Signalling Ships (with Kevin Mohr) – Part 2

Bishop Island

We used to communicate with the ships using a four-inch Aldis Light using Morse code. The Light had two triggers – the bottom trigger was to put the power on and the top trigger was to flick the light on and off. It was the same principle that the Navy used to communicate between ships except that the Navy blokes were faster than us. The Aldis Light was battery operated and we had a bank of batteries that we charged with a little diesel generator. It was very noisy and used to rattle the signal box when it was operating, but that’s all we had to communicate with in those days. We were linked up with Brisbane Harbour by radio. I think it was an old Bendix valve radio. There was a repeater station for it at the quarantine station at Lytton. We had set radio times between the pilot boat, Bishop Island, and the Port Office. These were all the people we could talk to – we couldn’t talk to ships. For ships we had to use the Aldis Light and Morse code.

Kevin Mohr with Aldis Light (photo Peter Ludlow)

We had tide signals too at Bishop Island. They were done with two red cones and a black ball in various combinations. At night they had coloured lights for the tide lights. When the Pile Light was knocked over in 1949 the signal station was transferred to Bishop Island in about 1952 or 3. It was only a temporary turnout there, but they still called the station at Bishop Island the Pile Light. The signals we used at Bishop Island were the same as the ones they used at the Pile Light. A red flag, for example, meant that the tide was rising. The signal station was at the western end of Bishop Island, and nearby were the three signalmen’s houses – the Ford, Tottenham, and Devonshire families. Tottenham was the third generation to work with Harbours and Marine – just on one hundred years. That was fairly common in those days. 

Bishop Island in May 1979

To get our tucker, we had wheelbarrows, which we used to take up to the jetty at the other end of the island. The track was all sand but when the tide was out, we’d go via the mud flats because the mud was a bit harder at low tide. Every Tuesday we’d go up for our provisions. Also at the other end of the island was a kiosk and we had quite a bit to do with the people who ran that for the tourists. Harry Sullivan and his family had it when we were there.

We used to get our meat off Redbank Meatworks in those days and they classed Bishop Island as overseas trade so we got the best quality meat. Water was always a problem and when our tanks would run dry, they’d send a ship tank full from Cairncross Dock for us. The women had it tough. Wood coppers and all. My wife hated every minute of it but she never complained. To pass the time she enrolled in a Correspondence school. It wasn’t a bad sort of life on Bishop Island – except for the mosquitoes. They were pretty savage. It was fairly primitive – all the lights were kerosene, there were wood combustion stoves, and wood coppers for washing. But it was a privilege to work for the old Harbours and Marine. They were good to work for, and there was a lot of loyalty there.

Ships used to go aground fairly regularly in fogs so they’d anchor when they got stuck in the mud. One day I was going back to Bishop Island in a thick fog and there was a coastal freighter stuck straight across the river at the Pelican Banks Cutting. When a ship went aground, they put ten black balls in a vertical line to show that they were not under command. At night they used two red lights. Such occurrences were a major problem for the port because they blocked the main channel. Depending on what the pilot wanted, they would contact us using Morse code by light, and we would then arrange tugs to come and pull them off or they would wait for the ship to float off with the tide.

The signalmen’s houses on Bishop Island came from Bulwer Island just across the river. Our house ended up being burnt down when a cat knocked over a kerosene lantern. The kitchen and bathroom were out the back but they couldn’t get enough water out of the tank.  So, someone got a shotgun and blew a hole in it. They got all the water they wanted but it went too quick! The houses were all flyscreened. They had a lot of louvers in those newer keepers’ houses but the noise from them at night with the wind would drive you mad. Also, when the China Navigation ships used to go past the island, the windows in our house used to rattle because the whole island was only built on mud dredged from the river. 

The signal station on Bishop Island closed in 1968. They couldn’t sell the Harbours and Marine houses there so they had to bulldoze them. They sent two signalmen to Caloundra and two to Lytton. There was little remaining of the signal station itself after the louts had got to it. 

After Bishop Island

I was on Bishop Island for three years, then they sent me to Townsville in charge of the explosives at Brook Hill. I was there for three years and by the time I got back, the Bishop Island Signal Station had closed and they had opened up at Lytton Hill. It was a modern facility for those days, it had radar and VHF radio – there was no Morse code. They opened the same type of set-up at Caloundra.  We talked to the ships by radio then. It’s all closed down now.

I had twelve years at Lytton Hill, and I went to Caloundra and had twelve years up there. This was at the lighthouse there. They still called us signalmen but we didn’t do any Morse code or signal with flags. It was all radio. Then in January 1992 they brought us all down to Whyte Island. I retired in 1997. 

At Whyte Island we still did pretty much the same thing. We used to report ships in. We had state of the art radar – we could identify a ship and give it a mark and that identification stayed with the ship to show us the course and speed of the ship right across the Bay. Basically, we just tracked ships and spoke to them. And we contacted the agent, tugs and line ships as before. Now Whyte Island has finished and they’re at the Harbours and Marine Depot Pinkenba. It’s just across the river. In the old Bishop Island and Cowan days you had to be within sight of a ship to signal it. I don’t know whether they can even see a ship now. That’s progress.

Kevin Mohr

22.2.2008

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

Signalling Ships (with Kevin Mohr) – Part 1

I started work in Brisbane as day labour in a gang building the river training walls at Gibson and Bishop Islands. One of the people I met on Bishop Island said ‘Why don’t you learn Morse code and put in for a job at the signal station here.’ So, I did. But it was too big a jump job-wise to go straight from day labour to the signal station, so, to get a leg in, I went out to the Sandy Cape lighthouse and the Lady Elliott Lighthouse as a lighthouse keeper. I didn’t need any specialised training to be a lighthouse keeper. As long as I knew Morse code – that was the main requirement. So, I stayed out there for a year then re-applied for a job with the Department of Harbours and Marine. They welcomed me with open arms because then I wasn’t too far down the promotions ladder. I was employed as a signalman at Bishop Island at the mouth of the Brisbane River. Then I applied for relief work at the Cowan Signal Station. When its sole signalman, Harry Wadsworth, was going on leave they’d send one of us permanent signalmen from Bishop Island to Cowan and put a temporary signalman at Bishop Island. I relieved at Cowan in 1959,60,61,62.

Signalmans house and wartime searchlight pillbox Cowan Cowan (Photo courtesy Kevin Mohr)

My duties involved signalling the ships entering port. What happened in those days – and this was 1954 – was that the pilot steamers, the ‘new’ Matthew Flinders and the much older John Oxley (I think she was built about 1926) – were stationed at Point Cartwright near Mooloolaba. They’d be cruising off Point Cartwright and they’d put a pilot on the ship that was bound for the Port of Brisbane. Then Cape Moreton lighthouse would identify the ship as it passed the Fairway Buoy at Caloundra, then Cape Moreton would ring us at Cowan. An hour and a half later we’d get the ship passing Cowan and we’d report its progress across the Bay. It would carry on from there to Bishop Island at the mouth of the Brisbane River. There were four signalmen at Bishop Island.

Modern day map of Moreton Bay

I went up to Cape Moreton lighthouse a couple of times. After the American Liberty ship Rufus King mistook Point Lookout for Cape Moreton during the war and went aground, it was decided to paint two red bands on the Cape Moreton lighthouse to prevent any further mistaken repetition. Cape Moreton is the worst lighthouse I’ve ever been on because it has a spiral staircase and when you get to the top, there is no flooring and you have to step out onto a vertical ladder with nothing between you and the ground floor far below. I never liked that – especially in the middle of the night when you’re half asleep.

Cowan Cowan

Although Cowan still had an old ex-army signal station from the war, we never used that. We had to signal from the front veranda of Harry and Jesse Wadsworth’s house next door. The house has been modernised now and is still there today. Harry and Jesse’s ashes are buried at the back of the house. The Wadsworth’s were a remarkable couple: Jesse Wadsworth went to Moreton in 1904. She was a good workhorse, which Harry used to play on. She used to get up at night for the ships while Harry kept sleeping. She even used to roll his cigarettes.

We had no visitors while we were stationed at Cowan, but Jesse and Harry always did. Harry used to take them fishing. These included officials such as Sir Henry Abel Smith, the Governor, and the Treasurer, Tom Hiley. Sometimes when I had finished my relief duties at Cowan, I had to wait for the pilot boat to take me back to Bishop Island so I’d go fishing with Harry. He had a 12-foot wooden dinghy and some of those sharks we caught were longer than the dinghy. Some of the snapper we caught were so large that we could only fit two of them to a corn sack.  There were fishing places Harry took me that he wouldn’t take the Governor. ‘They poke and they pry,’ he said, ‘but I don’t tell them.’ Harry had secret fishing spots that were small sandstone reefs. I don’t know how he ever found them himself but he had plenty of time to look, and he must have got some inside information from his father-in-law who was there before him. Vandals burnt down the lighthouse at Cowan. It had been automatic since 1926. I think they only kept the signal station going for Harry and when he retired, they closed it.

The ships entering port had to come within a couple of miles of Cowan and when they came within range of the Aldis Light we’d signal them ‘What name?’ and then we’d ring the launch and the tugs. The tugs then were up in Mary Street at AUSN and Howard Smith’s. They were all coal burners – the ForcefulFearlessCarlock and Coringa.  After the ship crossed the Bay, the next signal station it encountered would be Bishop Island who would also signal them in Morse to identify themselves. When the ships passed Bishop Island, we’d ring the tugs at Mary Street, the ship’s agent, the wharf, the Wright’s launches, and the Water Police with the ship’s ETA (estimated time of arrival). I think Howard Smith’s operate the Wright’s launches now. These vessels are the line launches that run the lines from the ship to the shore.

Kevin Mohr

22.2.2008

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

On the Other Side – 1

All things are relative – even where we like to spend our holidays. This has been brought home to us all when, thanks to the Covid 19 virus, we are forced to holiday at home rather than jet off overseas to anywhere in the world that we choose.

I like this observation from Brian McGrath in ‘The Port of Brisbane, Its People and Its Personalities’: ‘During the port development days, we had a series of tide gauges near where we were doing our work, and one of them was on the jetty at Bishop Island. I was down there one day and was putting a new chart on the tide gauge and there was a dear old lady fishing there. I got talking to her and she told me how much she enjoyed coming to Bishop Island every year for her holiday. When I asked her where she came from, I was expecting her to say something like Western Queensland, but she pointed across the river and said, ‘From over there at Cribb Island.’

(Cribb Island, nicknamed ‘Cribbie’, was once an isolated, tight knit community of Aussie battlers who found refuge and cheaper living during The Great Depression. ‘Cribbie’ was demolished to make way for the Brisbane Airport in the early 1980s.)

(Bishop Island, a manmade island formed from spoil after the deepening of the mouth of the Brisbane River, has now been engulfed by the development of the Port of Brisbane and now resides under the area taken up by berth 9.)

Stories From Bishop Island – 2

 

Bishop Island - May 1979 Signalmen's houses in foreground with resort buildings in background. On the mainland behind, the Port of Brisbane is being constructed
Bishop Island – May 1979
Signalmen’s houses in foreground with resort buildings in background. On the mainland behind, the Port of Brisbane is being constructed

Kevin Mohr:

When the Pile Light was knocked over in 1949 the signal station was transferred to Bishop Island in about 1952 or 1953. It was only a temporary turnout there, but they still called the station at Bishop Island the Pile Light. The term ‘Pile Light’ was still in everyday use until late into the 1980s when it was finally discontinued because there was no such thing marked on the charts anymore. The signal station was at the northern end of Bishop Island, and nearby were the three signalmen’s houses – the Ford, Tottenham, and Devonshire families.

To get our tucker, we had wheelbarrows, which we used to take up to the jetty at the other end of the island. The track was all sand but when the tide was out we’d go via the mud flats because the mud was a bit harder at low tide. Every Tuesday we’d go up for our provisions. Also at the other end of the island was a kiosk and we had quite a bit to do with the people who ran that for the tourists. Harry Sullivan and his family had it when we were there. (4)

Ted Crouch: 

“The dance hall at Bishop Island was a popular destination for day cruise boats from Brisbane prior to and after World War II.  The hall had its own electricity generator, and music was played on 78rpm records.  Refreshments were available from a kiosk attached to the rear of the hall.  No alcohol was served. At New Year all-night dances took place with a constant string of dad’s boats between Hamilton and the jetty at Bishop Island. As well as the day-trippers, people could stay for longer periods in cabins on the island.” (1)

Margaret Taylor:

“At the end of World War II in 1945, Harry Sullivan embarked on a new venture when he bought the lease from the Crouch family for Bishop Island at the mouth of the Brisbane River. His wife, Beulah, and I, had been helping with the boats (in fact we were probably the first mother and daughter team in Australia to each hold a master’s ticket). With the purchase of the Bishop Island lease, Beulah built their first holiday cabins there. They were ex-army, and could be hired for 30/- ($3) a weekend or £7 ($14) a week. (3,4)

Pete Taylor:

“About 1960 my father in law, Harry Sullivan, sold the Bishop Island lease to myself and my wife, Margaret. I was incensed one day by a remark from a tourist who asked me if the cabins on Bishop Island were there when Captain Cook discovered Australia, so I set about rebuilding the place. This included a new kiosk, dance hall, cabins, shelter sheds, and the installation of 240 volt power. We built a mini golf course and had septic tanks installed. We also had Neil Todkill build us a new jetty.” (3,4)

Ken Brown:

In those days all the boating was around Bulimba, and you’d hear so-and-so’s boat was heading down to Bishop Island on Friday night, so we’d all pile on there and go down to Bishop Island and have a bit of a hoot. I remember the entertainer Norman Erskine used to play down there. He was a comedian, raconteur sort of a guy from the ‘50s. You can imagine for a lot of the young boating families this is where the first encounters with young ladies and young gentlemen happened. I would venture to say – myself included – that many a first love was requited at Bishop Island at the dance on Friday nights. Mind you, it wasn’t all romance and a lot of families went there just to have a barbie and hang out. Brisbane didn’t have nightclubs then, and it was really quite unique to go down there. (4)

Margaret Cameron:

In the course of time, the need to expand the port facilities of Brisbane became apparent, and in 1991 very large reclamation works were begun, causing the demise of Bishop Island, which lost its identity and the name was relegated to that of “obsolete” among official place names. However members of Captain bishop’s family approached the Port authority requesting his memory be perpetuated, and on 16th March 2000 the new bridge linking the port facilities with the mainland, over what was known as the Boat Passage, was officially named “Captain Bishop Bridge” and family members were invited guests at this unveiling ceremony.

Peter Ludlow:

It was not so long ago, too, that beneath where the robots now work at Wharf 9 at the Port of Brisbane, Bishop Island – itself man made – was once the popular destination for leisurely river cruises. (4)

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) Ludlow, Peter. Moreton Bay Reflections. privately published, Stones Corner, 2007

(4) Ludlow, Peter. The Port of Brisbane, Its People and Its Personalities, published by the Port of Brisbane Pty Ltd, 2013

Stories From Bishop Island – 1

 

Hulk of the Hercules at the One Mile
Hulk of the Hercules at the One Mile

Situated at the mouth of the Brisbane River, Bishop Island was formed in 1912 as spoil from the dredge “Hercules” during the cutting of a new shipping channel.  The island took its name from A.G.Bishop, Master of the “Hercules” for this operation. Bishop Island as such no longer exists, having been incorporated into the new Port of Brisbane terminal at Fisherman Island.

Ian Kennedy in his paper Captain A.F.G.Bishop 1857-1950 presented to the Wynnum Manly Historical Society in 2002:

“A total of 4,500,000 tons of material was dredged and the spoil from ‘Hercules’ was directed to a low mud bank on the southern side of the river mouth. This formed an island about two metres above the high water mark, about 17 hectares in area. At the time, the dredge master and his crew did not give much thought to their ‘Island’ appearing on an admiralty chart, and none to its eventual future as a pleasure resort…At first the ‘Island’ was referred to as ‘Hercules Bank’ and later as ‘Wreck Island’ but, in due course, was gazetted ‘Bishop Island’.” (4)

Charles Bateson/Jack Loney:

The ‘Hercules’ was a steel dredge of 895 tons. Built at Walker-on-Tyne, 1900. Lbd 230.5 x 39.3 x II ft. Dredged the Bar Cutting at the entrance to the Brisbane river and used the silt to form Bishop Island in Moreton bay where many vessel were scuttled. She herself lies scuttled between Dunwicch and Myora in Moreton Bay.

Bunny Dickson:

In 1954, Bonty Dickson purchased the wreck of the 250 foot ex Brisbane River dredge “Hercules”, and it was towed down and put on the One Mile.  He grew oysters on trays inside the hull (after first catching them on the bedsteads), and found they would grow much quicker inside the wreck.  However to fatten them up, he still had to put them out in the sun. (1)

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) Ludlow, Peter. Moreton Bay Reflections. privately published, Stones Corner, 2007

(4) Ludlow, Peter. The Port of Brisbane, Its People and Its Personalities, published by the Port of Brisbane Pty Ltd, 2013