with Kathleen McArthur

Pumicestone Passage separates Bribie Island from the Mainland

Moreton Bay’s most northerly point is the beach on the Pumicestone Passage at Caloundra.  However, for the purpose of this narrative, it begins a few hundred metres further north.  Here, amongst the high‑rise buildings of modern Caloundra, nestles a small clump of unspoiled native vegetation. 

     To the casual passerby, it’s just another block of land awaiting development ‑ the owner is probably holding out for a higher price ‑ but a closer inspection reveals a house to be already occupying the site.  What’s more, people are surprised to learn that someone actually lives there! 

     To those who know Kathleen McArthur and her passion for conservation issues, it’s no surprise to find that, when it comes to living by her beliefs, she practices what she preaches.  For indeed, this modest house with its encircling mass of native scrub, is “Midyim”, her beloved home since first coming to Caloundra with her young family in 1943.  

     Kathleen is a naturalist and has long been a vocal and erudite crusader against the damages which development so often inflicts on the environment.  For many years she has fought on a variety on such issues: to save the Bird of Paradise in New Guinea, The Great Barrier Reef, Fraser Island, as well as threatened areas as far away as Tasmania and Western Australia. 

     In the late 1970s, when the Heritage Commission was formed it advertised for submissions for the National Estate, an inventory of interesting parts of Australia.  Having supported other areas of Australia, Kathleen thought it appropriate to do something for her own area: the narrow, twisting waterway snaking southwards almost from her own front doorstep ‑ the Pumicestone Passage. 

     She first collected anything of an historical nature, an important precept to the National Estate.  There was so much and it was so interesting that she decided to go a bit further and write a book, which she put in as a final submission, on behalf of the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland Inc. of which she was the Caloundra Branch’s Secretary at the time. 

     It took the Heritage Commission over ten years to decide upon the listing, but eventually the Pumicestone Passage was granted an interim listing, and then finally a permanent one. 

     Her book, Pumicestone Passage ‑ A Living Waterway, which grew out of the submission, remains as the authoritative textbook of the area. The real miracle of the Pumicestone Passage is the healthy neglect (as Kathleen so aptly puts it) which it has enjoyed up to the present day.  Its mangrove clad narrow waterways still remain as unspoiled as they did in the early days of the century. 

     One still expects, with each new turn, to chance upon Andrew Tripcony’s vessel “Grace” carrying its load of cargo from Brisbane to Caloundra through the perilously shallow waters of the Passage.  Or to hear a beckoning shout from the Tripcony home at Cowiebank.  But the engines are silent and the home in another’s hands.  Perhaps fortuitously, economics have forced man to find alternative corridors to eke out his existence. 

     Not so for the wading birds of the Northern Hemisphere for which the Pumicestone Passage is an important corridor in their annual migration northwards.  Acknowledging this, the Australian Government, with ratification from all State governments, has an agreement with Japan and China for the protection of Northern Hemisphere migratory birds and their habitats. 

     Two projects now threaten the Passage: the canal development behind Golden Beach, and the dredging for the deepening of navigation channels and boat anchorages. 

     In her book, Kathleen says: “Dredging for any purpose, not necessarily only for deepening navigational channels, is very detrimental to fisheries.  It releases sediments that create turbidity, prevent photosynthesis and smother marine grasses. Additionally, it will change the tidal flow, usually with unforeseen consequences, unless it has previously been studied on a hydrological model.” 

     But it’s in the southern section of the Passage, below The Skids where navigation becomes easier and the waterways wider that civilization and its resulting changes are most obvious. Water skis and windsurfers have replaced the rowing boats of sleepy Bribie fishermen; a modern concrete bridge has made redundant the “Koopa” and “Doomba” ‑ sedate pleasure cruisers from Brisbane; and the resulting flood of immigrants has brought suburban living to where the mangroves once ruled. 

     Kathleen concludes: “Whether or not changes are brought about will depend on the number of vocal people who believe they should.  It is an idea that needs careful consideration, to be discussed, debated, and worried into a decisive policy. What should not be forgotten is that all aspects of management of such a complicated biological entity are interdependent and the separated items cannot be looked at in isolation, for water‑quality, fishing, the supply of king‑ prawns, the honey‑flow, birds, boating, dredging, swimming, water ski‑ing, tourism; ‑ the past, the present, and the future are all inter‑related.” 

FURTHER READING:  Pumicestone Passage‑a Living Waterway 

  • by Kathleen McArthur 

Extract from Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection’.