A Visit to Kooringal – Part 2

            Recent times have seen two significant changes to Kooringal’s essential services: First it was Kooringal’s ferry service to Amity Point that closed in April 7, 2010. This virtually cut off the village of Kooringal on the southern tip of Moreton Island.  What could have been a death knell for Kooringal was reversed on Thursday December 2, 2010 with the reopening of the ferry link between North Stradbroke Island and Moreton Island. This time the Amity Trader barge is the Scorpio owned by Steve Wallace, and under the Captaincy of Moreton Bay marine industry identity Allan Chaplin. The additional choice of access to Moreton Island has already proved a boon when the Brisbane River flood of January 2011 closed the other access point from Pinkenba.

Kooringal’s Gutter Bar (photo courtesy Kathy Brinckman)
Kooringal’s Gutter Bar – with remembrances of three of its best loved residents – Ray, Frank, and John Day (photo courtesy Kathy Brinckman)

              On a sadder note is the closing of the Gutter Bar at Kooringal on January 30, 2011. Once a favourite haunt for both locals and visitors alike, this Moreton Bay icon will be sorely missed. However, as Kathy Brinckman says, the shifting sands of Moreton usually refill a hole. Let’s hope it won’t be too long.

Editor: Since the publication of ‘Moreton Bay People 2012’ the Gutter Bar has reopened. You can check it out on its own Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/search/top?q=the%20gutter%20bar

            Our next stop in John’s 4WD tour is at the grave of Edward Jones, an oysterer of earlier times, who died on 1stNovember 1916. His is a lone grave on a hilltop out in the bush behind the settlement. No path leads there, and we have to rely on Nancy’s expert guidance to find it.  The grave’s metal fence is in excellent condition and still very sturdy after all these years, but the marble headstone has broken again (a former attempt to glue it has come unstuck). Also, as Kathy notes, it has been moved off-centre. 

            (Editor: Since the publication of ‘Moreton Bay People 2012’ there has been an update to the story of Edward Jones. See Barbara Dummer’s comments of 18th April 2018 in the Readers’ Forum page of this website, or click here.)

We leave Edward to the company of the bush, walk back to the vehicle, and drive to our next stop atop the cliff overlooking Moreton Bay. A table has been erected here and everyone agrees that this is an ideal spot to have a drink and watch the sunset. Unfortunately, we cannot wait for the sun to set today, because the tide is ebbing and we have still to call in to visit Tom Peebles before we set out for the mainland.

            Tom, along with Nancy, is one of the original landholders still residing at Kooringal. Opposite his home is a tree to which are nailed dozens of thongs – the lost legacy of many a boatie. The trunk is well covered with them now, and a long ladder is required to add more. We cross over the sandy street to Tom’s house where he is waiting to greet us.

Tom Peebles

            ‘I’ve been living at Kooringal since 1987 – the same as Nancy, but I first came here with the Wynnum-Manly Fishing Club in 1968. We came over in Harold Walker’s Vega and at that time, the Moreton Fishing Club has an old Blitz (an ex-army truck) over on Reeder’s Point, which I slept in. I liked the place so much that I began squatting here at Kooringal in 1969. I came over with Frankie Boyce in his Fairmile (an ex World War II vessel) called Hurry Up with my small caravan across the stern. We got the van on at the Ampol Refinery at the mouth of the Brisbane River, and unloaded it at Campbell’s. We got a lot of painter’s planks for the job and eight of us got it onto the beach, then we towed it to the waterfront just near the Unity Fishing Club. 

            ‘When the Government held their second land auction in about 1970, I bought this present block. We didn’t know where we had bought because the block was in the bush and there was no road there then, but we thought we might as well move the caravan onto our own block. A couple of weeks later our present neighbour, Harry Jackson, moved in as well. There were only survey pegs in the bush to mark our blocks, and to our consternation he came up to me and said. “I think you’re on my block!” We had to do a lot of peg searching to sort out the problem! 

            ‘I was in the trucking business then, and there were seven or eight of us truckies who bought land here. Now there are only two of us left. 

            ‘For eighteen years we did the paper run every Sunday. We’d go over to Amity, collect the papers, and bring them back to Kooringal. Things were fairly primitive here then. Old Frankie Day got us an old ex-Cabarita kerosene fridge. He was into ex – World War II Army demolition materials, and got us an ex-army 12-volt battery charger, with a little Sunbeam motor on it. Within a few months everybody had one. Lights were originally kerosene wick lanterns, then came the Primus pressure lanterns. These gave a good light, but the cloth mantles were fragile and were easy to prick, after which they had to be replaced. Refrigeration was also very important to us here, especially since we were a fishing community, and eventually the kerosene fridges were replaced by gas operated ones. These days, people are getting out of gas and going into electric fridges operated by generators or solar power.’

            Regrettably, time and tide wait for no one, and John Watt reminds us of this fact. We take our leave, and head off in his 4WD to the beach, his boat, and a smooth trip back to Raby Bay and ‘civilisation’.

Peter Ludlow

5th July 2011

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

A Visit to Kooringal – Part 1

            I deem myself fortunate to be invited by John Watt to visit the village of Kooringal (‘Home Near the Water’ 1) on the southern tip of Moreton Island. I have never visited this last bastion of civilization in Moreton Bay, mainly because of its remoteness and difficulty of transportation, so I feel honoured to be asked. As we leave John’s beautiful home in prestigious Raby Bay, I am prepared for a big contrast in housing standards. Will I find just a few small fishing shacks on the water’s edge?

            The trip across Moreton Bay is in perfect weather – a relief from the windy conditions we have been having for the preceding days. The approach to Kooringal itself is fraught with sandbanks, and the channel only navigable near high tide. John’s son, Daniel, meets us with the 4WD and takes us to meet the locals. First stop is morning tea with Nancy Cameron, who, along with Tom Peebles, has been residing longest at the settlement…

Nancy Cameron

            Nancy and her husband, Robert, migrated from Glasgow in Scotland in 1956. They first visited Kooringal in about 1970, liked it so much they built a house there in 1976, and have lived there since their retirement in 1987. Robert passed away in 2003, and since then Nancy has lived here alone, but is an integral member of the Kooringal community.

            We sit in the sun on the verandah of Nancy’s home and eagerly devour her legendary cooking. Nancy’s is a neat house that has all the mod cons, remarkable, because, like all the other homes at Kooringal, all building materials have to be brought in by barge. This includes all the bricks of her recently paved courtyard.

            Nancy: ‘There are 163 blocks of land surveyed at Kooringal, and the majority of houses are now solar powered. Next door are the Telstra phone towers, which are also solar powered. A pair of Ospreys have decided to make their nest there. It’s fascinating watching them build their nest. The just drop branches into it, and if they miss, that’s too bad, they just fly off and get another branch. There are marks on the solar panels below the nest from their failed attempts.’

Map of Kooringal showing airstrip

A Drive Round the Settlement

            After morning tea, Nancy’s friend, Kathy Brinckman, joins us for a tour of the settlement. First John drives us Cloherty’s Peninsula on the ocean side of Moreton opposite Kooringal, Kathy and Nancy point out the former rubbish tip on the embankment now in the process of falling into the sea. Hundreds of dead tree trunks strewn along the beach remind us of the extent of the surf’s erosion here.

One of the problems with living on one of the world’s largest sand islands is that the land is unstable. Since records have been kept following European occupation, erosion has been occurring on Moreton Island and at Amity Point across the South Passage on Stradbroke Island. The lighthouse at Cowan Cowan was moved back 200 metres because of the encroaching sea, but most of the erosion has occurred on the Southern tip of Moreton in what has become known as ‘the timbers’ because of the large number of trees undermined and felled on the beach. An early casualty of such erosion was the planned township of Booloong on the ocean side of what is now the village of Kooringal. An official plan of Booloong in 1906 shows it as having at least 30 large building allotments situated along a central thoroughfare called Walloo Street, a waterfront street called Rous Esplanade, and a connecting Yerrung Street. The village was surveyed on the ocean side of what was known as The Lagoon, a feature accessible from the South Passage and which provided a safe anchorage for boats. Old diagrams of Booloong show sites for buildings such as private beach houses, a government residence, stables, a beach pavilion, and bathing sheds. The settlement was intended as a holiday spot for adventurous Brisbaneites. The encroachment of the sea soon put paid to all such plans, and now Booloong and The Lagoon are submerged nearly a kilometer off the shore. 2

Kooringal’s former rubbish tip is being eaten away by the sea

            Nancy continues: ‘My husband, Robert, and I conducted a project for the Government, which involved us coming here every day to measure the height of the tide, and the way the tide came in (we used to put a dye in the water to measure the sweep). We did this for ten years in the 1990s. We used to have markers and at regular intervals we’d lose a mark to the tides. During that ten-year period we measured that we had lost 125 metres depth of shoreline. We used to have a picnic area here but that has gone as well. This is also where the settlement of Booloong was proposed in the early days, but the erosion forced the shift to Kooringal. There was also an island off the point that we called Indecision because it was sometimes there and sometimes not – it’s couldn’t make up its mind. We used to take a boat across there but it got very dangerous – I think a man was drowned there at one stage.’

            These days, the rubbish dump has been moved inland away from the encroaching ocean. To minimize landfill, there are half a dozen skips on site for residents’ rubbish. These are removed once a week and taken to the mainland for dumping. Residents green waste is collected at the dump and is burned once a month under the watchful eye of the Rural Fire Brigade volunteers. 

            Next John drives us to the Rural Fire Brigade shed in which are housed their two fire trucks. Beside the shed is the water tank from which the trucks refill. There are two other Rural Fire Brigade units on Moreton – at Bulwer and Cowan to service the northern end of the island.

            Also in the Fire Brigade shed is the First Response headquarters from where the first response team is able to contact the Flying Doctor by radio and obey their instructions to treat injuries. For example, if a 4WD should capsize on the beach. There is no resident doctor but the community has a unique first response team, which is a band of volunteers trained regularly by the Queensland Ambulance Service. Their presence optimises response times to patients and provides communication between the scene and the QAS and facilitates an earlier evacuation, if needed. A chopper takes a medical emergency to Brisbane from the village’s Dr Carl Cilento Memorial Helipad. 

Kathy says: ‘In 1976 Frank Day suffered a stroke and had the distinction of being the first person to be flown out of Kooringal by an aircraft. It was piloted by Brian Cheras and took off from the new airstrip built by Brian. This airstrip is on the land base of the K.O. oyster lease on the north end of the settlement. Another man, who helped build the airstrip, was Frank Dennis. I looked after Frank in his failing years when I worked in age care. Nothing would make him happier than talking about his Kooringal days and the fishing there.’

            There is also a large shed, which can be used for meetings and community get -togethers. On the wall is a plaque listing the members of Dad’s Army. ‘It’s a fishing club,’ John explains. ‘By invitation only.’

Kooringal – main street in 2011

Peter Ludlow

5th July 2011

NOTES:

1. From Sydney J.Endocott in the 1955 edition of Australian ‘Aboriginal Words and Place Names’ publication

  1. From a special report by Ken Blanch in ‘The Sunday Mail’ October 14, 1990

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

Moreton Island (Moorgumpin)

Moreton Bay Map

            Until the last ice age, indigenous peoples roamed the lands now occupied by Moreton Bay. After the ice age some 15,000 years ago, the sea levels began to rise and the coastline contracted. Sand was washed northwards from what is now New South Wales and formed the islands now known as Moreton and Stradbroke, thus enclosing the area of Moreton Bay.

            The indigenous people of Moreton Island (Moorgumpin) were known as the Nugui people. With the arrival of Europeans, a massacre by British soldiers in 1833 significantly reduced the Nugui’s numbers, and in 1847 their remaining people were transferred to Stradbroke Island.

Shipping

            When the Moreton Bay settlement was established on the Brisbane River in 1824, sailing ships began using the South Passage between Stradbroke and Moreton Islands.  This was to continue until the wreck of the Sovereign there in 1847. The wreck, with the loss of forty-five lives, was a disaster that shook the foundations of the young pastoral and business community.  More than any other single event, it led to vessels using the northern entrance to Moreton Bay rather than the South Passage.

            Although both entrances were then being used, the pilot station remained at Amity Point on Stradbroke Island, but pilots were made available for ships using either entrance. However, as the condition of the South Passage continued to deteriorate and more vessels used the North Passage, the Pilot Station at Amity was closed and officially moved to Moreton Island on August 1, 1848, first at Cowan Cowan and then at Bulwer. Tom Welsby notes, however, that working conditions for the pilots at Moreton were still laborious:

“A crow’s nest of ti-tree saplings was erected at Comboyuro Point to enable the lookout man to see vessels when they rounded North Point. He then had to walk about a mile to inform the pilot, and by the time he left the beach with his boat about an hour had been consumed. If it was fine weather and ebb tide, after two or three hours’ pulling (on the oars) he would reach the ship, and the boat would then return to the station.” 

            During 1856, with vessels now entering Moreton Bay via the north entrance between Bribie and Moreton Islands, the New South Wales Government erected the Cape Moreton lighthouse, a stone tower twenty-three 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 from whence they were transported overland to the site. Such an important and interesting event did the commencement of the operations of the new light prove to be that pleasure cruises to view the lighthouse were run on the steamer Breadalbane, taking about 100 passengers from Ipswich and Brisbane, music and dancing were enjoyed on board while in the river.

Cape Moreton Lighthouse (Photo courtesy Rebecca Heard)

            An early navigation family closely associated with Moreton Island was the Clohertys. Bruce Hazel provides the following details: ‘The Clohertys migrated to Australia from Galway in 1875 in the ship Corlic. Thomas Alfred Cloherty was born in 1857 and was the pilot Master for Moreton Bay in the late 1800’s. He was stationed at the Bulwer Lighthouse on Moreton Island. He married Mary Ann Evans about 1886 and they had 13 children while living at Bulwer on Moreton Island. His brother, William, also migrated on the ship Corlic in 1875. He was a signalman and light keeper from 1884 to 1910 at South Passage Moreton Island.

            The South Passage Light house location was eroded away and the settlement was relocated to Kooringal, which today is a very popular tourist resort. The stretch of water between Moreton Island and the Moreton banks at the south end of the island was originally named Cloherty’s Gutter after William Cloherty. It was later changed to Day’s Gutter after a prominent identity Frank Day. The south Passage lighthouse location was originally named Oolong, which is a Chinese tea.’    

Tangalooma

            In 1952 Whale Products P/L opened a whaling station at Tangalooma. Quotas averaging 600 per year were met until 1959 when world whale oil prices began to fall due to competition from vegetable oils.  The whaling station closed in 1962, and in 1963 the Tangalooma site was purchased by Greg Cavill and converted to a tourist resort. Today it continues as such with few reminders, save for the massive concrete flensing deck, of its former purpose.

            While the whaling station was in operation, sharks were attracted into Moreton Bay by the dead whale carcasses towed by the catchers to Tangalooma for processing.  With the sharks came the big game fishermen, most notably quiz personality Bob Dyer and his wife Dolly. At the start of the whaling season they would bring their game fishing boat, Tennessee II, up from Sydney. After much burleying the waters with whale meat and blood, Bob would try to catch the biggest shark that came in for a feed. In this way he was to claim many game fishing records at that time.

BOB DYER with a 2,162 lb (980 kg) white pointer shark

            But it wasn’t just the sharks that brought fishermen to Moreton Island. It had always been legendary for its fishing catches both from the ocean and bay sides of the island. Moreton was always a good place to get away from it all, and have a break from city life – for the poor and wealthy alike. Some who came for a break liked Moreton’s relaxed lifestyle so much that they decided to stay on. Pick of the squatters’ choices was North Point, where the Hospital Fishing Club set up residence. By the 1960s there had been sufficient public interest in Moreton Island for the Government to make allotments available for sale, and in 1963 the first land sales took place at Kooringal, near the island’s southern end.

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

Frank Boyce – A Moreton Bay Character

After the Peel Island lazaret was closed down in 1959 and the remaining patients transferred to the South Brisbane (now PA) Hospital, the Queensland Government announced plans to have Peel Island developed. The possibilities mooted were for a tourist resort, a National Fitness site, a boating centre – or all three. So early in 1962, the Government called tenders for its lease. The only bidder was an American, Doctor Cecil Saunders, who had plans to turn Peel into a “Disneyland-by-the-sea”. Perhaps fortunately, these plans collapsed. Another proposal was to subdivide Peel for residential purposes, much as Tom Welsby had suggested way back in 1923, but this too lapsed. In all, the Government called twice for applications for the island’s development for tourist purposes but all failed to come to fruition. 

So, in 1968, the lazaret buildings were put up for sale on the condition that the purchased buildings were to be removed from the island within two years from the date of sale – otherwise the timbers would revert to the Government. 

Anglican church at Peel Island 1955 (photo courtesy Dr Morgan Gabriel)

Among the buyers was Frank Boyce who purchased Peel’s former Anglican Church, which he duly dismantled and then ferried across to Kooringal, a small township on the southern tip of Moreton Island. Keith Gurtner had it rebuilt as a private residence, which he painted blue. Keith Gurtner, was a motor cycle ace, and known to his legion of fans as ‘Little Boy Blue’ – a misleading nickname considering his fearless feats at bike racing: Gurtner having the dubious claim to be the only rider to have been catapulted over the fence at the Exhibition Speedway.

Frank Boyce was born in 1910 and at 15 was caught unawares by Bay legend, Frank Day, while having a feed on Frank’s oyster lease on Moreton Island. It was the beginning of a lifelong friendship with Frank Day. When ‘Boycey’ (as he liked to be called) visited Moreton, he would always bring fruit down for the Day’s kids, there being none available on the island. It was also the beginning of a lifelong fascination with Moreton Island. Later during the Great Depression, he was to purchase land at Kooringal when it came up for sale.  A woodcarver by trade and a wheeler and dealer in second hand wares, Frank Boyce learned that the Government was scrapping thousands of old school desks and forms, so he purchased 5,000 of them cheaply and took them, 500 at a time, to Kooringal stacked on the deck of his vessel Hurry-Up, a former World War II submarine chaser he had purchased – with its armour plating – at the end of the war.

‘Boycey’s Moreton house was always a work in progress over the next fifty years, and a notable addition was its penthouse – a small bedroom perched on top of the main house that was accessed by a steep set of stairs and offered views across Moreton Bay.

He bought other houses from Peel Island and they were used in the building of many other houses at Kooringal. 

Renowned for his story telling while enjoying a cold beer, Frank would often tell of landing a giant octopus in his boat, or being chased up a tree by a crocodile in Darwin. But perhaps the most interesting of his stories concerns the boat Hurry-Up that he purchased after the war. A former crew member once told him they had rammed a submarine just off Moreton Bay, and he was sure it was the one that had sunk the hospital ship Centaur.

When Frank Boyce died in 2004, Kooringal, and indeed Moreton Bay, lost one of its last great characters.

Peel’s former Anglican church relocated as a private house at Kooringal (photo courtesy Kathy Brinckman)

Peter Ludlow and Kathy Brinckman, May 2010

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

Doctor David Cilento – 3 – The Doctors Carl and David Cilento

‘To finance my medical studies, I helped a restaurant. I had left home when I was about sixteen, and teamed up with a Russian friend Kyrill Wypow who was 15 years older than I was. I had put together a bit of money from building fishing rods, and screen printing, and all sorts of other things: I was a bit of an entrepreneur. We started a restaurant called ‘The Pelican Tavern’ down on St Paul’s Terrace. It was a tricky life because I had often went to the markets at 5 in the morning, help with the business, go to lectures, and study at night. I’ve never slept more than about 5 hours a night all my life. (It’s still a misery for my wife, Eileen, at times!)

‘Carl was my elder brother: he was eight years older than I was.  He was a boating man always. Carl and I both went to an auction of land at Kooringal on Moreton Island. The prices were so good that we bought two blocks there. I urged Carl to set up his medical practice there, so he paid $1800 for one block and $1670 for the other.  He started a practice there, and I started going back seeing people at Amity again, but only at the weekends, and that lasted for years and years. In our spare time we’d visit each other and go fishing. There were a lot of kerosene fridges at Amity after the electricity arrived, and standing on the foreshore was an old windmill which I had rigged up with an old International truck generator and that sent a bit of power into the place to recharge the batteries. Once the power came on at Amity the fridges and the windmill went over to Kooringal. I had a big punt and as long as people gave me enough money for fuel, I’d bring the fridges over for them. Carl’s son, Peter, put in a nice generator there. Carl did a couple of amazing saves of people’s lives by being able to call up the helicopter. By that time, I was only seeing the odd patients at Amity or those occasionally coming in from Dunwich. I was still claimed as a fellow soul by the Aboriginal families such as the Coolwells, and some of the Ruskas. Every time I was in town my good friend of many years Emma Coolwell would rush up to me and give me a kiss and a hug – much to some people’s amazement.

Central Moreton Bay

 ‘Although I had brought my family up to Brisbane from Amity, I never really left my medical practice on the island. I’d go back for a week sometimes, but I really felt worn out. The Tazi mine people, wanted me to be a full-time doctor there, and were going to give me a surgery at Dunwich. They wanted me to do all their staff medicals as well as being a GP. Dunwich was coming on because the barges had started, but Frank Carroll had bitten the bullet and said he would give it a go, and he was very successful. I had started the practice at the office at the Forbes’ place – Elkorn Lodge on the beach at the end of Birch Street, next to the old Post Office – I still have the sign: my brass plate and the hours. I’d go down either in my boat or on the barge on a Friday and come back on a Monday morning. Then I’d go to work (in Brisbane) Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday before returning to Stradbroke on Friday. The grape vine there was absolutely phenomenal. The islanders knew exactly how long it would take me to get from Dunwich (where the barge landed) to Amity; whether I was on the barge; and they knew when the boat was late; but as soon as I got to the surgery the phone would ring ‘Hello doc. I only need a script’.

‘Our house at Amity was called ‘Didjabringabiralong’ It looked like an Aboriginal word and people would say ‘How do you pronounce it?’ It was the Gregory’s old house which they had bought in 1931. The house was built in 1926, which I bought and added to. It grew like topsy. We also owned the place behind it. I sold up both and we moved down the beach a bit to a site more protected from erosion by rocks placed on the foreshore, and now known as “shoreline armouring”. In the shoreline management plan, all those rocks are illegal under the rules of the Maritime Services (then Harbours and Marine), and EHA (Evironment and Heritage Agency). It has now been proven to work with the aid of a remarkable man called Konrad Beinssen, a very wonderful marine and littoral scientist. He is now a world authority on beach front erosion in many parts of the world. He has discovered what we call a slide-flow breach is a change in the patterning of the slope of the sand, as in the Rainbow Channel. If you dig a hole at the bottom of the slope it puts the sand at a different pitch as the sand starts falling into it, and it keeps falling into it, until it makes this enormous fan shaped hole which is pouring out into the deep water, until it hits something that stops it. The boss of littoral science from the Netherlands, called Dick Masbergen, came out and verified Konrad’s discovery. We have now stopped the erosion at Amity. We invited the whole of the Redland Council over and about 9 or 10 came. They had lunch and I said I would stand the Mayor on a rock that we had put in 42 years before. They couldn’t believe me because they’d paid $50,000 to a littoral engineer to produce a report that said Amity is doomed. This meant that if your house was so many metres near the waterfront, you either had to knock if down or take it away. Which is rubbish. Anyway the Councillors came over and wanted to know how long this thriving frontal protection had been going on! They were absolutely astounded. This is a problem with many Government Departments, who make decisions without ever having physically observed the problems themselves.’

Kooringal – Dr Carl Cilento Memorial Helipad at Kooringal (photo Kathy Brinckman)
Dr Carl Cilento Memorial inscription (photo Kathy Brinckman)