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Grand old lady who helped build the Coast

The sternwheel paddle steamer Gneering, left, and the Tarshaw at William Pettigrew’s wharf in Brisbane in the 1880s.


Grand old lady who helped build the Coast

The Gneering was a familiar site on the Maroochy and Mooloolah Rivers for almost 30 years and is remembered as the great workhorse of the early timber industry, writes AUDIENNE BLYTH

She carried away much of the great forests of the Sunshine Coast, transporting thousands of logs of the best quality timber to Brisbane for milling or onward to the rest of Australia or overseas.

But the Gneering is now an historic shipwreck on Goat Island near the mouth of the Maroochy River at Maroochydore.

The hulk and a heap of steel cable and massive timber beams were exposed in 1997 but have not been seen since.

Some reports state that the Gneering was lost in the great flood of 1893 but the end came before that.

In 1892, she was beached, abandoned, dismantled and left on the opposite bank of the river to William Pettigrew’s Maroochydore mill.

His Machinery Register confirms: “1891.  Got into Mooloolah River, detained there by weather. Got her into Maroochy River and after being there some time detained by weather, discharged men and laid up. Feb 1892, some three months ago went over for logs from Mooloolah. Leaked very much. Intend dismantling her and condemning her. No use for her. About August 1892, had her dismantled and put on bank of other side of river to mill. Nov 1892, Getting cobra eaten. Engine in mill.”

John Williams had launched Gneering in the mid 1850s as the John.

Three new owners – William Pettigrew the sawmiller, William Grigor the timber overseer and James Low the ship’s captain – bought and outfitted her for the timber trade under the name of Granite City.

In 1862 they sailed from Brisbane to assess the Maroochy and Mooloolah River entrances and later that year the Granite City was delivering timber-getters and a large quantity of supplies.

The following year they crossed the Noosa Bar to examine the timber resources along the Noosa River.

But the efforts of the Granite City were not enough to feed the colony’s appetite for timber and a larger ship was needed.

In 1863 the schooner was transformed to a paddle steamer and given a new name, Gneering, the Aboriginal word for wild duck.

Setting a record of four days, the ship could leave Pettigrew’s Sawmill, arrive at the Mooloolah River, spend two days loading and then steam back to Brisbane.

So many ships sought the valuable timbers such as cedar it could have been described as a red goldrush.

The Gneering played an important part in development. She would carry lighter goods to and from ships anchored in Moreton Bay. Casks of tallow and bales of wool were delivered for export. The young colony was dependent on imports such as manufactured foods, clothing and farm machinery.

She delivered a boiler to Cleveland for Louis Hope who, it is said, established the first sugar mill in Queensland.

She carried miners to the Mooloolah River or the Caboolture River from where they mainly walked to the goldfields of Gympie or Jimna. She provided transport for passengers and selectors when waterways were our highways.

She delivered farmers’ produce back to Brisbane and from Caboolture, she carried sugar cake and rum.

She crossed the hazardous Noosa Bar with a replacement boiler for McGhie, Luya & Co’s sawmill.

She made visits to the Logan and Albert Rivers as well as to the Mary River. In sheltered waters she towed rafts of logs or punt-loads of sawn timber.

She had a hand in Queensland’s first lighthouse, making several trips to transport materials to Bustard Head for builder W.P. Clark.

In 1883, the Gneering was fitted with twin screws so as to negotiate the shallow river entrances and the shoals and sandbars more easily.

Remarkably, she survived for almost another 10 years and was always fondly recalled by residents, who relied on her for transport and provisions, as a familiar sight; her end was personal.

A new era began with the opening of the rail link between Brisbane and Gympie in 1891; and with river transport becoming obsolete, her fate was sealed.

Audienne Blyth is a member of the Nambour Historical Museum, open Wednesday to Friday, 1pm-4pm and Saturday 10am-3pm. All welcome.

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