Post War Brisbane

To the left Eagle Street to the right trams running up and down Queen Street 1962 (Qld State Archives)

When I grew up in post WWII Brisbane, it had the reputation of being ‘Australia’s biggest country town’. I don’t know what contributed to this idea: perhaps it was its laid-back lifestyle, a lack of restaurants, no nightlife (apart from ‘going to the pictures’), its overall lack of sewerage, streets almost deserted of road traffic jams, with many roads of bitumen down the middle and dirt to the gutters. Brisbane was largely a city of branch offices with Sydney and Melbourne vying for their headquarters. 

Then came along Clem Jones as our Lord Mayor and he transformed Brisbane into a modern city with the introduction of fully sewered housing, fully bituminised roads, the abolition of trams and trolley buses to name just a few of his many accomplishments. 

Then Brisbane hosted the 1982 Commonwealth Games and the 1988 World Expo. Both these events helped to catapult our city onto the world stage. 

Brisbane has never looked back since then. Unfortunately, our very liveable city has become too popular and traffic chokes our streets. The pace of life has picked up and competition is keen. But I guess that is the price we pay for success.

Ralph Munro’s Reminiscences – Part 1 – Early Days

Right from when I was just three weeks old, I have had a close association with boats and the water. Our family boat was the Seamark. Dad bought it after World War II at the Government sale of commandeered boats. For some reason all the motors had been removed and these had to be bought separately at auction. Dad had to make do with a Grant petrol motor for the first few years until he could get his hands on a Grey marine diesel. We had the fuel tank on the footpath, which we used for ball games. Dad was always paranoid about the boat catching fire from the petrol motor.

We regularly went down the Bay for weekends or weeks at a time. The 18-foot skiffs club at Bulimba now owns our former house. While I was still a baby, dad used a wooden fruit crate which he lined inside and out with canvas to swim me ashore in. Seamark was known as dad’s nappy boat because he had bought it off the NAP at auction – and because it was always festooned with my nappies. (Editor’s note: – During WWII, inspired by the British small ships evacuation of stranded troops at Dunkirk, the Naval Auxiliary Association of Queensland (NAP) was formed. Its duties in Moreton Bay were mainly civilian patrol work, but it was limited by the small number of vessels left available after most had been commandeered by the Government. It continued after the war as a ‘men only’ club and is now the Little Ships Club at Dunwich). 

NAP 582 exploding a depth charge off Mud Island (photo courtesy Ralph Munro)

My first recollection was of porpoises. We never called them dolphins then; always porpoises, and I thought a porpoise was a truck tyre with 5 or 6 fins, because this is the way they looked rolling through the water. 

About the age of three, I was diagnosed with nock knees and put in steel braces, but when dad found me hanging off the stern plate of the boat unable to clamber aboard, he took them off, never to be seen again. They’re still on the bottom off Peel Island. Dad had polio when he was four years old and had a massively built-up boot and steel leg support but he still took me sailing in a little 9 foot open dinghy then training in 20 knot breezes. If we had of capsized, the weight of his steel boot and leg would have taken him straight down to the bottom. But this didn’t stop him. Nor did it stop him taking me fishing. At Point Lookout on the south side of the gorge there was a one-inch cable strung out to the outer rock and he would go hand in hand along it with his fishing creels and me around his neck. There was also the added problem, if there was a good catch of fish, of getting them back again. Once Lennie and Wendy Goebbels caught 64 big ones and it took them all afternoon to take them back, four or five fish at a time, across the rocks and up cliffs to where they live in North Street. 

Life at Work

I started work in the family typewriter business but soon after my father died, I parted ways and went to Olivetti who sent me to North Queensland. Later I went on to Papua New Guinea and got into the prawn trawling on two American boats Bulolo I and Bulolo II. After New Guinea I moved back to North Queensland to Port Douglas then to Townsville. Then I went to the Gulf of Carpentaria prawning for three seasons where I worked on the bigger boats. That’s where they brought in skipper tickets in 1974/5. Because they couldn’t shut down the entire industry for the want of tickets, the test they brought in was originally quite simple. We all had to go into Cairns, do a one-day course, then answer a verbal questionnaire, and we got our tickets. Captain Bauer did the verbals because some of the fishermen couldn’t read or write. The forms were printed, “can/cannot read or write” and of course we all ticket “cannot” to get the easy exam. 

Most people thus employed started working in Brisbane and slowly worked their way up the coast, but I started at the top and worked down the coast. 

In the 1980s I was working a prawn trawler out of Southport when my right arm was caught in a winch and I spent the next 33 months in the Gold Coast Hospital. I was one of the first patients to get the infection Golden Staph. What an honour! While my arm was healing, I came home to Thornlands and went to work at the firm of Golden Cockerel. 

Later I helped Joe Dryberg run schools to teach people going into the fishing industry as deck hands. Joe would teach the engineering theory and I would teach the practical side such as making nets, rope splicing etc. Most of them came from CES (Commonwealth Employment Service). 

Although the trawlers where primarily prawn trawlers, they were fishing boats and prawns would be about 60% of the catch and the rest would be the off catch such as crabs, squid, fish, and returnable soft drink bottles, but politics have slowly banned the off catch. Then I got back into yacht racing in the 1986 Brisbane to Gladstone with Ron Doolan for whom I worked at Golden Cockerel. He had been desperately looking for crew and when he was told that I had the experience, he told me that I was racing for him! His yacht was the 28- foot Bolero and we were the smallest in the race. We won on handicap that year. In the five races I went on that boat, we never came in lower than sixth on handicap. 

Ralph Munro 12 January 2008 

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

Wartime Brisbane, Through the Eyes of a Lad (by John Thornton)

The definitive histories of Brisbane during World War II have all been long written, sometimes accurately, so these are just the recollections, often inaccurate, of what Brisbane looked like to a schoolboy and youth of that era.

We lived in New Farm from the early 1930’s. New Farm was a very river-oriented suburb; the wharves and warehouses were a big part of life. Big liners like the Strathnaver and Strathaird seemed to tower over the whole suburb. Each year the Navy sent the Canberra and Sydney at Ekka time, and we would visit them at New Farm wharf. It was a personal thing when each in turn was lost during the war.

Things were looking up in the late 30’s, the Depression was over, buildings were going up, and I could watch progress on the Storey Bridge from my classroom at St James in Boundary St. But war was obviously coming, there was no euphoria about it, just dread, an attitude of “oh no, not again”. And so, it started, slowly at first. Evans, Deakin finished their Storey bridge, and were persuaded that ships were not much different from other tanks and silos, so Kangaroo Point got its shipyard.

            At Nudgee in 1941, we farewelled two members of the previous senior class, and within 6 months had memorial services for them. Things then got really bad. Sydney was lost with all hands, then Parramatta with heavy loss, then came the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, the fall of Singapore, and their repeated attacks on Darwin – all within a few months. Current history writers talk of cover-ups, that’s nonsense, information was plentiful, it’s just that disasters were unremarkable, there were so many.

It was a bit of a worry as all our trained forces were half way around the world. Us school kids were sent bush, heaven knows why. But sanity prevailed and by Easter we were back home. The digging of slit trenches was begun around the schoolyard, but boys turned practice drills into a re-run of WW1 trench warfare, so they were stopped.

One day I was watching two fighters stunting over Sandgate, when one nosedived, followed by a thump. He was gone.

            There was a big anti-aircraft unit, searchlights and guns, near Nudgee Station, and for most of 1942 they practiced on aircraft, we thought this more fun than homework. I left school and started work as an apprentice Toolmaker at the Rocklea ammunition factory in early 1943. They were making 3.5 million .303 shells per week plus .38 and .455, and 25 pounder shells. And this was the smallest of 7 factories in Australia! Where did they all go? At the end of 1943 they had enough, and switched to rebuilding aircraft engines, with test bays in the bush at the end of Compo Rd, now Evans Rd. The factory hadn’t really get going properly when the war moved too far north to make it worthwhile, so it closed and I shifted to Evans-Deakin shipyard.

Brisbane was a real mess by this time. It was the first decent port this side of the troubles, so things tended to concentrate here. Macarthur turned up, Canungra was set up for jungle training, all wharves were occupied and other temporary piers were put in wherever possible, USS Benson (or was it Benton) arrived at New Farm with its submarines, Eagle Farm grew new hangars and became the major bomber base, Archerfield housed fighters, and light bombers. I think the river could dock over 1000 ships, and the Bay was thick with others waiting.

I recall watching the arrival of a spectacular mass ferry flight into Eagle Farm of light bombers, mainly Mitchells and Bostons that took most of one day to get in and down. Crashed aircraft were stripped and piled four high in dumps at Eagle Farm, Bulimba, Enoggera, and Meeandah, each of 20 or 30 acres – a lot of grief there.

All this stressed Brisbane quite heavily. The civilian population was only about 250 thousand, and I was told once that about 1 million troops were quartered within 50 miles, a 4 to 1 ratio. All these fit and trained men were very toey, so the brawls were legendary. It was almost an entertainment to go into the Valley to watch the fights. The best riot, because it was harmless, was by the entire 7th Division. They had been overseas since 1940, did Kokoda, and were not allowed beer in camp. They all marched out of Enoggera, down Queen St, acquired a large keg from a pub near the Post Office, broached it there, and went back to camp. They got their wet canteens.

Brisbane was dim and gloomy, and not pretty. The combination of aboveground water mains, ugly concrete blast shelters, blackout lighting, lack of upkeep, and shabby austerity made for a general run-down look, and it did not really brighten up for another 20 years. The Americans kept their black troops, who were mainly labour battalions, segregated on the south side, and they were quite severe on any transgressions. A workmate told me that he saw a Negro shot on Victoria Bridge over this. In fact, the treatment of their blacks probably did more harm to our opinion of them than any other single factor. Actually, the individual American was usually a very nice bloke, but in the mass, they were a lot more foreign than Hollywood had led us to expect. Just in odd little ways. Macarthur himself was too flamboyant for our taste and his army was not much respected, but the air force and navy, and especially the Marines were highly regarded.

I joined the Evans Deakin shipyard late in 1945, installing the main engines in HMAS Murchison, a sister ship to the frigate now permanently on display at Southbank. I was thus a little late to be personally involved in their wartime work, but I knew and heard much about it and it was magnificent. There were few trained tradesmen, so apprentices matured early and it was nothing to see a handful of 17 year-old’s under one or two tradesmen heading off to Colmslie Dock to do a major job on a crippled ship. The submarine flotilla could provide some nasty jobs, like flooded compartments with dead crew, and one had its whole forward compartment blown off, which Evans Deakin rebuilt.

Shipbuilding was very satisfying: to see a pile of rusty steel take shape, get launched, fitted out, and then come alive as the boilers fire up and the engines turn over, is one of life’s great experiences. Sea trials were always a great day, I was out with Murchison, then DalbyDubboBinburra and Bilkurra – all good ships that gave no trouble. It was a pity that the yard could not last, but too much of inefficient work practices, demarcations, and union restrictions had been inherited from the Clyde so it had to go.

            Even though the Mirimar had been impressed for wartime service, it continued to service Amity and even in the black days of 1943 a group of fellow apprentices introduced me to beautiful Pt Lookout. Not that it was any picnic getting across the island, I recall midnight in winter, pouring rain, on the back of an Army FWD truck, bashing through bush. On a later visit we were standing on the beach looking at the half of the Rufus King wreck, then quite close inshore, when some air force planes turned up for target practice. First came a Spitfire, very pretty and interesting to watch. Then a Mosquito. Lots of guns, its speed would check noticeably when firing. Then a Liberator bomber. Gun turrets all over, all firing. Now there were spurts of sand kicking up not far away, so time to drop the rods and run.

One day it was all over, they all left, and we wondered at the quiet. Brisbane slept for years.

USS Chicago in Brisbane River (photo courtesy Ralph Munro)

John Thornton

21.8.2007

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

Moreton Bay Mysteries – 4 – The Wreck of the Rufus King

In the early years of Moreton Bay’s European settlement, it was customary for vessels to use the South Passage between Moreton and Stradbroke Islands. However, the loss of the paddle steamer Sovereignon 11 March 1847 led to the closure of the South Passage, with the shipping lane being moved to the bay’s northern entrance between Moreton and Bribie Islands. Poor visibility and rain, however, could continue to deceive ships’ masters into mistaking Point Lookout on North Stradbroke for Cape Moreton, and during 1853–1889 no less than half-a-dozen vessels came to grief on the South Passage. And it was such a fate that befell the American Liberty Ship Rufus Kingduring the night of 7/8 July 1942, as it approached Brisbane with a cargo of vital war materiel from Los Angeles. 

The site of the wreck of the Rufus King

Aboard Rufus Kingwere nine crated B-25 Mitchell bombers plus aviation fuel, and medical supplies and equipment sufficient to outfit three army field hospitals totalling more than 4,000 beds (or more than 17,000 boxes in all). At this time, the Japanese were on Australia’s doorstep to the north, and the Battle of Midway had been fought only the previous month; the Second World War still hung very much in the balance.

Captain Muller, his crew of almost 40 and vital cargo aboard a ship less than four months old, came to an abrupt halt in less than four fathoms (7m) of water, barely 18 miles (30km) from their destination. As rescuers began taking off her crew, 12 hours later the Rufus Kingbroke in two.

Fore and aft halves of the Rufus King (photo Val Knox)

A 200-strong team of Australian and US Army Medical Department personnel in the recovery of the ship’s cargo, the Americans based at Amity and the Aussies on Reeder’s Point. The drifting 330ft (100m) long forward section was taken in hand for salvage; and within four months, it had been sealed, towed into the Brisbane River and converted into its surprising second life.

Salvage workers aboard the Rufus King (photo Val Knox)

The Courier-Mail newspaper reported Captain Muller was taken back to America under arrest; others said he was incarcerated there for the rest of the war. Graham Mackey who had worked on the salvaged section, heard at the time: “we were told by a Yankee officer that the skipper … was a German descendant and had run her aground purposely.”

Whether the wreck of the Rufus King was just an accident or a deliberate act of war still remains a mystery. Perhaps the answer can be found the fate of Captain Muller back in America.

(Extracted from the book ‘Queensland’s German Connections’)


Moreton Bay Mysteries – 2 – The Underground Hospital at Fort Bribie

At the ruins of Fort Bribie in 1993, John McKenna and Dr Noel Ure (photo Peter Ludlow)

In my 2001 book ‘Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection’ I made the following reference to the underground hospital situated at Fort Bribie situated at the northern end of Bribie Island:

The existence or otherwise of the underground hospital is a topic currently hotly disputed by Bribie’s residents. Many vehemently swear (literally) that years ago they descended its steps. Some entered and found it still set up and ready for use. Others could not open the door because sand had collected against it. All had returned years later only to find its steps completely covered by sand and, with fading memories and an overgrowth of scrub, its location ‘lost’.

And there are also those who just as vehemently swear (literally) that the underground hospital never existed. They say that all army personnel requiring hospitalisation were taken to Caloundra, so why should another hospital be built at Fort Bribie?

Perhaps the answer rests with Doctor Noel Ure, medical officer at Fort Bribie in 1943. He says: “The underground hospital DID exist because I set it up at Fort Bribie in 1943. It was a large underground room with steps descending into it. There were about 15 stretcher bed set up inside.

 “It is quite true that sick personnel were sent to the hospital at Caloundra. The purpose of the underground hospital was for emergency use in case of an enemy invasion of the Fort. We now know that this never occurred, and so the hospital was probably never used as such. But in 1943 at least, it DID EXIST!”

  Fifty years later, on June 18, 1993, we trek with Doctor Ure to the site of the underground hospital. He remembers it to be no more than 50 feet from the entrance to the Officers Mess hut. We use a site plan to locate firstly the foundations of the enlisted men’s latrines, and then work our way through thick entanglements of lantana across the foundations of the sergeants’ latrines, officers’ latrines, and finally their mess. There is a lantana-covered mound of sand where Doctor Ure remembers the underground hospital to be. It all looks so different. With a probe we search for cement beneath the sand. There is nothing, not even air vents common to the other underground structures of the camp.

Then, about 50 feet south of the officers’ mess, our probe hits something solid. We quickly shovel off the sand covering a cement slab.  About 2 metres long by 1 metre wide its pebbly texture resembles that of a path. Could it lead to the steps going down into the underground hospital?

We are hot, tired, thirsty, and scratched by lantana. Our shovel is no match for our imaginations. The hospital must still remain a mystery. Perhaps time, a metal detector, and a team of shovel and machete wielding volunteers may one day answer this intriguing question.

Reminders of Peoples Past – 10 – Pebble Beach Memorial

Pebble Beach Memorial unveiling 17.9.1995 (Photo courtesy Albert Jeays)

As in so many other cities, suburbs, and towns of Australia, it is fitting that war memorials have been erected to honour the sacrifices of those men and women who have served in our armed forces. The Northern Moreton Bay Region is no exception, and here I have chosen just one example: the Pebble Beach Memorial at Toorbul Point

Pebble Beach Memorial (Photo courtesy Albert Jeays)

The inscription reads:

Erected by the Caboolture Shire Council

as an “Australia Remembers: 1945 – 1995 Project

to commemorate the Toorbul Point combined operations centre

and to the many allied personnel who engaged in amphibious training exercises here

during World War II.

Unveiled on September 17th 1995.

Fallen Statues

Moscow’s Park of the Fallen Heroes (Photo Paul L Dineen)

With the fall of the USSR, thousands of Soviet statues were destroyed or dispersed. Some ended up in Moscow’s Fallen Heroes Park. It displays more than 700 sculptures saved and preserved from the Soviet era. Walking through the park is like visiting a cemetery, bronze and stone sculptures loom from every corner. The park has mutilated busts of Stalin, as well as those of Lenin and a statue of Dzerzhinsky, the founder of what became the KGB. There’s a massive Soviet emblem, and clusters of modern art contrasting with the very non-conceptual Communist monuments.

Further to my blog of 09.09.2017 – Centenary of a Revolution, my son Trevor informs me that Melbourne’s Heidelberg Gallery (The Heidi) has a Constructivist Display of artworks mainly from the Russian Revolution. No doubt many of the items on display would have come from Moscow’s Fallen Heroes Park.

I have never felt a great emotional attachment to statues. My first was probably the dog sitting on the tucker box five miles from Gundagai.

The Dog on the Tucker box (photo courtesy AYArktos)

For me, it always the highlight of our road trips to Melbourne.

The other  statue that has triggered my emotion was seeing Winston Churchill’s statue on a Paris footpath as our tour bus flashed past. It was so unexpected, considering the historic rivalry between the English and the French, but a touching acknowledgement of France’s gratitude for Churchill’s help during WWII.

Bullets and Beans

Marilyn Carr writes…

My father would comment that the shock waves from the explosions would lift “Torphins”, our beach house, momentarily off its high Queensland stumps and the windows would rattle, the iron bedsteads groan. There would be the loud, loud clatter of machine guns firing and sundry booms and cracks from high-powered rifles.  “Another practice landing,” my Father might have thought and, as the noises subsided, have calmly pumped up the “primus” to boil water for a very early cup of tea.

That was around 1944, during the Second World War in the Pacific.  The American marines had a large training base at Torbul Point, on the coast of Moreton Bay. There, American troops practised amphibious barge landings.  This was training for the island-hopping strategy to be used to retake the Pacific Islands then held by the Japanese.   The sounds that shook “Torphins” were just rehearsals for what was to be real later in the Solomon Islands and, too, on Iwo Jima.

So, barges filled with armed, invasion-ready marines would churn across the half-mile of Pumistone Passage, their bow-plates would be lowered and out the troops would storm onto the uninhabited northern part of Bribie Island with all guns truly firing. Then, Bribie Island had but few permanent residents and only land-owners with security passes could access the island. My family still went there for school holidays.  The trial invasions were regarded as very necessary and quite accepted.

On occasions troops would be moved around the island’s sandy tracks in trucks with the troops standing up on the tray behind. I have the distinct memory of a convoy passing our house and one of the troops falling off the truck. He picked himself up and ran alongside the truck to jump aboard again.  I watched from the verandah of “Torphins”. Other items seemed to get left behind as well.  Once, I found a well-balanced dagger.  George, a retired circus rouseabout who acted as our caretaker when we were not on Bribie, taught me how to throw it.  I have always regarded a dagger as my weapon of choice!

For their ‘invasions’ the Yankie marines also took along food supplies.  These came in wooden boxes, holding  gold-coloured, squat tins on which, I think, was written two capitals letter ‘Ds’, with between them an arrow.    I had found a full box of such rations close to “Torphins”.  Do know that, for children (and I would have been eight in 1944) chocolate was a nearly unheard of dream. There was food rationing, but not for chocolate. Such sweetness had seemed to have ceased to exist. But I, with my find, had found a cache of chocolate!

The wooden box’s tins had three different contents: some were K rations (which I believe implied emergency food) some contained baked beans and others hash, rather like Australian camp pie – not particularly tempting but I am sure with meat rationed, every tin was used by my family. The K ration tins held chocolate, biscuits and some had cocoa, while some powdered coffee – unheard of in Australia then.  The chocolate in each K rations tin was consumed with relish.

However, the baked beans, heated up on the wood-fired stove, were mouth-wateringly delectable and are, to me, more remembered.  Every-day, so-ordinary baked beans were then quite unobtainable until after the war had ended.  Over seventy years later I still enjoy baked beans served on toast.  Breakfast at a five-star hotel holds a special delight as one spoons a serve of baked beans from a highly-polished silver serving dish onto one’s plate.  The memory of my first taste of baked beans comes back. And, for me, they are deserving of being served out of a silver dish.

One box of army rations discovered must have made my cousins and I decide to search for more after another invasion trial not too far up from “Torphins”.  There was Cousin George, Cousin June and I and it may have been the winter school holidays, in 1944.  Our Grandmother must have been in charge.  We were to keep to the beach – where we could be seen from the house for quite a distance.

We found the invasion spot where the vegetation was trampled, some trees tattered.  There we found another wooden box but this one was deeper and sturdier.  It had been opened.  It did not contain food tins.  Instead, it held machine-gun bullets about six inches long and held into a long chain of metal.  A disappointment, but we decided to take them home.  With George leading, and the bullet chain looped between us, we ambled back along the beach to “Torphins”.

Grandma saw what we were carrying. She was aghast.  Grandma gathered up some oars, made us take the bullets down to the beach and help her push out our rowing boat into the Pumicestone Passage. Into the rowing boat she clambered, fitted in the oars and rowed out to what she thought was the channel. There she dumped our find of machine gun bullets overboard. I do wonder, would over seventy years be enough for them to have disintegrated?

Pebble Beach Memorial, Toorbul Point
Pebble Beach Memorial, Toorbul Point

 

Marilyn Carr 

November 2016

Stories from Fort Lytton

As a result of conflict between the expanding British Empire and Russia, Fort Lytton was built in 1881 on the advice of British engineers, Jervois and Scratchley. Situated at the mouth of the Brisbane River, the pentagonal shaped fort was surrounded by a water-filled moat. It boasted four heavy gun positions – two to fire down the river and two to fire across. An underwater mine system could also be placed across the river in times of emergency. By the turn of the century the armaments had increased to six heavy guns and two machine guns.

Queensland’s defence force had started with volunteers in 1860 and by the mid 1880s included some permanent soldiers. Fort Lytton was their main training ground. Annual camps were run there, which in the early years were a highlight in Queensland’s political and social calendar. Thousands of Brisbane’s citizens would travel by train or boat to Lytton to watch the spectacular military manoeuvres and ceremonial displays.

Army camp at Fort Lytton in the early 1900s. (Photo courtesy Rob Poulton)
Army camp at Fort Lytton in the early 1900s.
(Photo courtesy Rob Poulton)

Fort Lytton was well entrenched in the psyche of Brisbane’s inhabitants. The following references reveal some glimpses not just the way of life at the Fort but of life in Brisbane and Moreton Bay during these times:

Clarrie Phillips recalls: 

“The artillery at Fort Lytton had fairly regular practice in the early part of this century.  The light guns fired across the Brisbane River at a target in the vicinity of Luggage Point.  The heavier guns fired mostly towards Tangalooma or on the Naval Reserve Banks on the South Passage.  Their target was a float with several red flags – towed there on a long line by either the Midge or the Mosquito, small fast Naval craft about 50 feet long. The target practices were advertised in the daily press, and a large red flag was flown from Lytton fort before practice commenced”. (1)

Roy Gardner: 

“I joined the Royal Australian Engineers during the Depression in 1932 and was stationed at Fort Lytton at the mouth of the Brisbane River.  It was an active garrison then and its six-inch guns commanded a view of the entrance to Moreton Bay right up to Caloundra.  I remember there was a moat of water round the guns so that they couldn’t be taken from behind.  The ground was very swampy and the mosquitoes were bad – so bad, in fact, that the horses would drag their tethering pegs right out of the ground.” (1)

Ron Williams: 

“I remember too that in the 1930s the army had camps at Fort Lytton where they would practice fire the cannon across the boat passage out towards St Helena.  Quite a lot of the shells would end up in the mudflats at Wynnum. One of our childhood pastimes was to look for the artillery shells buried there.”  (1)

Mena O’Neill: 

“Lytton was a military fort.  One part was called Reformatory Hill, where deserters were quartered.  Sentries were posted but still some got out, looking for money or tobacco.  Later before WWII, Lytton was a training camp.  My father’s shop supplied the Officers’ Mess with extras.  I used to deliver them in our truck, but only at certain times because they used to have firing practice there.  Once, General Chauvel visited there to review the troops, and we had to supply the flowers and tablecloths for the mess.” (2)

Throughout World Wars I and II, Fort Lytton continued its defensive role and remained a major training facility. A submarine boom was mounted across the river during World War II. After World War II the fort no longer met the defence needs and was gradually abandoned.

The remnants of Fort Lytton in 2008 (Photo courtesy Karen Ludlow)
The remnants of Fort Lytton in 2008
(Photo courtesy Karen Ludlow)

In 1963 it was included in land sold to Ampol (now Caltex) to build an oil refinery. Ownership of the Fort was transferred back to the Queensland Government in 1988 under the management of the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service.3

(Extract from ‘The Port of Brisbane, Its People and Its Personalities’)

References:

1. Ludlow, Peter. Moreton Bay People-The Complete Collection. privately published, Stones Corner, 2000

2. Ludlow, Peter. Moreton Bay Letters. privately published, Stones Corner, 2003

3. Heritage Parks of Moreton Bay – Visitor Guide. Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, 2007

Stories from the Brisbane River – 1

Next time you visit the former Wool Stores at New Farm for a meal, it’s worth making a visit to the small riverbank park opposite Hastings Street to reflect that during World War II, New Farm housed a major US submarine operation and maintenance Base.

The US Submarine Base memorial park at New Farm
The US Submarine Base memorial park at New Farm

In the peace of a crisp sunny winter’s morning it’s difficult to imagine this wartime activity ever existed, but to honour this important event, the New Farm and Districts Historical Society Inc. have erected the following plaque:

‘New Farm Wharf became one of the largest US naval bases in the Southwest Pacific area, with the total of 79 submarines, which operated over a period of three years.

Under the command of Gen Douglas MacArthur, Capt Ralph Christie established a forward operation and maintenance base for the US submarine task force 42 (later to become task force 72) which operated against Japanese shipping the Southwest Pacific area.

The U.S. Navy took possession of New Farm Wharf and its associated wool stores on 15 April 1942; the resident unit was known as the U.S. Navy Repair unit 134. The first submarine tender to establish an operation base in Brisbane was the USS Griffin followed by the USS Fulton and USS Sperry. These tenders carried out maintenance and refits, while major repairs were performed at the South Brisbane Dry Dock.

Seven submarines, based in Brisbane, where built in Manitowoc, located on Lake Michigan in the USA. The submarines travelled by barge down the Mississippi River, a distance of 2000 km before reaching the Gulf of Mexico to make the journey non-stop to Brisbane.

The first submarine to make this journey was the USS Peto, which sailed on five war patrols from Brisbane.

Seven of the Brisbane-based submarines were lost in the Pacific conflict, five with all hands.At any one time, they could be 800 personnel and officers based at this unit. The entrance to the Submarine Repair Unit 134 was at the southern end of Macquarie Street.

The unit comprised of personnel barracks, stores, workshops, refrigeration, two-storey medical and dental building and other facilities.

The last U.S. Navy unit relocated to the Philippines on 30th of March 1945.’

Plaque commemorating the US submarines that operated out of Brisbane during WWII
Plaque commemorating the US submarines that operated out of Brisbane during WWII