The History of Currigee
So what of the history of this beautiful island?
Originally Moreton Island, North and South Stradbroke Islands and the Southport Spit were all connected. The formation of the sand islands off South East Queensland has been mainly attributed to the northerly longshore ocean currents which bring sand from the northern NSW beaches followed by the regular south-easterly winds which move the sand particles up from the beaches.
While this is partially true it is now generally recognised that the continental shelf was actually the main source of the sand for these islands.
The south-eastern winds cause a swell wave system (which is from the south east) which brings with it sand from the shelf under the ocean. Rocky headlands act as pivotal points for the winds and the waves to drop these sands. One such pivotal point would be Point Lookout on North Stradbroke Island. These rocky outcrops proved to be the ruin of many whaling and cargo ships, but one in particular had great significance for South Stradbroke Island.
In the spring of 1898 North and South Stradbroke Islands were connected by a narrow bridge of land which was less than 40 metres wide.
On 3 September 1894, the Scottish barque “Cambus Wallace” whilst carrying a cargo of explosives from Glasgow to Brisbane ran aground and sunk only 200 metres offshore directly adjacent to this narrow bridge. The Government of the day decided that in the interests of safety for the local fishing industry to detonate the cargo so as to prevent any of it breaking loose and damaging fishing crafts. It was this detonation, and weakening of the sands which eventually led to the separation of Stradbroke Island into two – North and South, during the next major storm in 1898.
And the association of people with this land ???
Aborigines have occupied the islands of this region for thousands of years. Recent archeological evidence indicates that this area has been inhabited for all of its 10,000 odd years. Many indigenous tribes have traveled great distances from as far as Mt. Tamborine and Beaudesert in the west, to Brisbane in the north and Tweed Heads in the south, to use the islands resources. First descriptions of the Aborigines came from John Uniacke whilst traveling with John Oxley in 1823 “the strength and obvious good health of these people is due to the quality of natural foods on the island”.
Fish, shellfish and other seafood’s supplied their basic diet and this was supplemented by turtles, wallabies, snakes, lizards, spiny anteaters, bandicoots and dugong as well as fruity roots and native honey.
The barter system was used with other tribes for articles not available on the island such as shells and reed necklaces in exchange for knives, axes, grindstones and spears.
The aborigines appreciated their surrounding vegetation for aesthetic, spiritual and practical reasons.
By the end of the 19th century this traditional way of life of the aborigines had changed significantly.
Aborigines began to rely upon medicine more than traditional ways. As a result, their populations were decimated by T.B., smallpox and influenza, until only 65 of them were left from the three tribes which had inhabited the island for so long.
From 1859 the land was sold off via “Auction Lease”. In 1880 the first cattle were swum across from Southport and although some 50 years later there were still some remnants of these herds on the island, farming never really thrived there.
Land was cleared mainly for crop farming. Vegetables such as onions, strawberries and carrots were grown for transport and sale on the mainland.
In 1876 Moreton Bay Oyster Company commenced operations and flourished in the sheltered waters. However the break through at Jumpinpin only 24 years later had a disastrous effect and the local oystermen petitioned repeatedly to have the break between north and south Stradbroke closed – by dumping derelict boats or by building barrages. The Department of Harbours and Marines rejected this idea continuously mainly for the reason of cost however they were also unsure of the effect the closure would have on the waters. Unfortunately for the oyster farmers frequent king tides ruined their crops and by 1939 the last of these withdrew leaving the island to holiday makers and the wild cattle which were just deserted.
Then came the sand miners.
These operators began in 1951 and it involved the extraction of high grade mineral from deposited on the beach and in the sand dunes.
The works commenced at Tipplers in the north and then moved steadily southwards to Currigee along the eastern foreshore. By 1970 they had moved to North Stradbroke as it was even richer in resources.
Attempts were made following the departure of the miners for a revegetation policy to be applied but the dunes proved to be unstable. The remaining wild cattle and wallabies destroyed most of the plantings. Then in 1971 the Beach Protection Authority established a research station on the island to develop and research approaches for the revegetation and stabilisation of the dunal system. This proved to be very successful and with the help of residents the results can now been seen along the eastern foreshore. Sadly the station has subsequently been closed however it still remains at Currigee at the end of the jetty.
Governments at both local and state levels now recognise the importance of South Stradbroke Island, not just for recreational purposes but for the role it has played in the establishment and development of life in south east Queensland. All the Crown land not under lease has become a Conservation Park under the trusteeship of the Gold Coast City Council. Five generations of white settlers and countless generations of Aboriginal people have not destroyed its unique qualities and environment. Sensible planning today will ensure that future generations may also enjoy its charm.
We wish all of our guests to respect this fragile environment so that it may be enjoyed for generations to come and hope that this small record of the history of South Stradbroke provides some insight into the past.
For those of you who may desire more we are very fortunate to have in “La Boite” a copy of Dr. Charles Roe’s personal history of his families involvement with Currigee – it is a fantastic read and provides a personal tale of Currigee since the early 1900’s.