With Clair Craig, Brookfield

Cape Moreton Light (photo courtesy Rebecca Heard)

            Of all Moreton Bay’s islands, the most inaccessible has always been, and still is, Moreton Island itself.  For those obliged to stay there, in particular the lighthouse keepers and their families, this isolation posed its own set of problems, not the least of which was the education of their children.

            At Cape Moreton, one of the sleeping quarters was converted into a school room in 1879 for the 21 children from the five families there including the Braydon, Griffin, Pascoe, and Jones families.  Henry Ward was the first teacher and he remained there, popular with both his students and their parents, until his transfer in 1890.

            Subsequent teachers proved less well adapted to their environment with repeated requests for transfers for reasons ranging from the isolation, poor supply of fresh produce, irregular mail communication, ill health, and the unfriendliness of the locals.

            Discontent was to peak in 1912 when Mrs Harper, wife of the First Assistant Keeper, established herself as teacher for the Cape Moreton School.  The Harpers proved to be socially unacceptable to the other members of the community and Mrs Harper was eventually removed from her position as school teacher.

            She was followed by a succession of teachers who, although competent and on good terms with the locals, left after a short period because of the reasons already cited.  Eventually, in 1926, the Cape Moreton Provisional School was closed and it was suggested that the remaining children enrol in correspondence classes.

            Today, Claire Craig remembers her four years at Cape Moreton where her father George Byrne was Superintendent of the Lighthouse from 1912 until 1916….

                                       SCHOOL DAYS AT THE CAPE

            “I was seven when we went to Cape Moreton and was nearly 12 when we left.  Our house was made of stone quarried locally and constructed by prison labour.  It was situated on the exposed cliff near the Cape Moreton Lighthouse.  The school house was a minute’s walk away down the hill which made it more protected from hurricanes than our house which was right on the top. 

            “I didn’t go to school for some time because my father, George P.Byrne, didn’t approve of the teacher, Mrs Harper, who was the wife of the First Assistant Keeper.  During my time at home, when my mother, Elizabeth Emma Byrne, wasn’t giving me lessons, I went with my brothers to chip oysters from the rocks.  We had to be very careful though because rogue waves could sweep away the unwary.  One of the Harper’s sons, Vince, had been drowned off the rocks there.

            “Eventually Mrs Harper resigned as the school teacher and her husband, First Assistant Harper was replaced by Oliver Birrell.  From then on, the school teachers were all single women.  Miss Lucie Tardent was my first teacher there.  I had two brothers who went with me to school for the first year, but then had to go to the mainland school for their higher grades.  There were about a dozen pupils including the three of us Byrnes, and the Henderson’s from Yellow Patch.  On Saturdays, after my brothers went away, I used to walk down to the Hendersons and stay with them overnight, being watched by telescope walking down the track until I reached the turn off to Yellow Patch.

            “Teachers only stayed for a short time.  I don’t know whether it was policy for them to stay only a year, or whether they left because of loneliness.  Although they stayed in a room in our house, my mother was in her thirties and Miss Tardent was only 18, so she must have missed people of her own age.  Then Gladys Heaney came as teacher and she was there when war was declared in 1914.  She was replaced by Miss Pocock who was quite elderly.  Although I didn’t like her very much, I was obliged to go walking with her simply because she asked me and I couldn’t very well refuse.”

The Cape Moreton Class of 1914

Extract from Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection’.


(Allan Counter, North Point, Moreton Island)

I’ve always been a bit of a loner and have had a go at all kinds of jobs from cane cutting to professional fishing.  Prior to my coming to Moreton Island I had lived in an army bush tent at Double Island Point for three years where I fished for a living.  But the Forestry Department took it over and I was forced to leave.  I had been fishing off Moreton so I thought it would be a good place to go to.  I chose North Point just round from the Cape Moreton light because it is the pick of the island. Ted Newman was the only other squatter at North Point when I arrived there in 1977.  He was a net fisherman, unlike myself who used only a line.

I constructed a (20 foot by 20 foot) zincalume shed on a cement slab which I used as a house and fished from a 17 foot aluminium boat which I launched in the surf from a trailer towed by a Landrover 4WD.  The nearby reefs – Brennan’s Shoal, Roberts’ Shoal, Deep & Shallow Tempest, Flinders, and Hutchisons Reef – yielded Schnapper, Sweet Lip, Pearl Perch, Maori Cod, and Mackerel.

I had two 5 kva diesel generators at the shed which I used to power five freezers and a fridge.  I had one for ice, one for bait, and others for fish.  I always kept my fish iced and not frozen because the eyes go if you freeze them.In the early days I used to take my catch in the boat to Bribie Island Fish Board, but when that closed down, I loaded them, freezer and all, in the back of the Landrover and took the barge across to Morgans at Scarborough.  They always took my catch & paid well.

Launching the dinghy

Harry and Jessie Wadsworth were still living at Moreton when I first moved there.  Harry was a great fisherman and Jessie great at cooking them. 

The squatting community at North Point continued to grow over the years and in the end there were 38 huts there.  Most were weekenders and were not always occupied but about 100 people frequented the Point.  The Hospital Fishing Club also had a place there.  Our community held a regular darts contest against the Bulwer community and there was a 9 hole ‘course’ around Cape Moreton which also provided a golfing challenge between the two communities.

With increasing numbers of people coming to Moreton Island and more and more holiday homes being erected there, the pressure was on for us squatters to be moved on.  I guess the wealthy people at Cowan objected to us living for free when they had to pay considerable rates.  We formed the North Point Environmental Protection Committee and even engaged the services of a lobbyist who had done work for Keith Williams.  Each hut contributed $200 on three separate occasions over a two year period, but in the end the Environment Minister wiped the lot of us.  We offered to pay rates but the Department of Natural Resources gave us two months to leave.  I was never one for city living and so I plan to move to Childers where I have bought 5 acres of bush.

Allan Counter with a fine catch

Allan Counter

July 1999

Extract from Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection’.



            “For about seven weeks (during the Depression) I was shovelling black mineral sands at Tug Creek on the east side (of Moreton); not for money, for tucker.  It must have been the first sand mining in Queensland and I don’t think anybody really knew about it.  The only trouble was the stuff had to go to America to be electronically separated.”

                                                                                    Harry Wadsworth, “King” of Moreton.

            “In 1969, I was working for Bruce Hope doing offshore drilling for mineral sands in Moreton Bay.  We were camped at Cowan on a concrete block beside the house of Harry and Jessie Wadsworth.  We had a big diesel generator (ex army) which we used to run for our refrigerators etc.  Harry had been having trouble starting his clanky old generator, so we offered them our electricity.  We got very friendly with them and Jess was always bringing us fish cakes and other culinary delights.  Harry had a lawn out the front of their house on which he used to play bowls.  He used to challenge us to a game, and always won because he knew every bump!”

                                                                        Jason Hassard, Offshore Driller.

            “Australia is such a vast continent, and the mineral wealth in Queensland is so great, why can’t they leave a little island like Moreton for the people to enjoy?  If they have granted 90 percent of it as National Park, why not the lot?  We don’t want it mined, but if it’s going to go ahead we will just have to put up with it, I suppose.”

                                                            Jessie Wadsworth, “Queen” of Moreton, conversation 1981.  

Harry and Jessie Wadsworth in 1978

Extract from Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection’.



 with “Snow” Port, Wynnum North

Whale on the flensing deck at Tangalooma (Photo Stan Kenwrick)

            “I worked for six months at Tangalooma Whaling Station on the flensing deck where the whale carcasses were cut up into chunks of blubber ready for boiling.  As you can imagine, the smell was horrendous.  After the whales had been killed, their carcasses were towed into the Bay to the whaling station at Tangalooma.  Large sharks would follow them in. When the carcasses were winched up onto the flensing deck ready to be cut up by me and my mate, there would sometimes still be a huge shark still attached to the flesh on which it had been feeding.  When it did finally let go, it would thrash around on the flensing deck with its teeth snapping.  We made sure we kept well clear of it!”


‘Snow’ Port with jaws taken from a shark at Tangalooma

Bob Emmett adds: ‘Whales were everywhere round Moreton.  Once in the “Heath” we had to heave to between Comboyuro Point and Tangalooma because the water was so thick with them.  Also, the chasers sometimes didn’t have to go even as far as North Point before catching their full complement of whales.  They wouldn’t even get outside the bay. I’ve seen the whaling station break down, and 16 whales left rotting.  They were absolutely putrid, and they had to tow them out to sea and blow them up. When the station was operational, the smell was pretty bad anyway, and if you walked along the beach near Tangalooma, the water’s edge was always oily.’ 

Extract from Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection’.


 Moreton Island has always been the least accessible of Moreton Bay’s treasures.  It’s furtherest from the mainland, and has no developed road system. It is largely still unspoiled by civilization.  Even today it still has a frontier feel about it.  Even so, it has had to weather the effects of a garrison during WWII, a whale station in the 1950s, and threats of extensive mineral sand mining.  Here are some snippets from Moreton Island People …. 


         “I joined the Royal Australian Engineers during the Depression in 1932 and was stationed at Fort Lytton at the mouth of the Brisbane River.  It was an active garrison then and its six inch guns commanded a view of the entrance to Moreton Bay right up to Caloundra.  I remember there was a moat of water round the guns so that they couldn’t be taken from behind.  The ground was very swampy and the mosquitoes were bad – so bad, in fact, that the horses would drag their tethering pegs right out of the ground.  In 1939 when war was imminent, I was sent with the Engineers over to Cowan Cowan to build facilities for a garrison to be stationed there.  We firstly cut our own timber to build a bridge over the swamp behind Cowan, then constructed a rifle range where the land begins to rise to Mount Tempest.  I’ll bet it’s still there today because we made it out of ironbark.  It was backbreaking work shovelling sand.

         “Next we sank a well on the Cowan side of the swamp.  Up until then we depended for our fresh water on supplies brought down on the “Grazier”.  Washing was done in the bay with the sharks!  Then we constructed wooden towers to hold the corrugated iron tanks for the water, then ablution blocks for the showers.  We then cut stumps and had them sunk and levelled ready for pre-cut huts brought down on the “Grazier”.

         “Then the artillery and foot soldiers moved in to join us 120 engineers.  I remember we had Church Parade on Sundays conducted by Padre St.George from Sherwood.  Sickness was the only exemption, but one Sunday a few of us buzzed off and went for a walk along the beach.  We saw a lot of sharks in the water nearby and one of my mates fired off three quick shots at them.  The parade heard this and thought the island was being attacked.  The alarm was raised.  Needless to say, we were not very popular!

         “I was only on Moreton for 31 days after the war commenced.  The Engineers were transferred to the A.I.F. and we were mobilised to go overseas.  This involved being vaccinated with eight different needles.  However, I had an allergic reaction to one of these and contracted osteomyelitis. I was evacuated from Moreton to the Mater Hospital and then put in the Reserves.

         “During the war there was a huge camp for the American soldiers at Camp Cable near Tamborine.  I was driving cabs by then, and would charge £2 a head for the 45 minute trip to the Camp from Brisbane.  I would sleep the night in the cab outside the camp until 6 am when the next troops on leave would hire me to take them to Brisbane. It was very lucrative because the Americans gave a good tip, however in 1944 the tax office billed me for £400 being, in their estimation, the tax due on my undisclosed tips.  It took the shine off my income, but even so it helped me build my first house.”

Camp Cable Plaque

 Roy Gardner, Beachmere

Extract from Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection’.

“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)