Prelude to Peel Island’s Lazaret

In Queensland, the first case recording symptoms resembling those of Leprosy was in 1855, a Chinaman, Oun Tsar, at the Brisbane Hospital.  He was to die in 1859 ‑ undiagnosed. At this time, too, the hospital was recording many cases of Islander “Toe Disease”.  Leprosy once again diagnosed incorrectly. 

 For the next 35 years there was a steady increase in the number of reported Leprosy cases, all confined to Chinese and Islander immigrants, and the aborigines who “caught anything”. By 1889, although the public at large still thought Leprosy to be a “foreigner’s disease”, the Government deemed it prudent to segregate some Chinese cases at Cooktown.  The following year, an official Leper Station was established there. 

     The notion of Leprosy as purely a foreigner’s disease was dispelled in 1892 when a Queensland born white by the name of Quigley contracted the disease.  After being kept in forced isolation in a tent for six months at the Brisbane Hospital, the Government sought to legalize such segregation by passing the Queensland Leprosy Act of 1892. This Act formalized the detention and segregation of all those suffering from Leprosy in special areas known as lazarets or Leprosariums.  Coloured patients were sent to Friday Island in the Thursday Island Group.  White patients went to Dunwich on Stradbroke Island. 

Queensland Lazarets (The coloured patients were transferred from Peel Island to Fantome Island in 1940)

The following article from The Week newspaper of 4 November 1904 reflects the terms and thinking of that era:

Lepers Going to Friday Island

General Clearing Up

Recently the Home Department felt that owing to the slight increase in leprosy among the kanakas of the State, it was desirable to collect the patients and send them to Friday Island, where the lazarette for coloured races has long been established. There were two coloured lepers at Dunwich, two came from Bundaberg on Monday, three from remote parts of the State, and there are three yet to be brought down from the northern coast. So far all those who have arrived in Brisbane have been placed on board the auxiliary schooner Rio Loge, where they will be kept until the remaining patients arrive before being taken to the lazarette on Friday Island. The official number of black lepers are set down as males, 9; females, 1.

The idea is to rid the State of this collection of leprosy in one shipload instead of segregating the patients at different towns. If is likely that the Rio Loge will be ready to sail for Friday Island at an early date.

Doctor Horace Tozer, Superintendent of the Dunwich Benevolent Asylum, was placed in charge of both Leprosariums.

By 1906 there were 21 inmates at the Dunwich lazaret which was housed in buildings adjacent to the Asylum’s Men’s Quarters to the south.  As had been the practice for some years, the dull lives of the Asylum’s inmates had been brightened by the theatrical performances of the Postmaster, a certain Mr Agnew and his son Noel (“Laddie”).  The lazaret patients were also allowed to attend.  Little heed was paid to the close contact between the Leprosy patients and the old folk until Noel Agnew contracted the disease.  It was then that the Government decided on total segregation of the Hansen’s patients and they were moved to a new lazaret in the north western corner of nearby Peel Island.

The Peel Island lazaret opened in 1907 with the segregation of 17 white patients.  Not only were they segregated from society but also from each other according to sex, race, and form of the disease.  Later in the year, their number was swelled by the transfer of the 40 coloured patients from the Friday Island lazaret after its closure.

(Extract from ‘Peel Island History – A Personal Quest)

People of Peel Island – 4 – Biochemist, Dorothy Herbert 

In January 1947 Promin therapy was introduced to treat the leprosy patients at Peel Island lazaret. Its daily intravenous administration necessitated Doctor Eric Reye remaining full time on the island. Thus, he became Peel’s first Resident Medical Officer, and his wife, Mardi, was appointed a temporary laboratory assistant, because no one was available at the time, and because the nurses were fully occupied. By the end of 1947, the services of a science graduate, Miss Dorothy Herbert, had been obtained, and Mardi was no longer needed. 

Because of the possible haematological effects of the sulphones on the body, a laboratory was set up on Peel for blood counting and urine examination

For a start, the laboratory was set up in a disused hut down in the bush, but because of its distance, dilapidation, and lack of water, Dr Reye asked the Padre if he could use the Church as a laboratory.  All would have been well but for the Roman Catholic patients who refused to enter the church because it had been consecrated “Anglican”. The best Dr Reye could do was to coax them into the church’s tiny vestibule where staff took the necessary samples from them. Clearly, this was not a satisfactory arrangement, and new premises again had to be found for the laboratory. The choice fell to the library cum billiard room, which belonged to the male patients. 1

Dorothy Herbert outside the laboratory at Peel Island lazaret in 1948

Dorothy worked as a biochemist at the Peel Island lazaret during 1948. She then moved to Tasmania in 1949 and worked as a biochemist at Royal Hobart Hospital.

After a year in the United Kingdom, she returned to Brisbane to study medicine at the University of Queensland. After graduating in 1958, she spent 2 years as a resident medical officer at Brisbane General Hospital.

In 1961, she moved to Charleville to work as a locum for the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) for 3 months. She remained in Charleville in private practice until 1981.

In 1963, Dorothy bought her first aircraft — a 1957 single-engine Cessna, which she used to fly to emergencies of her own patients, medical conferences and remote properties. She was a member of a flying surgeon team and would stand in for the flying doctor as required. At a time when there were few women doctors and fewer women pilots, Dorothy made quite an impression flying to remote communities with her three corgis in tow.

Cessna 172 of a type similar to Dorothy’s plane

In 1981, Dorothy left Charleville and semiretired to the Sunshine Coast (with her Major Mitchell cockatoo, Linda). She continued to work in general practice, specialising in acupuncture and aviation medicine. She fully retired in 1996, when she also flew her final flight. Her flying record at this time totalled 2200 hours.

She was awarded the Nancy Bird Walton Trophy for services to aviation in Australasia in 1972. In 1997, she was made an honorary life member of the Aviation Medicine Society of Australia and New Zealand for her contribution as a designated examiner for 35 years. She was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 1999 for her service to rural medicine through the RFDS and to aviation through the AWPA. She also received a Centenary Medal in 2001 for her distinguished service to the RFDS.2

References: 1. Peel Island History – A Personal Quest

                     2. Medical Journal of Australia, vol 202, no 7, 2015, p 391

People of Peel Island – 3 – Doctor Morgan Gabriel 

Morgan Gabriel’s school education had been completed at Brisbane Grammar, which he left after completing his Junior Certificate. For a time, he had worked in the Taxation Department which he disliked, and then as a Cadet in the Laboratory of the State Health Department. He remained there for some eleven years as a Government Analyst, and it was during this time that he also resumed his schooling and, by studying at night, finally obtained his Senior School Certificate. This was followed by study for a Science Degree, which he obtained as an external student studying over six years. In 1944 he was one of a group of students to be awarded the first State Government Bonded Fellowships to the University of Queensland. Thus, he was finally able to afford a long-held ambition to study for his Degree in Medicine which he finally obtained in 1950. His aim was to specialize in Gynaecology but part of his Fellowship Bond was that he had to repay the years spent in study with an equal time in an area of the Government’s choosing. To Dr Fryberg’s mind, he was the answer to Peel’s problems, and Dr Gabriel was duly appointed the island’s first Resident Medical Superintendent, having full control over the island’s affairs. 

Dr Morgan Gabriel and Matron Marie Ahlberg at Peel Island

Peel Island could not have been further from Dr Gabriel’s plans, especially when he was also planning to marry, and he hated the whole idea, but because of his contract with the Government, he could do little but accept. His first months there were stormy, and he clashed with both staff and patients to enforce both more responsible policies for the running of the settlement. Firstly, he reduced alcohol consumption on the island by limiting its consumption to one bottle of beer per week. Any staff members found drunk on duty would be immediately sent to the Health Department for dismissal. As can be expected his popularity was not high amongst the inhabitants of Peel. 

It says much for Dr Gabriel that he weathered the storm, for his character was of such strength that he would not compromise a principle he believed in. As well as his strength, he was also fortunate in being a caring and kind-hearted man who could sympathize with the patients’ condition. These two qualities were to prove ideal and necessary for the newly created position.

One of the first improvements he made at Peel was that of the meals, and it was one to which the patients responded readily. Many more were to follow, and when it became obvious that the new doctor had their welfare at heart, the patients quickly warmed to him and it wasn’t long before they were to look on him as a true friend and confidant to whom they could turn and discuss their problems. Indeed, for Dr Gabriel’s wedding, the patients all chipped in and bought a present for him and his new wife, soon to be affectionately known by all as “Johnny”.  With Peel’s past reputation, it must have been difficult for her to set up house there, but she settled into her new surroundings and quickly made friends with the patients. When their two children, Bill and Ruth, were born, they, too, lived with their parents in the doctor’s residence to the east of the men’s compound. This fact alone would have done much to dispel the stigma associated with the dangers of Hansen’s Disease and young children.

Doctor’s house at the Lazaret in 1950s (Photo courtesy Dr Morgan Gabriel)

When Morgan Gabriel first arrived at Peel, he knew little about Hansen’s Disease. But because he was not the sort of man to engage in any activity without a thorough knowledge of his subject, he set about learning as much as possible about the latest developments in Hansen’s Disease and its treatment. This knowledge he also passed on to the many of his patients who were interested in new treatments for their disease, and over the next decade, he would introduce many new drugs at Peel in a constant search for more effective results. 

As well as educating himself and the patients about Hansen’s Disease, Dr Gabriel also missed no opportunity in encouraging medical students to visit Peel and familiarise themselves with the disease and its early symptoms. 

Dr Gabriel was also of the belief that it was necessary to keep his patients’ hands and muscles working and minds occupied. Towards this end he encouraged them to engage in as many activities as possible. Occupational therapy was available in the form of leather, plastic, and cane work, and many patients were put on the payroll in positions that included truck driver, barber, painter, handyman, groundsman, and seamstress. In 1952 a new patients’ dining room was constructed, mainly by the work of the patients themselves. One patient undertook the school Junior Certificate course, and one of the blind patients who retained full sensitivity in the fingertips learnt braille. In September 1956 a naturalisation ceremony was conducted at the hospital when one of the patients became an Australian citizen. 

Dr Morgan Gabriel was Peel’s last resident doctor from 1951 until the Lazaret’s closure in 1959.

(Extract from ‘Peel Island History – A Personal Quest’)

Peel Island People – 2 – Eric Reye

Eric Reye passed away peacefully on Monday night 29.1.2007 in the Beenleigh Nursing Home.  Though physically incapacitated for his last years, Eric’s mind remained keen to the end. For one so used to the outdoor life, his immobility in a nursing home must have been a great frustration, but, in typical style, he accepted his lot philosophically and without complaint.

I like to remember Eric from my times with him on his boat “Coolooloa” on the mangrove flats at Redland Bay, eating peanuts, sipping his home-made mead, surrounded by his laboratory materials and discussing Moreton Bay’s history of which, for me at least, Eric played such an important part.

Matron Ahlberg, Doctor Reye, Nurse Sharp at the Lazaret late 1940s

All his life, Eric was a lover of boats and the Bay. From those of you who have read my books, you will recall his canoe trips from Brisbane to Southport and his search for the ‘Spanish Galleon’ which in itself has inspired many others to continue. After studying medicine at the University of Queensland, he was able to combine his yachting skills with his medicine when he became the Medical Officer for the Hansen’s Disease (Leprosy) patients at Peel Island. While there he worked constantly to improve the conditions of the patients.

It was also on Peel that he was bitten by the bug – the biting midge actually – when trying to find its breeding habits. Entomology was soon to take over his whole life and he abandoned medicine in its favour, eventually becoming acknowledged as a world expert in the study of biting midges.

 He was a source of much of our knowledge of Peel Island’s Lazaret history and one of our last living links with it. 

He was always willing to impart his great knowledge to others, and I for one am especially grateful for his generosity in supporting my Moreton Bay writings.

Peter Ludlow

Doris Gabriel (wife of Doctor Morgan Gabriel, Eric’s successor) and Eric Reye at the former doctor’s Lazaret quarters, 1993

People of Peel Island – 1 – Rosemary Opala

Rosemary Opala (nee Fielding) was born in Bundaberg, Queensland in 1923. She began to study a commercial art course at the George Street Technical College (now QUT) but took up nursing at the onset of World War II because as she said: “I wanted to do something more meaningful than playing with paints, seeing as though everybody was rushing off to the war.”

After finishing her nursing training at Brisbane General Hospital, she stayed on the staff at Wattlebrae, the city’s infectious disease section.  It was here that she met a small and engaging group of Peel Island (Hansen’s Disease) patients, temporarily housed in one of the pavilion-type wards while waiting specialist consultation about eye problems. They convinced her to go to Peel as a nurse and she spent two stints there in the late 1940s and early 50s. While there and ever since, Rosemary worked tirelessly to “de-mythify” Peel Island folklore.

“It was a particularly interesting time, a time when a cure was on its way,” she said.

A young nurse Rosemary Fielding

After leaving Peel Island Lazaret, Rosemary eventually became a nursing supervisor at Prince Charles Hospital in Brisbane. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, she wrote popular magazine fiction – gaining some notoriety with the publication of various short stories in women’s magazines.  The University of Queensland Fryer Library recently accepted these and a collection of what she describes as “disrespectful cartoons”.

A stint at St Anne’s Hospital at Cleveland revealed another love – that of Coochiemudlo, which she visited by rowboat, returning that same day.  She was later to live there, exchanging nursing for “a stress-free life as farm hand cum beachcomber”.  Later she and her husband Marian built their own home on the island, at a time when the ferry only ran on weekends and public holidays.

“Building was an experience considering my husband’s previous carpentry experience was to build a bookcase,” she said. 

Rosemary had a way with words.

Rosemary and Marian moved to Caloundra, in the late 1960s and despite every intention, Rosemary’s husband was never to return to Coochiemudlo. While at Caloundra, she was very involved with the Sunshine Coast Environment Council and used to send articles and drawings for the quarterly magazine Eco Echo – her pages were a regular feature. After Marian’s death, Rosemary moved down to Victoria Point where she was to continue contributing sketches and articles to local environmental groups

“These days I leave such work to the more accomplished but still like to do a bit of illustrating if the subject appeals.  Hopefully the time is coming when I can vege out without feeling guilty and do nothing but re-read old favourite books and new best sellers,” she said. “There is more to life than just existing – more than being upright and breathing.”

As well as sketching, Rosemary also wrote non-fiction articles, with an emphasis on Queensland’s environment, botany and its history. She contributed to many groups.

From her time in Caloundra, Rosie and Kathleen MacArthur were members of the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland (WPSQ). Later, when she moved back to Victoria Point about 1995, Rosie continued writing articles for the WPSQ Bayside Branch newsletter. She was also involved with the Botanical Artists Society of Queensland with her friend Louise Saunders.

Rosemary loved sketching Nature, such as these mangroves on Peel Island

From her time as an early resident of Coochiemudlo Island, she had many reminiscences of her family’s early struggles to get established there. As such, she was a member of the Coochiemudlo Historical Society. However, her art was always close to her heart and she was an active member of the Coochiemudlo Art Group. Even after her admission to the Redland Hospital just prior to her death, Rosemary’s one concern was that she would not be well enough to attend an upcoming exhibition at the Redland Council’s Art Gallery, in which she was to exhibit.

Rosemary was involved in the Friends of Peel Island Association as a foundation member, was a member of U3A, a Friend of Eprapah and was an ecological writer with Eco Echo, a tri-annual Sunshine Coast publication.  

Regarding her foundation membership of the Friends of Peel Island Association (FOPI), Rosemary once said’ “It’s just an excuse to get into the place (Peel).  I don’t really contribute.  I’m sort of the elder statesman.”

Fellow FOPI committee member Debra Henry said her involvement was far more than this. “She is a very active member.  She just plays it down.” 

But this was Rosie all over.

FOPI President Simon Baltais once said, “Rosemary Opala is a kind and generous soul, a willing listener, a provider of much humour and strength through words and art, a much-admired person, a truly living treasure,” 

Peel Island’s mangroves were a constant source of inspiration for Rosemary

Peel Island 2021- an updated talk by Peter Ludlow

Presents a talk by local historian

                                  Peter Ludlow on the

‘The History and Maintenance of Moreton Bay’s Peel Island’.

A former hospital pharmacist, Peter is now a professional researcher, biographer, and author collecting local history in the Moreton Bay area. 

This presentation will highlight Peel Island’s history including pre-European occupation, its use by Europeans as a quarantine station, inebriate home, and lazaret (leprosarium), and, in 2007, the Island’s gazettal as a National Park and Conservation Park and the Lazaret Buildings as a Heritage Site. Peter will also look at Peel’s future when the island will be placed under the full control of the Quandamooka People, under whose guidance a new era of tourism and cultural exchange holds great promise.  

General Public Welcome, booking required for entry

When:     Friday 28th May 2021 at 7.00 pm

Where:   Redland Multi Sports Centre

             Cnr. Bailey & Randall Rd,

             Birkdale QLD 4159

Enjoy the club facilities, food available.

Please click here to register for event, limited to 50 attendees.

For more information phone Steve 423036676 Or email  bayside@wildlife.org.au

A panoramic view of the Peel Island Lazaret c.1955 (photo courtesy Dr Morgan Gabriel)

Stories from Peel Island – 8 – Arson at the Lazaret

Buildings at the Peel Island Lazaret (white men’s compound) as they appeared in 1907)

Peel Island Lazaret

The Secretary,                                                                                     2nd January, 1941.

Dept. of Public Health

BRISBANE.

Sir,

I have to report that the Recreation Room with all the contents were destroyed by fire early yesterday morning, 1st January, 1941.

I awoke at 1.50 a.m. at the sound of the crackle of fire and on looking out saw fire coming through the wall from the left hand corner of the recreation room, where the Pianola was standing.

N.S., a hospital patient, awakened about the same time as I and he called to the attendant C.Byrnes, who immediately ran over and called the other members of the staff.

The fire had enveloped the whole of the Recreation Room by 2 a.m. and was spreading rapidly towards the Billiard Room at one end and the Dining Room at the other, and it looked as if the whole of the block would have gone.

The whole staff worked magnificently also some of the patients and by 3.15 a.m. had the fire under control having only lost the Recreation Room and one Bathroom.

The patients headed by T.W. and R. M. removed the table and furniture from the Billiard Room and carried water for the staff who had to use buckets as the water pressure as too low for the hoses.

The reason for this we discovered when the fire was a little under, was that two large water taps in the building had been turned on.

            One of these taps could not be turned off without the aid of pliers as the top had been removed.

            This was so obviously a case of arson that I got in communication with the Dunwich Police as soon as I could, and Mr. Sands (in charge) came over and investigated, he (the constable) is returning this morning to take statements from patients and staff.

Inventory of Property destroyed in the Recreation Room.

1 Pianola                                             4 Large forms (with backs)                1 Table Tennis Set

1 Piano stool                                       6 Cane Lounge Chairs                        1 Croquet Set

250 Pianola Rolls                                1 Punching Ball                                  2 Tennis Rackets

2 Large tables.                                    1 Petrel (sic) Lamp.                            Books (about 200).

It was absolutely impossible to save any of this property.     

Yours respectfully,

(Sgd) A.O’Brien,

Matron.

2nd Jan., 1941.

Flames soon consumed the Recreation Room at the Lazaret

Further to the Matron’s letter, when I interviewed patient ‘Alex’ for my book, ‘Peel Island – Paradise or Prison’ he added this comment:

‘Each Christmas, it was the custom for the men to decorate their recreation hall for the season’s festivities. As well as the usual paper streamers etc, this involved the cutting of various eucalypts from the surrounding bush to be used as Christmas trees. This hall contained the new piano and during the festive season there was even more carousing and singing than normal. One year in the early 1940s, Christmas came and went but the decorations were left up for some weeks afterwards, and all the cut eucalypts in the hall became tinder dry. One night, without warning, the hall caught fire, and although the alarm was raised, without water there was nothing anyone could do to extinguish the blaze. 

‘The cause of the fire was never known, but many suspected the blaze to be deliberately lit by a reclusive couple of patients whose huts were adjacent to the hall and who were known to be annoyed by the noise of the singing and piano playing of the Christmas revellers. It would have been an easy matter to set a match to the dried eucalyptus leaves in the hall and escape before the fire took hold.’

Peel Island Lazaret’s New Recreation Hall c.1955 (photo courtesy Dr Morgan Gabriel)

The Recreation Room was not replaced until 1945 when a new Recreation Hall was opened by Dr Eric Reye on Nov 3rd.

Peel’s Last Walkabout? By Peter Ludlow

            On Friday 18 September, I was privileged to attend the Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron’s Sail Cruising Group for a presentation for the best cruise organisers of 2019-2020. The trophy went to Warren and Debbie Kerswill, owner of the sailing catamaran Phase2.

L to R Warren Kerswill (holding the trophy), Peel historian, Peter Ludlow, Debbie Kerswill, and Peter Shepherd the Sail Cruising Chairperson in 2019 (photo courtesy RQYS Sail Cruising Group)

Craig Margetts, this year’s Sail Cruise Chair relates: ‘Warren and Debbie put a tremendous effort into the organisation of this cruise, even arranging for Peter Ludlow (the Moreton Bay historian) to provide a comprehensive talk on the history of Peel Island including its use as a quarantine station and leper colony.  This primed us for the visit prior to the cruise.  It had taken months to get the necessary approvals from National Parks. Cruisers were greeted ashore by the Chairperson of the Friends of Peel Island Association (FOPIA), Scott Fowle and Peter Ludlow who lead us to the settlement. With over 30 in the party it was split into two groups, led by Peter Ludlow and Scott Fowle for an interesting tour around the Lazaret.’

Heading up the track towards the Lazaret (photo courtesy RQYS Sail Cruising Group)

FOPIA R.I.P

No one there on that day was to know that this walkabout could well be the last conducted tour of Peel Island, because FOPIA, who has led many such tours over the previous two decades, closed down at the end of June this year. In 1998 the Friends of Peel Island Association was formed to assist with the maintenance and restoration work and to promote public awareness of Peel’s cultural and historic values. As well as regular work parties, the group supplied tour guides for the many organisations keen to visit and learn about the island’s history. Gradually, however, due to the lack of official manpower/money/interest in Peel, these have now finished and the island seems destined to be reclaimed by Nature. With the channeling of funds into the development of tourism at nearby Stradbroke, but not Peel, an opportunity has been missed.  

Inside the Recreation Hall (photo courtesy RQYS Sail Cruising Group)

See also Peel Island in Retrospect (07.12.2019)

Jack Wheeler’s Memories of Moreton Bay

At the September 2005 meeting of the Redcliffe Historical Society, I listened to the lecture by Peter Ludlow on Peel Island. It brought back memories to me of some of the Bay islands, when I was a very young boy, about seven or eight years old.  I was born in 1910, so this would have been around 1918.  By then, the Otter, the Government vessel, took supplies over to the three islands, St. Helena, which was the penal settlement; Peel Island, the lazaret; and to Stradbroke Island, at Dunwich, where there was a home for the elderly.

In those days you had to obtain a permit from the relevant department to travel on the Otter.  I think if you had relatives at Dunwich you could travel more often, but other people were limited to visiting there once a year.  I distinctly remember going there one day with my grandmother.  We sailed firstly to St Helena where a trolley was rolled out along the jetty by men who I take it were the ‘residents’.  The supplies were loaded onto this trolley.  Then we proceeded on to Peel Island where the same procedure was followed, the trolley perhaps rolled out by the healthier patients, or possibly staff.  Then the boat sailed on to Dunwich where I think we stayed for about two hours.  This gave you time to visit residents or walk around the area.  Then of course the Otter returned to Brisbane at North Quay.  I understand that it made this trip about twice a week.

The Otter at Dunwich Jetty (Photo courtesy Ossie Fischer)

It’s marvellous how listening to Peter’s lecture has revived my memories about these events.  Also, referring to old memories, I think it must have been in late 1914 or early 1915 that my father took me to Redcliffe. I would have been four or five.  I remember going there on the Koopa.  Now the Koopa, to us young boys, was the pride of the Brisbane River.  It had to be because it had two funnels, and any ship with two funnels was marvellous, you know!  I remember pulling in to the old Redcliffe Jetty, walking along this long jetty and coming to this house in the middle – I think we called it the halfway house – then stepping ashore at Redcliffe.  That was my first visit.

The second visit to this area was landing at Woody Point, on the Lucinda.  This boat used to bring the children of the State Schools there, for a picnic once a year.  Once again, I was with my grandmother.  We left Queen’s Wharf to sail down the Brisbane River, and then cross Bramble Bay to Woody Point.  We never came to Redcliffe for these picnics, just Woody Point.  I remember doing this trip a couple of times.  They were my early memories of Moreton Bay.

The Queensland Government’s vessel – Lucinda

My memories of Bribie Island were when the Brisbane Tug Company who owned the Koopa and the Beaver had a lease of the island.  There was a caretaker there, and little huts on the Passage side.  I remember staying there with my grandmother.  The huts were simple, one room, with beds, a wood stove and a sink.  There was no running water.  You had to use the pump at the caretaker’s house and carry the water in a kerosene tin back to your hut.  I think the rent was two shillings and sixpence (25 cents) a week.  That’s all there was at Bribie.  There was nothing over at the main beach.  We walked across, about three miles, on a sandy track.  I remember my mother and me doing this walk carrying drinking water in a billycan, which was always very warm on arrival!  There was only one vehicle on the island, which belonged to the caretaker, who was the only permanent resident.  It used to be amusing.  We’d sail to Bribie on the Koopa, which was equipped with a bar.  The people holidaying on the island would be waiting for us to tie up, then, as we went ashore, they would board the boat and enjoy the bar facilities.  This procedure was reversed when we were about to leave in the afternoon.  In later years, when people came to live on Bribie, a bowling club was formed.  In those days, Brisbane had no hotels open on a Sunday.  The bowling club had a liquor license, but could sell alcohol to members only.  This resulted in many Brisbane people joining the club, which was reputed to have the largest membership of any bowling club in Queensland!

The old Koopa kept on running, year after year.  Then the Second World War broke out in 1939. I was in the Navy, and I came across the Koopa at anchor in Milne Bay in New Guinea.  She was the mother ship to the Fairmile class of small Australian patrol boats.  I never heard of her after that, and don’t know what happened to her – whether she lies somewhere still or has been broken up for razor blades.

The Koopa (photo courtesy Yvonne D’Arcy)

Later when I was about fourteen, I sailed the bay with my family and friends.  I remember that we always skirted around Peel Island, afraid that we might get washed up there.  Then we sailed on to Dunwich, where we would get lovely fresh bread and stores.  We would travel down the Canaipa Passage, on to the Broadwater and Southport, where we anchored.  Altogether we spent a lovely two weeks around the southern part of the bay.  We lived on the boat, but went ashore for events such as the New Year’s Eve festivities at Southport.  Unlike some events today, with young people running wild, these were orderly yet enjoyable occasions. In those days, too, the waters were quiet, not crowded with the shipping that there is today.  There were no ‘tinnies’ with outboard motors, no jet-skis.  The Bay was peaceful as you sailed across, and plenty of fish for dinner!

Anyway, these are memories I like to think back on, and when you hear a lecture, someone else talking about these items, it brings back more recollections.  So to have people such as Peter Ludlow revive these memories for me is indeed a real pleasure.

Jack Wheeler

Redcliffe Historical Society

September 2005

Editor: Like my lecture to the Redcliffe Historical Society, I hope this blog will invoke many such memories of our Moreton Bay for you, my reader. But if you have none to invoke, then I hope my words will stimulate you go down to the bay and collect some of your own.

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

The Friends of Peel Island Association (FOPIA) Inc. closes down

On June 30th this year, FOPIA will close down for good. FOPIA was formed in 1998 to assist in maintenance and restoration work of the former lazaret, and to promote public awareness of Peel’s cultural and historic values. As one of the original founding members, I was a bit sad to see this group, once so full of hope for the future of Peel’s restored lazaret, finally call it a day. It had been a long time coming, but its death knell was surely last year’s decision not to rebuild a jetty to access the island. This effectively put a stop to any future development – for better or worse.

However, many fond memories of FOPIA remain:  our work parties often visited the lazaret and stayed overnight; many public lectures on the island’s history; fund raising boat trips; and curating a Peel Island exhibition at the Redland Museum which also visited the Redcliffe museum and was then on permanent display at Fort Lytton.

But to my mind, FOPIA’s most memorable achievement was to host a Peel Island Lazaret families’ day. What a day! After two unsuccessful attempts due to inclement weather, we were third time lucky, with the weather beautiful and the sea calm for a unique gathering on Peel Island at the lazaret. Family of patients and staff of the lazaret, along with FOPI members, QPWS staff and others travelled to Peel Island on Sunday 26 September 2008 to commemorate the Centenary of the lazaret, and of National Parks in Queensland. For some it was their first time to the island, for others it was the first time in many years, but for everyone it turned out to be a very special day. Connections were made or renewed, and with stories of the place and the impact of its history shared. 

The gathering of Peel’s families at the lazaret

In the words of Welcome to Country from Aboriginal elder, Auntie Margaret, ‘it was  ..a day of getting together with beloved families and friends of patients. Friends and families of the staff, and most all the Aboriginal families of our Aboriginal workers who worked here all those many years ago… Today is for all to come together, indigenous and non-indigenous alike. To reflect with kindness, unity, and most of all trust because deep down, trust is a gift of learning, everything that life brings.’