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Southern Moreton Bay history

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Click to enlarge South Stradbroke Island and Southern Moreton Bay islands, circa 1970s. Margaret Steley, photographer.

South Stradbroke Island and Southern
Moreton Bay islands, circa 1970s.
Margaret Steley, photographer.

South Stradbroke Island and Southern Moreton Bay islands, circa 1970s. Margaret Steley, photographer.

South Stradbroke Island and Southern
Moreton Bay islands, circa 1970s.
Margaret Steley, photographer.

The Gold Coast

A section of Moreton Bay extending roughly from the Logan River across to South Stradbroke Island and extending down to the Southport Broadwater is located in the local authority of the Gold Coast.

European exploration

On a Thursday afternoon, 17 May 1770, the ship Endeavour, part way through a voyage around the world, approached a prominent landmark which we know as Point Lookout, Stradbroke Island.

Lieutenant James Cook was charting the east coast of Australia and at this spot he recorded a placename for this landmark,

Point Lookout, a name that would caution future navigators about a nearby reef.

Naming Moreton Bay

The barely visible wide open bay beyond the point, Cook named Morton Bay in honour of Lord Aberdour the 14th Earl of Morton - President of the influential Royal Society back in England.

In accounts of the voyage published a few years later, the spelling was mistakenly changed to Moreton and so it remains today.

Sheltered by the outer sand islands of Moreton and Stradbroke Islands, the waters of Moreton Bay extend from around Bribie Island in the north, broadening to its widest extent near the Brisbane River Entrance and then narrowing into Southern Moreton Bay.

Southern Moreton Bay is a confusion of islands, channels, mangrove, salt marsh, mudflats, sandbanks, creek, and river estuary.

Aboriginal legend

Aboriginal legend records that at one time all the parts of Moreton Bay from Doogurrumburrum (Rocky Point) to the mouth of the Logan River and to Canaipa on Stradbroke Island was place of a titanic war between the spirits of the land, air and water. Yowgurra, the goanna was armed with a spear but just as he joined the battle, a sparrow hawk (Boogaban) swooped down and snatched the spear from his grasp.

The hawk flew over the water and drove the spear into the back of a porpoise. The porpoise exerted a blast and blew the weapon out.

There was a such torrent of blood and water from the wound though, that all the surrounding land became inundated resulting in a tangle of islands, swamps, channels and creeks stretching from the Logan River to Coombabah.

Visitors and farmers

Early 19th century accounts of visits to this part of the bay make much of the misery of the sandflies (biting midges), mosquitoes and the difficulties of navigating the channels and maze of small islands situated between the mainland and Stradbroke Island.

By the beginning of the 20th century, most of the islands and fringing mainland with high ground was settled, farmed or grazed often with some struggle.

There was a certain benefit to living here. No matter how lean the times, the sea and the mangroves always provided the locals with fish and mud crabs.

The mud islands, marshes and hidden creeks for a long time remained untouched and unvisited except by the serious fisherman or crabber.

Even their stay here was short - limited by the rise and fall of tide, the whims of weather and the fishermen's tolerance of the biting insects.

Like the rainforest which was slowly being cleared in the hinterland, the mangroves and marsh were wild places - hospitable to species which could adapt to the environment. It would take a long time before the value of rainforests and mangroves were fully understood.

Natural environment

Southern Moreton Bay is the home of the whistling kite, mangrove warbler, ibis, kingfisher and heron.

Swamp wallabies and scrub turkeys were once a common sight in the forests and grasslands above the tidal zone. On the mud islands, at high tide, juvenile fish still swirl, scurry and feed between the cobbler pegs roots of a gnarled old Grey Mangrove.

At the top of the high tide, the salt marsh is a shimmering lake and both air and water seem to vibrate with life. As the tidewater retreats, it abandons its cargo of driftwood and lost life in the saltwater couch, shagpile and jellybean samphires.

Divisions of soldier crabs were once a common sight on the mudflats and they would feed in swarms around places like Dinner Island - scooping up sand and food particles and discarding the remains in little piles.

Southern Moreton Bay is now more accessible. The tide leaves a growing bounty of old bait bags, plastic and glass bottles and footwear - all non-biodegradable treasures from our civilisation.

On the other hand, the barbed wire, old fence posts, abandoned wooden boats, rotting timber from fallen jetties, the shell middens, are rotting away; all this human effort slowly disappearing.

These things represent subtle but long term changes to the place, but these changes go mostly unrecorded.

Information and images provided by the City of Gold Coast Local Studies Collection.

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