our classrooms have all been replaced with sturdy brick structures; the magnificent Research Centre (on the site of one of my old classrooms); the sports centre; and Morris Hall. 

The School Chapel
The School House today

Some things hadn’t changed: the Chapel still felt familiar as did the School House where Harry Roberts, our then headmaster, used to conduct school assemblies every Friday while we boys sat around on the cement paths and listened. We were also taken into the boarders’ dining room (a new experience for us former day boys (or ‘greasers’ as the boarders called us). The polished woodwork and varnished timber walls reminded me of a Harry Potter movie set – especially the Master’s seating. I was told by a former boarder that in his day, there was linoleum on the floor, unvarnished walls, and the boys were rostered to serve out the meals.

Master’s chairs in the boarders’ dining room

Then it was back to Morris Hall for lunch. In 1961 the hall was under construction and our classroom was overwhelmed with noise from the pneumatic drills digging out the foundations. Morris Hall was named in honour of Rev Canon Morris, the founder of the school. It is sad that no building bears the name of Harry Roberts, the headmaster in my time and one of Churchie’s most dedicated champions.

After the dinner, the Headmaster Dr Alan Campbell presented the oldest Vintage Viking in attendance with a leather Viking helmet. ‘Gee’ I thought, ‘I wouldn’t mind one of those myself as a family heirloom to pass on to my descendants.’ I didn’t find out ‘til later that this year’s recipient, Tony Osborne, was 95 years old. I don’t think I’ll be able to hang on for that long!

The headmaster, Dr Alan Campbell, presents Tony with this year’s Viking helmet

Stories From Cribb Island – 3 – The Bellevue Theatre

0Cribb Island is one of my most visited blogs. Recently a reader, Barbara Banvill, sent me images of the island’s Bellevue Theatre. 

The former Bellevue Theatre at Cribb Island (photo courtesy Barbara Banvill)

Barbara notes: ‘As unlikely as this may sound my father Joe Salt and a Mr. Turner owned the Bellevue picture theatre on Cribb Island. I have two old photos one of the theatre, a timber building and one of a display of picture posters that were probably showing at the time. One of the movies being The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I’ve never been there, although if it is under the runway of the Brisbane Airport, then, in a sense, I have.’

Bellevue Theatre Poster, Cribb Island (photo courtesy Barbara Banvill)

From the 1831 novel by Victor Hugo, the Hunchback of Notre Damehas been filmed several times: In 1939 with Charles Laughton as Quasimodo and Maureen O’Hara as Esmeralda. He gives a riveting, haunting performance in this atmospheric, Oscar-nominated version. There had been a silent movie previously shot in 1923 with Lon Chaney and this is the one shown on the Cribb Island poster. In 1957 there was another version with Anthony Quinn and Gina Lollobrigida. There was even a Disney cartoon version in 1996.

Unlike today, where movies have a simultaneous release in theatres throughout the world, early films, probably due to limited physical availability, were first distributed to the theatres in major capital cities, then to the smaller suburban theatres. Their popularity determined their length of their run. So, by the time The Hunchback of Notre Damereached the Bellevue Cinema on Cribb Island, it would probably have been in the late 1920s.

Hunchback of Notre Dame Poster, Cribb Island (photo courtesy Barbara Banvill)

Moreton Bay Mysteries – 6 – Just Who Was The Lover of Hilda Finger?

01.04.2019 – Moreton Bay Mysteries – 6 – Just who was the Lover of Hilda Finger?

Hilda Finger aged 17 (photo Noel Flor)

In my previous blog of 23.04.2019 (Moreton Bay Mysteries – 5 – Inebriate Inmate’s lost paintings.) I made reference to Ivy Rowell’s beloved beach and rock pool. In 1911 Ivy, a five-year-old toddler, was playing on the beach with her brother and sisters when a young woman was rowed ashore from a steamer that had hove to off the island. The woman, a leprosy patient by the name of Hilda Finger, had been brought down as deck cargo on the steamer from up north and was to be admitted to the Lazaret (Leprosarium) on the other end of the island.  On the steamer she had been housed in a wooden box affair, which was also rowed ashore in a dinghy and dumped on the beach where Ivy was playing.  It was then burned, the memory of which was to remain in Ivy’s mind’s eye for the rest of her life

When Hilda had been offloaded onto the beach at Peel Island in 1911 she would have been met by the Superintendent of the Lazaret, which institution was located diagonally across on the other side of the island. A horse and dray would have taken them on this final leg of her last journey. Would it have paused at the top of the Bluff to watch the fire on the beach below? Would it burn in Hilda’s memory as it did in that of the young Ivy Rowell? What could Hilda’s thoughts have been as the dray headed off into the bush for the dreaded Lazaret? 

Hilda Finger died on November 22nd, 1916 and was buried in Peel Island’s cemetery on the same day. Her Death Certificate states the cause as due to: 1 Cardiac Failure (of one hour duration), 2 Leprosy (years). Family lore as reported by Hilda’s next younger sister, Mina, attributes the death to be due to an incorrect drug being injected by a doctor in Mackay. The doctor was reported to be so upset that he ceased practising. There was no mention of Leprosy or Peel Island, or of Hilda’s removal there. Was Mina reporting facts or was it just her way of dealing with curious questions?

The other report of Hilda’s death is given by Ivy Rowell, the (by then) ten-year-old eye-witness who tells that Hilda and a male patient were lovers at Peel, but when he died, she was so stricken that, in Ivy’s words she “let out a squawk” and died too. Does such death by mortification occur in real life? Certainly it is common for an individual to lose the will to live after losing a loved partner, but does it occur within an hour as in Hilda’s case?  Opera lovers, especially Wagnerians, would say “yes”. Take “Tristan and Isolde” for example. Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet also died in such a manner, admittedly with the help of a little poison, which leads one to wonder if the rumour of death by an incorrect injection may have taken place on Peel itself.

Whatever its cause, by love lost or clinical misadventure, the death of Hilda Finger was a tragic affair of the heart.

Reference: Peter Ludlow: ‘Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection

Moreton Bay Mysteries – 5 – Inebriate Inmate’s lost paintings.


William Simmons’ painting of The Bluff from Horseshoe Bay aspect (Photo Ray Cowie)

In 1989 while Ray Cowie was Redland Shire Council Ranger and living on The Bluff at Peel Island, he was contacted by an elderly lady by the name of Ivy Rowell. She had some information for him about her involvement with Peel Island. I think she had reached that age where she was reviewing her life before she died (much as I am now!)

Ray contacted me and I drove him out to visit Ivy at her home. Ivy was a wealth of information. It turned out that she was the daughter of George Jackson, the Chief Attendant (Superintendent) of the Inebriate Home at Peel between 1910 and 1916. One of his patients, William Simmons, presented George with five oil paintings that he had completed while in his care. Ivy still had these paintings in her possession (see attached). As you can see from the photo, the unframed painting was very dark. Ivy told us that this was from all the smoke from mangrove leaves, which they burnt in their house to keep the mosquitoes at bay.

Ivy Rowell holding one of William Simmons’ painting in 1989. (photo Ray Cowie)

Ivy provided us with the information I was to later use in my “Of Drunkards and Rock Pools” chapter in my Moreton Bay People book and for an important part of the Hilda Finger chapter. Ray invited her back to Peel to revisit the site of her former home which she was very pleased to accept. 

William Simmons’ painting of the stone jetty with Dunwich in background (Photo Ray Cowie)

Ivy died a short time later and her son, John, scattered her ashes in Platypus Bay – a spot she had always loved since playing there as a 4 year old child. I think Ray may have had a part in this ceremony.

William Simmons’ painting of Stradbroke Island from stone jetty aspect (Photo Ray Cowie)

As a token of his respect for Ray’s help to him and to his mother, John Rowell had the five Simmons’ paintings cleaned of their soot, framed, and inscribed with a dedication. I am not sure of the inscription, but I think it mentioned Ray. Anyway, Ray always maintained that John presented them to him personally and not to any organisation. This has just been reconfirmed by his widow, Nola.

William Simmons’ painting of cutting, flagpole, and superintendent’s house on The Bluff (Photo Ray Cowie)

After Ray and Nola left Peel, they rented a house at Lamb Island, and throughout our many visits to them there, my wife, Phyllis, and I saw the paintings hanging on the wall. After Nola and Ray split up, I never revisited the Lamb house again, and do not know the circumstances under which Ray left. If he did leave the paintings on the wall and the house was later sold with them still on the wall, the new owner would have inherited them. Because they were not a fixture on the wall, I don’t know if they legally became theirs.

William Simmons’ painting of Bird/Goat Island and The Bluff (Photo Ray Cowie)

So the current ownership of the paintings is uncertain, but in my opinion, if the paintings are ever recovered, I would hope that they be presented to QPWS (as joint custodians of Peel), and to nobody else.

Peter Ludlow

Moreton Bay Mysteries – 3 – Stradbroke Island’s Spanish galleon


Spanish Galleon

In 2010, I interviewed Jennie Phillips of Southport about her discovering the remains of Moreton Bay’s legendary Spanish galleon. I recorded our conversation in my book ‘Moreton Bay People 2012’ (which is now out of print):

‘In about 1968/69, my husband, Bill, and I had been fishing in our boat at Jumpinpin with our two small children. On an impulse, we landed on North Stradbroke Island on the north bank of the bar, and decided to take a walk along the ocean beach. We also had a fishing mate, Peter, with us. The children being very young, Bill and I had to carry them, and so we had probably gone only about half a kilometre along the beach and were walking in the sand hills amongst the light undergrowth such as Pigweed, when Peter received what he thought was a bite on the foot. We all gathered round for a look at the wound (and a rest – the kids were getting heavy by that time), but found that Peter’s ‘bite’ was actually a puncture from a sharp object.

‘Naturally we searched amongst the dunes for the sharp object, and found an old square nail sticking up from a piece of weathered wood about 2 inches by 4 inches in width. The nail was green with verdigris, indicating that it may have been copper or brass. More surprising was that there were a lot of other pieces of wood protruding through the sand. It then became obvious from their distribution that that they were tips of the ribs of a wooden ship. They had all been burnt off from bushfires over time. 

‘We scratched further amongst the sand and then found a couple of metal coins, which from their appearance were either of Spanish or Portuguese origin. We could even make out part of a date 15??

‘Could this have been the legendary Spanish Galleon whose remains we had just stumbled upon?  If only we had a camera! 

‘We kept the coins and resolved to return in a few weeks time, armed with a camera to record our find for posterity. Unfortunately a cyclone hit the coast just after our visit, and when we were able to return to the spot, the elements had rearranged the dunes, and the sands had once more reclaimed their treasure. We still had the coins, though, which we placed in an old tin box with a lot of other coins and curios that we had collected over the years. Unfortunately, a ‘friend’ of ours took the collection along to a collector for a valuation, and returned to us empty handed with the news that the box and its contents were worthless. We suspect that he had gambled whatever he was paid for them.

‘And the Spanish coins? Their fate is unknown – swallowed up, like the Spanish galleon in the sands of time.’


Recently at our local Probus Club, one of our members, Graham, happened to mention that he, too, had seen the Spanish galleon. In about 1934, as a young lad, he had been fishing with his father in Swan Bay on the southern tip of North Stradbroke Island. They had then waded through swampland to the sand dunes on the eastern side of the island. There they came across a timber skeleton of a ship some 60 to 90 feet long. Only the wooden ribs remained. Its position seemed to corroborate that described by Jennie Phillips.

Swan Bay area of South Stradbroke Island (Google maps)

What a pity they didn’t have mobile phones with cameras back then.

Moreton Bay Mysteries – 2 – The Underground Hospital at Fort Bribie

At the ruins of Fort Bribie in 1993, John McKenna and Dr Noel Ure (photo Peter Ludlow)

In my 2001 book ‘Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection’ I made the following reference to the underground hospital situated at Fort Bribie situated at the northern end of Bribie Island:

The existence or otherwise of the underground hospital is a topic currently hotly disputed by Bribie’s residents. Many vehemently swear (literally) that years ago they descended its steps. Some entered and found it still set up and ready for use. Others could not open the door because sand had collected against it. All had returned years later only to find its steps completely covered by sand and, with fading memories and an overgrowth of scrub, its location ‘lost’.

And there are also those who just as vehemently swear (literally) that the underground hospital never existed. They say that all army personnel requiring hospitalisation were taken to Caloundra, so why should another hospital be built at Fort Bribie?

Perhaps the answer rests with Doctor Noel Ure, medical officer at Fort Bribie in 1943. He says: “The underground hospital DID exist because I set it up at Fort Bribie in 1943. It was a large underground room with steps descending into it. There were about 15 stretcher bed set up inside.

 “It is quite true that sick personnel were sent to the hospital at Caloundra. The purpose of the underground hospital was for emergency use in case of an enemy invasion of the Fort. We now know that this never occurred, and so the hospital was probably never used as such. But in 1943 at least, it DID EXIST!”

  Fifty years later, on June 18, 1993, we trek with Doctor Ure to the site of the underground hospital. He remembers it to be no more than 50 feet from the entrance to the Officers Mess hut. We use a site plan to locate firstly the foundations of the enlisted men’s latrines, and then work our way through thick entanglements of lantana across the foundations of the sergeants’ latrines, officers’ latrines, and finally their mess. There is a lantana-covered mound of sand where Doctor Ure remembers the underground hospital to be. It all looks so different. With a probe we search for cement beneath the sand. There is nothing, not even air vents common to the other underground structures of the camp.

Then, about 50 feet south of the officers’ mess, our probe hits something solid. We quickly shovel off the sand covering a cement slab.  About 2 metres long by 1 metre wide its pebbly texture resembles that of a path. Could it lead to the steps going down into the underground hospital?

We are hot, tired, thirsty, and scratched by lantana. Our shovel is no match for our imaginations. The hospital must still remain a mystery. Perhaps time, a metal detector, and a team of shovel and machete wielding volunteers may one day answer this intriguing question.