Ralph Munro’s Reminiscences – Part 2 – Coral Dredging

At this stage I joined Queensland Cement who were working from Ormiston and dredging coral from Raby Bay. We had our own private island, which we accessed via a causeway from the road next to the little church just down, from Ormiston House. The island was formed from ironstone that was pumped up while they were dredging. We closed it down for years but when they built the Gateway Bridge, we opened it up again. All the coral sent up river to make the cement used in the Gateway Bridge came from Raby Bay. We kept the dredging going for five years to get the stockpile up to build the gateway bridge. We put the old dredge Kawana into use for two years while the new dredge Amity was being built. The loading barge for it was the John Oxley, which could carry three and a half thousand tons. 

Coral Dredge in Raby Bay (photo courtesy Ralph Munro)

The Kawana was a suction dredge and had been used to cut channels and pump the sand up to raise the land level at Kawana Waters Estate. At Raby Bay there was a floating line out to the loader barge so that we could put a barge under either side, and get about 1200 tons in each. The sucker-cutter would work side to side pumping the coral back in through a 16-inch pipe. There were five 16-inch pipes on each side of the loader barge. 

We used the tide to help the tug take the barges upstream. By dredging at low tide, the tug would get the tide helping all the way up the Brisbane River to Darra and on the outgoing tide she would take the empty barge back to Raby Bay. Over the period of 5 to 7 years of the dredging that would save well over $1 million in fuel. The tug was the Moreton Tug and Lighters pusher, then later when we built the new dredge for Mud Island and St Helena it was the John Oxley, a giant split barge that was self-propelled. When it got up to Darra, the bottom opened and it dropped the load of coral into a clay hole and then it was grab loaded onto a conveyor belt into the kilns where it was crushed and burnt to form the lime that makes the Portland cement, the strongest engineering cement. The Gateway is made from the strongest engineering cement in the world. 

After coral dredging finished at Raby Bay, we went to Mud Island and St Helena. The prisoners at St Helena, of course, were the first to use the coral from the island in the kiln that still is to be seen on the island. The wash up coral travels up through the island and destroys the vegetation. It is very light and at Raby Bay at low tide you can see it washing towards the beach. 

I had gone back to yacht sailing by this stage, and was able to use my weekday dredging to benefit my yacht racing at the weekend. I was able to dig away at the coral on the Eastern side of St Helena to my benefit in yacht races because our vessel would know where to cut corners and thus give us an advantage. On Monday there might have been 2 feet at low tide but by Friday there might have been 38 feet. We could go down through the coral until we reached ironstone and then we would have to stop because we couldn’t have more than 4% ironstone otherwise it wouldn’t go through the kiln properly. On some spots off St   Helena we went down 65 feet. As we dredged closer into the island, we had to keep lifting our cutter when we hit ironstone. 

Coral dredging got traded off for a section of Mount Etna in Central Queensland but I think that too is now exhausted and Queensland Cement bought a new ship the Warden Point which goes to Whyalla to get the fly ash (90% pure lime) and to New Zealand on alternate trips to bring the lime to our Darra Cement works. 

My last job with Queensland Cement was the clean-up of the buildings at Southbank after the finish of Expo 1988. To save 2000 to 5000 truckloads of rubble from rebuilding the Expo site passing through the city, I suggested to Chris Sorrensen that we hire out our barges to Expo and take the material to the designated dump ground on the inside of Mud Island. This we did. 

After that I worked at the Prawn Farm and then ran a boat for Kerry Bell who owned Queensland Fasteners. The boat was a 52 footer and was called the Lady Bell. It was my job to take customers on Night River cruises, two or three times a week. Or weekend fishing parties. Kerry was building the company to make it more attractive for a takeover, and succeeded. This went on for three years until my mum got crook, so I came home. 

I was keen to get into houseboats in the NSW Northern Rivers, but the NSW Government banned live-aboard boats. (Living aboard was limited to 10 nights every 6 months unless it was a charter boat). I am still exploring the rivers there and a houseboat would have been the ideal way to do it. 

Coral Dredge cutting gear (photo courtesy Ralph Munro)

Ralph Munro 12 January 2008 

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

Stories from Raby Bay

Raby Bay is that area of water in Moreton Bay between Cleveland Point and Ormiston. It was named by the surveyor James Warner on 1 July 1841, after the Duke of Cleveland who was also known as Baron Raby. In 1885, there was a land sale to the south of Raby Bay known as the Raby Bay Estate.

Raby Bay Estate
Raby Bay Estate

Merv Hazell:

“An Easter tradition was the 10 foot Sharpie races at Cleveland Point.  The race was conducted from Cleveland Jetty and was three times round a triangular course in Raby Bay.  The prize of £5 was presented to the winner at the Cleveland picture show that night. Incidentally £5 pounds ($10) was a substantial sum in comparison to the usual racing prizes of 2/6 or 5/- (25 or 50 cents.)” (a)

Ralph Munro:

“When I joined Queensland Cement I was dredging coral from Raby Bay. We had our own private island that was formed from ironstone pumped up while we were dredging. We closed it down for years, but when they built the Gateway Bridge, we opened it up again. All the coral sent up river to make the cement used in the Gateway Bridge came from Raby Bay.” (b)

Coral Dredge in Raby Bay (photo courtesy Ralph Munro)
Coral Dredge in Raby Bay (photo courtesy Ralph Munro)

Price Family:

“Norm Price is remembered for his vision as a fine diplomat and farmer, introducing the first  crude  channel irrigation system to the Redlands on his Cleveland farm, developing Shires roadways from dirt tracks to gazetted main roads and for his  farsighted proposal in the 1950’s to relocate the showgrounds from Shore  Street North (opposite the Grandview Hotel near the present day Raby Bay development) to its present location.” (c)

Kate Millar:

“Of an afternoon, I used to have to go up on my pushbike to Raby Bay train station, which was situated down a little dirt road that went down towards the water from where the Sands Hotel is now. I used to meet the rail motor from Manly, which used to get in about 5.15 in the afternoon, and pick up the bundle of “Telegraph” newspapers. Then I’d have to do a paper run on my bike to deliver them. One of my first deliveries was to the Sands Hotel, which at that stage was under Thurhect’s management. I used to take the paper in to the hotel and front up to the bar for a ‘double sars’. After I’d had my drink at the bar, I’d get on my bike and do the paper run which went all around the Raby Bay area, then down Middle Street, Oyster Point, and then along Cleveland Point. I’d always end the run in the darkness of night. All I had for a light was a battery operated torch that fitted in a holder between the handlebars. On one occasion, near the Police Station that was then situated near the Cenotaph, I was riding up towards Oyster Point and passed a beautiful old Queenslander home that belonged to the Ramsey family. The house was next door to the bakery of G.W.Walters – where all our bread came from. Actually all the houses in that area were owned by G.W.Walters and were used by the employees of his bakery. In those days, Cleveland was owned by virtually just a couple of people.” (d)

Peter Ludlow:

In June 1979 the Queensland Government approved a canal estate development in Raby Bay and construction commenced in 1983. The first stage was officially opened on 23 November 1984 with 158 blocks to be sold at prices between $53,000 to $96,000 each. By 1997 the final stage (Stage 15) of the Raby Bay canal development was completed, with the last canal flooded in December. (e)

Raby Bay Harbour before flooding
Raby Bay Harbour before flooding

Albert Benfer:

“Well the canal development at Raby Bay was one that I did agonise over for long time. I voted for it despite some of my friends who were vehemently against it and I’m pleased to say that we’re still friends, but I did vote for that, and today I do feel that it was a wonderful project for the Redlands. I feel that it made the Cleveland area quite a paradise, I feel that it made an impression on the Shire and I felt that you either have a massive big yacht marine centre or you have to canals where people can live and tie their boats up. I felt it was better to have people living there and their homes, spending their money in the centre, general economic development was much better for that to happen rather than a massive yacht squadron down at Manly, I never did like that kind of development. Even today, with the antifouling paints, there is massive pollution, heavy metals from that style of congregation of boats and I feel that this kind of Canal development is a better proposition.” (f)

55 - Raby Bay sunset
Raby Bay sunset Sunset on Raby Bay harbour


  1. (a) Peter Ludlow – Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection 
  2. (b) Peter Ludlow – The Port of Brisbane, Its People and Its Personalities
  3. (c) Peter Ludlow – WW1 Heroes of the Redlands (still to be published)
  4. (d) Peter Ludlow – Moreton Bay People 2012
  5. (e) Peter Ludlow – Raby Quays Newsletter
  6. (f) Redland Shire Council Oral History Project