“JESSANARRY” (The Wadsworths of Moreton Island) – Part 2

            Liverpool born Jessie Hill first went to Moreton Island in 1903 at the age of four.  As daughter of the assistant lighthouse keeper at Cape Moreton, she recalls the school lessons with a dozen other lighthouse children from four families at Cape Moreton and one at Yellowpatch.  On Sundays, the children were taken for a picnic down to the beach.  After eating, everyone would collect the week’s firewood in the horse and cart. 

            Jessie’s father later transferred to the Department of Harbours and Marine for whom he kept the Cowan Cowan light from 1911 until it became automatic in 1927.  He then took charge of the Cowan Cowan signal station.

            In 1931 Jessie met a young Lancashireman, Harry Wadsworth, who was then holidaying on Moreton Island.  The child of a mill weaver, Harry had been raised in the poorer area of the industrial town of Oldham.  During World War I he had been a signaller, and later in civilian life became an instrument maker.  In 1927, fed up with the tough conditions that existed in England, he migrated to Australia.

            With the Great Depression affecting Australia too, jobs were almost impossible to find, and Harry moved north from Melbourne to Sydney, and then to Brisbane.  It was then that he discovered Moreton Island and Jessie, and fell in love with both.

            Harry’s World War I experience as a signaller was to prove useful at Cowan Cowan, and he would often help out Jessie’s father at the Signal Station.  After numerous temporary jobs, Harry landed a full-time job with the Harbours and Marine Department in 1934.  As relief lighthouse keeper for the Howard Range and Bulwer lights on Moreton, Harry recalls that he had to walk four miles to work, which included a 400 yard wade through a neck deep swamp while carrying a can of kerosene on his back.

            Jessie and Harry were married in 1938 and in the following year Harry was put in charge of the Cowan Cowan Signal Station. The couple’s love affair with Moreton Island was to continue for the rest of their lives.  It was an idyllic existence – the stuff of story books.  A casual, shoeless lifestyle with seemingly endless beaches stretching away in either direction from the door of their comfortable bungalow.

Harry and Jessie Wadsworth in 1978

            Although they had Moreton Island almost to themselves, theirs was not a lonely existence, for quite apart from the constant contact with shipping through Harry’s work as a signalman, Moreton Island played host to a large number and variety of people over the ensuing years.

            A military fort was built at Cowan Cowan between the wars and strengthened during WWII.  A naval station and jetty were also established at Tangalooma then, as well as a road across the island at that point.

            After WWII a huge demand for whale oil triggered a world-wide interest in whale hunting. To help satisfy this demand, a whaling station was opened at Tangalooma in 1952.  Over the next decade Harry and Jessie Wadsworth would often play host to the families of the whalers, notably for christmas dinner.

            The Tangalooma whaling station had an annual quota of 600 Humpback whales.  However, when vegetable oils were introduced to replace whale oil in margarine production, the price of the whale oil fell dramatically.  Quotas were increased to 660 to offset the price drop but the increased cull served only to deplete the whale numbers to such an extent that in the 1962 season, only 68 whales were taken, and in August of that year Tangalooma closed down due to a lack of whales.

Extract from Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection’.

(To be continued)

Frank Day – Man of Moreton 

Evelyn Jarvis(nee Day) writes…

Frank Day married Sylvia Campbell (daughter of Robert Perkins Campbell) on May 6, 1914. They started their married life together on Bribie Island. I, Evelyn, was their first born of four children. Dad worked for Colin Clark. He was manager over the Kanakas who worked the oyster banks at Toorbul Point. They then shifted to Amity Point where he went fishing with his brother-in-law, Bob Campbell when the sea mullet were in season. Owing to ill health he took on oystering on Moreton Island in the 1920s from which he sold cultured oysters until World War II broke out and Moreton Island was closed to everything except military operations. For four years he worked with the Water Transport Board. Dad had a forty foot boat, the “Valiant” and it was commissioned by the army to carry all their food, ammunition, and supplies which had arrived at Amity Point from Brisbane aboard the “Mirimar” to ship them across the South Passage Bar into Day’s Gutter. The Army called it Day’s Gutter because that was where he lived when they took over.  His boat was also used for towing large target boards out over the South Passage Bar for practice shooting. The boards did a lot of tossing through the rough waves.

Mum and dad’s home became the Army Hospital and it was declared an official hospital the day the first sick soldier was brought in. The telephone had been installed before the war at dad’s home and a line connected to the lighthouse at Cape Moreton, so he was given the job of Post Master of Moreton Island, as all the calls had to come through him.

On Moreton Island – Frank Day’s bottle collection with his house in the background (photo Carolyn Riley)

The Red Cross ship “Centaur” was sunk by a small Japanese sub. Only one person, a nurse, survived.  She swam to the beach on Moreton Island. Mum and dad were then told to be prepared in case they had to leave the island. One small house was made into a shop where the Army would buy cigarettes and tinned goods, and the soldiers were not allowed to go further North than our place. Dad’s house was named “Whimberel”, the proper name for the Curlew.

Fred Eager (of Eagers Car Sales) was a regular visitor to Moreton Island, coming over in his boat “Tangalooma”.  He had a truck parked in a shed next to the house, which they would drive to the outside beach to go fishing. Once, while they were out there, the “Tangalooma” started to drag anchor, and Bobby my brother went out to secure her from running aground, for which Fred Eager gave him a watch in appreciation. He also gave dad a double-barrelled shotgun, which became his pride and joy.

I can remember dad telling me that there was a beacon marking the entrance to Day’s Gutter where he has seen the clear water turn pink from so many Schnapper swimming around it.  After the war, the oyster banks died out from not being worked, so he set about to restock them, but with declining prices for oysters it was not worth the effort, so he sold up and moved to Southport where he managed the oyster banks for the Moreton Bay Oyster Company, coming back to Moreton Island in later years to live there until his death on May 15, 1976.

On Moreton Island – Kooringal’s Gutter Bar – with photos of Ray,Frank,and John Day (photo Kathy Brinckman)

Evelyn Jarvis, June 2002

(Extract from Moreton Bay Letters Peter Ludlow 2003)

Mopping Up Oil

Peter Keyte relates: It was a dark and stormy night (actually it was) on the 10th of March 2009, when the Swire vessel Pacific Adventurer reported losing 31 shipping containers overboard, some 12 miles East of Moreton Island. Cyclone “Hamish” had tracked down the Queensland coast in the preceding days and had dissipated, however the seas were still angry with large swells and waves. 

‘Pacific Adventurer’

I received a fateful phone call at 0405am on the 11th of March being advised that the ship has reported striking the containers when they went over the side, and puncturing the heavy oil fuel tanks on the vessel. This resulted in 250 tonnes of heavy fuel oil being spilled into the ocean and washing ashore. 25kms of beach on Moreton Island were impacted and another 5kms of beach on the Sunshine Coast also spoiled by the oil washing up on the beach.

As a result, the Queensland Government reacted quickly, declaring a state disaster emergency and mobilising all available resources to tackle the worst oil spill ever recorded on the coastline of Australia. Maritime Safety Queensland were the lead agency, under what is known as the “National Plan” to combat oil spills, and Port of Brisbane was tasked with taking the lead in cleaning up Moreton Island.

During the next two months, there were over 2200 people deployed to Moreton Island, with up to 400 staff working on the beaches collecting oil waste from the spill on some days. The logistics on Moreton proved to be extremely difficult, with no sealed roads and heavy vehicles needing to traverse the Island in the sand tracks.  The rotating workforce had a number of obstacles to overcome, including access which was restricted by boat and barge, accommodation on the Island and keeping everyone safe. Other problems included vehicle access / regular boggings, transporting the workforce by 4wd buses seconded from the various resort and other tour operators, and providing communications in what proved to be a harsh environment.

All work was manual, using shovels and rakes to collect the waste and place it into bags and waste bins. The environmental risks were enormous, as we had to make sure than none of the oil was tracked inland where it could be consumed by the wildlife. Vehicles had to be quarantined to areas of operation, and decontamination stations were erected to ensure all persons, equipment and vehicles were washed before moving out of the oiled zones.

Oil spill from the ‘Pacific Adventurer’ stretching for 25 km along the coast of Moreton Island

Despite these hurdles, we were able to clean the 25kms of beach, removing more than 4000 tonnes of oily waste and returning the Island to its natural beauty well ahead of predicted time. The beaches were declared open again on the 11th of May 2009, and no oil has reappeared since.

It is difficult to describe in words some of the challenges, with simple matters such as providing toilets for the workers on the surf beach, but some innovative solutions were found. This included using a helicopter to transport Portaloos, and waste bins from the eastern side to western side of the island, and using small mechanical diggers to move the larger and heavier waste product. We also engaged the Quandamooka rangers and people to assist with the cleanup and provide strategic advice in areas of high heritage value. They proved to be of great value in protecting the island and returning it to its pristine state again.

The lessons learned from this oil spill have been adopted by the National regulators, and the solutions we found on Moreton can be used again if an event of this nature ever occurs again anywhere in the country or indeed the world.

Everyone involved in the clean-up should be proud of their efforts, and I was very proud of being able to lead the teams during this event, as Moreton Island holds a special place in my heart, with roots at Kooringal during my childhood and youth years.

(Extract from The Port of Brisbane, Its People and Its Personalities)

The Powder Monkey (by Alex King)

Tangalooma Wrecks, Moreton Island (photo courtesy Ishara Udawela, Wikipedia Creative Commons)

I had a fair bit to do with the scuttling of the vessels at Tangalooma to form the artificial reef there. I was master of the Echeneis at the time and I was given the job of taking many of the old dredges and barges to Tangalooma and scuttling them. They were more or less scuttled at the same time except the Echeneis and the Groper, which were the last of them. All the dredges had reached the end of their working days and had been replaced by the Sir Thomas Hiley. When the Sir Thomas Hiley arrived on the scene, it was like a big jump forward out of the 1930s or even earlier for us, right up into the sophisticated world of dredging as it was overseas. She was built at Walkers (Maryborough) and was one of the most modern in the world. It made a lot of the other dredges redundant. I was dredging Superintendent then. We did keep the Groper on because there was always work for bucket dredges and because some work can only be done by bucket dredges. Of course, they are much more sophisticated now as far as their controls are concerned. They are still being used all over the world but not in Brisbane. They have a clam dredge that does a lot of the wharves and they have a small cutter suction dredge, but the Brisbane is the main dredge now, which took over from the Sir Thomas Hiley.

As far as the scuttling at Tangalooma went, our powder monkey was a fellow called Digger Poole. He had been in charge of the rock blasting at the Kangaroo Point quarry. He was an interesting character and had a habit of using twice the amount of charge required for a job. He was on a couple of jobs with me – at Tangalooma, at the Fisherman Islands development, and at Arcadia on Magnetic Island. His job was to make up and detonate the charges. We’d give him the OK and away he’d go. He had been in the army and came back into Harbours and Marine right after the war. When we started the development at Fisherman Islands there were a lot of old pipes left there from the old dredges and Digger blew them up too.

At Arcadia on Magnetic Island we gave him the job of blasting out the coral outcrops (bomby) to clear a boat passage. When we went down to inspect the area where the coral bomby had been, the bomby was gone and there was a crater almost as deep as the bomby had been high. How we didn’t disturb some of the large boulders that seem precariously balanced on the waterfront in that area I don’t know.

(Extract from ‘The Port of Brisbane, Its People and Its Personalities’)

Signalling Ships (with Kevin Mohr) – Part 1

I started work in Brisbane as day labour in a gang building the river training walls at Gibson and Bishop Islands. One of the people I met on Bishop Island said ‘Why don’t you learn Morse code and put in for a job at the signal station here.’ So, I did. But it was too big a jump job-wise to go straight from day labour to the signal station, so, to get a leg in, I went out to the Sandy Cape lighthouse and the Lady Elliott Lighthouse as a lighthouse keeper. I didn’t need any specialised training to be a lighthouse keeper. As long as I knew Morse code – that was the main requirement. So, I stayed out there for a year then re-applied for a job with the Department of Harbours and Marine. They welcomed me with open arms because then I wasn’t too far down the promotions ladder. I was employed as a signalman at Bishop Island at the mouth of the Brisbane River. Then I applied for relief work at the Cowan Signal Station. When its sole signalman, Harry Wadsworth, was going on leave they’d send one of us permanent signalmen from Bishop Island to Cowan and put a temporary signalman at Bishop Island. I relieved at Cowan in 1959,60,61,62.

Signalmans house and wartime searchlight pillbox Cowan Cowan (Photo courtesy Kevin Mohr)

My duties involved signalling the ships entering port. What happened in those days – and this was 1954 – was that the pilot steamers, the ‘new’ Matthew Flinders and the much older John Oxley (I think she was built about 1926) – were stationed at Point Cartwright near Mooloolaba. They’d be cruising off Point Cartwright and they’d put a pilot on the ship that was bound for the Port of Brisbane. Then Cape Moreton lighthouse would identify the ship as it passed the Fairway Buoy at Caloundra, then Cape Moreton would ring us at Cowan. An hour and a half later we’d get the ship passing Cowan and we’d report its progress across the Bay. It would carry on from there to Bishop Island at the mouth of the Brisbane River. There were four signalmen at Bishop Island.

Modern day map of Moreton Bay

I went up to Cape Moreton lighthouse a couple of times. After the American Liberty ship Rufus King mistook Point Lookout for Cape Moreton during the war and went aground, it was decided to paint two red bands on the Cape Moreton lighthouse to prevent any further mistaken repetition. Cape Moreton is the worst lighthouse I’ve ever been on because it has a spiral staircase and when you get to the top, there is no flooring and you have to step out onto a vertical ladder with nothing between you and the ground floor far below. I never liked that – especially in the middle of the night when you’re half asleep.

Cowan Cowan

Although Cowan still had an old ex-army signal station from the war, we never used that. We had to signal from the front veranda of Harry and Jesse Wadsworth’s house next door. The house has been modernised now and is still there today. Harry and Jesse’s ashes are buried at the back of the house. The Wadsworth’s were a remarkable couple: Jesse Wadsworth went to Moreton in 1904. She was a good workhorse, which Harry used to play on. She used to get up at night for the ships while Harry kept sleeping. She even used to roll his cigarettes.

We had no visitors while we were stationed at Cowan, but Jesse and Harry always did. Harry used to take them fishing. These included officials such as Sir Henry Abel Smith, the Governor, and the Treasurer, Tom Hiley. Sometimes when I had finished my relief duties at Cowan, I had to wait for the pilot boat to take me back to Bishop Island so I’d go fishing with Harry. He had a 12-foot wooden dinghy and some of those sharks we caught were longer than the dinghy. Some of the snapper we caught were so large that we could only fit two of them to a corn sack.  There were fishing places Harry took me that he wouldn’t take the Governor. ‘They poke and they pry,’ he said, ‘but I don’t tell them.’ Harry had secret fishing spots that were small sandstone reefs. I don’t know how he ever found them himself but he had plenty of time to look, and he must have got some inside information from his father-in-law who was there before him. Vandals burnt down the lighthouse at Cowan. It had been automatic since 1926. I think they only kept the signal station going for Harry and when he retired, they closed it.

The ships entering port had to come within a couple of miles of Cowan and when they came within range of the Aldis Light we’d signal them ‘What name?’ and then we’d ring the launch and the tugs. The tugs then were up in Mary Street at AUSN and Howard Smith’s. They were all coal burners – the ForcefulFearlessCarlock and Coringa.  After the ship crossed the Bay, the next signal station it encountered would be Bishop Island who would also signal them in Morse to identify themselves. When the ships passed Bishop Island, we’d ring the tugs at Mary Street, the ship’s agent, the wharf, the Wright’s launches, and the Water Police with the ship’s ETA (estimated time of arrival). I think Howard Smith’s operate the Wright’s launches now. These vessels are the line launches that run the lines from the ship to the shore.

Kevin Mohr


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

Moreton Bay’s Frontier Islands – Moreton Island (Allan Gilmour)

            In my later working life (I had my own bricklaying business), I was asked by my mate, Doug Schroder, to help him construct a dwelling at Toulkerri, which you will find on the map of Moreton Island to be just south of the Little Sand Hills on the bay side of southern Moreton Island.

            Doug had an oyster lease there and made his income by supplying Tangalooma Resort with oysters. He had been a squatter at Toulkerri for some time – long enough to have worn out two tents! Desiring something more permanent, Doug asked me to help him with the brickwork. For the concrete, we were able to use sand from the Little Sand Hills because it was salt free. At Moreton I worked 10 days on and 4 days off. I did this for the ten years that the construction work continued. My wife, not liking boats at all, preferred to remain with our family in Brisbane.  As one wag once said, the perfect recipe for a happy marriage!

            First, we built the house, then later, just 7 foot (2 metres approx) away beside it, a two bed-roomed dwelling for Doug. Doug could lie in bed and look straight out the window onto the Bay.  It was a bed with a view that you’d kill for today!

            Later, another 7 foot beside Doug’s bedrooms, we built another room, which was intended to be a garage, but was never used as such. Instead it was used to house a generator for electricity. We had other mod cons as well: a gas refrigerator bought from Macleay Island, a gas deep freeze, two large baker’s ovens, and a bar, shower, and septic toilet that Hawkins had brought over on his barge. In those days, the barge used to come into Day’s Gutter but it silted up, possibly because of the mineral sand mining, so it used to come in on the surfside lagoon. We also installed a pump to get fresh water from just 12 foot (3.6 metres) below the surface, which we pumped into a tank.

            All these structures were just a stone’s throw away from the beach. Later still, we built a large gazebo between the house and the water. It was literally right on the water’s edge and contained 5 or 6 Cyprus Pine tables, which Doug had constructed, using a circular saw. The gazebo also contained Doug’s pride and joy: two pianos – an upright and a baby grand!  Doug played them beautifully, and loved to entertain. He used these talents with tour groups who used to visit us from Tangalooma.

            A typical tour would go something like this: the group would board one of the 4WD buses at Tangalooma resort and travel south towards our settlement at Toulkerrie. Atop the Little Sand Hills, they’d stop and have a look at the magnificent view westwards across Moreton Bay to the Mainland. While there, they’d be treated to a glass of champagne. Then it would be on to Toulkerrie where we would explain oyster farming to them, have an oyster tasting, then we’d give them a BBQ lunch with some of Doug’s home-made bread (he was a baker by trade). To cap it all off, Doug would open up on his pianos! The foreign tourists were amazed at seeing a baby grand in the middle of the bush!

View from the sandhills of Moreton Island (Ron Peterson)

            A lot of boaties used to call in to see us, but they had to leave before the tide went out. Because Moreton was a place away from the constraints of ‘civilization’ things used to happen which would be best not taken back to the mainland gossips or, as the saying on Moreton went, “What happens on the island stays on the island”!

            Many groups visited Moreton. Billy Dewar, brother of Alex, the Member of Parliament, often brought a crowd down with him. Fishing and sightseeing clubs were able to drink without the restrictions of city life. I used to brew my own beer in 20-gallon (90 litre) kegs – and sometimes their contents didn’t last very long!

            Campers needed a permit, but some camped without one. One even ‘borrowed’ an SAS tarpaulin to use as a tent but was sprung by a policeman friend of ours who was on holidays. He showed no hesitation in confiscating the tarpaulin from the protesting camper – even though it was pouring rain!

            Fishing, of course, was wonderful. I was friendly with the Cape Moreton lighthouse keepers and once on a visit we passed a couple of Taylor fishermen on the beach just to the south of the lighthouse. They were pulling in the Taylor so easily that Doug and I went back to our camp 5 miles down the beach to get our own rods. We caught over one hundred Taylor that day – a fish with every cast.

            Another friend of ours was less particular about the size of the fish he kept and on one occasion, while night fishing from a boat, an inspector sprang him. Knowing he had an undersized catch, he was forced to dive overboard before the inspector could board.

            They were ten memorable years I spent at Moreton with my friend Doug Schroder. He loved playing the piano and he loved company but unfortunately had a heart attack and died on the job at Moreton. This was a sad end to my days at Toulkerrie.

Sunset from Moreton Island

            Editor: The story of Toulkerri continues to this day under the name of the ‘Moreton Bay Rock Oysters’. To learn more, copy this web address to your browser: http://www.moretonbayrockoysters.com.au

Map of Toulkerrie today (Google Maps)

Allen Gilmour

October 2007. 

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

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


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.


            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.’    


            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)

Moreton Bay Mysteries – 4 – The Wreck of the Rufus King

In the early years of Moreton Bay’s European settlement, it was customary for vessels to use the South Passage between Moreton and Stradbroke Islands. However, the loss of the paddle steamer Sovereignon 11 March 1847 led to the closure of the South Passage, with the shipping lane being moved to the bay’s northern entrance between Moreton and Bribie Islands. Poor visibility and rain, however, could continue to deceive ships’ masters into mistaking Point Lookout on North Stradbroke for Cape Moreton, and during 1853–1889 no less than half-a-dozen vessels came to grief on the South Passage. And it was such a fate that befell the American Liberty Ship Rufus Kingduring the night of 7/8 July 1942, as it approached Brisbane with a cargo of vital war materiel from Los Angeles. 

The site of the wreck of the Rufus King

Aboard Rufus Kingwere nine crated B-25 Mitchell bombers plus aviation fuel, and medical supplies and equipment sufficient to outfit three army field hospitals totalling more than 4,000 beds (or more than 17,000 boxes in all). At this time, the Japanese were on Australia’s doorstep to the north, and the Battle of Midway had been fought only the previous month; the Second World War still hung very much in the balance.

Captain Muller, his crew of almost 40 and vital cargo aboard a ship less than four months old, came to an abrupt halt in less than four fathoms (7m) of water, barely 18 miles (30km) from their destination. As rescuers began taking off her crew, 12 hours later the Rufus Kingbroke in two.

Fore and aft halves of the Rufus King (photo Val Knox)

A 200-strong team of Australian and US Army Medical Department personnel in the recovery of the ship’s cargo, the Americans based at Amity and the Aussies on Reeder’s Point. The drifting 330ft (100m) long forward section was taken in hand for salvage; and within four months, it had been sealed, towed into the Brisbane River and converted into its surprising second life.

Salvage workers aboard the Rufus King (photo Val Knox)

The Courier-Mail newspaper reported Captain Muller was taken back to America under arrest; others said he was incarcerated there for the rest of the war. Graham Mackey who had worked on the salvaged section, heard at the time: “we were told by a Yankee officer that the skipper … was a German descendant and had run her aground purposely.”

Whether the wreck of the Rufus King was just an accident or a deliberate act of war still remains a mystery. Perhaps the answer can be found the fate of Captain Muller back in America.

(Extracted from the book ‘Queensland’s German Connections’)