Since 1926 the rusting remains of the dredge Platypus has been a well-know landmark for boaties frequenting the waters surrounding Peel Island. But not for much longer…
The Platypus was sunk on Thursday, 21st October 1926 and with time and tide, about to claim its final vestiges, it seems appropriate to revisit some of its history both as a dredge and as a breakwater.
On Wednesday 13th October 1926, the Brisbane Courier reported:
The End of the Platypus.
‘The love of a seaman for his ship is one of the most worthy human emotions, and many an old salt on the Queensland coast will give a sigh for the old dredger Platypus, whose demolition is now taking place at the dry dock, South Brisbane, after 40 years’ service on the Queensland coast. The oldest unit in the dredge plant of the Harbours and Rivers Department will soon be stripped of all useful gear. After that indignity is over her future Is uncertain. The Platypus, which was built about 1884, at Renfrew, is a self-contained bucket dredge. Unlike ordinary dredges, she did not require to use a barge, as she carried out the two operations of dredging and conveying the material. She differs from her successor, which will be ready for service on the Queensland coast in a few months’ timer, as her well is in the bow instead of in the stern as is the case with the new Platypus. The (old) Platypus on arrival in Queensland began her long work on the Queensland coast by opening up the port of Cairns. During the years which followed she was a frequent caller in Queensland ports. She co-operated in the early developmental work in Townsville, relieved the Wolunga in the job of making a channel at Normanton. Port Douglas, Thursday Island, Cooktown, and Brisbane where she took away the sharp bends at Kangaroo Point, and the Gardens Reach also had the use of her services. Life on board the Platypus must have run with an even tend, as only one accident of importune occurred during her long career. Crossing Moreton Bay one night 38 years ago she collided with the Tinana, sustaining very little damage from the encounter. The Platypus had many masters in her day. Among the most prominent were Captains Stewart, J. Crawford, W. J.Evans, Lawson, W. Williams. Three years ago Captain Madams handed her over to the department for the last time. Among her engineers were Messrs. S. Kavanagh, R. Gillett, G. Shipley, and Morgan Jones.’
For the next 90 years, the Platypus served faithfully as a breakwater for Peel’s stone jetty where vessels were able to unload visitors and stores for the island’s lazaret (leprosarium). One of the leprosy patients recalls:
‘For the men patients, fishing was a major pastime. Some had boats that they moored just below the men’s compound. Several patients constructed a jetty there, using Ti-Tree posts cut from the surrounding bush. Favourite fishing spots included the coral reef just off the lazaret, and the reefs around the hulk of the dredge Platypus at the stone jetty. At times the patients would moor their boats alongside the Platypus and sleep the night on her decks ready for an early start to the next day’s fishing. Schnapper were in abundance then, as well as Parrot fish, the largest of which was some 10 lb. There was also reputed to be a 500 lb. Grouper living in the vicinity of the ‘Platypus’, a rumour that was to persist for the next half century. Red and Yellow Sweetlip, Cod, Sole, Taylor, and Flathead were also caught in abundance.
‘Sharks, too, were very common around Peel. Not only were they present in great numbers, but their size was also enormous – Junta King, onetime launch master of the Karboora once saw two 20 foot White Pointers intertwined in their mating ritual on the surface of the water between Peel Island and Dunwich.’
Another patient, an ex-seaman, had been one of the original crew that sailed the dredge Platypus to Queensland from Scotland. After many years of service, the Platypus was sunk just off the eastern jetty as a breakwater in 1926. When the seaman contracted Hansen’s Disease (leprosy), he was sent to the lazaret as a patient, and it was ironic that both he and the Platypus were to spend their last days on Peel Island literally ‘rotting away’
(Extracts from ‘Peel Island, Paradise or Prison’ by Peter Ludlow)