Dr Elaine Brown


Can you hear me? Up the back? I can usually be heard across a playground. Thank you for inviting us to the Apollonian tonight. When you're in the Apollonian, you're in the Concert Hall, Boxing Ring - all sorts of wonderful things happened in this room in Gympie in the mining days. Dancing and entertainment. Entertainment. It was an entertainment place. Around the edge you'll see materials about Mabel Cox who was one of those sopranos who was absolutely brilliant but whose health did not allow her to become Lady Melba, and this was her father's hotel. So this is where she sang, so it's a lovely atmosphere.

I'm going to talk to you about the history of the Kinaba area, and I hope the pictures come up OK.

Kinaba Island is part of a delta formed where the Noosa River and Kin Kin Creek empty into Lake Cootharaba. Here the dark, slow-moving waters of the Noosa River and fresh waters of Kin Kin Creek meet the slightly tidal brackish waters of Lake Cootharaba, creating an ever changing complex of sandbanks, islands, waterways, lakes and patterns of soil and vegetation. 2 shallow lakes surrounded by swamp form part of this delta. I hope you can see them, they're coloured blue.

In the west, Lake Como is connected to the Noosa River by a narrow channel, so its waters are slightly brackish. Approachable only by canoe, it's a haven for water birds and offers a clear view of the Cooloola Sandpatch. Some of the boats that drew timber through the Lakes in the early days were scuttled in Lake Como. Last time I checked, one sunken boat is still visible, but who knows what others may be lost in there.

In the east lies Lake Cooloola made famous by Judith Wright's beautiful poem ”At Cooloola”. This beautiful Lake is off limits to tourists, and can only be approached by ankle-twisting pademelon swamp. You can only get to it from the Noosa River.

When I visited Lake Cooloola in 1990 it was full, but in 1953 when Judith Wright visited, it was a drought year. The Lake's waters had shrunk, and there was a white sandy beach, hence her description of walking on clean sand among the prints of bird and animal. A narrow passage once connected Lake Cooloola to Lake Cootharaba but in time the outlet became clogged with impenetrable swamp and dense vegetation.

What's left of the passage is a blind channel called the Cooloola Overflow. It's a delightful place to enter.

On the eastern side of the entrance is one of those outcrops of sandstone that occur unexpectedly in Cooloola. That's taken from the top of the sandstone outcrop.

Further upstream on the left is a small ridge where Ironbark trees grow. In 1936 a local farmer named Reg Nugent applied to lease 3 acres on the ridge. He already had bee hives there, but he wished to have proper title to the site in order to protect the Ironbark trees from the local fishermen who were killing them by stripping their bark which they used to tan their fishing nets.

Between the 2 lakes the Noosa River twists gently south to enter Lake Cootharaba As well as the present entrance, there is a narrow side channel which used to be canoeable if you didn't mind dodging fallen Paperbarks. I don't know, some of you may know if it's canoeable at the moment. A map of the area made by surveyor Silus Harding in 1874 shows this channel as the main entrance to the river.

Fig Tree Point is higher ground backed by swamp, and from there a reasonable track runs north to join the track to Harry's Hut. Fishermen, bee keepers, campers and picnicers frequented the Point, and in the 1930s the Salmon family from Wolvi built a holiday cottage there. It's hard to believe now, but Jim Salmon tried to establish a dairy farm at Harry's Hut.

Tranquil, sheltered Fig Tree Lake known as the Everglades lies tucked in behind Kinaba Island. Here under the influence of tides floods and droughts, tiny islands, sandbanks and clumps of vegetation pop up and disappear.

Kinaba Island hasn't always existed in its present shape. It lies at the mouth of Kin Kin Creek and divides Fig Tree Lake from Lake Cootharaba. If you have ever travelled up Kin Kin Creek, you will have observed the striking difference between the vegetation on its banks and the nearby Noosa River.

The Noosa River rises in a low sandstone escarpment and carries a load of infertile sandy soil. It flows slowly, almost imperceptibly through the flat swampy country know as Wallum. In some ways it's a long narrow drain rather than a river.

Kin Kin Creek rises in mountains to the west, and slows down when it reaches the flat country west of Lake Cootharaba. Frequent floods in its catchment have deposited the alluvial soil that originally supported tall Eucalypt forests and numerous patches of scrub. In those scrubs grew the valuable softwoods - Kauri and Hoop Pine, White Beech and Red Cedar, that supplied the Cootharaba sawmill at Mill Point for more than 20 years in the late 19th Century.

In the first part of the 20th Century after the timber was cleared, Kin Kin's fertile soils supported several generations of prosperous dairy farmers.

For me, all of this country is haunted by ghosts. First and foremost, the spirits of the Aboriginal people who lived here for uncounted generations, moving between the beaches and the mountains to the west. According to the Ethnologist FJ Watson, the name Noosa came from their word Nguthuru meaning 'a shadow, a shade, a ghost'. There is no 's' sound in the Aboriginal language, but the 'tsst' sound is not found in English. A William Pettigrew who first applied the name, spelt it as he heard it.

The most haunted figure in the Upper Noosa River is of course the castaway Eliza Fraser who was rescued by the convict John Graham from an aboriginal camp near the northern end of Lake Cootharaba in 1836. You may know the memorial near the beach at Boreen Point. This was put there by Douglas Jolly and the Royal Historical Society of Queensland in 1982. At that time, the exact location of the aboriginal camp where Eliza was found, was not known, although from John Graham's description, Fig Tree Point seemed the most likely spot. As a runaway convict from 1827 to 1833, Graham had lived with the local Aborigines who had recognised him as the ghost of a recently dead man. His aboriginal name was Moilow, and he became husband to Mamba, father to sons name Murrowdooling and Caravanty. After 6 years he returned to the Moreton Bay settlement believing that his time was up. But while he was away the rules had changed, and he was required to serve out his sentence in captivity. The promise of a pardon had encouraged him to join the party of soldiers and convicts who set out in 1836 to find Eliza Fraser and other survivors of the Sterling Castle shipwreck.

This sketch map of the rivers, lakes and bays north of Moreton Bay explored in 1827 by John Graham was drawn in Sydney in 1837, when Graham, desperate for the pardon he'd been promised, offered to give governement officials an account of this unknown part of the coast. Unfortunately the map became separated from the handwritten memorandum that accompanied it. It was filed under maps, and it came to light only recently when Don Matheson, a Maryborough surveyor, realised its significance. It's a very important document. Can you move it up 'cause we can't see the coast? Is that a possibility? Yes, as far as the coast if you can. That's it. It's a mud map, but when you study it, it's amazing. You'll notice that Graham has tactfully named the rivers, lakes and bays after prominent government officials, and members of the party that rescued Eliza Fraser. Sir Richard Burke was the Governor of New South Wales. Foster Fyans was the commandant at Moreton Bay who sent out the rescue mission, and Lieutenant Charles Otter was its leader. The map has no scale, and features such as the Lakes are quite out of proportion. But it was clear that Graham was very familiar with the Noosa River called River Parker, and the lakes - Lake Otter is Lake Weyba, Lake Fyans is Lake Cooroibah, and Lake Burke, the big one, is Lake Cootharaba.

Kin Kin Creek and the Noosa River are shown where they enter Lake Cootharaba and a number of locations referring to events in Eliza Fraser's rescue are marked. Eliza's Ground marks the aboriginal camp inland along the northern bank of Kin Kin Creek, from which Graham took her. Eliza's Path shows their return route across to Teewah Beach. If you are having trouble seeing the map, I have a paper copy that anyone is interested in can have a look later.

Graham had left the rescue party at Double Island Point and walked south along the beach, spending a most disturbed night in a gully in the sand cliffs, which he calls Moilow's Gully. The next morning, anticipating the arrival of the soldiers who were to follow him, he marked the spot where he was to turn inland with the words “Stop here. You will find fresh water at the rock”.

This is how he described his route. Now Graham was Irish, and if there's anyone here with an irish accent who reads this, you will hear Graham. I haven't got an irish accent, so try to imagine it. “I saw no blacks ascending the hills and crossing the forest ground. About 4 miles you descend into a boggy ground or swamp ankle deep for a mile, after which a lake about 30 miles in circumference, 4 miles where I crossed it knee-deep at low water, after which a fresh water river. Being about to swim across, a black man and his wife appeared in their canoe. Being horrorstruck at my appearance and thinking I had more confederates, they were making away saying they would bring plenty of men. (remember he spoke their language) I, standing on the brink of the river telling them I was alone, and showing 2 fish hooks, the woman induced him to return”. (there's an interesting sideline on the fish hooks. Women didn't do the netting, but once they were introduced to fish hooks they were allowed to use fish hooks to fish which improved their efficiency. So she was very interested in the fish hooks.) “Their approach was timid, and asking me what he would get I tore the leg off my trousers and gave it to him. The hooks were for her.

After enquiring the different tribes that were there and particularly after my own kindred and what part of the field they were in, I made enquiry after my wife, if she had strayed amongst them. They told me there was a female spirit, but a man named Mothervane claimed her as his wife's sister.” Graham told them that this woman was the ghost of his aboriginal wife Mamba, and sent the woman ahead to contact Mamba's sons who had known him as the ghost of their father. Arriving at the large camp with groups from the coast and the inland had come together, Graham, supported by his relatives, persuaded Mothervane to allow him to take Mamba (that is Eliza Fraser) who was obviously starving, back to his land on the beach, where he could feed her. (and this is what he said) “The lady rising and taking my hand I proceeded through a camp of some hundreds of blacks. Having come to the canoes, 2 were brought. 3 in each we crossed the Lake. In ascending the forest ground I caused the blacks to follow my example, which they did to the rocks, where arriving I saw that relief was come. Leaving the lady at the waterhole telling her to remain for a few minutes, I took the blacks with me to the beach where was Lieutenant Otter. Graham obtained some garments and a boat cloak for the near naked Eliza, and with the exhausted woman sometimes hopping, sometimes being carried by Graham's aboriginal friends, the party set off for Double Island Point.”

Who were the aboriginal people that Graham interacted with? David Bracewell another convict runaway who lived in the area at the same time as Graham and who may also be connected to the rescue of Eliza Fraser, returned to Brisbane with the Petrie/Russell expedition in 1842. For the Commissioner of Crown Lands Dr Stephen Simpson, he named some of the aboriginal groups he had lived with. Uwinmundi's tribe at Noosa numbered 120. Uwinmundi was a well known aboriginal warrior whose name is perpetuated in the town of Eumundi.

Along the beach to the north were 30 members of the Poombabarah tribe and at Lake Cootharaba there were 80 people called Carbarah. Barah is a suffix that indicates a group, and these numbers indicate a local population of over 200 people.

During the 1850s when squatters began to establish large sheep and cattle stations in the Mary Valley, a detachment of mounted native police was deployed there. At some stage Lieutenant John O'Connell Bligh, the officer in charge of the mounted police, explored the Noosa lakes on horseback, while chasing aborigines who were fleeing to the coast. His report published in the Moreton Bay Courier in 1860 is confusing. He wrongly asserted that the northern lake which he called Illandra, was smaller than the southern lake which he called Cootharbah. In 1859 Bligh applied to take up a cattle run which he named Caroora which seems to have occupied the plains in the Upper Noosa River, but which is so vaguely described that it is doubtful that Bligh ever properly examined it.

Walter Hay a squatter from Maryborough who later became a pioneer at Noosa, blazed a trail to Lake Cootharaba, and also in 1859, but just before Bligh, applied to take up a run called Cootharbah. It was west of the lake that he called Illander. In both Bligh's and Hay's applications, Kin Kin Creek is called Booring Creek, which is the first reference I've found to the name that became Boreen.

Both the Cooroora and Cootharaba runs were granted in 1860 but they were never surveyed or developed. Once Queensland had separated from New South Wales, the Queensland government passed new Land Laws, but in any case, much of the country involved was too swampy for profitable grazing and the runs have to be seen as speculative.

The next explorer of the lakes is my favourite ghost William Pettigrew, the Brisbane sawmiller, and in 1863 looking for supplies of timber. He anchored his paddle-steamer the Gneering at Teewantin, and explored the shallow lakes in a flat-bottomed boat named Meanchin II. I can still see him every time I look at the lake rowing up the river with his crew and his aboriginal guides, crossing the lake he called Coorooeybah, and entering the large lake which he called Lake Proo. Proo was changed to Cootharaba after the Cootharaba sawmill was established in 1870. Pettigrew published a report on his trip in the Queensland Daily Guardian, and he concluded that “There is timber at Noosa I do not deny, but that it is available in any quantity I emphatically deny.” However he had located the scrubs of Kin Kin Creek. Perhaps he wanted to keep them for himself.

Here's his description: “Near the northern end of Lake Proo is a creek called King King Creek. Up that we went about 3 miles in a westerly direction being as far as our boat could get for the dead timber in the creek. On the north side for the last mile we passed a good many Dundathu Pine Trees. The water at the mouth of this creek was only about 5 inches deep, so that the Dundather Pine logs could only be got by rolling them for some distance.”

And there it is, the first map of that area. Dundathu by the way was Pettigrew's sawmill in Maryborough, and he always called the timber Dundathu Pine because he believed that was an aboriginal name for the pine tree.

2 years later, Pettigrew returned to Noosa and carried out a thorough survey of the river. For 12 days he was anchored in the river unable to cross the bar because of bad weather, and he spent his time plotting his survey. So it's a very thorough one. This is part only of a larger map of the coast which he subsequently produced.

By the time of Pettigrew's second visit, Cedargetters were already at work in the forest. One of them, a bullock driver named George Harris described bringing his bullock team overland from Ipswich in 1864, and dragging logs felled by others to Lake Cootharaba to be rafted to Tewantin and shipped to Brisbane, Sydney or Melbourne. Also in 1864, the journalist Ebenezer Thorne built a hut on Kin Kin Creek, and in his promotional book “Queen of the Colonies” left a wonderful account of the cutting and rafting of timber, and the customs of the local Aborigines. In 1867 Thorne joined the goldrush to Gympie where he wrote lively accounts of the early mining days.

In 1869, 2 years later, Charles Samuel Russell a Brisbane businessman who'd previously visited the Noosa area persuaded a group of newly rich Gympie miners to invest money in a grazing property and sawmill at Mill Point.

This is a watercolour that's come in recent years from the Goodchap family.

Exploiting the forests of Kin Kin Creek this firm McGhie, Luya & Co supplied the gold field and later Brisbane with much needed sawn timber. It's said that by dragging the Kauri Pine logs out through Kin Kin Creek, they deepened the entrance which Pettigrew had found only 5 inches deep. As more timber was needed McGhie, Luya & Co explored the district for miles around, taking up and clearing blocks which later became farms.

In 1882 Alfred Lymburner surveyed the Upper Noosa River and his maps show evidence of widespread timbergetting in all of Cooloola - Cypress Pine on the riverbanks, rafting grounds at Teewah Creek, and timbergetters' tracks between Cootharaba and Tin Can Bay.

The Cootharaba sawmill and its surrounding settlement was a hive of activity from 1870 to 1892, by which time the softwood timber resource was almost exhausted.

From 2004 to 2006 archeological research carried out by Karen Murphy and Steve Nicholls, and Judy Powell who's here tonight revealed a great deal about this early company town. If you are interested in the results of their work, just google Mill Point Archeological project.

Now the timber, bricks and ironwork from the abandoned mill buildings were reused by the dairy farmers who arrived in the first decade of the 20th Century. But the site was still discernible in the 1970s when Cambridge Credit bought the property as a Wallum development and bulldozed the sawmill remains. Ailsa Dawson who was living in retirement at Boreen Point was so upset at what she regarded as vandalism, that she carried out historical research and publisihed a book ”Cooloola - early chronicles of Cypress Land”. It was her way of saying “This place is really important.” And I think she made the point.

Outstanding literary works such as Judith Wright's poems ”At Cooloola” and ”The Graves at Mill Point” reflect this areas' cultural significance. And I'm sure you're aware of the many works of art that have been inspired by the moods, mists and colours of Lake Cootharaba and its surroundings. I think of Christine James's delicate watercolours and the fascinating images of ”Making Something from Nothing”, Wendy McGrath's response to life and death at Mill Point. For me, the ghosts of the 10 men, 4 women and 29 children buried in the Mill Point cemetery are represented by Wendy's paperbark baby shoes. She gave me a couple of them. I'd also like to mention Joan Dundale's novel ”Struggle of Memory”, the opening chapters of which are set at the Cootharaba sawmill. This book which is about the treatment of Germans in Australia during World War 1, fictionalises the family of Abraham Luya, one of the original partners in the sawmill. How's this for a recognisable description? “The forest was dark and steamy on either side of the track. Intermittent shafts of light penetrating the canopy caught the fleeting colour of birds, the texture of grasstree and fern, the hard crosshatched barks of Bloodwoods and Ironbarks, the glowing ivory of Gums. Soon they heard axe blows, the sound muffled by the thick, damp vegetation. Too soon they rounded a curve in the track and entered the cleared space - the enormous scar in the forest where the men were working.”

I'd like to finish with a comment: “Today we seem to be experiencing a struggle of memory in relation to the situation at Kinaba. With the gazettal of Cooloola National Park in 1975 tourist operators began to show off its treasures, and the building of the Sir Thomas Hiley Information Centre in 1978 was a milestone in its development. Ron will tell you the full story. But when I was preparing this talk I realised that the Sir Thomas Hiley Information Centre is now called the Kinaba Information Centre, and Harry Spring's Hut has become the Noosa River Camping Area. Why are we struggling to remember Sir Thomas and Harry Spring who were still with us only 20 years ago? Both were fine, generous men who loved Cooloola National Park. I believe they are as inseparable from its story as all the other ghosts I've introduced you to tonight. Thank you.”

  • Q: Do you know the whereabouts of the Lake Como sawmill along Louis Bazzo Drive?
  • A: No, I don't know that. You would have to ask someone who specializes there.
  • Q: When you mentioned that someone rescued Eliza Fraser from the aborigines, didn't they rescue her?
  • A: You are right, but she didn't see it that way. They rescued her on Fraser Island and came down there, but she didn't see it that way. And a party was sent out to find her. It wasn't mutual.
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