LARGE FAMILY – SMALL ISLAND (The Phillips Family, King Island)

 Early last century, before the advent of the Salk Vaccine, poliomyelitis was a common childhood disease. There was little that could be done by way of treatment, but frequent salt water bathing seemed to be beneficial. The curative effects of the waters of Moreton Bay induced many families to move into the region. Such was the case with the Phillips family, one of whose seven children, Jo, had contracted polio. They were to live on tiny King Island, off Wellington Point from December 1904 until April 1906.

 Today, ninety years later, King Island is a popular destination for throngs of day trippers who visit Wellington Point. At low tide, the island is joined to the mainland by a snaking sand-spit along which the visitors happily make their pilgrimage. King Island is hardly much bigger than a football field, a grass covered sand dune protected on its eastern flank by a windbreak of mangroves. It is difficult to imagine how a husband and wife with their seven children and a maid could survive for 18 months in such a small area. But they did so, and by all reports were very happy. One of the children, Clarrie, recorded these memories in 1980.

The sand spit to King Island today – a favourite stroll for families (at low tide, of course)


‘Today, King Island is only a skeleton compared to what it was when we lived there. About half or even more has washed away. This was caused by the local council cutting down all the mangrove trees about 50 years ago (1930). I would estimate that originally there was about half an acre of thick vine scrub comprising some sizeable trees, including dogwood, ironwood, cotton trees etc. There were also some thick patches of lantana but no prickly pear (a common pest over many parts of Queensland at that time). Inhabitants of the scrub included possums … bandicoots, and genuine water-rats… Several varieties of birds lived on the island including Landrails and Land Curlews (stone plover). Flocks of Rainbow Lorikeets (Bluies) frequently visited the island. Sounds a bit like ‘Paradise Lost’.

‘Good fish were plentiful around the island and if the weather was suitable, we could catch what we wanted almost at will. One of mother’ s favourite dishes was a large sea bream stuffed with oysters and baked in our colonial oven.

‘King Island was one of the best oyster banks in Moreton Bay and was reserved for the public. There were certain conditions to be observed. One was that no oysters were to be removed in their shell, but people were permitted to open them on the bank and place the oyster in a jar or similar container… The opened shells were then supposed to be taken close to the low water mark and scattered over a fair area. The shells apparently were very suitable for the embryo oyster to fasten onto and grow to maturity.

‘The reef around King Island was a great source of enjoyment to us as well as supplying us with tasty food – oysters, crabs, fish, and occasionally with sea curlew and snipe. There was also plenty of enjoyment for us children – such as shooting or spearing sharks, stingarays, and shovelnose shark.

‘An old man was camped at Wellington Point, and he would dress our cut feet (from the oyster shells) with shark oil. He induced us to make some ourselves from shark livers. We started spearing shovelnoses for their livers and mother rendered them down. Our real object was to make some money as shark oil was three shillings and six pence (35 cents) per gallon. We found out it was not a commercial proposition as about 100 sharks would be required to produce a gallon.’


‘The camp comprised a main sleeping marquee which had a first-class wooden floor, two double beds and one single one. We three elder boys had a bell tent to ourselves and we had a spare one for visitors. The maid had a separate one. Our dining room/kitchen was under a large cotton wood tree and was protected by a galvanised iron roof. We had a colonial oven…and a ‘lean to’ with an open fire and a camp oven. We boys often brought in clumps of oysters (in their shells) and roasted them in the fire. Mother liked hers done in the oven – they were heated until they commenced to open. She called it poached – cooked in their own juice. Some of our school mates would come down and stay the weekend now and again, bringing a good load of vegetables from their farms. They were always thrilled with the seafood.

‘An old chap, Mr Radford who had a very small stall at the Point, was engaged to bring us fresh water, as there was none on the island and we could not catch any rain. He brought the water across to the island by trap and his faithful horse “Duke”. The track across was fairly good as the coral pieces, pebbles, and shells made a pretty good surface.’


 ‘My father found that he could leave King Island shortly after 7 a.m. for Wellington Point where he had arranged for Dick Wilson, a local storekeeper, to meet him and take him up to catch the 8 a.m. train from Wellington Point. This arrived in Brisbane in ample time to commence preparing for 9 a. m. office duties – banks opened for public business at 10 a.m. then. He usually got back to Wellington Point about 5.30 p.m. or 6 p. m. and he had to do the trip (from the Point to the island) in the dark.

‘Mother always seemed to be in a jolly mood and took things as they came – hot, cold, dry or windy weather did not spoil her jolly character or her sense of humour. Her unbounded energy was a great asset, I cannot ever remember her saying that she was tired – she was always looking forward to the next thing to be done.

‘Sometimes father would bring the “Biandra” over and we would go around the bay. In good weather we sometimes got over to Amity Point. I remember once we ran out of wind and it was a case of get out the “Wooden Topsails”, or, in other words, oars. Mother could really handle her 12 foot (4 metre) ” Sweep'” (another fancy name for a paddle or an oar).’


 ‘I wish that I had kept a diary and not relied on my memory alone. It would be nice to leave some record for the up-and-coming members of one’s family to look back on. So few seem to realise that present day happenings may well be regarded as History in the future.’ 

Phillips family (Myrtle, Clarrie and Josie Phillips) at Maroochydore 1929

Insert image Phillips family (Myrtle, Clarrie and Josie Phillips) at Maroochydore 1929

 (Condensed from a letter written by Clarrie Phillips to his sister, Jo, and kindly made available to me by his grandson, Brian Phillips).

Extract from Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection. This book is still available from Boolarong Press at Boolarong