Tangalooma Island Resort on Moreton Island.
Tangalooma Island Resort on Moreton Island. Greg Sullavan

Visit shines a light on family's past and Queensland history

THE sun sinking slowly into the western horizon sent a wide golden beam of light across the darkening blue waves to the water's edge.

It was a sign.

Dozens of daytrippers and holidaymakers had gathered on the golden sands to watch the magnificent sunset - a daily highlight of life at Tangalooma Island Resort on Moreton Island.

And despite being some metres away, while dining at the resort's Fire&Stone waterfront restaurant, I had to have a closer look - almost knocking over my chair as I grabbed the camera and sprinted through the open doorway.

This was Mother Nature's way of sending us onward to our mission on this special getaway: a pilgrimage to Cape Moreton Lighthouse.

This was our chance to shine some light on a little-known branch of the family tree and pay homage not only to part of my husband Ian's ancestral past, but also a small slice of Queensland's history: her pioneering lightkeepers.

A two-day getaway to Tangalooma Island Resort with an itinerary including the Northern Safari Tour would allow us to visit the still-operational Cape Moreton Lighthouse where his great-great-grandfather Henry Roberts was the lighthouse keeper for less than a year.

He had heard stories all his life from his mother Jean Lowrie, now 86, whose connection to the Roberts family came from her mother's side.

As a child, Jean knew her great-grandmother and learned a little of her grandmother's life as a girl living on the extremely remote northern tip of the island with her parents and younger brother Henry.

Cape Moreton Lighthouse on the north-eastern point of the island is Queensland's oldest lighthouse.

It was first lit in 1857 as a navigation point for vessels along the island's northern coastline.

And it is here that we gain some insight into the labour-intensive work, isolation and loneliness of a 19th century lightkeeper.

The strong and proud sentinel of the treacherous Moreton coastline was built of sandstone carved out of the nearby cliffs.

It was erected by the New South Wales Government (Queensland was not declared a separate state until two years later in 1859) at a cost of about 14,000 pounds.

Initially, the light was made from 21 catoptric lamps set in a 16-sided iron lantern.

Even with such low technology, the light beaming from the 23m high lighthouse was said to be visible at 26-and-a-half nautical miles in clear weather.

The hard-working, dedicated lightkeepers of the 19th century and their assistants took shifts to keep the lamps burning.

Alongside the lighthouse construction, stone quarters were built for the head lightkeeper and two assistant lightkeepers.

The head lighthouse keeper's house was closest and built on the highest ground to the lighthouse, with the other two following the pattern of hierarchy.

Life at Cape Moreton was anything but exotic and idyllic, despite the ruggedly beautiful surrounds.

The vitally important work of a lightkeeper was physically and mentally draining. The days for them and their families could be monotonous and boring with few welcome distractions.

All supplies for the lighthouse and the employees' families were shipped to Bulwer Pilot Station before being taken by sled over tough terrain to the lighthouse complex.

With limited shipments, self-sufficiency was the key to survival.

Medical help could be hours away or worse, as the island had no resident doctor or formal medical treatment facility.

That meant that even minor illness, injuries or birthing complications could become life-threatening.

After the death of Mary-Anne Griffin - the wife of lightkeeper Thomas Griffin - during a difficult labour with their 11th child in 1883, it became mandatory for all pregnant women at the lighthouse to return to the mainland six weeks before their due date.

In his 14 years as lightkeeper, Thomas also had to endure great heartache with the death of three of their children: Florence and Robert, who lived only a short time after their birth at Cape Moreton, and youngest son Edward, who was kicked by a station horse and died the next day.

Edward's death - the last among the Cape Moreton families - was an unimaginable loss for Thomas, who left the island soon after.

That could explain why Henry Roberts took up the vacant post in 1883, and why his family stayed such a short time, as Emily would have needed to return to the mainland to give birth to their fourth child, Ernest.

Through the 1860s-70s, life became a little easier at Cape Moreton with construction of storerooms, a cart shed, feed shed, watchhouse and stables.

A schoolhouse was built at the Cape, with 18 students' names recorded on the first year's roll in 1879.

The three homes that can be seen today were built in 1930 when the stone quarters were demolished, along with the associated buildings.

In 1873, the original oil wick lamps were replaced with kerosene-burning mantle lamps.

And in 1937, when the light was converted to electricity, fewer staff were needed to maintain the lighthouse and lightkeepers took on other duties such as taking weather recordings and serving as postmaster for the area.

Twenty-five years ago, in 1993, the lighthouse was switched to a fully automated system and now shines its solar-powered laser beam 30km out to sea.

The lighthouse, part of the 3.36ha Cape Moreton Conservation Park, remains an integral part of the east coast navigation network.

But more importantly, our Northern Safari has allowed us to walk in the footsteps of Henry Roberts, and give thanks he chose to settle in south-east Queensland and write his name in the state's maritime history books on Moreton Island.

The writer was a guest of Tangalooma Island Resort: a 75-minute ferry ride from Pinkenba in Brisbane's north to Moreton Island.

Visit www.tangalooma.com and www.tangalooma.com/brisbane-day-trip-cruise.

NORTHERN SAFARI

THE Northern Safari to the top of Moreton Island is one of Tangalooma Island Resort's most requested tours.

While tides and beach conditions may dictate slight changes in the itinerary, the tour takes in about 50km of sand "highway” and bush roads.

Leaving behind the resort, the comfortable, air-conditioned four-wheel-drive coach goes along the western beach, past the Tangalooma wrecks and the small townships of Cowan Cowan and Bulwer.

It then heads past the Bulwer Wrecks, Yellow Patch and Five Hills (noticeable from as far away as Caloundra) to North Point - a favourite with surfers.

There lies a photographers' paradise: Champagne Pools and Honeymoon Bay.

The Champagne Pools are where the ocean waves cascade over a band of volcanic rock and sandstone, bubbling into the cool pool below like a champagne fountain.

The Champagne Pools at North Point.
The Champagne Pools at North Point. Shirley Sinclair

Honeymoon Bay is popular with yachties and four-wheel-drive visitors as one of the most pristine spots on the island.

Guests can spend time taking a dip or walking around the headland before morning tea.

The final stop is the distinctive Cape Moreton Lighthouse with its two red bands and red "hat”.

There, guests can get snap-happy taking selfies with the imposing structure, grab panoramas of the ocean and long expanse of coastline or take the easy circuit loop through bushland surrounding the lighthouse and ranger station.

More thrills await after taking "The Blow” (with its 20 per cent gradient) down on to the beach and driving part of the 27km sand highway beside the pounding surf on the unspoiled eastern beaches.

This journey takes in the sight of pointy Mt Tempest - the world's largest coastal sand dune at 285m above sea level (nearby Storm Hill is considered the second-largest).

Before turning inland and seeing the coloured sands on the one-way, east-west Middle Road back to the resort, guests are likely to encounter birdlife such as whistling kites, crested terns, pied oyster catchers, wedge-tailed eagles, osprey and tiny red-capped plovers near the Spitfire Creek area.

More than 180 species of birds have been recorded on the island, including seabirds, waders, bush birds and birds of prey. Another 31 migratory species also have been recorded.

While the island has no kangaroos, koalas or wallabies, it does have brush-tailed possums and long-nosed bandicoot.

The four-hour safari departs daily at 8.30am during October to May from outside the Tours Desk.

Departures are subject to passenger numbers (minimum of four and maximum of 15) and weather conditions.

Tours cost $99 for adults and $60 per child.

Visit www.tangalooma.com for more information.

HENRY ROBERTS

HENRY Roberts and his wife Emily Jane (nee Martin) had married at Portsmouth in England on August 21, 1876.

Their third child, Lillian Elizabeth, was born about 1880 but died after contracting consumption.

Former Cape Moreton lightkeeper Henry and Emily Roberts.
Former Cape Moreton lightkeeper Henry and Emily Roberts. Contributed

Fearing for the health of his other children, Emily Jane Eliza (born 1877) and Henry Emmanuel (1878), Henry decided to emigrate to Queensland, where his parents - Robert and Eliza Roberts - and his sisters and brothers were living in Brisbane.

Henry had visited Queensland twice before on the sailing ship Flying Cloud - first after ditching school and scaling a wall to become a cabin boy on the high seas as a 13-year-old, and again in 1870 after his parents came out to settle here. He stayed several months and returned to England on Flying Cloud.

He visited Queensland once more as an able-bodied seaman on the barque Turo, having already seen much of the world including China and serving on the British clipper ship The Cutty Sark: one of the last tea clippers to be built and notoriously fast.

But he gave up his life on the ocean for the love of his life, as Emily - the daughter of Captain Joseph Emmanuel Martin and sister of his shipmate Joseph Martin - would not marry a sailor.

Sailing on the RMS Almora, Henry and Emily began their long journey from Plymouth to Australia with their three children on January 15, 1882. Emily was expecting her fourth child at the time and on March 11, 1882, Reginald Granger Roberts (named after their ship's captain) was born near Thursday Island off the tip of Cape York Peninsula.

On March 15, Almora arrived in Cooktown before gradually making her way down the coastline to Brisbane.

One of the first positions Henry took on his arrival in the fledgling state capital to support his growing family was as a lighthouse keeper on Cape Moreton.

But when Emily was expecting her fifth child, they decided to move back to Brisbane to escape the isolation and no doubt be nearer to medical treatment. Ernest was born in South Brisbane in 1884.

Emily Jane Eliza Roberts is Ian Lowrie's great-grandmother. She married Percy Laws and had a daughter Olive Emily - Ian's maternal grandmother, who married Herbert Wood.

The name "Emily” has endured as a family name, with Ian's mother (Olive Emily's eldest daughter) named Jean Emily.

- With thanks to research compiled by Wayne Rodney Roberts in A Brief History Of The Roberts Family 1830-1980