A tale of shipwrecks and lighthouses

Historian AUDIENNE BLYTH investigates the connection between a shipwreck at the mouth of the Maroochy River on the Sunshine Coast and the Yungaba immigration depot at Kangaroo Point in Brisbane.

Pincushion Island at the mouth of the Maroochy River has been witness to many calamities, near and actual.
Since white settlement, records show that ships trying to cross the ever-changing sandbars do so at their peril.
In March 1880, the Agnes, owned by Brisbane sawmiller James Campbell, was wrecked on what became known as Agnes Rocks on the southern side of Pincushion, although there is scant record of them now.

The little steamer was carrying 25 pine logs, six cedar logs and bundles of hides.

Captain Scott and the crew deserted her to save their own lives.

The timber was later recovered and the well- insured ship was offered for auction as she lay with all the spars, sails, rigging, boat, steam winch, engine and boiler intact. William Peter Clark and his brother, John, had originally built and owned the Agnes so they knew the ship and happily paid £120 for the wreck.

Workmen and bullocks assisted in salvaging the remains, which were floated in by ship’s water tanks. They prepared to rebuild.

It was said the ship was cut in two and lengthened by an 80ft keel of the best ironbark grown on Buderim Mountain Rd. In 1881, the Agnes was reregistered as the Wawoon under new owners, D.L. Brown and W.P. Clark.

The Agnes had been launched at Bli Bli in 1875 and named after Clark’s wife. They had married in his native Scotland before coming to Australia via America.

The new name, Wawoon, is an Aboriginal word for scrub turkey. The name was apt, as she had to “scratch for a living but got a good one”.

For three years, she was a regular sight on the Maroochy River delivering goods and transporting cedar, pine and beech logs back to Brisbane.

In 1884, she was sold and re-registered by three brothers, George, Henry and Charles Skyring of Baffle Creek.
Now, back to William Peter Clark, one of Queensland’s first entrepreneurs, whose expertise was not limited to boat building.

As one of the earliest and largest selectors on the Maroochy River he dealt in timber and horses and was said to be the first to grow sugar cane on the Sunshine Coast.

In 1887 he was busy working as a builder for the government, his work including the impressive immigration depot on the Brisbane River at Kangaroo Point, Yungaba, which means place of sunshine.

Its first residents arrived on the Duke of Buccleuch at the end of the same year.

In the 1920s Yungaba was extremely important as “the immigration program had stepped up and accommodation generally is paramount” and when immigration assistance cancelled during the Depression, it provided accommodation for the workers on Story Bridge.

With varied uses since then, including  a military hospital and post-war immigration, it became the first building listed by the state government on the Queensland Estate Register in 1988.

Still standing, but with promises of redevelopment, it is all but lost to the public even though it has many stories to tell of migrants who for more than a century called it their first home in Australia.

Clark’s talent also extended to building the first lighthouse in Queensland, the Bustard Head Lighthouse, in 1867, followed by lighthouses at Double Island Point, Pine Islet and Low Isles. He also began construction of lighthouses for Cape Cleveland and Dent Island.

Clark was buried in Toowong Cemetery on November 20, 1889 four days short of his 58th birthday, beside his first wife of 28 years, Agnes, who had been buried there on November 16, 1887.  He had married the widow, Isabella McNab, the year he died.

His handiwork is still seen daily at Yungaba, by river travellers near Story Bridge.

Image:  Pincushion Island (above) with its lanky trees was so named because early photos show it looking like a pincushion.