‘It’s Pistols at Dawn, Sir!’ (again)

‘It’s pistols as dawn, Sir!’

Some five years ago, I blogged the question “Whatever happened to duelling?”

to which Paul Bailey replied that the first libel laws were passed to stop people from settling disputes with duels. More recently, American author Amor Towles wrote in his wonderfully perceptive book “A Gentleman in Moscow”: When duelling was first discovered by the Russian officer corps in the early 1700s, they took to it with such enthusiasm that the Tsar had to forbid the practice for fear that there would soon be no one left to lead his troops.

I had always been under the impression that duelling was a historically recent contest between two people to settle a point of honour, and, indeed, my computer’s dictionary backed me up with:  the sense of duelling as a contest to decide a point of honour dates from the early 17th century.

However, last week I participated in a seminar in which one of the speakers, Ray Kerkhove, mentioned that Australia’s Aboriginal people also conducted individual and collective duels under strict rules and fought with their traditional weapons such as spears, boomerangs or fighting sticks. Presumably, the history of their duels dates back much further than the European’s 17th century. 

Maybe our sense of honour has always been an inherent part of our human nature, and more importantly, its defence seems vital to our survival as individuals, communities, or nations.

Reminders of Peoples Past – 03 – Tom Petrie

Left insert: Standing together by the refurbished Petrie memorial are Janice Hall (Great Grand daughter of Tom Petrie) and Maroochy Barambah (Great Great Grand Daughter of Kulkarawa, Grannie Kitty, who was one of the few Turrbal People that survived the adverse impact of European settlement in Brisbane.) Right insert: Tom Petrie.

Tomas Petrie arrived in the penal colony at Moreton Bay with his parents in 1837 when he was just 6 years old. His father, Andrew Petrie, was to become Clerk of Works in the colony. Thomas was educated by a convict clerk and was allowed to mix freely with Aboriginal children. He learnt to speak the local language Turrbal and was encouraged to share in all Aboriginal activities. He was witness to convicts labouring in chains on the government farms along the river and saw numerous floggings of convicts on Queen Street. At 14 he participated in a walkabout to a feast in the Bunya Mountains. He was accepted by the Aborigines and was often used as a messenger and invited on exploration expeditions. He also learned about surveying, bushcraft and the local geography while travelling with his father, Andrew Petrie.

After his marriage to Elizabeth Campbell in 1858, Tom bought property in the North Pine district, which he called Murrumba (Good Place) and where he was helped by friendly Aborigines to clear his land and construct his first buildings. He continued to explore widely, his main aim being the search for new timber areas and places for further settlement along the coast.

When the Government opened Queensland’s first Aboriginal reserve on Bribie Island in 1877, Petrie became its chief adviser and overseer. The experiment was terminated next year largely because Petrie’s report on Aboriginal attitudes and activities was not encouraging

Petrie died at Murrumba in 1910, and the name of the North Pine district was changed to Petrie in his honour. There is also a new suburb in the area named Murrumba Downs.

Reminders of Peoples Past – 01 – John Oxley

John Oxley and his memorial at Redcliffe

21 years after Matthew Flinders’ journey to Moreton Bay, Surveyor John Oxley was dispatched from Sydney in the Mermaid in November 1823 to find s spot for a new penal depot. When he cast anchor at Point Skirmish on Bribie Island on 29th November, he was surprised to be met by a white man, Thomas Pamphlett, who was living with the natives there.

(With John Finnegan, Richard Parsons and John Thompson, Pamphlett had set out from Port Jackson for the Five Islands [Illawarra] to cut cedar. Blown north by a storm in which Thompson died, the boat was wrecked on the outer shore of Moreton Island. After some hardships, mitigated by help from Aborigines, they crossed to the mainland. Believing themselves south of Sydney they had sought a northward route homewards. Aborigines again helped them with food and directions during which they had crossed a large river.)

On the day following Oxley’s meeting with Thomas Pamphlett at Bribie, John Finnegan returned to Point Skirmish from a hunting trip, and on 1st December accompanied Oxley and his crew in the Mermaid when they set sail to explore Moreton Bay further. Oxley landed at Redcliffe Point on December 2nd 1823. This he chose as the site for the new penal depot as there was plenty of fresh water, fertile soil and plenty of timber for building.

Oxley also explored the inlet to the north of Redcliffe Point which he named Deception Bay (Oxley originally thought the bay was a river which he named Pumice Stone River. Later, when he discovered his mistake, he changed the name to Deception Bay.)

As well as exploring the western part of Moreton bay, Oxley sailed 80 kilometres up the river that Pamphlett had described (and which Flinders had missed). This he named the Brisbane River in honour of the NSW Governor Brisbane, who had sent him on this mission.



Reminders of Peoples Past – 00 – Matthew Flinders

27.01.2018 – Reminders of Peoples Past – 00 – Matthew Flinders

In the following few months, I will be looking at just a few of the people who helped form the communities that now make up our Northern Moreton Bay Region – and how we remember them today. When explorer John Oxley recommended Redcliffe Point as the site for a settlement, he ushered in a great influx of immigrants. Here, I highlight the lives and influences of those who followed him and who called the region home.

Flinders is rowed ashore to Bribie Island (inset: Bungaree (on left) Flinders (on right)
from a painting by nautical artist Don Braben.

The first European to enter Moreton Bay was Lieutenant Matthew Flinders in the sloop Norfolk on Sunday 14th July 1799. He was on an expedition to explore the coast from Port Jackson (Sydney) north to Hervey Bay. At eight in the evening the anchor was dropped in seven fathoms (42 feet or 12.8 metres) at the entrance of Glass House Bay (Moreton Bay), Cape Moreton bearing ESE two or three miles (3.2 to 4.8 kilometres).

On 16 July 1799, Flinders left Glass House Bay about two miles (3.2 kilometres) east of the shore in the Norfolk. He sailed south-west between Moreton Island and the mainland parallel to the southern shore of Bribie Island until spotting an opening in the low western shore. He anchored at 8:15am and transferred to a smaller craft with a small crew and Bungaree, a Port Jackson Aborigine he had brought with him.

Flinders 1799 map of Moreton Bay
Modern day map of Moreton Bay

He landed on Bribie Island unaware that it wasn’t the mainland and met a small group of Aborigines who had gathered on the beach. Although Bungaree didn’t speak the same dialect as the local aborigines the meeting was peaceful until one attempted to remove Flinders’ hat. Flinders refused and the Europeans and Bungaree returned to their boat. As they left the man threw a spear that missed the small boat and crew. Flinders fired his musket and wounded the man. The Aborigines fled the beach. Flinders named the southern shore and site of the confrontation Point Skirmish (South Point)

Flinders needed to repair leaks in his boat and pulled it ashore some five miles (8.0 kilometres) north of the area he had the incident with the locals for those repairs. Once his boat was repaired he explored the mainland side of the passage (Pumicestone Passage) and scaled one of the Glass House Mountains (Mt. Beerburrum) to get a view of the area.

The Norfolk then sailed southwards in the bay and on Wednesday 17th July Flinders landed at what we know as Woody Point. Flinders placed the name ‘Red cliff Point’ on the south-eastern part of the Peninsula on his chart of Moreton Bay. His sloop Norfolk had been anchored 1.5 miles off that part of the Peninsula and his men had rowed him to a landing place somewhere near the present Woody Point Jetty.

From Red Cliff Point he pulled over to a green head (Clontarf Point) about two miles to the westward. There he found an aboriginal humpy, and observed tracks of dogs (dingoes) kangaroos and emus on the beach. Flinders took away with him a large aboriginal fishing net and in its place left a tomahawk.

For the next few days, Flinders and his crew sailed slowly south within the bay, exploring and charting its unknown waters.  It was Flinders’ hope to discover a large navigable river that would lead to the inland. To each of the smaller islands he encountered, Flinders ascribed a number, the first being the most northerly: 1 is Mud Island, 2 St Helena, 3 Green, 4 King, 5 Peel, and 6 Coochiemudlo.

Flinders didn’t find his river.

Peel Island’s Future

A Google Earth Image of Peel Island

Currently, control of the island is gradually being handed over to the Quandamooka People, so the future is in their hands. As I see it, the island would make a wonderful showpiece for their culture and traditions, as well as for the historical remnants of European occupation. The Quandamooka may however decide to ‘close it down’ to tourists. I hope not, because Peel offers a unique learning experience for anyone visiting the Redlands, of which Peel is an important part.

The main obstacle to its tourism prospects is the lack of access to the island. As previously narrated, the jetty was demolished in the 1990s, and finding the money for a replacement has proved a hurdle since then.

There is one hope, though, and this lies in the closing of the mineral sand mining on nearby Stradbroke Island.  To help compensate for the loss of the island’s main source of employment, the Government is making $27 million available to boost tourism. Surely some of this money could be made available to constructing a jetty on Peel Island and so include it in tours of North Stradbroke Island.

Alternatively, a landing barge could be used to run up on the beach at Horseshoe Bay, and from there a minibus could transport visitors quickly around the island.

Peel’s future depends on such decisions that have to be made in the coming years.

a landing barge of the type that could be used at Horseshoe Bay

Stories from Bribie Island – 2

Bribie Island - koopa jetty, tents (Photo courtesy Marian Young)
Bribie Island – koopa jetty, tents (Photo courtesy Marian Young)

 Peter Ludlow:

‘The Aborigines on Bribie would have been startled by the visit of Matthew Flinders in 1799. Gradually, after the settlement of the Moreton Bay district from 1824, Europeans began visiting the island, initially as escaped convicts, then as free settlers.

‘Fishing and oystering were the great attractions. In the 1890s fish canneries and oyster leases were set up. Recreational fishing had also become popular, and in 1911, the Koopa began bringing holidaymakers and day-trippers to the island. Camping was popular along the Passage foreshore and a plethora of boarding houses also sprang up.

‘When the bridge to Bribie was finally completed in 1963, Bribie came within easy reach of Brisbane’s motoring public, and an ever-increasing dormitory for the workers of Brisbane.

‘Today, Bribie is a popular destination for day-trippers, but also supports a growing population of both workers and retirees who find its easy going lifestyle a welcome alternative to the stress of modern city living.’

The Koopa, approaching Bribie Island, with the Pumicestone Passage in the background.(Photo courtesy Yvonne D'Arcy)
The Koopa, approaching Bribie Island, with the Pumicestone Passage in the background.(Photo courtesy Yvonne D’Arcy)

Jack Wheeler:

‘My memories of Bribie Island were when the Brisbane Tug Company who owned the Koopa and the Beaver had a lease of the island. There was a caretaker there, and little huts on the Passage side. I remember staying there with my grandmother. The huts were simple, one room, with beds, a wood stove and a sink. There was no running water. You had to use the pump at the caretaker’s house and carry the water in a kerosene tin back to your hut. I think the rent was two shillings and sixpence (25 cents) a week. That’s all there was at Bribie.’

Lyne Marshall:

‘At weekends we used to walk around from our house at Bongaree to Red Beach. It was quite a long hike. It was winter then, and by the time we got there – it was probably just gone daybreak – dad would had already been in the water twice up to his waist to pull in the nets because the fish would run early. He’d have all his wet flannels hanging up to dry.

‘My mother also went fishing on her own and she’d bring home buckets of whiting, but then dad would come in with his fish, and when they were fishing around Red Beach, they piled them all up on our front yard. They had these old army Blitzes – snub-nosed trucks left over from the war. They brought all their fish in, dumped it on our front yard, and then cased it in wooden cases. They were primarily mullet, which they sent off whole – no gutting. The fish were grouped according to size, and then sent to the Brisbane Fish Markets by boat. They left some for us and we ate a lot of fish and their roe (eggs) – white and yellow roe. When the trawlers were in dad also swapped some of his fish for prawns and crabs so we got a bit of everything. It was a good diet for growing kids.

‘Dad was be away for weeks at a time and the bread he took with him would go mouldy, but when he came home, it was a big event, and if I was at school at the time, I was allowed home for lunch with him and mum. He’d pick us up at school and we’d have our roast dinner, then he’d take us back to school. We fishing family kids were the only ones that did it. The others had to sit and eat their sandwiches at school. I always thought it was lovely to be included in our family’s homecoming meals, because it could be that he would be off again straight away, and if I were at school, I would miss out on seeing him.’

Hauling in the mullet (photo courtesy Lyne Marshall)
Hauling in the mullet (photo courtesy Lyne Marshall)

All References: Peter Ludlow ‘Moreton Bay People 2012’

Stories from Moreton Island – 1

Dr Robert Anderson OAM (Uncle Bob):

‘In 1832, on the south end of Mulgumpin (Moreton Island) at dawn, surrounding a camp of Ngugi people on the banks of a fresh water lagoon, soldiers shot down as many as twenty people. Hidden in the bushes, Winyeeaba Murriaba a child of three at this time, was one of the survivors. Winyeeaba Murriaba and the remaining Ngugi were removed from Mulgumpin to Minjerribah (Stradbroke Island). Much later she was to become my Great Grandmother.’

The 'Sovereign' attempting to cross the South Passage bar in 1847
The ‘Sovereign’ attempting to cross the South Passage bar in 1847

Winifred Davenport:

‘The Sovereign went to sea on the morning of 11 March 1847 and was wrecked on the bar of the South Passage within a mile and a half of the shore and almost in a direct line with the south end of Moreton Island. Only 10 of the 54 passengers and crew were saved. Both the pilot and his assistant were absent at the time.’

The Moreton Bay Courier:

‘The steamer had still another wave to encounter before getting over the bar; and at this critical juncture, the engineer called out to Captain Cape that the framing of the engines and part of the machinery had broken down…on descending from his post on the paddle-box, he examined them, and found that the frames of both engines were broken close under the plummer boxes, which were turned upside down … the ship … was drifting on the north spit. The engineer shortly afterwards let the steam off, by order of the Captain, to prevent the vessel from being blown up. The sea at this time was making breaches over her, and the rudder chains parted … As the vessel still drifted, the lar-board anchor was let go, the starboard one having been carried away from the parted in the swell … she continued to drag on the north spit. Previously … the sails were set to provide against the danger … but all to no purpose. The rollers now broke upon the devoted vessel with great violence, carrying away bulwarks and causing the wool and billets of wood to move violently about the decks, whereby three men were killed, while several more had their arms and legs broken, or otherwise disabled. The Captain then told the passengers that he saw no hopes of saving the vessel, as she was still dragging towards the spit. He had just ceased speaking when a tremendous sea broke over the ship, and swept washed away the fore hatches. Tarpaulins were then nailed over them, but they proved of no service …. The passengers were in the utmost consternation, they set up most piteous cries for help; some ran to the side, and in the agonies of despair, plunged into the sea … [Men] … worked for some time at the pumps which, however soon got choked up, and they then assisted in heaving overboard the remainder of the deck cargo … The doors of the companion were then opened, and the females came on deck together. The dreadful moment which was to determine the on, and every one saw in the countenance of his companion the vivid expression of his own feelings …. Mr. Stubbs, who appears to have maintained his presence of mind throughout, now cried out, ‘avoid the suction’: and jumped overboard. One dreadful shriek was heard, proceeding from one of the females in the forepart of the ship, as she took one roll, heeled over and sank, and then all was still. The struggle for life then commenced; some of the passengers clung to the wool bales, some to the portions of the wreck, while others, who had been disabled on board, soon sank to rise no more alive … Mr. Stubbs … saw breakers ahead proceeding from the bar, which appeared coming towards him like and foaming, and enough to appall the stoutest heart. How he got through them he does not recollect, for he saw nothing more until he reached the shoal water of the beach, which was about four miles from the spot where he left the vessel. He had just vigor enough remaining to get out of the reach of the breakers, when a native belonging to the pilot’s crew seized him by the waist, and supported him till his strength returned … Mr. Richards and neighbourhood, rendered every assistance in their power, and aided by a prisoner of the Crown, named William Rollings, a servant of the pilot, and the native crew, by the most arduous exertions succeeded in saving the lives of six more individuals, who, but for their assistance, must have perished in the surf.’

Peter Ludlow:

‘The loss of the Sovereign, with the loss of 45 lives, was a disaster that shook the foundations of the young pastoral and business community.25 More than any other single event, it led to vessels using the northern entrance to Moreton Bay rather than the South Passage.’

Tom Welsby:

‘The Aborigine, Toompani is said to have swam in the surf at the point and to have saved several passengers, with the assistance of his mates. The New South Wales Government gave him a brass plate on which I have read his actions anent the ‘Sovereign’, and for years that Government, and later on the Queensland Government kept him supplied with a first class boat, by which he was often enabled to make hauls of fish for either sale or for food amongst the inhabitants ashore.’

Stories from Bulimba – 1


Bulimba House in 2015 (Photo courtesy Shiftchange)
Bulimba House in 2015 (Photo courtesy Shiftchange)

Early Settlers

The native name of Bulimba was “Tugulawah” (heart shaped). The first European settler was David Cannon.McConnell who built Bulimba House in 1850 at the end of Bulimba Point. The house was built of grey freestone, obtained from the Black Ball Quarry – a site later occupied by Baynes Brothers, as a meat works known as Queensport. McConnell grew maize and oats as fodder for his cattle, which he imported for his pastoral holding he had taken up at Cressbrook.

McConnell had planned to make Bulimba his home, but found the climate unsuitable for his wife, who was in poor health. Donald Coutts then bought the Bulimba property, and after cultivating it for some years, cut some of it up into small blocks and auctioned them in 1864. When Coutts died the remaining property was sold to Thorpe Riding who cut it up into 4 ha and 5 ha farms that were sold and worked for many years.

The only practical way to Brisbane was by boat, and the Bulimba Ferry dates from 1864 and was operated by John Watson, a boat-builder by trade, who also built Fort Lytton near the mouth of the Brisbane River. He also built the Mercantile Wharf on the bank opposite his home at Bulimba.

The earliest settlers at Bulimba grew mainly vegetables and maize, but in 1856 bananas were planted, and by 1862 they became the principal crop. At about this time, sugar cane growing was introduced with the first sugar being crushed by the floating sugar mill named Walrus, which steamed along Bulimba Creek and later the Brisbane River. Later, with the introduction of steam powered crushing mills, the Walrus went out of existence as a sugar mill, but later became established as a distillery. Walrus Rum was well known in the late 1860s.

Later as the sugar industry expanded, more land was required for growing the cane, and the industry gradually transferred from the Bulimba area up along the Queensland coast.

Boat Builders

 As a young man, Norman Reginald Wright had spent some time with his parents on a mixed farm on Coochiemudlo Island in Moreton Bay. The venture proved to be unsuccessful and the family returned to Brisbane where Norman worked for the firm of Laycock-Littledykes. However, due to an accident, he suffered a hand wound and was unable to work for several weeks, and during this period he spent most of his time at the boat shed of John Hawkins Whereat at McConnell Street. It was here that he decided to enter the boat building business and applied successfully for a job with Whereat’ s. During his employment at Whereat’s Wright designed and built ‘out of cedar picked up in the mangroves on Peel Island and scraps’ the ten footer Commonwealth with which he won many sailing championships.

In the off season, fishing trips in George Crouch’s fishing boats to the sand hills on Moreton Island never failed to secure ample supplied of fish. (The Crouch Brothers, fishermen, arrived from Botany Bay early in 1865 and later bought land on the river bank at Bulimba).

In 1909 Norman Wright commenced business on his own account initially at Newstead. However a Brisbane City Council decision to resume the water frontage caused the removal to Bulimba.

With the outbreak of World War II, the Bulimba boatbuilding industry shifted to wartime construction and contributed all types of craft from small motorboats to coastal patrol boats, with the Fairmiles being the best known.

Just as Norman Wright owed a debt to John Whereat for his start in boatbuilding, so too did he pass on his skills to many other boatbuilders, initially to the likes of Jack McCleer, Roy Bliss, Charlie Crowley, the Tripconys, and Lance Watts, who in turn continued the tradition as the Bulimba boatbuilding industry continued to evolve to the present today.

Reference: Ludlow, Peter Moreton Bay People 2012

Stories From Coochiemudlo Island – 1

The name Coochiemudlo is a misspelling of the island’s original aboriginal name, Kutchi Mudlo, the place of red ochre stones. Closest of the Bay islands to mainland ‘civilisation’, tiny Coochiemudlo Island nestles off the tip of Victoria Point in the southern section of Moreton Bay.  

Matthew Flinders (alias Ted Jones) lands at Coochiemudlo Re-enactment
Matthew Flinders (alias Ted Jones) lands at Coochiemudlo Re-enactment

Matthew Flinders:

‘Traces of men were scarcely visible: there were, however, several fire-places, and many other marks of the island having lately been visited. They met with some boughs so ranged as to keep off the southerly winds; and from the fire-places which they were placed to defend it was inferred that not less than five or six natives had made this their place of residence, probably a temporary one only, as they do not meet with any huts regularly constructed.’

Reference: Journal entry describing his men’s exploration of the Sixth Island (now called Coochiemudlo) on July 19, 1799


Norman R. Wright: 

‘Dad had an idea of running pigs so we bought a couple, a Berkshire Boar that we named “Dennis” and the sow “Bridget”.  They lived on yams, roots, prickly pear etc. and soon multiplied.

‘We lived on side at the eastern end of the beach.  Our humpy for a start was 8’ x 8’ all galvanised iron and later we made a lean-to on the eastern side in which we stowed the dinghy and odd gear.  For the first year we collected oysters, shell grit, peat and firewood.  We were generally three weeks on the Island and one week at home trading our goods, cutting a supply of firewood etc.  We brought a pig home from time to time and it was slaughtered and sold.  We were the only people on the Island.  ‘Once a few steers appeared, they walked across from Victoria Point at low water and I had seen a couple of stockmen round them up.

‘The aboriginals learned our habits so when we were away they came after the suckers but left as soon as we returned.  The oysters were fair for a couple of years then the worm showed up and destroyed the best of them.’

 Reference: Letter addressed to Mrs F.G.Elliott, Coochiemudlo, November 21, 1966


Edward Field Jones:

‘During the last week of August 1883, a cataclysmic event hit the island (Coochie). What was described as a wall of water like a chalk mountain, surged down the Bay, flooding low lying contiguous areas as it swept towards Innis Island (now known as Coochiemudlo) at great speed. Four men were washed overboard from a southern bound boat and were lost from view. On the western side of the island the wave tore through the mangroves before smashing into the cliff. On the eastern side, the (Morwong) Beach bore the full force of the wave as it crashed through the casuarinas, and continued on its way to the southward, ripping off branches, snapping trunks, uprooting trees, and leaving a trail of destruction in its wake.

‘When the inundation had drained away, the Island resembled a battlefield, with debris strewn all along (Norfolk) Beach and out into Moreton Bay.

‘As the wave continued down the Bay, a load of bananas which had been piled up on the Redland Bay Jetty awaiting shipment to Brisbane, was swept away & never seen again.

‘After twelve hours immersion, the four men who had been washed overboard, were rescued when they were discovered clinging to floating tree trunks, totally exhausted after their terrifying ordeal.’

Reference: “Chronicles of Coochiemudlo”


Rosemary Opala:

‘Well, in the middle of, after leaving Peel the first time and going back the second time, I was working at the Cleveland Hospital, and I met Mrs Morton there, who was one of the farmers from Coochie. Her mother was in St Anne’s Hospital, and she pointed the island out the window to me, and said that’s where she lived.  I thought it looked a very interesting place. It looked just lovely then, didn’t have all the buildings down the foreshores on Cleveland like there is now.  You could just look down the street and see the mangroves, and you could just see the island.  It didn’t have Toondah Harbour or any of that – it was just very undeveloped round there.  There was just a farm where the hospital was. The hospital stood in the middle of somebody’s farm, actually, with cabbages and things round it.

‘So I had this dinghy, and on my day off once I rowed up to Coochie to see if it was as nice as it looked, and it was, so that’s how I started to get interested in Coochie.’

Reference: Redland Shire Council Oral History Project.