(Ray Barrett, Dunwich)

When the Queensland Cruising Yacht Club was formed, fashioned after its Sydney counterpart, yachting here was dominated by Doug Drouyn who ran a music shop called Drouyn and Drouyn.  His boat was a double ender which he sailed in the Sydney Hobart Race, and when he returned to Brisbane, he, Ray, and others started the QCYC, on the premise that it only takes two boats to have a race. Then they started the Brisbane to Gladstone race. “In those days, we were farmers, really, and how we ever made it to Gladstone I’ll never know.  We started at Humpybong, and it was a matter of leaving the bay and turning left.” Freddie Markwell was another of the early participants.

When Ray left for London at the end of 1958 to try to break into films overseas, he sold his boat “Countess” to fellow yachting enthusiast, Noel Stanaway. The only film work Ray had done at that stage was a TV show with Spike Milligan in Sydney. Whilst in London he did the “Troubleshooters” series, and became a well-known face on TV screens around the world.  Although the work was high pressure, it suited him because he was able to have three months off at a time to sight-see around Europe.   A floor manager at the film studios had a house on a Spanish island and offered it to Ray to have a break from filming.  He immediately fell in love with the place, bought a block of land nearby, and built his own home there.  He still owns it to this day.

Insert image Ray-Barrett-pic

Actor, Ray Barrett

 When Ray returned to Brisbane in the 1970s, he was visiting his brother’s boat showroom at Breakfast Creek.  It so happened that Noel Stanaway was in the showroom at the same time.  They got talking about the fun that each had had on the “Countess” during their respective years of ownership, and Ray wondered where she had ended up.  Remarkably Noel had just seen her sail past on Breakfast Creek on the way to Tripcony’s slip. Thirty-five years had elapsed since Ray had begun building the “Countess”, so after a few beers at the Breakfast Creek pub to fortify his nerve, Ray ventured round to the slip to see if Noel was right.  Sure enough he was!  There was a fellow underneath the boat painting its bottom.

“Who owns it?” Ray asked him.

“Got her up for sale,” was the reply. “It’s got a good bottom in it, you know.”

“Yes, I know.  I built it.”

The fellow’s mouth fell open “You Ray Barrett?”

Ray nodded, and the fellow went into Tripcony’s shed and came out with spars, and the old stainless-steel bolt which a German toolmaker had made for Ray during the war.  He gave them to Ray as souvenirs.

Ray’s son, Reggie, was then about 5 or 6, and Ray bought the “Countess” back for him.  He’d always had a painting of it in his bedroom in London. The pair used to bring it over to Dunwich where they kept it on the bank at the One Mile, and they would come over and go fishing on it. They cruised all around the bay and met a lot of people.  It was a great thrill for Ray to take his son out on the boat he had built some 40 years previously.  When Ray’s work forced him to move away from Brisbane again, he didn’t want to leave the “Countess” rotting on some bank, so he gave it to the girls’ Sea Rangers at Sandgate to use as their mother ship, and as far as he knows, it is still there today.

Later, when Ray returned again from overseas, he lived in Brisbane.  He’d sold his house in London, and he decided to buy a boat here, called the “Odette”.   He met his second wife, Gay, through sailing in Sydney, and they used to visit Dunwich regularly on the “Odette” to see Ray’s boating friends.  Ray had often thought that he would like to live at Dunwich, and it so happened that this property was on the market.  The pair bought it as soon as they saw it. He also had a mooring at the One Mile. It had been his original intention to stay in Australia only for six months, and perhaps do some fishing up the reef.  But the film industry here was going through a resurgence at that stage, and he was offered a lot of work, so he decided to stay on.  

During these later years as a resident of Dunwich, Ray and his wife have taken up the cudgel to ensure that progress doesn’t destroy the intrinsic nature of North Stradbroke Island.  As a member of Water Watchers, he’s added his high profile to the islanders’ negotiations with the Redland Shire Council to prevent the council pumping Stradbroke water to the mainland. “All these islands are sand islands with huge reserves of subterranean waters.  Pumping them away is likely to interfere with the freshwater swamps upon which so much of the island’s fauna and flora depend.  There were well over 100 Stradbroke residents who turned up at the Dunwich hall.  But even as we negotiated with the council, the council had already laid the pipes.”

Ray also supports SIMO (Stradbroke Island Management Organization) and FOSI (Friends of Stradbroke Island) and is ever willing to make a resounding speech on their behalf.  Other conservation measures also concern him: “I know that trawlers have to earn a living, but I am against them dropping their nets at the One Mile which upsets the young crustaceans, and spawning grounds.  Ellie (Durbidge) and I think it would be marvellous to stop all trawling inside the bay for 3 or 4 years to give everything a chance to regenerate.  The trawlers don’t seem to be doing so much netting of late, so our protests must be doing some good.  My young son just recently came back from the Dunwich jetty with the biggest bream I’ve seen in years, so it has given me heart that there is still some hope for the fisherman in the bay.

“Up at Myora beyond the springs they want to put a huge sandpumping pipeline all across the Fish Habitat to the deep water of Rainbow Channel. You can imagine the shipping constantly coming up there would ruin the fish habitat. The Myora Fish Habitat was declared on the 23rd of January 1969.  It was Queensland’s first habitat reserve, and now they are in danger of destroying it.

“From the One Mile all the way to the Point at Myora beacon, all the sandy flats are full of crabs and yabbies.  Mangroves line the shore.  The mangrove must by the most amazing tree in the world.  The leaves drop and rot, and the roots aerate and cleanse the soil, so much depends on them.  Arthur Borey was one of the older fraternity who had arranged to show three Redland Council engineers the swamps and danger areas.  The engineers never even bothered to turn up.”

            On the way back to the ferry, Ray shows me Jack Borey’s grave in the picturesque cemetery overlooking the water. Nearby is the site of Bonty Dickson’s first shop, on the bank of the creek just beside the present caravan park.  The shop was just a corrugated iron shed, two roomed, with a counter with a piece of corrugated iron which he held up with a stick.  He had a pianola in the shop although it had only a mud floor, and the rum would be passed around and there would be great sing songs whenever Ray came down.

Bonty Dickson’s store at Dunwich (photo courtesy Ray Cowie)

Extract from Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection’.


(Ray Barrett, Dunwich)

It is the morning of January 16, 1991, and the United Nations’ ultimatum for Iraq to leave Kuwait has just expired.  Yet the threat of imminent war seems a long way from the peace of Dunwich and the glassy waters of Moreton Bay.  A long way, too, from the film and TV industries’ production centres for such a famous actor as Ray Barrett, but a refuge none the less from the pressure of his work. From the cool comfort of his waterside home at Dunwich, Ray reminisces about his early sailing days, “It was always my desire, like so many young fellows who came from sailing families, to sail on the bay; and building my own boat was the only way I could afford to do just this.”

In his early teens, Ray took his father to see a twelve foot skiff which was for sale for £14. His father could see that it was rotten, and so refused to buy the boat for his son.  However, he did purchase timber so that Ray could build his own boat, and over the next few years, working in his parents’ Kedron backyard, he completed five craft of ever increasing dimensions.

During World War II at the age of 16 he began working as a radio announcer at station 4BH.  On a top bracket weekly wage of £8, Ray conducted the breakfast programme, which required him to catch the 5.30 am tram so that he could open up the station at 6.  Later when 4KQ commenced transmission, Ray transferred there and received a £2 a week increase in his wages.  As well as his radio work, Ray was acting with the ABC and little theatre groups. It was at this time, too, that Ray completed building the last and largest of his boats – a 24 foot sailer which he named “Countess”.  Dunwich became one of his favourite destinations.

Always ready with a humorous story, even against himself, Ray likes to relate his navigational skills: “The entrance to the One Mile Basin at Dunwich is narrow and flanked by two long sandbanks.  I’d leave the retractable keel three quarters down and I’d keep the craft on a tack until I felt the keel hit one of the sandbanks.  Then I’d tack the other way until it hit the other bank, and so on.”

Early days at the One Mile Harbour (photo courtesy Ron Peterson)

Another of Ray’s navigation stories involves Norman Wright Senior: “Old Norm would supplement his income by taking fishing parties outside, and would go in all weathers and despite the pleas of any seasick passengers.  Once, while being challenged about his navigational skills by a “greenie” he was just professing his knowledge of the sandbanks at the mouth of the Brisbane River, when the rolling craft bounced onto a bank. Unperturbed, he took another swig of rum and ordered the pick to be thrown over!”

At Dunwich, Ray became very friendly with Bonty Dickson, Dunwich’s only shopkeeper at the time.  He often came out to the boat for a drink and sing song.  At the sound of his wife’s voice hollering across the water from his shop, Bonty would feign deafness and disappear below decks with the bottle of rum.

Another of Ray’s close friends at Dunwich was Jack Borey, one of a large family of Portuguese and Aboriginal parentage.  At that time the Aborigines used to live in a community at the One Mile in houses of driftwood and corrugated iron.  Jack used to run some oyster banks then and often, when he went walkabout looking for posts to use as stakes for his oysters, Ray would accompany him, a welcome escape from the hair-raising crew he had brought from Brisbane. Jack could easily recognise Ray’s boat as it came over beside Peel Island, and by the time it had dropped anchor beside Bonty Dickson’s oyster banks, Jack would come out in his little tarred wooden flattie which he used on his oyster banks and ask in his pronounced stutter “Like w-where do you want em, Ray?” and he’d pour a kerosene tin full of oysters into Ray’s dinghy and then come aboard. There were always dozens of oysters in Ray’s dinghy while he was over at Dunwich during the war. “My daily routine was to dive over the side with an oyster knife and knock off a few dozen oysters. We had them with a beer for breakfast.”

Waiting for water taxi at One Mile in 2020

Extract from Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection’.