I’d like to thank Rosemary Ahearn for giving me permission to publish her book ( thesis ) Moreton Island Community and Culture 1850-1995.

This is not for publishing on any other media whether in part or in full without the authors consent. 

The book has 20000 words and is in my opinion, one of the best I’ve read on Moreton Island history. 

Moreton Island Community and Culture 1850-1995


This thesis of approximately twenty thousand words is my own work and has not been submitted in any form for another degree or diploma at any university or other institute of tertiary education. Information derived from the published or unpublished work of others has been acknowledged in the text and a list of references is given.

Throughout the research and writing of this thesis I have received enormous support and interest from a number of people in the Moreton community who have generously supplied me with their own records, photos and recollections.

These people include Nonie Wilson, Rose and Mery Day, Don and Heather McLaren, Trevor Hassard, Eleanor Beck, Kathleen Hirst, John Day, Terry and Mary Ward, Harold Lowes, Greg and Colleen Delaney, David Elliott, and the rangers from National Parks and Wildlife.

Many thanks to these people and to all the other Moreton residents and visitors I have encountered throughout the course of my research for their interest and encouragement.

Thank you also to my supervisor Dr Rod Fisher for his advice and direction. Finally a special thank you to my daughter Elizabeth Rose for allowing me to borrow her Bananas in Pyjamas tape recorder for my interviews.

Rosemary Ahearn 20 August 1996



Moreton Island lies approximately forty kilometres off the coast of Queensland from Brisbane. It is one of the largest sand islands in the work with a length of thirty-four kilometres and at its widest point ten kilometres.

Permanent occupation of the island by white settlement commenced in 1847 with the increased need for improved navigational facilities at the northern end of Moreton Bay. From 1847 to the early decades of the twentieth century Moreton Island’s populace was comprised of lighthouse families. As the community expanded two schools were established – one school reporting an attendance of twenty-six students in this period. Despite its considerable size the community did not form any long-term attachment or future with the island and dissolved after the demanning of navigational services.

From the 1920s to the 1950s Moreton Island was sparsely settled by a handful of individuals, and visited by a small number of holiday-makers who through time came to form a transient community sharing a common love and interest of Moreton and its attractions.

After the 1950s as the pace of mainland life increased Moreton Island’s lack of development became more attractive with ninety-seven percent of the island declared a National Park in 1992. The transient and permanent populace consolidated in this period to form a distinct communit centred around the unique natural and social environment.

The central argument to this thesis supports the ability of a transient community to exist associated in a variety of interests, without necessarily maintaining a permanent presence.



The existence and development of Moreton Island communities since white settlement can be divided into three historical time frames. The first phase of Moreton’s history shows the development of society based on mainland navigation requirements in Moreton Bay. This period represents the most traditionally structured phase of social formation being the only period in which a significantly large proportion of the populace was committed to reside on the island on a permanent basis. As a community their interests and associations revolved around the employment provided and their families. Residence on the island was generally perceived as non-permanent and a make-do lifestyle and relaxed principles were adopted. This attitude was strengthened by the minimalistic approach applied by mainland authorities to service the requirements of the settlements. Stunted community development and cohesion is reflected in social interaction documented in correspondence of the period. The failure to establish an association or future with the island and a distinct identity or culture led to the dissolution of these island communities following the de manning of navigation services.

The second phase of community association falls between the 1920s and 1950s when there were few permanent inhabitants on the island. Only a handful of individuals and their families were permanently based there, usually fulfilling a direct service or commercial requirement. The exception to this small permanent community were the soldiers stationed on the isle
during World War II and the whaling station employees stationed at Tangalooma during the 1950s. Both these groups remained relatively unconnected to community life outside the boundaries of their duties. with the lighthouse communities in the first phase of settlement, they regarded their occupation on Moreton as temporary. Though this per the island carried the lowest population force it signalled the origins in development of a identifiable community and culture based on a relations with Moreton’s unique natural and social environment. By the 1950s, addition to the small permanent population that had accumulated on the island, there emerged a transient community with a basis of sympathy association revolving around an increasing rejection to the mainland’: environment, its lifestyle and ideals. This association intensified after the 1950s as an increased visiting populace continued to embrace Moreton’s unique environment and experiences. In this third stage of community development there foul distinct community of interests and identity evident among Moreton’s permanent and transient population. Within the broader Moreton community geographical divisions formed. Community interaction and inter-deper at the three townships of Cowan Cowan, Buiwer and Kooringal reflec variations in population, accessibility and services. Tendencies relating social interaction did not alter general transient community values an ideals. Further confirmation of these values is provided by the existance and strength of the squatting settlements which abounded from the 1920’s through to their eventual dismantling in the 1980s. Their enforced re marked the beginning of a new phase in Moreton’s history as an increase visiting populace necessitated greater control by authorities endeavour preserve the future quality of social and environmental development enforcement of new regulations imposed by National Parks and Wildlife from the 1980s created a cross-purpose of interests and considerable contention with the Moreton community as it sought to preserve social and cultural values strongly linked to its sense of shared experiences and community identity.

The divisions applied to this thesis do not follow guidelines relating to conventional concepts of community. These concepts are often simplified to reflect a population’s administrative or geographical boundaries. Using these simplified principles, historians might well argue that since white settlement on Moreton Island there have been many decades where no recognisable community existed at all. This applies too literally a dictionary definition of community being: “A social group of any size where members in a specific locality share government and have a cultural and historical heritage.”‘

According to Richard Broome an adherence to this view ignores the possible existence of a “sympathetic association”2 based on other factors beyond a locality’s specific cultural or historical heritage. A great sense of local history or culture may not exist – particularly in the first stages of settlement. This was the case with the early lighthouse populace where the main feeling of community revolved around its sense of loss about a closer knit past and a rejection of Moreton as a permanent settlement.

While the dictionary definition allows “a social group of any size”, it ignores the ability of individuals to become singular symbols of a locality representing commonly held values in community thought.

Confining a community to a “specific locality” is ambiguous as this could range from an area the size of the hemisphere to a suburb or street.

Macquarie Dictionary, (Jacaranda Press, New South Wales, 1986).

Richard Broome, “Reflections of the Flesh and Bones of Local History”, Victorian Historical Journal, 61, 1990, p.37.

While place is certainly a relevant consideration on Moreton, with much community appreciation based on its unique natural environment, this does not alone account for the numerous interests and sources of identity which allow its broadly placed transient populace to be linked to more than one community.

Councillors commissioning local history regularly seek a sentimental recollection of the past to inspire present society.3 A comfortable concept of community has become more widely used to describe a variety of situations. In Lucy Taksa’s words, “It has even been claimed that since the 1970’s community has become an aerosol word because of the hopeful way it has been sprayed over deteriorating situations.”4

Examination of Moreton Island’s communities based on conventional definitions and theories of social formation does not always provide a foundation for the favoured image of a comfortable close-knit community. Moreton Island is currently controlled by three separate government bodies the erosion problems continue to make the townships inaccessible from each other except at low tide, and community relationships within the townships have historically been fractious or non-existent at times.

More importantly, for the direction of this thesis, is the ability of a “transient community” to exist, based on social experiences rather than social formation. This makes the latter phases of Moreton’s community development part of a dynamic social process rather than a “Fixed social entity superimposed on an imaginary date line coinciding with a specific

ibid. p.37.


Lucy Taksa, “History and Communities – A Preliminary Survey”, Proceedings of Community History Program Seminar, (University of New South Wales, New Sc Wales, June 1989), p.15.

geographical location.”5

As part of a social process, community development on Moreton since the 1950s reflects serious world-wide environmental and social problems with Moreton’s transient and permanent community a direct product of a deteriorating situation.



The creation and establishment of Moreton Island settlements from the nineteenth century to the early twentieth century were based on the fulfilment of mainland requirements. The minimalistic approach adopted the expansion of Moreton Island as a Brisbane outpost resulted in sturdy community development and cohesion. Much of the sense of community or sympathetic association revold around a feeling of loss about a closer knit past. This sense of loss is reflected in the attempts of community members to create or uphold the standards of the old world – applying principles designed to resist social fragmentation and upheaval. Application of these principles proved the successful formula for retaining direction and focus within a community shared no specific long-term goals or future on Moreton. While many perceived their residency on Moreton as semi-perms their common points of interest as a community focused on the available employment, their own families, and day to day survival. Early development of Moreton Island was dictated largely by mar navigation requirements and activities in the quest for the safe passage ships through Moreton Bay to Brisbane. The first organised settlement Moreton Island was precipitated by the wreck of the “Sovereign” in 18, which forty-four lives were lost. This occurrence highlighted the danger the South Passage Bar and prompted the transference of the pilot staff Amity Point on Stradbroke Island to Cowan Cowan on Moreton Island in 1848 and then to Bulwer.8

Thereafter ships generally proceeded to sail around Cape Moreton following a carefully chartered course. A need soon emerged for a conspicuous light marking the entrance to the bay following the wreck of the “Venus” in 1855 and the “Aurora” in 1856.7 In 1857 the Cape Moreton lighthouse was built, the first of seven erected on Moreton Island. The lighthouse and the keeper’s cottage were constructed of sandstone quarried from the immediate area, for an original capital cost of $15,2328 (see illustration 3).

At Comboyuro Point, North Point and Cowan Cowan, lights were established with large kerosene burners fitted with dioptric apparatus and housed to ensure they were not blown away in heavy gales.9

Coastal steamers continued to use the South Passage during the day. Consequently red beacons, visible from Flat Rock, were placed on the extreme south of Moreton Island.

Reinforcing the temporary nature of the settlements dictated by jurisdiction of mainland authorities was the continued effect of erosion on the island and displacement of sand in the Bay channels. Through this movement, the forces of nature controlled the establishment of settlements

6 Winifred Davenport, Harbours and Marine: Port and Harbour Development in Queensland from 1824 to 1985, (Brisbane, Department of Harbours and Marine, 1986), p.130.

7 Anne Innis Dagg, Tangalooma and Moreton Island, Queensland (Tangalooma Island Resort) [C1983].

8 Report on Moreton Island Excursion, Royal Historical Society of Queensland, 24 September 1983, Mary and Terry Ward collection.

9 Davenport, Harbours and Marine, p.60.

and structures on Moreton Island. At Yellow Patch the lighthouse was shifted 300 feet to the north-east in 1882 due to movements of the channels and by 1891 had been moved for the fourth time. By 1898 the Cowan lighthouse was endangered by the encroachment of the sea washing away the point, and in 1901 was successfully moved back under the direction of the Department’s Inspector of Works.11 At Comboyuro Point in 1890, the light and keeper’s cottage required moving back 200 feet under threat of the encroaching sea. Many other navigational aids on and surrounding Moreton have vanished since, including lighthouses, pile lights and signal lights.12

Improvement of services on the island was based on upgrading navigational amenities in Moreton Bay for the benefit of increased mainland needs. They included the establishment of a signal and telegraph station at the South Passage in 1873 and its subsequent extension in 1878 to the pilot station at Bulwer. This enabled the pilots to obtain information regarding shipping movements at any time, and a lookout no longer had to run two kilometres to Bulwer to alert the pilot, although it is reported to have been a full-time job keeping the line clear of vegetation.13

Facilities at the Cape Moreton settlement and Bulwer were maintained or upgraded only in accordance with the demands of the small but expanding populace.

When the pilot station was moved from Amity to Cowan Cowan in 1848, “it was recorded by 1860 to have in residence two pilots, nine

11 Peter Ludlow, A Century of Moreton Bay People, (Peter Ludlow, Stones Corner, 1992), p.37.

12 Davenport, Harbours and Marine, p.131.

13 ibid. p.132.

boatmen and others, all living in wretched conditions”.14 By the late 1860s, as community and services increased, a visitor depicted the pilot station as consisting of some “eight or nine buildings, used as a boathouse church and school house, and the dwellings of the pilots and a school master”.15

At the Cape, galvanised iron roofs replaced leaking shingle roofs, rainwater storage facilities were upgraded with a water tank sunk into the rocks, and a school room was built in 1879.16

The population on the island was diverse with the only real thread o common interest centred around the employment provided. Aside from the more senior employees, many were unskilled and unable to find work on the mainland. They considered their positions there as temporary, regarding Moreton as a relatively undesirable and isolated outpost. As a result of this they led a temporary existence applying the same minimalistic approach adopted by authorities, and forming a community deprived of a future or shared goals and values.

The nature of temporary residence continued throughout the first period of settlement on Moreton. This is reflected in correspondence from Georgina Nordling, a resident at Cape Moreton from 1910 to 1916. She recalled the initial announcement by her father that he had a job on a lighthouse, and her mother’s reaction – thinking it was in the middle of the ocean but promising to go for three months.”

14 ibid. p.59.

15 ibid. p.130.

16 ibid. p.132.


Georgina Nordling, Brisbane to Mary Ward, Cape Moreton, 1982, Mary anc Ward collection.

Remnants of the Aboriginal Nooghie tribe of Moreton Island were moved to Stradbroke in 1846. Some of the remaining Aborigines served the lighthouse communities and were employed to row the boats to and from the ships, while the women worked as domestic servants for the pilots’ wives. Relationships between whites and blacks at the lighthouse settlements were reported to have been good.18

Another aspect of shared social experience for the lighthouse communities was the school. By 1906 there were twenty-six students attending class at the Bulwer School (see illustration 4). Education index files provide a good insight into the developing thoughts and principles in the small and isolated communities of Bulwer and Cape Moreton. Correspondence between teachers, residents and authorities reflect commonly held values and also exhibit the frequent fluctuations in community discipline.

At Bulwer, complaints from teacher James McLeod indicate the lack of social structure and future vision existing within the community and the need for defined and organised social formation. Calls for his dismissal in 1881 due to low grades, and his subsequent reply, indicate attitudes

prevailing amongst the Bulwer populace. McLeod complained that there was rarely any sustained attendance, with the exception of the pilot’s children (whom he claimed turned out to be “fair scholars some of whom were, and some now employed in Government offices”). Efforts to induce parents to enforce attendance failed, with the frequently repeated retort that “the children were their own, that they fed them and clothed them, and could use them as they pleased”. McLeod also protested that at the time of his dismissal there had been more regular attendance owing to the recent


Jean Trundle MSS, JOL OM 85-7/C13, JOL.

pressure brought to bear by the Port Master and Harbour Master, and “that the school was in as prosperous a state as ever I have had it”.19

James McLeod would appear to represent the first and last teacher actually discontented with his removal from the Bulwer posting. Education files are thereafter littered with repeated requests for transfer for reasons ranging from a poor supply of fresh produce to the unfriendliness of the

locals. Records pertaining to teachers posted to Moreton Island indicate their inferior educational qualifications and skills. Any lack of previous commitment to their vocations rarely improved on Moreton, with the temporary nature of their postings affecting their level of commitment. In their letters the teachers exhibited a general yearning to leave – presenting the Department of Public Instruction with a host of reasons for discontent.

Numerous letters were written by Louisa Blunt requesting transfer with her children to a more convenient situation. In a letter sent in 1884, she complained that by the time supplies arrive, they were not wholesome:

The potatoes are bad, the meat tainted, the butter rank, and this at the beginning of the month, so that long before the next store day, my children and myself who have always been accustomed to a town life and able to get food as we wanted it, and fresh vegetables, feel very much at a loss.

Blunt explained that what little milk and vegetables were produced by the local population was used by them, and that her children’s strength was failing for not receiving sufficient nourishment.20


James McLeod, Bulwer to the Undersecretary, Department of Public Instruction, Brisbane, 5 December 1881, Edu Z 379 2435, QSA.


Louisa Blunt, Bulwer to the Undersecretary, Department of Public Instruction, 29 December 1884, Edu Z 379 8056, QSA.

In subsequent correspondence, she expanded her argument to include her concerns as to her sons’ future educational requirements of “good master”, the unavailability of “a good servant” to perform the more arduous household tasks, and the total disregard of the community for Sunday “and or any other day”. Blunt claimed the last Protestant ministry on the island left nearly two years previously and she feared the children would lose their “habit of attendance” at church.21 Her comments reflect the notable fluctuations in community discipline throughout the early decades of settlement.

It appears Louisa Blunt’s years on Moreton may have affected so of her higher principles and values. A letter in 1891 written by her replacement, Emily Hulme, claims that “the men in removing Mrs Blunt’: goods from the house and boat were as overcome with the stench arising therefrom, that they were obliged to stop two or three times and only with great difficulty managed to accomplish their work”. After the men had cleared the house, Emily Hulme borrowed caustic soda to remove the odour from the floor and walls.22 Possibly the condition of the teacher’s residence after Mrs Blunt’s occupation indicates a relaxation in housekeeping only applied as a result of her Moreton posting.

Such abandonment of prevailing social standards appears a frequently repeated occurrence amongst generations of Moreton inhabitants This supports the theory that for many inhabitants the perception of the residency as semi-permanent in conjunction with Moreton’s isolated


Louisa Blunt, Bulwer to the Undersecretary, Department of Public Instruc December 1885, Edu Z 379 8193, QSA.


Emily Hulme, Bulwer to the Undersecretary, Department of Public Ins Brisbane, 14 February 1891, Edu Z 379 01365, QSA.

position, made the island communities seem less connected with the outside world and its normal social regulations.

The frustration of isolation and inability to progress beyond a certain point in social development was regularly reflected in self-destructive antagonistic community behaviour jeopardising the successful progress of the school – a principal focus of community interest. Relationships between teachers and residents at Bulwer were often fractious.

In 1894, M. Cloherty resigned from her teaching position on the basis that boatman Major and his family had rendered her life “very

disagreeable”. Cloherty expressed her doubts that no teacher would receive a day’s peace while Major was on the island and claimed other residents had told her that Major made it a point to make life as unhappy as possible for the teacher. 23

The often inferior quality of new appointments to the school and adoption of relaxed standards by teachers further reduced community spirit and enthusiasm and provided an outlet for public discontent.

Upon the resignation of Cloherty, the Bulwer school closed from December 1894, but was reopened with the appointment of F.N. Newnham in April 1895.24 While Newnham, lasting nearly eight years, proved a popular choice, his replacement in 1904, G.H. Cooke, did not appear to have quite the same heart for Moreton exhibited by his predecessor. In a letter of complaint to the Department from resident Blackburn, Cooke is accused of not only taking every opportunity to play truant teacher but also


  1. Cloherty, Bulwer to the Undersecretary, Department of Public Instruction Brisbane, 28 November 1894, Edu Z 379 10603, QSA.


The Undersecretary, Department of Public Instruction, Brisbane, 14 April 1895, Edt Z 379 03135, QSA.

of falsifying his scholars’ attendance records to indicate otherwise. CI( school and running away to Brisbane for a long weekend appeared as a favourite of his, degenerating as time passed to unexpectedly closing shop at midday on any given day of the week and at one stage Cooke disappearing for a full week. Despite Cooke’s concerted efforts to indicate through his record he had not missed a moment’s duties, he was eventually foiled by the fastidious Mr Blackburn who provided the Department with a precise account of Cooke’s activities over a twelve month period, including a reluctance to pay his bills to the local Chinaman.25 Cooke responded I offering the only noble and face-saving action available – an application transfer – a popular move in Bulwer academic circles. Like teachers b( him, he blamed the isolation, availability of supplies, and irregular mail communication for his discontent. However, he was required to make several applications before the Department took pity on all concerned transferred Joseph Hirst to the Bulwer school in 1903. Existence within a community relatively devoid of shared interaction: goals requires a greater reliance on imposed order and daily structure( little outside influence imposing regular and cohesive social standard independence rather than inter-dependence became the best course personal survival. Inhabitants who failed to master the skills of self-discipline and adaptability generally led a dismal existence. Joseph Hirst and his family provide an example of the success application of independent principles. Unlike his predecessors they gave and developed some fundamental skills required for comfortable stay on

25 John Blackburn, Bulwer to the Undersecretary, Department of Public li Brisbane, 8 December 1902, Edu Z 379 21635, OSA

an outpost such as Moreton. His daughter, Eleanor Beck, has provided a child’s account of their life on Moreton at the turn of the century.

In Joseph Hirst’s immediate favour was the fact that his wife enjoyed fishing. She was, in fact, a fanatic and would take baby Eleanor out on her rowboat to fish all day.

Every inch the practical settler, Mrs Hirst established a smoking room for fish and meat – the meat rations largely comprising wild pig, which she shot herself. There were seven children in the Hirst family and they grew their own vegetables.26 In later years when asked by her daughter-in-law how she acquired yeast to make the bread, Mrs Hirst revealed to her the yeast was made from lemons.27

Perhaps lacking some of his wife’s more practical characteristics, Joseph Hirst is reported upon his final transfer in 1909 to have become so emotionally attached to the family cow that he made it swim out behind the whaleboat through shark-infested waters to be loaded aboard the passing ship with ropes.

Though spared the swim and the ropes, his wife, at eight months pregnant, also endured the undignified loading process en route to give birth in a Brisbane hospital. Unfortunately the passing ship turned out to be a passenger liner – it is reported all on board watched the rope ladder ascent in bemusement.

Eleanor Beck’s youthful reflections include an account of nature dictating the structure of a Moreton day. When a school of fish was spotted close to shore, the school bell was rung and the children waded out to sea

26 Eleanor Beck, Sydney, telephone interview, Brisbane, 1 June 1995.

27 Kathleen Hirst, 11 June 1995.

with the nets. All dined on fish that evening.28

The Hirsts’ adaptation to their circumstances and application of self discipline and self-reliance proved a successful formula in maintaining ar acceptable lifestyle and set of social values. This was achieved in a society that had become adept at dismantling standard codes of behaviour. The Hirsts focused on family and principle-centred ideals, and avoided undue preoccupation with the psychologically undermining influence of local inhospitality and abandoned order.

The replacement of Hirst in 1909 by Lizzie Carpenter Weston was followed by a letter to the Department where Weston complained bitterly the locals’ inhospitality towards her. She quoted recent correspondence 1 Hirst where he apparently stated that the Blackburn family gave him nothing but bother, and that in the first three months his wife was ostracised for wearing gloves on the beach. Weston claimed Hirst reported to her that locals would do nothing for her, but this had not bothered his family as they were independent of them.” The Hirsts had got on particularly well with 1 Normans and the Rogers, who had departed before his transfer. 29

Lizzie Weston provides an example of the antithesis in Hirst’s successful application of independent social survival. She sought to maintain familiar standards of community interdependence, and failed to accept the lack of existing social cohesion. Weston complained of the locals being “a most selfish people”, never offering fresh fish or the produce from their cows or goats. The children she claimed “are bold and their ruden surpassed only by their elders”. Her efforts to get them to clean up the


Eleanor Beck, 1 June 1995.


Lizzie Carpenter Weston, Bulwer to the Undersecretary, Department of Instruction, Brisbane, 16 October 1909, Edu Z 379 18498, OSA.

school yard under the bribe of lollies was responded to by the parents advising the children “not to do anything the teacher tells them”. Weston claimed that when she asked Mr Palmer if he would put the wood he was delivering closer to the house, he looked at her savagely and growled “I’ll put it where Hirst had it”, and then proceeded to deliver it fifty yards further


Several letters were exchanged with the Department in the following year, with relationships reaching an all-time low when Miss Weston whacked young Polly Blackburn over the head with a slate. The locals claimed Weston held herself aloof from the people, and her previous work in the Torres Strait led her to expect services. Weston retorted by referring to the locals as rude and ill-mannered. Somehow a version developed through Mrs Blackburn that Weston believed the Bulwer students to be “no better than niggers”.31

After the stormy schoolroom “brawl” ensuing between Weston and local residents, it was no doubt of great relief to the Department that student attendance numbers had diminished to such an extent as to warrant closure of the Bulwer school. By 1911 most of the Bulwer families had been removed, signifying the end of the community. Attempted arrangements were made for the education of lighthouse keeper Palmer’s four children by the Cape Moreton Provisional School teacher, Frances Lee, with the suggestion she travel the ten miles once per week to set and correct


Lizzie Carpenter Weston, Bulwer to the Undersecretary Department of Public Instruction, Brisbane, 16 October 1909, Edu Z 379 18498, OSA.


John Adams, Bulwer to the Undersecretary, Department of Public Instruction, Brisbane, 16 December 1909, Edu Z 379 18498, OSA.


A welcome product of the new educational facilities was another community role model, Henry Ward, who commenced his duties as fir teacher of the Cape Moreton Provisional School in 1876. In a letter o report to the Under Secretary, Ward described his arrival at Bulwer, r miles from the Cape, “through sand and water”, and the newly fitted school room that was previously sleeping quarters. Ward proclaimed

32 The Treasury to the Undersecretary, Department of Public Instruction Brisbane November 1911, Edu Z 379, OSA.

33 The Undersecretary, Department of Public Instruction, Brisbane to the Public Office, Queensland, 13 September 1912, Edu Z 379 26956, OSA.

34 Davenport Harbours and Marine, p.130.

35 Henry Ward, Bulwer, to the Undersecretary, Department of Public In Brisbane, 31 August 1876, Edu Z 512 3298, OSA.

men seem determined nothing shall be wanting on their parts to make a success of this undertaking”.36 He conveyed his approval and high regard for the lighthouse keeper and his wife, Mr and Mrs Braydon, and the establishment they had provided for the education of some twenty-one students including the Braydon, Griffin, Pascoe and Jones families, whom Ward claimed to be an “intelligent lot”.

This intelligence is reflected in an impressive letter, published in 1879, by thirteen year-old Robert Poole Braydon, who wrote to his uncle in England stressing, among other things, the educational opportunities provided:

It is but three years since a school was established at Cape Moreton

and this letter is a fair specimen of what I and other pupils are doing.

How strange it seems when one thinks of it that the people who lived

four centuries ago in Europe were acquainted with such a very small

portion of the earth’s surface, and that the vast continent of Australia

should have laid [sic] dormant for such a lengthened period.37

Much reference is made to the popular teacher Henry Ward in other Braydon family correspondence and to his enthusiasm in providing educational and cultural experiences on a par with those afforded to larger community settlements. These include the arrangement of a Queen’s Birthday sports day on 24 May 1878. Florence Braydon referred to the event as a “monster entertainment” with “Old English sports, foot racing, running in sacks, and throwing the cricket ball for prizes”. For the


Henry Ward, Bulwer to the Undersecretary, Department of Public Instruction, Brisbane, 31 August 1876, Edu Z 512 3298, OSA.


Robert Poole Braydon, Cape Moreton to Uncle in England, 1 October 1879, Copy of published letter provided by Terry Ward.

occasion, Ward organised prizes of fishing lines, hooks, sinkers, and two books, with a special prize presented to the girl who could make the ugly face through a horse collar.38

Children’s accounts, though frequently lacking in precision, provide useful material to examine people at leisure and better determining the degree of pride and community identity not always evident in official correspondence. A well known, long-term resident, Jessie Wadsworth (r Hill), recalled in her memoirs of life on Moreton since the turn of the century the travel from Yellow Patch to the Cape by horse and dray, and the Sunday picnics where, after eating, everyone loaded the wood upon the horsecart to last them for the week.39 The highlight of recreational activity for permanent Moreton inhabitants during this period was the weekend picnic. Residents traveled by horse and dray to Ocean Beach, then known as Pig Beach, or as far as Clifton (Blue Lake) where duck shooting made for good sport and a variation in diet.

Other regular recreational activities evident from photographs of the period included fishing and boating excursions, model boat races at Lake Clifton and organised community celebrations.

Another former resident, Betty Bell, while sympathetic to adult complaints, recalled fondly her time spent on Moreton from the age of at this time:

Our small house had no power, not even an ice chest. None of us could have been much fun for my city bred mother, but the whole of Moreton was all magic to me… including the heady mixture of fun


Florence Braydon, Cape Moreton to Carrie Braydon, Brisbane, 1878, copy provided by Terry Ward.


Ludlow, A Century of Moreton Bay People, 1982, pp. 6

and delight when a wild pig got under the school and couldn’t get out. 40

Bell further recalled the stout little boat that delivered their supplies: Matthew Flinders days held a special magic with parcels to open and picnics on the beach with the crew. The Matthew Flinders brought me a fox terrier, a kitten, the very smallest size working hurricane lamp, so that I could help my father on his rounds, day old chicks which stay day old and delightful in my memory, and fresh bread.'” Accounts such as this are invaluable in determining daily pleasures and events not otherwise documented and the degree of community participation and enthusiasm.

In other Braydon correspondence, the family-centred nature of the Cape community’s existence is reflected with the focus of daily interest generating around its members. Letters written to sister Carrie in Brisbane express the sameness of the days and their hopes for Carrie’s return. Florence writes of her fear for “the light of the household” – young Master William – following the capture of two snakes close to the house. A highlight in Florence’s week was the acquisition of new reading books, and learning to sing “Home Sweet Home” at school.42

After the transfer of Henry Ward from Cape Moreton in 1890, succeeding teachers’ performances proved less satisfactory, with repeated resignations and transfer applications. Following the loss of this much admired role model, community relations deteriorated with Captain Braydon

40 Betty Bell, “The Way we were on Moreton”, Sunday Mail, 11 October 1991, p.20.

41 ibid. p.20.


Florence Braydon, Cape Moreton to Carrie Braydon, Brisbane, 1878, copy of letter provided by Mary and Terry Ward.

referring in his reports to constant quarrelling. In departmental letters it noted that “at lonely places difficulties arose with mothers causing problems”.43 Often women appointed left due to health, claiming the sea air did not agree. As with Bulwer, the Cape Moreton inhabitants did not always prove hospitable towards the hard-won teachers employed. Frar Lee, appointed in 1907 and regarded as patient and hardworking, was refused accommodation until a Minister stepped in, threatening closure the school.”

Ructions similar to the Bulwer debacle occurred in 1912 when the wife of first assistant Harper established herself as teacher for the Cape Moreton school. In this instance, however, venom against the new teacher was well established prior to her appointment due to the Harpers’ behavior at residents. A letter to the Department from the assistant lighthouse

keeper, Lockhardt, indicates both Harpers to be not well regarded, the assistant having been found “the worse for drink and sound asleep lying on the lightroom floor” while on duty. Lockhardt accused Mrs Harper of “schandilase talk about me and mine” and “her designs to see him and family off the hill”, thus making impossible the likelihood that his children would get fair play in the school room. Lockhardt also questioned the legality of a man and wife to drawing separate salaries from the State.

In the following year the Cape Moreton Superintendent, George Byrne, wrote a similar letter of complaint about Mrs Harper using, among


Captain Braydon, Cape Moreton to the Undersecretary, Department of Instruction, Brisbane, 7 March 1890, Edu Z 512, QSA.

44 Frances Lee, Cape Moreton to the Undersecretary, Department of Instruction, Brisbane, 14 May 1909, Edu Z 512 8098, QSA.


  1. Lockhardt, Cape Moreton, to Captain MacKay, Portmaster Brisbane, 2 1912, Edn Z 512 2968, QSA.

other words mischiefmaker, unscrupulous, crafty, conniving and incompetent. He denied the allegation that there was a prejudice against her as a Roman Catholic, assuring good relationships had been maintained with the three previous teachers of that denomination. Byrnes introduced some sound muckraking, namely the desertion of Mr Harper from his wife for three years prior to the Moreton appointment. He alleged that at a previous teaching post, Mrs Harper regularly abandoned her class to attend to domestic duties, and claimed that “Everyone in Moreton Bay speaks of this woman with great disrespect”. On her decision to send two of her children to Brisbane schools, Byrnes seethed: “It appears though incompetent to teach her own children, yet anything is good enough for people of another denomination”.46

After the removal of the “unscrupulous, conniving and crafty” Mrs Harper, the Cape Moreton Provisional School continued operations under a number of teachers until 1926, though there were rarely more than nine children in attendance. While relationships between the teachers, Cape families and Yellow Patch families remained affable, there were the usual requests for transfer from teachers owing to isolation and lack of fresh food. In 1923 the remaining families with school-age children were the Hendersons, Clohertys and Greens.47 At the closure of the Cape school in 1926, it was suggested to the families that the remaining children enroll in correspondence classes.48


George Byrne, Cape Moreton, to the Honorable M. Philp MLA, 15 May 1913, Edu Z 512, QSA.


Ellen Florence Watts to the Undersecretary, Department of Public Instruction, Brisbane, 4 December 1925, Edu Z 512, QSA.


The Undersecretary, Department of Public Instruction, Brisbane to the Lighthouse keeper, Cape Moreton, 18 January 1926, Edu Z 512 26529, OS

Development of the South Passage lighthouse settlement halted when navigational services were shifted to the northern end, encouraging passage around Cape Moreton. In 1906 a holiday village site was planned for the southern end of Moreton on the ocean side, opposite what is now the village of Kooringal. This was intended as a holiday spot for “adventurous Brisbanites”, in an endeavour to open up Moreton to less officially orientated settlement.

The proposed settlement of Booloong was quite elaborate with the diagrams of the town showing sites for a number of buildings including a government residence, private beach houses, stables, a beach pavilion a bathing sheds, with the lagoon accessible from South Passage providing safe anchorage for boats. A Booloong town plan shows the proposed

development of Rous Esplanade with at least thirty large building allotments and the position of the electric telegraph line running through from the signalling reserve station at South Passage to Cape Moreton.” (See illustration 5).

As with most ventures on Moreton, nature dictated the success of future resort’s development. Later described as “the lost city of Atlantis”, the entire settlement site has completely disappeared into the sea and the continued south point erosion problem now threatens the small town of

Kooringal with residents fearing a catastrophe similar to neighbouring Amity Point on Stradbroke Island. Photographs taken in 1912 and 1913 show the encroachment of the sea at the signal station settlement at South Passage. At this period it appears to have consisted of a signal tower, 1


Town of Booloong – Plan of South Passage – Parish Tiffin, County Stanley,

Agents Brisbane, at 5 December, 1906. Rose and Mery Day collection.


“Moreton Island’s Lost City of Atlantis”, Sunday Mail, 14 October 1990.

houses, a number of out-buildings including a “refreshment” pavilion and a jetty (see illustration 6, 7 and 8). By 1920 this lighthouse at Reeders Point was one of seven in operation on Moreton Island.51

Though few records exist pertaining to the actual demise of the settlement, based on the traditional speed of South Passage erosion the buildings were probably destroyed by the early 1920s. The remaining population at the signal reserve station faded away in accordance with reduced employment as the South Passage channel became increasingly unpopular as a shipping route.

Moreton Island communities prior to 1920 did not establish a distinct identity or culture that may otherwise have encouraged their continuance after the increased demanding of navigational services. While the island’s wilderness was admired, it failed to compensate for lack of amenities, its inaccessibility and natural hazards. These were significant deterrents to a recently settled white populace aiming primarily to emulate the commercial prosperity and lifestyle of past European associations rather than appreciate and develop a sense of belonging as a community in the existing environment.


Helen Horton, Islands of Moreton Bay, Boolarong Publications, Brisbane, 1983, p.115.

More to come soon

Moreton Island is a 37km long sand island located in Moreton Bay, off the coast of south-east Queensland, Australia. Moreton Island is just off the coast of southeastern Queensland, Australia. The protected sand island is known for its beaches and steep dunes, like Mount Tempest. On the west coast, a dive site features coral and tropical fish around a group of sunken boats called the Tangalooma Wrecks. A dolphin feeding spot is nearby. Humpback whales can be viewed from Cape Moreton, the site of a 19th-century lighthouse.

Wondering what there is to do once you arrive on Moreton? Discover the magic of Brisbane’s closest island Moreton Island is a natural wonder, just a 75-minute ferry ride from Brisbane. It is the third-largest sand island in the world, and an easy escape for overnight or a weekend.

From exploring its natural beauty (most of it is National Park), connecting with nature or friends, learning about its interesting history or getting your adrenaline running, there is plenty to do on the island.