In early 1942 the Queensland Main Roads Commission was directed to erect buildings, anti-aircraft gun emplacements, command and battery observation posts, underground plotting room, magazines, accommodation for officers and men, a 20,000 gallon concrete tank, and a 20 bed hospital at Cowan Cowan (aboriginal Kau-in Kau-in) on Moreton Island. There were also instructed to build a controlled mines station with accommodation for officers and men of the Australian Navy. The former Navy Signal Station at 25 Dorothy Newnham Street, Cowan Cowan (Fort Cowan) is listed on the Heritage Register of the Brisbane City Council (ID No. 601097).

Bruce Gilbert's late father joined the Australian Army in Sydney in 1936.  His father wrote that "after 18 months or so, I was transferred to Brisbane, this to provide medical attention for the troops stationed at a new fort at Cowan on Moreton Island ... . This fort replaced the old one, Fort Lytton on the Brisbane River."

Bruce's father wrote further about the military work at Cowan, in particular the building of 2 x 6" gun emplacements and mountings, etc.

The two 6" Mark XI guns at Cowan were manned during WWII by members of the 122nd Heavy Battery Garrison Artillery, Royal Australian Artillery. The guns were dismantled in 1947. Alfred Arthur Mendham was a member of the 122nd Heavy Battery Garrison Artillery at Cowan Battery. He was initially based in Brisbane with the 122nd before moving to Cowan Battery. Fort Cowan had an Observation Post on the top of Mount Tempest in the middle of the island.

cowan01.jpg (44236 bytes)
Photo Bruce Gilbert

Smoko break

cowan02.jpg (80794 bytes)
Photo Bruce Gilbert

Moving the barrel

cowan03.jpg (28822 bytes)
Photo Bruce Gilbert

Completed gun emplacement

Bruce Gilbert's father said that the barrels were dropped at the waterline and then literally manhandled into their final resting place. Each barrel weighted about 12 ton. After his stint at Cowan, he returned to Sydney, and then joined the brand-new Darwin Mobile Force. 

The British mine layer "HMS Atreus" was used to lay a controlled mine field between Moreton Island and Bribie Island.


moretonbay.jpg (217999 bytes)

Click on picture to enlarge

The M.V. Mirimar and S.S. Lady Norman were used to transport cement, steel reinforcing and timber to Moreton Island. When the tide was right, the supplies would be offloaded onto small punts that would pull alongside the boats as they layed off in the open sea. The Main Roads Commission built some roadworks to connect the area with the older fortification on the island at Fort Rous. The road had a light pavement of concrete applied using gravel which was landed on the beach and man-handled to the job site. They later used a mixture of dune sand and cement that seemed to work OK. It was so successful that the dune sand was used to construct the 20,000 gallon concrete tank.

Lt. H.N. Vidgen of the Stores Section of the First District Depot Company AAOC at Gaythorne in Brisbane took an Ordnance Detachment to Cowan Battery for two weeks to provide Ordnance support for the Artillery Battery stationed there. While this unit was at Cowan Cowan two large unidentified warships appeared on the horizon. The Battery Commander considered firing on the ships but decided to wait to see if they could be identified. They were eventually identified as two British warships.

A naval station was built at Tangalooma where a jetty was constructed. A road was built across the island to the ocean beach where base end stations were established for beach patrols from a garrison located at Cape Moreton. A further Naval base was provided at Comboyuro Point. 8 miles of road was formed from Bulwer to Cape Moreton.

An act of sabotage was carried out at Cowan Battery during WW2 when the thick scrub surrounding the Fort was deliberately lit to deny the fort its natural camouflage. (can anyone tell me the date of this incident?)

Photo:- Craig Steffens - 27 Jan 2005

The remains of Cowan Battery


Photo:- Craig Steffens - 27 Jan 2005


Photo:- Craig Steffens - 27 Jan 2005


Photo:- Craig Steffens - 27 Jan 2005


Photo:- Craig Steffens - 27 Jan 2005


Photo:- Craig Steffens - 27 Jan 2005


Photo:- Craig Steffens - 27 Jan 2005


Photo:- Craig Steffens - 27 Jan 2005


Photo:- Craig Steffens - 27 Jan 2005


Can you tell me more
about the Fortifications at Cowan Cowan?

Do you have any photographs?


Seaward Defences for Moreton Bay

Fort Bribie

Fort Rous

RAN4 - The Bribie Island Indicator Loop Hut
Part of the Royal Navy's anti-submarine harbour defence for "Fortress Brisbane"

HMAS Tambar hit by "Friendly Fire" from Cowan Cowan, Moreton Island

Was American Submarine USS Triton
accidentally sunk in Moreton Bay by friendly fire?



"The History of the Queensland Main Roads Commission during World War II (1939-1945)"



I'd like to thank Bruce Gilbert and Craig Steffens for their assistance with this home page.




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This page first produced 29 July 2000

This page last updated 26 March 2013