David Willes continues …

As well as the Willes’, the Jackson’s was an early family on Russell.  Their property was situated on the north-west of the island and looked out over the boat passage and down towards Southport.  The mangroves around the Jacksons place were a plentiful source of mudcrabs.  Originally the family had conducted a cannery for the pineapples grown on the island, but at the outbreak of WWI when the supply of tin became scarce, it was forced to close down.  Many other smaller canneries shared a similar fate at this time.  The family also had a sawmill with its ubiquitous mound of sawdust.  They also had a sports oval on their property for the locals to use. There was another hall on the edge of the sports ground.  This hall was used by the Protestants for their church services.  The Catholics probably held their services in private houses.

The Jacksons farm on Russell Island

The Field’s had a shop on Russell even before we had ours.  I remember Old Field had an old car.  There were several on the island in my early days.  One was memorable because it could only be driven backwards up from the jetty.  Mostly though, transport around the island was by horse and buggy.

The Salways was another early family on the island.  They had a property and jetty on the southern corner opposite Cobby Cobby Island. However, they moved off and opened a shop at Southport.  Another family from the southern end of Russell was the Fischer family.  Dave Fischer bought the “Kingurra” from Dad.  He kept it on a bit of beach at his property which my father would always point out as we sailed to Southport.

Other early identities included Dinny Hayes, an Irishman who lived near the jetty and who liked his grog; and Mrs Larsen, who rode a horse down to collect her mail.  Her son, Dick Watts, used to skipper the “Mirimar” down to Karragarra.  Dick also had his own boat, the “Mariner” which he sometimes used instead.

During the Great Depression of the early 1930s, there were a lot of young fellers on Russell who were out of work.  The Government let them squat there and they built themselves shacks from the native timber.  Food from the bay was quite plentiful, and they were able to carry on a hand to mouth existence.  Many did quite well.

All the aborigines had gone from Russell by my time.  Their remnants settled at Myora near Dunwich on Stradbroke Island.


Giant’s Grave on Russell Island (photo Ken Goodman)

The Giant’s Grave used to be quite a landmark for the old mariners.  Situated on the western side of Russell, just north of Brown’s Bay, this large mound of tree covered earth bore resemblance to the grave of an imagined giant.  Willes Island in the Canaipa Passage, Mount Willes on Stradbroke, and Willes and Alice Streets on Russell Island are the sole namesakes of the Willes family. There was also a lime kiln excavated into the cliff between our place “Tukabin” (grass spears) on Old House Point and the beach. I also remember the relics of the saltworks on Macleay Island.  There was no connection between these and my grandfather’s at Canaipa.  It is said that the Macleay saltworks folded soon after receiving an advance of money. The Willes family left Russell just before the outbreak of WWII in 1939, and the Telegraph Newspaper did quite an article about Dad at the time.  We went to live at Wellington Point then, where we carried on farming.

David Willes

August 1, 1994


1867    Messrs. Alexander and Armour commence saltworks at Canaipa Point

1868    John Willes settles at Canaipa Point and buys saltworks

                        Catherine Willes commences her 38 year duty as Lady of the Lamp

1908    Mr Atkins begins first mail boat service (sail) from Redland Bay

1912    Routledge Bros begin first weekly motor boat service Redland Bay to islands

1914    John Willes appointed first Postmaster at Russell Island

1916    Frederick Willes appointed Postmaster

1916    Russell Island school opened in centre of island – Eileen Willes first teacher

1920    sports club commenced

1923    First telephone connection to Russell Island. Fred Willes appointed operator

192?    Church of England Parish Hall opened

1926    school moved to present site

1931    school becomes RKLM Islands school

                        Sam Hall begins school boat service

1949    wireless telephone (the first in Queensland) between Russell Is and Cleveland

1950    Jackson’s picture theatre opened

1950    fire destroys Post Office and store

1954    two teachers appointed to school

196?    hall enlarged

1966    electricity connected to Russell Island

Extract from Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection’.


David Willes continues …

My father, Fred Willes, went over to England and came back to Russell with his bride.  Originally, they stayed at Canaipa House, but she was very taken aback with the toilet, a rickety affair perched on top of a cliff.  It always looked on the point of falling down.  She must have thought we were a bunch of hill-billys, but it did have a good view!

Eventually Fred and his wife moved out on their own into the original family house at Old House Point, just to the east of the present public jetty.   Before this jetty was built, boats used Dad’s private jetty at Old House Point.  Fruit from the farms was transported over primitive bush tracks, which were made and maintained on a working bee basis by the farmers themselves. There were no rates or electricity or reticulated water but we were happy without the Council.  Dad was fortunate because he had lots of tanks to collect rainwater for drinking, and three wells for irrigating our crops.  At this time, everything had to be carried by horse and cart to the jetty which had its own rail trolley to carry goods along its length.  The Gibson’s boats, “Roo”, “Grace” or “Ivanhoe” would then transport the fruit to the markets at Brisbane. 

The jetty at Old House Point was demolished during WWII.

The islands of Southern Moreton Bay

My father, Fred, conducted the passenger service around the islands to Redland Bay on the “Winifred”, a 36 footer built by the Tripconys.  It had an 18″ draught, and copper bottom.  The route, once marked on the old Shell maps of the bay, was from Redland Bay to Karragarra, to Macleay, to Lamb, to the other end of Karragarra, then past Old House Point on Russell to the Russell Island jetty.  In those days, this involved a trip through the “W” s, a series of mud banks between Redland Bay and Russell.  To negotiate them required a certain amount of mariner skills.  Nowadays they have been dredged out, thus making navigation much easier.

Willes Island

On July 1, 1914, my grandfather, John Willes, had been appointed Russell Island’s first postmaster.  For a payment of £6/-/- per year, his duty was to pick up the mail from Redland Bay every Saturday and bring it back to the islands.  After John’s death, my father, Fred Willes, took over on July 1, 1916.

When I was old enough, Dad gave me a little job to help with the mail service.  The mail service was then twice a week, and every Wednesday and Saturday at 8 am he went to Redland Bay for the mail, returning at 3 pm with the mailbags for all the islands.  My job, which I could not get out of doing for years, was to go to Tom Jackson’s (a relation of the sawmilling family) and collect his private mail bag.  People who had private bags had to pay extra for the service.  The others had to come to the Post Office at our shop to collect their mail.  The bags would be hanging at the top of the stairs or else the wife would be waving it at me.  I’d pick up their bag and deliver incoming bags.  Most of the time I’d run the distance on foot, but at others I’d use a horse.  We had two horses which ran wild on the island, Paddy and Pattie.  I’d ride Pattie who would often bolt and leave me behind as I dismounted to open the gate.  I gave that away and bought a push-bike. The Salways family also had a private bag, which my brother collected on horseback.

My family grew bananas, and also watermelons which Fred took down to the markets at Southport.  On one occasion, while sailing down alone with a boat fully laden with melons, he fell overboard.  Fortunately, he grabbed one of the ropes and was able to haul himself back on board.  It was all just part of the day’s work then!

Fred donated the land for the Church of England on the island.  Although the building was primarily a church, the altar could be shut off with sliding doors, and the hall used for dances etc.  I was only very small at the time it was built but I swear that I saw them put money (pound notes) under one of the stumpcaps.  Once, a rival shop opened up to catch the dances, but Fred objected to this competition for his shop.  Because he had donated the land to the church, his rival was forced to shut shop.  Fred must have had a bit of pull on the island.

St Peters Anglican Church, Russell Island today

Sickness was a problem.  The nearest ambulance had to come from Wynnum.  Often in an emergency (and they were usually at night), Dad would be woken up take a sick islander to Redland Bay. Being the Postmaster, he would phone the Wynnum ambulance to come to the Redland Bay jetty to meet his boat there.

 In the early days of the school, a couple of kids from one of the other islands boarded with my mother at our house on Russell.  Then old Sam Hall began to run his little put-put around the surrounding islands to pick up the kids for the school.  He would drop them home again in the afternoons.  Eileen Willes was the island’s first schoolteacher.  She was uncle William’s daughter.

Mount Cotton used to conduct floral competitions which Russell Island school used to enter.  We kids would be given the day off to pick wildflowers which were sent over to Mount Cotton for the competition.  Quite often, we’d win.  Although I attended the Russell Island school for a while, Dad thought it unsuitable for me, possibly because he wanted me to be a minister, and I was later sent to Windsor state school and then to Churchie, after the Scholarship Examination.

David Willes

August 1, 1994

Extract from Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection’.

(To be continued)


RQYS base at Canaipa Point on Russell Island

In addition to its Manly facility, the Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron (RQYS) also has its own private island retreat at Canaipa Point on Russell Island in southern Moreton Bay, complete with a caretaker, campsites, open fire pit, an amenities block and swimming pool, for the exclusive convenience of their Full Members and their guests. 

FOPIA Cruise 2004

In 2004 the Friends of Peel Island Association (FOPIA) held a money raising cruise down Southern Moreton Bay and stopped off at Canaipa Point for morning tea. While waiting in line for my cuppa I reflected on the Willes family, who originally lived here. 

David Willes remembers …

An Oxford man, my grandfather, John Willes had arrived in Queensland as one of England’s landed gentry in 1865.  First settling at Gladstone, he became a partner in a successful saltworks there.  When he learnt that a similar saltworks had been established at Canaipa in 1867 by Messrs. Alexander and Armour, he left Gladstone and purchased the Canaipa plant.  At that time, there was an import duty of £4/10/- per ton on salt coming into the country, so the saltworks flourished.  However, when this duty was abolished, sailing ships were able to bring salt in as ballast and the price of salt plummeted as it became freely available.  My grandfather then turned his attention to farming.

After settling at Old House Point, he then built Canaipa House for his wife, Catherine, and their five children.  It was a decent size with large glass doors all round and a detached kitchen which we later purchased for use as a shop.  The site of Canaipa House is presently occupied by the Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron (RQYS).

Firstly, my grandfather grew sugar cane so that he would be entitled to employ Kanakas, cheap labour bought in from the South Sea Islands.  Often my grandmother would be left alone while the menfolk were out working and the Kanakas were a source of protection from the aborigines who would come ashore from time to time.  In keeping with their English origins, the Willes had their Kanaka labourers dressed in livery, the traditional dress of English servants.  I never knew them myself, but Dad did.  He reckoned they didn’t work much anyway!

Next he brought cattle and pigs to the island and when they were ready for the market they were ferried across to the mainland in large flat punts towed along behind a sailing boat.  On occasion the punts would capsize, throwing men and pigs into the water together, or the cattle would jump overboard and would have to be swum across behind the punt.


Often night would fall before the men’s boats returned to the island.  In those days, there were no navigation lights nor house lights to guide them home, so my grandmother, Catherine Willes, developed the habit of lighting a hurricane lamp and hoisting it onto a pole outside their home at Canaipa to guide her menfolk to safety.  

Other mariners using the Canaipa Passage on their journey south from Brisbane to Southport also came to depend on Catherine Willes’ beacon, thus earning her the title of “The Lady of the Lamp”.  Eventually, the Department of Harbours and Marine acknowledged her contribution to maritime safety by erecting a more substantial affair and supplying her with kerosene.  For thirty-eight years she tended the lamp, only relinquishing her duty when old age intervened.  In 1910, boat owners presented her with an Illuminated Address, a scroll formally acknowledging her services.

My grandmother died on Russell when I was very young. I still remember watching her body being taken to the mainland on the deck of the Gibson’s fruitboat “Roo”, nestled amongst its cargo of bananas and protected from the sun by a huge tarp strung up like a tent from the mast.

Extract from Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection’.

(To be continued)

Farm Scraps

The Burgess Farm at Russell Island 1920s and 1930s 

Gary Day has contributed photos and a scrapbook of his mother, Esther Burgess who was born in 1919 and lived her first 19 years on Russell Island. She hated its isolation.
Her parents (and Gary’s grandparents) were Ernest and Alice Burgess. It is their farm that features in the photos and scrapbook. 

Taken about 1936. Arthur Youlton – very popular teacher for 10 years – starting a sack race for, from left, Joan Thomas, Lorna Park, Joan Jackson, Clive Thomas, Jean McInnes, and Lorna Burgess.
Taken at Currigee from the top of a lookout. The larger boat is the Ivanhoe.
The Ivanhoe on loading day. Produce from some fifty farms transported to the jetty by horse and cart mostly, at that time. An overnight trip to the Brisbane River and North Quay from Russell Island.
Our farm on Russell Island. Pineapples and Mandarin trees.
Mirimar at Karragarra. Hales boat from North Quay to Karragarra via Dunwich every Thursday in the 1930s.
Passengers from the Mirimar at Karragarra jetty carrying fruit.
Visitors off Mirimar buying fruit etc at Karragarra
Lorna Burgess with beetroot Wellington Point. Good legs! Note mum on verandah
Noosa – Hastings Street
Ernest Burgess and Lady, Russell Island.
Mum (Alice Burgess) and aunty Ivy at Russell Island.

Clippings from the Russell Island Scrap book of Lorna Burgess: 

From August 9, 1938: 

John Willes’son, Frederick J. Willes, retires as Russell Island postmaster after more than 50 years. He used to collect and deliver mail from the surrounding islands and take it to and from the mainland in his motor launch twice a week. His father John Willes settled from the English Midlands to Russell Island as its first European resident in 1886. 

Post office destroyed by fire. It is thought to be the first building fire on Russell Island. 

From August 10, 1938: 

Aboriginal skull and part skeleton found on Stradbroke Island 

Cyclonic storm strikes Russell Island and overturns 30-foot launch. A man was trapped inside for some time 

350 lb shark landed. Mr. Albert Raddon of Lamb Island, fishing from a punt a few yards away from the jetty, hooked an eight feet grey nurse shark, following which he experienced an exciting half hour. The punt was towed across the channel (by the shark) to Karragarra Island and from there along the whole length of the channel between the two islands in the direction of Stradbroke Island. The shark was finally landed on the Lamb Island beach. The shark was finally landed on the Lamb Island beach and was estimated to weigh about 350 lb. A little later a 4-foot shark was caught in the same vicinity. Fishing is becoming increasingly popular round the islands and is attracting Brisbane club fishermen, who are holding a competition here during weekend. 

Residents at Canaipa Point, Russell Island, are still thrilled at the visit of Richard Tauber, who visited that beauty spot in the Atlanta, and sang for the island people.

Gary Day 2010 

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

Stories from Russell Island – 1 – The Giant’s Grave

Like Peel Island’s ‘Hole in the Wall’ Russell Island’s ‘Giant’s Grave’ has long been an easily designated favourite haunt for the fishermen of Moreton Bay.

Peel ‘s Hole in the wall (from the inside)

David Willes, a descendant of John Willes the original European pioneer of Russell Island writes: ‘The Giant’s Grave used to be quite a landmark for the old mariners. Situated on the western side of Russell, just north of Brown’s Bay, this large mound of tree covered earth bore resemblance to the grave of an imagined giant.’

Of the Giant’s Grave Joshua Peter Bell writes in his book ‘Moreton Bay and .How to Fathom It’ : ‘This is simply a large, grave-like mound of earth and rock rising somewhat surprisingly from the partial swamp around it. Doubtless of natural origin.’

Giant’s Grave (photo Ken Goodman)

Steamboat Ken (alias Ken Goodman) writes in his monthly column for the Bay Island News of September 2016: Fellow Islanders, how many of you have heard of or visited the Giant’s Grave on Russell Island? It has intrigued people ever since being reported by Moreton Bay historian Thomas Welsby in 1907. An old oyster gatherer Jack Wall had a camp at the spot for many moons, but I’ll let Tom Welsby do the talking. In his book ‘Schnappering’. Tom says that 30 or 40 feet (9 to 12 metres) above Wall’s camp ‘there rises a curious lengthened mound or knoll. Standing on the southern end, one looks across from Little Rocky to Big Rocky…all appearing to run in the same direction, almost due south or a little west of south. The Giant’s Grave is a some 10 to 12 feet (3 to 3.6 metres)  in height, about 20 feet (6 metres) or a little more across, and maybe 80 or 90 yards (73 or 82 metres) in length. The surface consists of pale red-coloured pebbles, with vines and small shrubs growing profusely. Towards the end, dipping in towards the island, there are a few fair-sized trees – the extreme part giving a view of lagoonish-watery country, that might grow something other than mosquitoes and flies, but I think not. One might pass this grave formation and take no heed. Nature’s formation of the mound is indeed curious, yet there it stands in summer boating days and winter’s silence.’

Russell Island Map. Arrow shows site of Giant’s Grave. (Google Earth)

Ken Goodman continues: You need high water to get to the Giant’s Grave by sea. Heading south from the old salt works on Macleay Island towards Rocky Point, when abreast of Brown’s Bay on Russell Island on your portside, swing in towards the northern edge of said bay. The western tip of the bay’s curve is the location of the Giant’s Grave (as marked with an arrow on the accompanying map. Since then, about 40 feet of ground has gone between high water and the grave). Have a look sometime, examine it and wonder at what’s beneath this mound. But don’t linger on your high tide because Browns Bay dries at low water.