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Fort Lytton Historical Association

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• Part 1
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• Part 3
• Part 4
Part 1

First - Rex

In 1928, Dad transferred from the P.M.G., where he was a linesman, to the Commonwealth Quarantine Station at Lytton, near the mouth of the Brisbane River. His now designation was quarantine Assistant, in the Commonwealth Health Department. I was only five years old at the time, so have not much recollection of my early years there.

The entire Quarantine Station was I believe a little over half a mile in length, (from North to South), and including the mud flats bordering the river, it was probably a little under a half mile, from East to West. The Western side was bordered by the Lytton Reach of the Brisbane River, the Northern side by Fort Lytton, the Eastern side by the Lytton Military Paddock and the Southern side by Herman Schmidt’s dairy and Banana Farm.

The first building, as you entered from the south, was the little Receiving shed. It was flush with the fence line, and had a window hatch, whereby supplies could be left, without the delivery person coming in contact with possibly contaminated Quarantine Staff, when a Quarantine was in progress.

The first house, which I have numbered No. 1, was the house in which our family spent the second half of our life at the Quarantine Station. I think Hardies lived there immediately before we took residence there.

Behind that house was the Seamen’s Hospital. Immediately behind that, was the Animal Quarantine, but that didn’t eventuate till much later on.

Going North, the next section, was a conglomeration of buildings, which were the accommodation for passengers and ships officers etc. Also in this lot, were kitchens and dining rooms.

Proceeding along the road going northward, on the left was the little pump house for the sewerage, while over the road in the early days, was the "Red Cottage", which was pulled down not too long after we went there.

A side road to the right, led to the main office, the dispensary and store rooms

Back to the road again, there were three houses, side by side, fronting the road. These were staff houses, and they changed hands occasionally, when men were transferred to other stations throughout Australia, and new families moved in. My recollection of these three houses in the 1930s was, in No. 2, Ben Walker and family, we lived in No. 3, and Pooles in No.4.

Behind these three houses, were the Jail and the Incinerator. Both these buildings were very small, probably no bigger than ten ft. by ten ft.

House No. 5 was eventually occupied by Pooles, but I think Gregorys’ were there before them. Also Courts came into that house at some stage.

No. 6 was occupied by Mick Burke and family. No. 7 by the Davis family. Jack Davis was the coxswain, and as such his was the closest residence to the jetty.

No. 8 was the Foreman Assistant’s house, (the boss). Actons were the family in residence when we first arrived I think, while house No. 9 was the Doctors House, and was only occupied by the Quarantine Doctor, when a quarantine, or suspected patients with infectious diseases were in hospital.

Just beyond the Foreman Assistant’s house going north, to the right of the road, were the little shed that housed lots of rabbits and guinea pigs, in the early days. They disappeared pre-war I think. I presume they were kept for experiments at some experimental place in another part of Brisbane. When the rabbits got a little too prolific with their breeding, which rabbits tend to do, we sometimes finished up with one on the dinner table. I have fond memories of watching Dad cutting up pumpkins with a machete, to feed them.

Before leaving this area, there were a few little white crosses in the ground, just south of the Doctors house. If my memory is to be trusted, they were some Lascar seamen, who died during one of the quarantines. Probably smallpox or Cholera. I wonder if they are still there, now that the Quarantine Station is no more.

The Isolation Hospital, surrounded by high walls, was in the North East corner of the station. This is where all cases of suspected and confirmed infectious diseases were hospitalised, until cured, died, or proved not to have one of the bad diseases.

Between the river and houses 5 to 7, were the garage, where the Quarantine Station truck was housed, the Boiler House, Workshop, Blacksmith Shop, Laundry and Fumigation buildings. The Boiler House had a 75 foot high brick chimney, which could be seen for miles.

Then there was the jetty, which stretched out about 90 to 100 feet into the river. At the end of the jetty, in the twenties and thirties, a big heavy boat of timer construction was moored. It was called the "Dorunda", and was laughingly referred to as the "Go-under". Not that it did to my knowledge.

The next boat we had was the "Bancroft", and it was very small in comparison with the Dorunda. It had a hump-back cabin on it painted white, with a black hull. It looked for all the world like a big beetle going along the river.

The Bancroft was eventually, after many years faithful service, replaced by the "Elkington". This was a much bigger boat than the Bancroft, much more ornate and showy, with shiny brasswork, and polished timber finish of the deck-house.

Running right throughout the station, from the Receiving Shed at the Southern end, right to the end of the jetty, was a railway line. No trains, just a big heavy trolley, which was operated by man power. (Noel adds "and kid power in games".)

Probably no one in this jet age, would be able to realise the importance of our quarantine laws at that time. Flying was in its infancy, with a few passengers being transported within Australia, but overseas passenger flying, did not really start till after the second world war. Being quarantine minded, it amazed me, when Charm and I returned to Australia from our world trip in 1976. A quarantine officer came on board the aircraft before anyone could deplane, and squirted an aerosol can of disinfectant or some such spray, into the air, and that was that. The old time quarantine officers would have been appalled. I would say that all that that little exercise could lean up, would be airborne bacteria. Anyone incubating an infectious disease, would slip through no trouble. I reckon that one day soon, the bubonic Plague, or some such scourge, will be brought in, and an epidemic started.

It took on average six or seven weeks, to travel by ship, from England to Australia, and a couple of weeks from the Orient. If anyone was carrying the diseases, the symptoms would have manifested themselves by the time the ship arrived here. Darwin and Perth would have probably collected the most Quarantines, as the ships coming from England would have either come via South Africa or through the Suez Canal via India, while the ones coming from China, Japan and the East Indies would probably make their first port of call Darwin. Even so, some of the ships coming from the East Indies, and Island to the north of Australia, made Brisbane their first stop.

When a ship coming to Brisbane had a sick person on board, the ship would fly a yellow flag. As they passed Pile Light, a manned light right at the river mouth, the Pile Light officer would notify the Lytton

Quarantine Station. The Boss of the Quarantine Station would phone the Quarantine Doctor in Brisbane, and he would come pronto to Pinkenba, on the opposite side of the river and upstream about a mile or more from the station. The Quarantine launch would proceed up river, and pick up the doctor and come back downstream and usually meet the ship somewhere near the station. He would put alongside the ship, matching his speed to that of the ship and the Doc would climb up a rope ladder or the gangway which had been lowered over the side of the ship.

He would then inspect any patients on board and if only diagnosed as the flu or chicken-pox or some minor complaint, which in most cases it was, he would give them a clean bill of health and let the vessel proceed to Hamilton Wharf or wherever to berth. If he wasn’t sure of the complaint, he may as happened sometimes, take the sick person to the isolation section at Lytton and the ship would either have to anchor in the river, or go back to Pile Light, until it was decided whether or not it was one of the bad infectious diseased, such as smallpox or cholera. If the patient was given a clearance, the ship was allowed to berth. If it was one of the bad ones, then the game was on in earnest.

All passengers and crew were brought to Lytton, leaving the ship at anchor, at the river mouth, with just a skeleton crew, I guess, left on board. No beg pardons. No exception. They all came into quarantine, and stayed there until time elapsed, in which the said disease would have evidenced itself. I think the minimum quarantine time for one of these diseases was a fortnight, but I could be wrong.

The Quarantine Station had to be ready to take on hundreds of people, at a moments notice. It had to be completely self-contained, except for foodstuffs, which were brought to the receiving shed, and left there.

The main work that was done by the Quarantine Officers, when there was no quarantine in progress, was keeping everything in tip-top shape, and ready to roll at a moment’s notice. Most of the horror diseases are now pretty well under control world-wide, but they weren’t then. Only vigilance kept them out of Australia.

All clothing of the passengers and crew, plus bed linen and blankets etc., had to be brought from the sip, and then fumigated at Lytton. The entire empty ship was also fumigated, while it rode at anchor. It sounds like over-kill, but it kept these dreadful diseases out of Australia. The ships cooks and stewards did the cooking, and looked after the passengers needs, just as they had done on board ship.

Actual quarantines at Lytton were few and far between. I seem only to remember two between 1928 and 1950, when I left the place for good. It was probably one of the most easy-going and relaxing jobs that I’ve ever come across, until a quarantine eventuated. The pace was slow. Dad started work at 7.30 am, came home for lunch and finished at 5 pm. I don’t think they worked on the week-end, except for the boss, who had always to have some-one to attend to the phone and/or the coxswain or assistant coxswain. In later years, the truck driver took the truck into Wynnum Central shopping centre, to allow the ladies to do some shopping etc.

When a quarantine was declared, a big yellow flag was flown at each end of the Station, the gates were padlocked and no one was allowed in or out, until the quarantine was declared over. Of course anyone could jump the fence, and get out, but there was a very heavy penalty if caught, so no one did to my knowledge.

The time I remember best, is the period between 1930 and 1942, at which time I left to join the Air Force. There were eight families. During most of the time, we lived at house1, at the southern entrance, two girls and two boys in our family Walkers had two girls, and lived in No. 2 house. I can’t get it straight in by mind, who came into house 3 when we left there and went to house No. 1. Cec Pinder, a bachelor I think, the Dunwoodies were around and Frienzes lived there for some time. They had 6 boys and two girls. Pooles at % had one girl, Burkes at 6 and one of each, I think. The Davis family lived at No.7, with four girls and one boy, and Whets in the bosses house, had four girls and two boys, by my count. So, 25 to 30- kids lived there most of the time, and we all had lots of fun. There was also Sgt Bateman’s house at Fort Lytton. I can remember one girl Jessica. Were there any other Bateman kids? Colonel Rockwell, lived with his family on top of Lytton Hill, to the East of the military paddock. They had two boys, Evan and Jimmy. Was there a girl also? Rudolph Schmidt had a farm half a mile down the road towards Lindum and He had three four children, Walter, Henry and Grace and Addie. Also, I believe Herman Schmidt had a girl (Ruth). Other families that come to mind at various times on the Station, were Gregorys with one boy, Syd. Courts also were there for quite a long time and Jack Mitchell and his mother, Mrs. Cameron lived in house 6 for a long time. Incidentally, unless he had succumbed in the last six months, Jack Mitchell is probably the last living member of the station staff. I met him in Cleveland recently, where he lives with his wife. So you can see, that we had quite a closely knit little community there, somewhat resembling what I imagine, a small country village would be like.

A lot of the time, Dad was the truck driver, among other things. Ben Walker sometimes drove also. I seem to recall that in the early part of my life there, when the truck was a "T" Model Ford, we kids were taken to school, but had to walk the 2 ½ miles home, from Wynnum North Primary School. Later on, we only had to walk ½ a mile, on the way home waiting at Evans Dairy, till the truck came and picked us up.

Wynnum North Primary School had about 250 pupils, on the average. The big schools then were Wynnum Central and Manly, each with about 100 pupils. No State high Schools then in the Wynnum/Manly District. The first State high School was at West End, and started in the thirties I think, but I’m not sure of that. I know that both Nella and Dorothy went there, so you girls can put me right there. (75th birthday celebrations of B.S.H.S. July 1996.)

There was no mail delivery to Lytton. The quarantine Station had a private box at the Wynnum Central Post Office, Box 150, I think. The truck used to continue on into Wynnum Central, after dropping we kids off at school, where the driver would pick up the mail, and do other shopping chores etc. There weren’t too many ladies could fit in the truck. It was full of brats, so in a lot of cases Dad had to do all sorts of personal shopping for them.

The Quarantine Station was a great place for kids. I wouldn’t even venture a guess as to how many acres we had to play in, most of it kept well mown (6 hectares). We also had the mud flats with tidal creeks which were out of bounds to the smaller fry, of course, and the jetty was very popular, only of course when we were able to swim. It was mainly a case of make your own fun, and that we did. The trolley on the rail tracks was a great attraction. It was usually left on the tracks on top of the small hill above the jetty. We’d get it going at a goodly pace, hop on, and run it to the end of the jetty, within about two feet of the drop-off. There was a great big piece of hardwood timber, about 12 inches square and about 4 feet long, bolted to the deck of the jetty, to stop the trolley plunging into the river.

We played all the usual games, cricket, football, bedlam and hide and seek, with plenty of places to hide. I remember playing cricket in the attic of the "Red Cottage". I guess we did that because it was a challenge. We weren’t supposed to go in there at all. I remember we eventually got into strife over it, because we broke a window.

The mud flats and creeks were a great attraction, where fishing, crabbing and prawning and also swimming, were great pastimes. The creeks had probably a hundred or so deep crab holes in the banks, one we used to call "The Never Miss Hole". We used a big long crab-hook, probably ten to twelve feet long, to hook the crabs out of their abodes. A feed of prawns was always on, using a dilly made of Mum’s old mosquito nets, with some old bones or fish skeletons as bait. We could occasionally catch a nice bream in the creeks at high tide. At low tide, we used to scoop poddy mullet out of the holes in the creek bed. They were good bait for catching squire, Schnapper or Sweetlip from the end of the jetty. Unbelievable, in this day and age of river pollution, reef fish from one pounders to 15 pounders were caught fairly regularly.

Fishing was always pretty good. Bream, quite thick from about March through to August. River Perch also, but nowhere near as abundant, as they were in the higher reaches of the river. Saltwater Jewfish, or Mulloway were often caught ranging from a few pounds to massive 75 pounders. I never ever caught a monster. The biggest Jewie that I caught was 8 pounds. The biggest Bream was 3 ¼ lbs. I never ever caught one of the big reef fish. The biggest was a six pound Schnapper.

As stated previously, Bream were our main Winter Species. Even before minimum length came into operation, with Dad as our guide, we never kept Bream much under ¾ lb. There were so many good fish between ¾ lb. And 2 lbs. That the smaller ones weren’t worth keeping. The best Bream fishing time was mid-winter, May to July when we froze some nights. One good thing about that was that the mossies didn’t like the cold either.

Three pounders came up now and then, but they were few and far between. It amuses me these days to hear a lot of amateur fishermen talking of catching three pound

Bream recently. Knowing through experience, that to weigh 3 lbs. The Bream has to be about 18 inches long. I have many times asked them how long the three pounder was. They inevitably indicate by holding their hands about 12 to 14 inches apart. No way they could weigh 3 lbs. They are still around, but devilishly hard to come by.

The staff at the Quarantine Stn, kept a record of the biggest fish of various species caught there. For many years 3 ¾ lbs. Was the biggest Bream. Then one night, Dad caught a whopper, 22 inches long that weighed in at 4 ¼ lbs. Unbelievable, he held the record for about one week when another of the staff caught one 4 ½ lbs., measuring 24 inches long.

The men developed a skull-dragging method of catching the big Jewfish. (Mulloway). There were some steps near the end of the jetty that were partially covered at high tide and even at low tide the bottom step could be under water, (and slippery). Standing on the steps and watching your footing, a strong light was shone on the water. A pressure lantern was the best. From the dark, the Garfish would swim right up to you and they were scooped up, with a scoop on the end of long pole. Across the two rails of the jetty, which in this section were close together, a clothes prop was lain. Tied to the butt end of the prop was a length of window-sash cord, very strong, and it ran through the forked end of the prop. About three feet from the water, a big swivel was attached and a piano-wire trace, with a big hook, just reached the water. A live Gar was lightly hooked through the skin of its back, so it wasn’t hurt badly, and it swan around on top of the water. The Jew would come up, and with an almighty chop, take the bait. With a couple of men on the clothes prop, they’d skull-drag it, clean out of the water. Not a real gentlemanly way of fishing, but it got results.


Site last updated 16 March 2013

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