A Short History of Coochiemudlo Island

This short history may be regarded as a work-in-progress. Comments and contributions on particular episodes in the Island’s history are welcome. Contact with the Society may be made through this website.Introduction

Much of the information summarized here is taken from a marvelous book, Chronicles f Coochiemudlo, to which many Island residents contributed. The Chronicles were edited by Professor John Pearn, a long-term occasional resident. Unfortunately the book is now out of print. The Society is considering ways of making it available again. Information has also been sourced from Redland Museum, probably the best regional museum in Queensland.

Small though it is (132 hectares and perhaps 700 residents), Coochiemudlo Island is a microcosm of Moreton Bay history.


For thousands of years before history was recorded in writing, Aborigines must have visited Coochiemudlo Island. Goenpil language groups of the Quandamooka people used the Island seasonally. They had a rich, complex culture. Stone tools found on the Island show that the clans traded far inland, at least as far as Rosewood. In Goenpil, “kutchi” means red earth, and “mudlo” means stone. This may be a reference to the red cliffs in the south west of the Island. The Aborigines used the ochre obtained from the soft red rock to decorate their bodies and shields. A legend of the Dreamtime is that the red is the blood of a dolphin speared by a sparrow-hawk.

Fresh water was available in the northern swamp and from springs. Water lily bulbs and the roots of ferns could be re-roasted and eaten, pandanus (wynnum) fruit collected and birds, reptiles, bats, bandicoots and koalas hunted (a dead koala found in 1989 is assumed to be the last remaining one). Dugong, dolphin and turtle could be hunted or netted, and a wide range of shellfish and fish harvested.


The stone tools, shell middens in the north of the Island and scarred trees remain as evidence of the Aboriginal connections with the Island. Modern descendants of the tribes visit regularly. Much of the melaleuca swamp is now protected as wetland of considerable significance under a RAMSAR convention. The sub-tropical reef to the north of the Island appears to be thriving, though that to the south is silted up.

Early explorations and historical context

Moreton Bay was explored in July 1799 by Matthew Flinders, in command of the sloop Norfolk. Flinders sought to discover large rivers which might give access to the interior. On 19 July he landed on Coochiemudlo Island which he referred to as the Sixth Island. He also visited Bribie Island and the Glasshouse Mountains, and entered Wide Bay to the north, but failed to find the mouths of any rivers.

Matthew Flinders literally put Coochiemudlo Island on the map (he would have said, on the chart). His landing at Norfolk Beach is re-enacted annually on the Sunday closest to the 19th July by Islanders and mainland groups such as the TS Norfolk, Redland Ladies Drum Corps and community radio Bay FM. The stone monument which marks his landing is easily accessible from Victoria Parade on the eastern side facing Macleay Island. Norfolk Beach was named in 1977 and gazetted in 1982 thanks to the advocacy of the Coochiemudlo Island Progress Association and to Ted Jones, resident historian who has lived on the Island since 1963. From the Beach, Flinders walked to the south western end of the Island and here, near the Community Hall, a sign-posted lookout may also be accessed from Victoria Parade.

In 1823 cedar-getters Thomas Pamphlett, Richard Parsons, John Finnegan and John Thompson (who died at sea from drinking sea water) were wrecked on Moreton Island and with the help of friendly Aborigines, wandered for months around the shores of Moreton Bay. Pamphlett and Finnegan were rescued in November 1823 by Surveyor- general John Oxley, who was on a voyage to find a site for another penal colony. They were able to show Oxley the mouth of the Brisbane River, almost a quarter of a century after Flinders’ failed quest. In 1824 Oxley’s recommendation that a convict settlement be established at Moreton Bay was implemented. Initially the settlement was near Redcliffe but soon was moved to the present site of Brisbane. In 1834 the name “Brisbane” became official.

A Commandant of the settlement, Captain Patrick Logan, explored the Logan River district in 1826. There was pressure building for free settlement, especially from squatters in the southern highlands (even though Brisbane was nominally off-limits), and Emu Point (Cleveland) was developed as the port for Brisbane. A road was built from Ipswich to Emu Point to transport wool for export. The country around Moreton Bay was recognized as having potential value for free settlement and in 1839 the convict settlement was disbanded, the convicts being moved to Norfolk Island.

In 1840 the Government Surveyor (Robert Dixon) in Brisbane named Coochiemudlo Island “Innis Island” after Lieutenant Innis who had recently explored the southern Bay. Within a few decades, however, the name used in official documents reverted to its Aboriginal form, spelt now as Coochiemudlo Island.

In February 1842, Moreton Bay district was opened to free settlement. In that same year, Emu Point lost its chance to be the capital of the proposed state of Queensland when Governor Gipps famously became mired in low-tide Moreton Bay mud. Really, however, the Bay was so shallow that the jetties at Cleveland needed to be very long. Plans were being made to open up the Brisbane River mouth and it was becoming clear that the new age of steam powered vessels was dawning, which would make up-river cities such a Brisbane much more viable ports.

In December 1850 Emu Point was gazetted as the town of Cleveland, after the Duke of Cleveland (Baron Raby). The first auction of Cleveland land was held in 1851.

The State of Queensland was formed in 1859.

The initial industry of the Cleveland-Redland Bay region.

This included Coochiemudlo Island: bullock teams were swum over from the mainland to drag felled trees to the sea (it is said that the trees of Coochiemudlo Island felled in the 1880s contributed significantly to the wharves in Brisbane). Then a sugar industry was developed. The first sugar was grown on Russell Island but it was the Hope family at Ormiston in 1848 who developed sugar into an industry. By the 1860s the Hopes and others were producing 2 tons to the acre and the district was becoming known as an oasis of fertility. In the 1880s an important business activity in the Bay, including Coochiemudlo Island, was oyster farming by the Moreton Bay Oyster Company (until a marine worm disabled the industry at the turn of that century). With the growth of Brisbane, the district had become popular as a recreation resort, with tourist steamers plying the Bay. The sugar industry in the district fell on hard times and banana growing took over. A thriving strawberry industry also developed. Farms began to be cut up into allotments. Dealing in land became feasible.

In the last week of August 1883, probably as a result of the enormous volcanic eruption on the island of Krakatoa in Indonesia, a tsunami bored down the Bay like a “chalk mountain” washing men overboard from a boat, sweeping over much of Coochiemudlo Island and sweeping away a load of bananas on Redland Bay Jetty. The boatmen were rescued but considerable damage to vegetation occurred.

Coochiemudlo Island History

In 1868, Innis Island was granted to the Queensland Acclimatization Society, but the grant was not taken up and had been relinquished by 1870.

In 1887, the western half of the Island was subdivided into approximately one acre lots. In later years, these blocks grew bananas, passion fruit, grapes, paw paw, pineapples, tomatoes, vegetables and custard apples, as well as flowers for sale. The first auction of crown land was on 24 January 1888 when 90 allotments were advertised. Buyers showed no interest in actually settling on the Island, however. Henry Wright and his son Norman were the only residents when they camped from 1896 or ‘97, leaving “this god forsaken place” about 1900. The sandflies and mosquitoes had proved to be intolerable. They had subsisted on fish, shellfish, game birds and wild spinach, supplemented by salt beef and butter, and also raised pigs. Norman Wright went on to build Norman Wright and Sons, the nationally respected Queensland boat building company.

Although the Island had been sub-divided, it seems that for many years the unoccupied land was simply exploited for timber, then for the grazing of cattle swum over from the mainland by Daniel Colburn, a Victoria Point farmer. Prior to World War I, a Mr Morcom cleared land in the west and built the first farm house, but the project was not viable. He sold the farm to Philip Forrest who in 1919 then offered Doug Morton and Eric Gordon the opportunity to share-farm the property. Doug and Eric had been wounded in the War and were convalescing. Eric Gordon did not stay long but Doug Morton stayed for more than forty years. Doug had fought in Gallipoli and reached the level of sergeant before suffering a bad head wound in the Battle for Morquet’s Farm, one of the Battles of the Somme. He was repatriated with the Military Medal for valour and was used by the Army as a Recruiting Sergeant.

Despite his wound, Doug was a prodigious worker and made a success of farming. In 1921 he married Mary Colburn, of the grazing and farming family at Victoria Point. For the next twelve years, Mary was the only woman living on the Island. Doug and Mary were fine farmers and gardeners, growing commercial crops and flowers, and cultivating strains of plants such as the custard apple, “Island Gem”. Doug built several jetties and developed a tourist industry on Coochiemudlo. Morton’s Steps remain, leading from Victoria Parade down to the west coast at Muddy Bay. Doug built the Lookout Jetty just north of the Isle of Coochie golf course and other jetties to the south with associated bathing enclosures. Occasionally remains of these jetties can be seen at low tide. The Mortons left Coochiemudlo Island in July 1966, when they felt it had become too crowded. There were a few other farming families of note, for example, the Phillips, Elliot, Pullen, Salisbury and Ridley families. Bill Phillips was a commercial fisherman. Norm and Peter Pullen’s cottage and the community hall they built in Mooroondu Street were purchased by Queensland Police Legacy, which restored the buildings.

During the Second World War, the island was home to the 42 and 43 Landing Craft Companies which trained on the Island from 1943 to 1944, serving with distinction in New Guinea and Bougainville in 1945. Many of the men of these companies went on to become leaders in peacetime communities and businesses, for example, Sir Frank Packer, Sir Ninian Stephen and Sir Nigel Bowen.

The Latest Few Decades

The beginning of the end of the farming era was in the late 1950s when many leases were bought and subdivided by Alfred Grant, who developed almost all the eastern half of the Island, and Richard Marsh and Company, who subdivided the north and west of the Island. Baby Bay was renamed Morwong Beach Estate. The other concocted estate names – Golden Sands, Fishermans Paradise and Tropical Paradise – have not survived.

Unfortunately the sub-divisions created were mainly tiny allotments (500 square meters), suitable only for small holiday cottages. There are a few larger blocks. Sales stagnated in the decade 1960 to 1970. By 1970, only about twenty people lived permanently on the Island.

In the 1970s there were significant infrastructure developments – a concrete jetty (June 1971), planting of decorative coconut palms (1971), town water (September 1971), community hall (stage 1 September 1973, stage 2 1991), electricity supply (25 September 1978). However the Island remained dependant on septic systems for waste treatment and this has limited the scope of building approvals.

Also in the 1970s, a regular ferry service, a bus service (now discontinued) and, in 1987, a vehicular barge service became established. With these amenities, the Island became more attractive to commuters and to people seeking to retire on the Island. The level of permanent residency increased.

The development of the Island has been reflected in land prices. As an example, a particular one-and-a-half acre block of land facing Main Beach sold at auction for £30 in 1888 and for $4,200 in 1973. In 1993 that block was valued at $125,000. After the boom in land and house prices in 2002-4 and with continued demand for property in the south-east corner of Queensland, especially properties with access to the sea, the block could possibly fetch around $1 million now. A 21.6 perch block on Perulpa Street was purchased for £150 in 1963 and sold in 2006 for $140,000. As in most of SE Queensland, house/land sales presently are quite stagnant.

The foreshores of the Island are reserves. The absence of waterfront houses because of this “Emerald Fringe” gives Coochiemudlo Island an air of mystery when seen from the sea. A land management plan has been drawn up which preserves the fore-shore from residential development. Administration of the plan is by the Redland Shire Council on behalf of the Queensland Government. In the latest infrastructure development, the Redland Shire Council has contracted the installation of underground sewerage to Redline Contracting. Work commenced in 2005 and was completed at the end of 2006. Connections began in 2007. The waste will be treated at the upgraded facility in Victoria Point. Access to sewerage will enable home builders considerably more scope.

Coochiemudlo Island society is diverse, with, for example, permanent and temporary residents, young commuter families and retirees, professionals, artists, writers, and trades people. There are several community groups, eg the Progress Association is a forum for discussing policies affecting Islanders, the Coochie Art Group has operated for several decades, and there are facilities for sports such as golf (Isle of Coochie Golf Club), tennis, croquet and bowls. The Coochiemudlo Island Life Saving Club is an effective provider of sport and training for young people. Market days are held during the year.Despite its proximity to the mainland (only 5 to 10 minutes by ferry or barge) and its attractions for visitors, there is a definite air of a self-contained existence, which is both a strength and weakness for the Island.

The big question in relation to forecast population pressures in South East Queensland is how the fragile socio- and ecosystems of the Island will stand up to development, particularly as house blocks are small and interior road reserves are often quite narrow. So far, the curlew numbers seem to be increasing (they are counted annually by Islanders with the assistance of Redland City Council officers) but resident birds such as the pheasant coucal are under habitat pressure, as are some migratory species. Bandicoots are common and occasional macropods are sighted, presumably having swum from the mainland. A few species of snake are common. Weed plants are a problem despite Council and Bushcare Group efforts. In 2008/9 Greenforce members made a positive contribution to replanting native plant species. As elsewhere in the Bay, marine species are under pressure from recreational activities and various forms of pollution.

At present, because of the small blocks of land and relatively dense housing, careless residents and holiday-makers can have a disproportionate impact on the amenity of the other residents, many of whom would welcome greater presence of the Police, as is now the case on other islands. Greater attention by Redland City Council to public bin clearances during peak holiday periods would greatly enhance the Island experience for day trippers.

This marvelous contribution was sent to us by the Coochiemudlo Historical Society. Many many thanks