Backward Glance - Coastal and River vessels of Yesteryear
  • Monday 16 December 2019

Mystic imaginings of lazy waves lapping at the bows of the vessels as they make their way up the Maroochy River or down the Bribie Passage evoke pleasant thoughts today. However in the early 1880s these vessels provided a vital lifeline to the embryonic settlements along the shore.

A Ships Log found in the dust of a building being demolished in Brisbane gives us an interesting insight into two trips into the Mooloolah River in the year 1883. The log is of the “Mavis” a steam driven vessel under 100 feet in length, of shallow draft, with derricks and short masts and three rudders. She was built chiefly for James Campbell and Sons, to carry timber from their mill on Coochin Creek to Brisbane.

On May 4 and July 27, 1883 she embarked on two trips into the Mooloolah River with Captain Tutty in command. He was recognised as knowing every crabhole and mangrove in the Bribie Passage.

Goods of various kinds were unloaded at the wharf at Mooloolah and then transported by bullock wagon on to the Buderim Mt Sugar Company Mill. Some were used by the mill itself with the remainder being on-sold to settlers. The Manifest Book of the “Mavis” 1883-1885, which is held at the Heritage Library, Nambour, for the voyage on May 4, 1883 includes:

Machinery and plant, 1 case cheese, ½ cask of currants, 1 case of pickles, 11 bags coarse salt, 14 bags bone dust, 1 bag nails, 1 cask kerosene, 20 bags flour, 300 fire bricks, load lead and 1 bottle mustard. The Manifest Book lists 247 bags of sugar from the Sugar Company and 9 hides from Burnett Bros. for the return journey.

The Manifest for the July trip reads much the same with the return journey carrying 17,392 s/f of sawn timber.

The “Granite City” was a vessel which could carry 30,000 s/f of timber and began sailing regularly from Brisbane to Mooloolah for cedar. Being equipped with a crane on board she had the capability to load whatever was required. However, it was recognised that a larger steamer was needed to quench the voracious appetite for cedar and William Pettigrew and James Low made a sketch for the transformation of the Granite City to a stern-wheel paddle steamer to be named, “Gneering”, the Aboriginal word for wild duck.

The owners, Pettigrew, Low & Grigor were pleased with her maiden voyage, with Low as captain she made the passage to Mooloolah in fourteen hours, steaming all the way without the use of her sails. For many years she gave sterling service transporting passengers, provisions, horses and bullocks and their gear, horse feed, chains and rafting dogs as well as large cargoes of timber.

The “Gneering” was a household name for almost 30 years until, in 1892, she was beached, abandoned, dismantled and left on the bank on the other side of the river to Pettigrew’s Maroochydore mill.

Pettigrew’s Machinery Register confirms: “1891. Got into Mooloolah River, detained there by weather. Got her into Maroochy River and after being there some time detained by weather, discharged men and laid up. Feb 1892, some three months ago went over for logs from Mooloolah. Leaked very much. Intend dismantling her and condemning her. No use for her. About August 1892, had her dismantled and put on bank of other side of river to mill. Nov 1892, getting cobra eaten. Engine in mill.”

She now lays – an historic shipwreck – on Goat Island near the mouth of the Maroochy River.

In July 1886, William Pettigrew launched the “Tadorna Radjah”, a sternwheel paddle steamer. Its name was the Aboriginal word for mottled duck although its nickname became the Dodger. The “Tadorna Radjah” had been built especially for towing rafts of timber and for navigating small creeks and sand bars in coastal streams.

William Pettigrew, the owner, and his guests, journeyed on the “Tadorna Radjah” on her first run from Brisbane to Mooloolah Heads with Captain J. Watson as the master.

The passenger list read: Mr & Mrs William Pettigrew and family, Mr & Mrs James Low and family and it was a proud day for all concerned. She left on Thursday and returned on Saturday making the trip both ways in eight hours.

Mr W.P. Clarke built a boat he named the “Agnes” after his wife. Mr Clarke leased the “Agnes” to two young men who ran the boat between Brisbane and Maroochy.

At this time, care had to be taken at the mouth of the Maroochy River to the north of Pinchushion to avoid a large rock in the centre of the bar. After only a few trips the young men had the misfortune to strike the rock and the “Agnes” sank. Luckily both men managed to swim to shore. 

Deciding to try and salvage the boat, Mr Clarke sent an order for ships tanks to be brought from Brisbane by the “Gneering” on her next trip. The tanks duly arrived and were brought from Mooloolaba by bullock wagon to Cotton Tree. With the assistance of the tanks the “Agnes” was raised and towed to Cotton Tree where she was cut in half and an extra 16 feet of length added.

The whole district celebrated her relaunching with a bottle of spirits broken over her bow and was renamed “Wawoon”. The occasion was celebrated with a basket picnic, barrels of beer and festivities that lasted until well after midnight.

The railway strike in 1929 was responsible for the last cargo run from Brisbane to Maroochydore. With the trains not running, townsfolk everywhere had to engage alternate transport for passengers and goods. Mr Harry Kuskopf was asked by shopkeepers in Maroochydore if he would bring goods by sea. His boat, the “Minerva” being forty feet long, was being used for fishing and pleasure trips.

At the same time, the pineapple growers from around the area asked if their fruit could be taken to Brisbane to avoid rotting. The result was that Mr Kuskopf with his brothers Bill and Alf, began a regular weekly service which continued for two years. The strike lasted about a week.

Only twice in those two years was the boat unable to cross the Maroochy bar and at those times the goods were unloaded at Mooloolaba instead. The Maroochy bar was always changing and for two months of this period the river ran on both sides of Pincushion Island with the main channel close to the north side. This made things tricky as the rock was in the main passage and had to be avoided.

After being detained in Brisbane for three days, they sailed up to Maroochy unaware that the river had been in flood and the bar had changed considerably. Fresh water was coming down and made it impossible to see and without warning they found themselves on a sandbank in the bar. Fortunately very little damage resulted and with the full tide Mr Percy Evans towed them off. The “Minerva” was sold and subsequently after a fire broke out on-board was burnt to the waterline.

There were many more vessels which were the lifeline of the flourishing communities and although they no longer travel the local waterways they will always remain as one of the most important advances in the settlement of our area.

Thanks to the Heritage Library staff for the words and Picture Sunshine Coast for the images.