The Coral Dredgers

Queensland Cement and Lime Company and the Mining of Moreton Bay, 1931–1997

by John G. Butcher

The Moreton Bay Foundation acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the lands of and around Moreton Bay. The Foundation pays respect to their Elders—past, present and emerging—and acknowledges the important role Traditional Owners play within Moreton Bay communities.

The Coral Dredgers: Queensland Cement and Lime Company and the Mining of Moreton Bay, 1931-1997
© The Moreton Bay Foundation Ltd, 2022

This book is copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for purposes of private study, research, criticism or review, as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, no part may be reproduced by any process without written permission. Properly acknowledged quotations may be made. Requests regarding this book should be made to:

The Moreton Bay Foundation, PO Box 3214, Newstead Qld 4006, Australia.

National Library of Australia Cataloguing Statement:

ISBN (print version): 9780648669036
ISBN (web version): 9780648669029

Cover image: The photograph, taken by Neil Murray in 1959, shows QCL’s dredge, the Coral, at Mud Island after it had loaded coral onto the Cementco (in foreground) to carry up the Brisbane River to Oxley Wharf. Image courtesy of the National Archives of Australia.
NAA: A1200, L32759.


Dedication and map of Moreton Bay

Technical notes

Bibliographic notes

Abbreviations and notations on sources

The questions

Chapter 1 The coral solution.

Box 1.1 How QCL made cement

Box 1.2 Why reef-building corals cannot thrive at great depths.

Box 1.3 A shallow bay

Figure 1.1 QCL’s limestone supply line in 1931

Figure 1.2 Blueprint of Mud Island submitted with QCL’s application, August 1931

Figure 1.3 QCL’s plans in early 1932

Figure 1.4 QCL’s coral stockpile in 1939

Chapter 2 “Unsuitable for any other purpose”

Box 2.1 The Grazier

Figure 2.1 Areas around Mud Island being dredged by QCL in 1948

Figure 2.2 New dredging areas around Mud Island applied for by QCL January 1949

Figure 2.3 QCL’s revised proposal, February 1950

Figure 2.4 Areas E.C Fision recommended be licensed to QCL, August 1955

Chapter 3 Beyond Mud Island

Figure 3.1 Moreton Bay coral deposits exploration area, 1963

Figure 3.2 Results of seismic survey for Green Island, 1964

Figure 3.3 The coral exploration area APCM applied for in 1966

Figure 3.4 QCL’s coral licences, September 1966

Box 3.1 Ellison Reef

Figure 3.5 QCL’s coral licences in the Wellington Point-Cleveland Point area, June 1974

Figure 3.6 Mud Island in 1972

Figure 3.7 The Darra alongside the Coral as the Cementco stands by ready to load, 1969

Chapter 4 St Helena and the Gladstone connection

Box 4.1 The 1974 flood

Figure 4.1 St Helena Island in August 1983

Figure 4.2 Mangroves killed by encroaching coral rubble ridge, Mud Island, August 1983

Figure 4.3 Mangroves in stagnant pond landward of a coral rubble ridge, Mud Island August 1983

Figure 4.4 Sediment plume generated as the Coral loaded a carrier at St Helena, August 1983

Figure 4.5 Favia speciosa colony off the northwestern tip of Green Island, September 1983

Chapter 5 Renegotiation

Figure 5.1 St Helena Island in December 1987

Figure 5.2 Mud Island in 1991

Figure 5.3 Areas reserved for coral extraction in the 1989 Moreton Bay Strategic Plan

Figure 5.4 The Amity loading coral onto the John Oxley, 1990

Chapter 6 Green Island

Figure 6.1 Green Island in 1994

Figure 6.2 Connell Wagner’s Green Island dredging plan, August 1993

Box 6.1 Quandamooka

Box 6.2 The classification of Mud and St Helena islands

Chapter 7 Exit

Figure 7.1 Barry Mclntosh of Sunfish protesting dredging at St Helena Island, 24 March 1996

Figure 7.2 QCL’s limestone supply line from late 1997

Notes on figures

Note of thanks

About the author

In memory of
Enid Wylie, student of the natural world
Mary Patchett, champion of Moreton Bay

Moreton Bay, the setting of much of the story that follows, is formed on its eastern side by North Stradbroke and Moreton islands, the second and third largest sand islands in the world respectively. The bay opens to the ocean at five places. The two largest openings are North Passage, location of the main shipping channel since the mid-1800s, and the shallower, more treacherous South Passage. There are three smaller openings beyond the area covered by the map. The shoreline shown here is as it was in the 1930s.

Technical notes

The story of coral dredging straddles the transition Australia made from imperial to metric measurements and from the pound to the dollar. I have generally referred to the measurements and currency that were in use at the time I am writing about but have converted imperial measurements into their metric equivalents and pounds into dollars when tracing changes between times that straddle the transition. The imperial measurements that I refer to most frequently are the (statute) mile, equivalent to 1.61 kilometres; the (long) ton, equivalent to 1.02 tonnes; and the cubic yard, equivalent to 0.765 cubic metres. At the time of the currency changeover in February 1966 the pound was converted to the dollar at the rate of $2 per Australian pound.

Only a few of the maps in the book have a scale. Instead I have generally relied on indicators of latitude to guide the reader in judging distances. One degree of latitude equals 60 nautical miles or 111 kilometres, and one minute of latitude equals one nautical mile or 1.852 kilometres.

Bibliographic notes

The endnotes need to be used in conjunction with “Abbreviations and notations on sources”.

Nearly all the books, journals, brochures, government publications, consultancy reports, and company records I cite are in the State Library of Queensland (SLQ). Most of these are held by the John Oxley Library (JOL), the SLQ’s collection of Queensland materials. I have indicated where those few items I cite that are not in the SLQ may be found.

Except where otherwise noted, the source of all the pre-1954 newspaper reports I cite is Trove, the National Library of Australia’s digitized collection of Australian newspapers, gazettes, and much more (, while the source of all the post-1954 newspaper reports is either Trove or the SLQ’s microfilm collection.

Abbreviations and notations on sources

Australian Broadcasting Commission.
Australian Littoral Society.
Australian Marine Conservation Society.
Associated Portland Cement Manufacturers.
Brisbane City Council.
Bayside Environmental Network.
Community Advisory Group.
Compagnie Générale de Géophysique.
Central Queensland Cement.
Decision No. (as in “Decision No. 37629, 10 May 1982”)
Decisions made by the Queensland cabinet, identified by number and date. The “minutes” recording these decisions are held by the QSA. Cabinet minutes released since 1985 are available at Minutes and other cabinet documents created before July 2009 are embargoed for 30 years.
Department of Environment and Heritage.
Department of Environment.
Department of Primary Industries.
Environmental Defenders Office.
Great Barrier Reef Committee.
Green Marine International.
Hegerl Collection
Materials collected by Eddie Hegerl during his decades with the QLS, ALS, and AMCS, now held at his home in Redland City. I have made use of three boxes, all related to QCL’s activities in Moreton Bay: Green Island (GI), QCL Moreton Bay Coral Mining (QCL), and Community Advisory Group (CAG).
ITM (as in “ITM315185”)
Identification number assigned to an item such as a file, chart, or photograph in the QSA. Details about the item can be found by entering the number at
John Oxley Library (SLQ).
LeProvost Dames & Moore.
Lucke Collection
Scans of documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act 1992 by Alec Lucke on behalf of the East End Mine Action Group and used when writing Road to Exploitation: Political Capture by Mining in Queensland (Bingara, NSW: Alec Lucke, 2013).
Moreton Bay Marine Association.
Moreton Bay Protection Society.
Moreton Bay Trailer Boat Club.
North Australian Cement Limited.
Queensland Conservation Council.
Queensland Commercial Fishermen’s Organisation.
Queensland Cement and Lime Company Limited (to 1988)/Queensland Cement Limited (1988-2003).
QCL Board
Minutes of meetings of the directors of QCL, 1947-1961 (in Box 11630 O/S, QCL Records) and 1961-1971 (in Box 11631 O/S, QCL Records).
QCL Records
R 1443 Queensland Cement Limited Records 1930-1996, JOL.
Queensland Legislative Assembly. The QLA sources I cite are available at
Queensland Littoral Society.
Queensland State Archives.
Queensland Wader Study Group.
State Government Insurance Office.
State Library of Queensland.
University of Queensland Archives, Fryer Library.
Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland.

The questions

In Brisbane and other parts of Southeast Queensland concrete has long been a vitally important building material. It forms the columns that hold up mighty bridges, the walls of great dams, the structure and exterior of office buildings, road beds, sidewalks, the foundations of suburban houses, the shells of swimming pools, and even backyard bird baths. In many ways there is nothing particularly noteworthy about this phenomenon, for over the course of the past two centuries concrete has become the single most widely used building material in the world. But in one respect Southeast Queensland certainly is unusual. Until recently most of the concrete used for construction in and around Brisbane was made using cement that had been manufactured not, as most cement is, from limestone dug out of a quarry but from coral wrenched from the seabed. Between the 1930s and the 1990s the great bulk of the cement used in Southeast Queensland was manufactured from coral dredged from Moreton Bay, the stunningly beautiful body of water lying just 15 kilometres east of the centre of Brisbane. So great was the reliance on coral that by the 1990s one report was moved to observe that “The majority of the south-east Queensland built environment as we see it today is constructed with…cement produced from coral limestone”.[1] As the region grew during the middle and latter part of the twentieth century—as more buildings, dams, and bridges were erected—so too did the extraction of coral until, at its peak, the company that dredged the coral from Moreton Bay and transformed it into cement, the Queensland Cement and Lime Company, extracted over a million tons of coral from the bay every year. Then in 1997, far earlier than it had planned, the company ceased dredging operations altogether. By the time its dredge fell silent the company, usually referred to simply as QCL, had already extracted roughly 39 million tonnes of coral from the bay.[2] If all this coral could be piled neatly on top of the playing surface of the main football stadium in Brisbane, it would form a column over 6 kilometres high, 23 times the height of the Tower of Power at 1 William Street.[3]

Viewed from our perspective well into the twenty-first century we cannot help but be astonished by the apparently wanton exploitation of the marine environment that took place in Moreton Bay for more than sixty years. But how was it seen in the 1930s? How did QCL come to rely on coral as its source of limestone in the first place? How did the company manage to bring about such an extraordinary expansion of dredging during the middle decades of the twentieth century? And what finally brought coral dredging to an end in 1997? These are the questions I set out to answer.


[1] Connell Wagner, Coral dredging from Green Island Moreton Bay: Impact Assessment Study…for Queensland Cement Limited (Brisbane: Connell Wagner, 1994), Main Report, p. 3.

[2] Connell Wagner Coral Dredging from Green Island, Main Report, pp. 99-100, estimates that by 1994 QCL had dredged between 36 and 41 million tonnes of coral. I have taken the lower figure. I estimate that QCL dredged at least a further 3 million tonnes of coral in the final four years of the Darra plant’s operation, giving a total of 39 million tonnes.

[3] I have taken the volume of 1 tonne of coral to be 1.046 cubic metres. The playing surface of a rugby league field (not including the in-goal areas) is 100 by 68 metres. Including the antenna on top the Tower of Power is 260 metres tall.

The coral solution

Up until the Great War Queensland relied entirely on imports to meet the growing demand for cement. Most of those imports came either directly or indirectly from England and Germany. Because of the cost of transporting a heavy, bulky, and relatively low-value product such as cement the price of that cement to consumers in Queensland tended to be very high. The politically and commercially well-connected men who founded the Queensland Cement and Lime Company in June 1914 believed that they could make a success of the business by supplying cement to Queensland at a much lower price. But their mission was grander than profits alone. Aside from reducing the cost of cement in Queensland QCL would help to build the state by obtaining the raw materials it needed in Queensland, providing employment to Queenslanders, and keeping profits in Queensland. Right from its conception QCL went out of its way to highlight its standing as a Queensland company.

The company got off to a wobbly start. When war broke out in August it had to abandon its plan to obtain the plant from Germany and instead obtained it (at a much higher price and with long delays) from England. The German works manager was interned (as was a director) and for some time the company struggled to find “experts who understood the cement industry thoroughly”.[1] The company also had to give its workers a pay rise. And when QCL finally produced some cement in 1917 there were some questions about its quality. But the company persevered. In 1918 the company employed a chemist, G.J. Twine, and at some point it obtained the services of a highly qualified consultant engineer who had many years of experience in the industry both in New South Wales and New Zealand. The board members eased pressure on the company by taking no remuneration for their work, while shareholders patiently endured several dividend-free years. By the end of the financial year 1920-21, during which QCL sold 24,000 tons of cement, the company was finally making a small profit. The board had taken the bold step of ordering a second kiln,[2] giving the plant the capacity to produce 60,000 tons a year (30,000 tons per unit). Initially, the demand for cement did not justify this purchase and the plant had to close down for a short time.[3] During the boom of the mid 1920s, however, both kilns (and the raw mills, cement mills, and other machinery associated with them) were in full production.[4] QCL dominated the Queensland market (its prize projects being to supply the cement needed to construct the new Brisbane city hall and the Grey Street Bridge[5]), shareholders were receiving good dividends, the company had expanded its limestone quarry’s operations, and the company had every expectation of even better times to come. By this time the general manager was G.J. Twine, whose work first as a chemist and then as the works manager had ensured that the company’s product was of the highest standard.
But the company faced a serious problem. Perhaps the most consequential decision any fledgling cement company must make is where to locate the factory. That is mainly because of the great costs associated with transporting both raw materials to the factory and the finished product to customers. Ideally, the factory should be near both the sources of its raw materials and its main market. Inevitably, however, compromises have to be made. As it happened, the founders of QCL had to make a highly consequential compromise when they decided to locate their factory at Darra.
In several respects Darra was ideal.[6] It was located about 10 miles from the centre of Brisbane on the railway line to Ipswich (see Figure 1.1). It was therefore close to its main market in Brisbane and surrounding areas, and the railway gave the company the means to bring in raw materials and deliver cement to its customers. Darra had a further advantage. Like other cement factories of the time the Darra plant generated large amounts of cement dust, and like cement workers elsewhere QCL’s workforce of about 150 men complained that the dust was damaging their health.[7] Unlike some other cement companies, however, QCL did not have to deal with complaints from nearby residents,[8] since hardly anyone lived in the vicinity of its factory.

Darra was also well positioned as far as several important raw materials were concerned. (For the rudiments of how QCL made cement see Box 1.1.) There was a large deposit of clay right on the site, and some reports refer to the presence of shale as well. QCL had easy access to a large supply of water. It obtained water both from a storage pond that the company maintained and from the metropolitan water board. And there was an abundance of high quality coal nearby in Ipswich. In its early years QCL needed coal not only to fire its kilns but also to fuel its electricity generators, which supplied the power needed to operate the rotary kilns and other heavy machinery.[9] As for gypsum, QCL had to import it from South Australia, but except for the company’s aversion to spending money outside Queensland this was not much of a problem since so little of it was needed.

Figure 1.1
QCL’s limestone supply line in 1931
Box 1.1
How QCL made cement
(with key terms in bold and the main inputs underlined)QCL’s factory at Darra produced Portland cement.[10] Portland cement had been developed in England and continental Europe in the mid 1800s. Initially it was used mainly for ornamentation and facades but by the late 1800s it was also used for load-bearing structures. By the time QCL was formed it was by far the most common type of cement.In very simple terms, cement is the product of a series of chemical reactions involving calcium carbonate (CaCO3), silica, alumina, and iron oxide. Like all other Portland cement manufacturers QCL used hard rock limestone as its source of calcium carbonate. It used clay or shale (both are mentioned in reports from the time) as its source of silica, alumina, and iron oxide. Making, say, 100 tons of cement (to use measurements from the time) required about 140 tons of limestone and 20 tons of shale or clay. Sometimes it was necessary to add small amounts of sand and ironstone depending on the precise composition of the limestone and shale or clay. Most of these raw materials had to undergo some form of preparation before they could be transformed into cement. In particular, limestone and shale had to be crushed into small pieces and clay had to be washed.Once the raw materials had been prepared they were fed into one end of the raw mill, a large, horizontal cylinder containing many steel balls. The Darra plant used the wet process of cement making. That meant that water was pumped into the raw mill along with the raw materials. As the raw mill rotated the balls bounced around pulverizing the raw materials in the water. The slurry created by this process was then (sometimes after making some adjustments to its precise composition) pumped into the rotary kiln. The rotary kiln was the heart of the production process. A rotary kiln consisted of a long, nearly horizontal steel cylinder lined with refractory bricks able to withstand intense heat. Each of QCL’s two kilns was 150 feet long and 8 feet in diameter. Because the kiln was slightly inclined the contents of the kiln moved slowly from the upper end to the lower end as it rotated. The slurry was fed into the upper end of the kiln as a flame of pulverized coal jetted in from the lower end. The water evaporated instantly and the vapour flowed up a chimney. Then, as the now-dry materials moved slightly closer to the flame, the calcium carbonate decomposed into lime (calcium oxide, CaO) and carbon dioxide (CO2), which also escaped up the chimney. Finally, in the lower section of the kiln where the heat was most intense (3000° F), the lime and other compounds reacted with one another to form a white hot mass of calcium silicates and other complex compounds. As this newly formed material fell out the lower end of the kiln and began to cool it formed grey gravel-sized nodules. This product of the kiln was called clinker. In the final stage of production the clinker was mixed with a small amount of gypsum (calcium sulfate dihydrate, added to control the rate at which concrete set) and fed into the cement mill. Operating much like the raw mill, the cement mill ground the mixture of clinker and gypsum into an extremely fine powder. That powder was Portland cement.QCL sent its cement to its customers in jute bags. They then mixed the cement with water and an aggregate such as sand or gravel to make concrete. Concrete is the product of a series of chemical reactions between cement and water. The concrete hardens as a result of these reactions, not because the water evaporates. Obtaining strong, durable concrete depends on mixing cement, water, and aggregate in the correct proportions. The practice of using steel rods or mesh to reinforce concrete was already in place by the time QCL began production.The term Portland cement was used to market a number of cement products in the early 1800s. It conjured up images of the famed limestone building stone quarried on the Isle of Portland in Dorset. A circular written in the 1840s by the inventor of what we now call Portland cement proclaimed of his product that “its colour so closely resembles that of the stone from which it derived its name as scarcely to be distinguished from it”.[11]

The problem was the limestone. Limestone made up about 85 percent (by weight) of all the raw materials that the plant transformed into cement. By its very nature it is heavy and bulky and therefore expensive to transport. That is why cement factories are usually located close to the limestone deposits on which they depend. The founders of QCL were of course aware of this fundamental aspect of cement making. There were limestone outcrops at Ipswich. Indeed, the first British settlers had quarried limestone there (and called their settlement Limestone Hills). But the Ipswich deposits were far too small for QCL’s plans. The nearest large deposit of high quality limestone that QCL’s founders could find was at Gore, where they estimated there was enough limestone to keep the plant at Darra going for “a couple of hundred years”.[12] They immediately set about installing the machinery they needed to quarry and crush the rock. The Gore deposit was conveniently located near a railway line (see Figure 1.1). But it was a very long way from Darra. Gore was 103 miles southwest of Darra, but the freight train from Gore had to trundle over 198 miles of track to reach Darra. That was because it had to travel first eastward to Warwick and then north to Toowoomba before finally heading down the Great Escarpment and on to Darra. At the time QCL’s founders were working out where best to locate the plant they had high hopes that the government would construct a link between Mt Edwards and Maryvale, thus completing what was called the Via Recta, the Straight Line, from Brisbane to the south.[13] That would have cut about 70 miles off the trip from Gore to Darra. Because of the challenges of constructing a railway up the escarpment and, more importantly it seems, the opposition of Toowoomba politicians who wanted to protect their city’s key position in the railway network, however, there was little chance in the late 1920s of the Via Recta ever being completed.

Distance alone was not necessarily a big obstacle. What really hurt QCL was the high freight rates charged by the Queensland government, which depended on its railways as its biggest source of revenue. At full production (60,000 tons of cement a year) the company generated an income of £300,000 a year. Its largest single expense was the £50,000 to £70,000 it had to pay the Railway Department for carrying limestone from Gore to Darra.[14] The company was desperate to obtain limestone more cheaply.

There were only two ways this could happen: either the government could slash freight rates or QCL could find a source of limestone that was very much closer to Darra. Neither looked promising but Twine saw an opportunity to pursue both when the Queensland government established a royal commission on the mining industry in March 1929. Appearing before the commission on 11 April Twine told the commissioners that “Our raw materials, limestone, are transported a considerable distance” and observed that the cost of transporting limestone over that distance was “considerably greater” in Queensland than in New South Wales.[15] In response to a question from one of the commissioners, Henry Richards, professor of geology and mineralogy at the University of Queensland, he then suggested that the state geological department undertake a “comprehensive survey” of “all the minerals and material used in the manufacture of cement”. He then answered a series of follow-up questions from Richards, who wanted to know exactly what Twine was proposing. Yes, Twine replied, the survey should provide a chemical analysis of the deposits it identified to determine whether they would be suitable or not. Richards, as would be expected of a geologist, already knew a great deal about cement making. He knew, for example, that limestone containing a high level of magnesium was useless for making cement, since the magnesium would eventually cause concrete made from the cement to expand. Thus when he asked whether the analysis should include “some estimate of the magnesia,[16] calcium and clay contents” of the limestone Twine confirmed that that was exactly what he meant. By the end of his testimony Twine had laid out the problems QCL faced and what he thought should be done about them.

When the royal commission issued its report in March 1930 it recommended that “the lowest possible freight be charged…on all ore forwarded for treatment to any works within the State”. It did not recommend a survey of the sort Twine wanted but it did make a number of recommendations designed to speed up geological survey work in the state.[17] Whatever benefits these recommendations might bring QCL in the long term, however, the royal commission’s most immediate benefit was simply that it had alerted the commissioners to the company’s limestone problem. As it happened, the solution came from one of those commissioners, Henry Richards.


A man of great energy and drive, Richards had many connections not only in academe but also in government and business. Together with the governor of Queensland he had founded the Great Barrier Reef Committee (GBRC) in 1922 and became its president in 1925. He had been one of the driving forces behind the Cambridge expedition led by Maurice Yonge that at the time of the royal commission had spent nearly a year doing intensive research into the biology and ecology of coral on the Low Isles north of Cairns. He was the co-author of a report on Australia’s art galleries and museums and at one point was the chairman of the trustees of the Queensland Art Gallery. He was a powerhouse.[18]

Though he had many interests, Richards’s greatest passion was to prove that Charles Darwin’s theory about the formation of coral reefs was correct.[19] Underlying this theory was the fundamental observation that for some reason the coral species that build coral reefs—those species forming hard calcium carbonate skeletons—can thrive sufficiently to build those reefs only when they live fairly near the surface of the sea. This observation posed no problem when it came to explaining the formation of fringing reefs, namely, reefs around the margins of some sort of land mass such as an island, since the corals that formed them first attached themselves to some firm foundation (“substrate”, scientists would say now) adjacent to the land mass where the water was shallow. But it was far more difficult to explain the formation of atolls (huge rings of coral enclosing lagoons) and barrier reefs (reefs separated from a land mass by a channel), since soundings taken along the outer edges of these reefs suggested that they were extremely thick. The reef-building corals that formed those reefs could not possibly have attached themselves to some foundation deep in the ocean and then begun growing upwards, since those species could not thrive at such depths. (For more on this point see Box 1.2.) How then did those reefs form? The answer, Darwin argued, was subsidence of the foundation to which the corals had first attached themselves. At some point in the distant past that foundation had been near the surface of the ocean where corals could thrive. As the foundation gradually subsided the corals had grown upwards at about the same rate as the foundation subsided. Over time the hard remains of dead corals accumulated and consolidated to form a limestone reef and gradually, as the live corals nearest the surface grew upwards, that reef became thicker and thicker. Only subsidence, Darwin concluded, could explain the apparently great thickness of the coral forming atolls and barrier reefs.


Box 1.2
Why reef-building corals cannot thrive at great depths

Corals belong to the same phylum, Cnidaria, as jellyfish. Like a jellyfish a coral polyp consists of a sack with a mouth at the centre surrounded by stinging tentacles. Stony or hard corals of the order Scleractinia develop the calcium carbonate exoskeletons that are the building blocks for coral reef formation. Reef-building corals thrive in clear warm (but not hot) shallow oceanic waters. The polyps use their tentacles to capture zooplankton but their main source of energy, as scientists came to understand long after Darwin’s death, lies in the symbiotic relationship they have with microscopic single-celled algae known as zooxanthellae living within their tissues. The polyps, as animals, release carbon dioxide as a waste product, and the zooxanthellae, as photosynthesizing plants, in turn convert the carbon dioxide into oxygen and carbohydrates, giving the polyps the capacity to lay down their calcium carbonate skeletons, form huge colonies, and ultimately construct coral reefs. In effect, the symbiotic relationship the polyps have with zooxanthellae gives them the power of plants to harness the energy of the sun.[20] But they lose that power if they do not receive sufficient sunlight. This is why reef-building corals cannot thrive at depths where little light penetrates. It is also a reason they can be stressed in turbid conditions, as the particles suspended in the water reduce the light.

By the early 1920s, when Richards first published papers on the Great Barrier Reef, the world of coral reef scientists was sharply divided between those who embraced some version of Darwin’s theory and those who proposed alternative theories in which subsidence played little or no part. The most recent of these alternatives argued that the fundamental mechanism was a rise in sea levels caused by the melting of the polar ice caps during warming phases in oscillations in global temperatures: the corals had attached themselves to some rock foundation in relatively shallow water and grown upwards keeping pace with the rising seas. At the heart of this debate was the question of the thickness of atolls and barrier reefs, for the supporters of Darwin’s theory were certain the reefs were extremely thick, while advocates of alternative theories believed that they were fairly thin. In 1923 Richards came down firmly on the side of the Darwinians when he concluded that, based on the evidence available to him, “one would not be surprised to find that the thickness of the [Great Barrier] reef needed measurement in thousands rather than hundreds of feet”.[21]

As Darwin himself had written to his most bitter critic, the only way to resolve the debate was to bore into a coral reef.[22] That would reveal just how thick the reef was and exactly what it was made up of. If the bore were to pass a great distance downthrough consolidated coral (limestone) before reaching a foundation of, say, volcanic rock, then the corals must have grown upwards as the foundation subsided. If, however, it turned out that the reef formed but a thin veneer over its foundation then there could have been little if any subsidence. As a strong advocate of Darwin’s theory Henry Richards persuaded the GBRC to mount a boring expedition to Michaelmas Cay (26 miles northeast of Cairns) in 1926. The results were not at all what he expected. The bore went down 600 feet without reaching a solid foundation, and most of the matter through which the bore passed consisted of “loosely coherent” coralline material and quartz sand. “No one could…pretend”, Richards conceded, “that the coralline material had been formed in situ as far as a growth position is concerned for most of the material encountered. It would appear that the ‘factory’ was somewhere else….” He insisted that the bore had at least demonstrated that there had been subsidence of more than 600 feet.[23] But it had not provided the indisputable confirmation of Darwin’s theory that he had hoped for.

At a meeting of the GBRC in March 1931 Richards raised the possibility of undertaking boring experiments at Masthead Island (73 miles northeast of Gladstone)[24] using a hand-bore plant that he had borrowed from the Victorian Mines Department, but he soon abandoned this idea. The committee had little money (due in no small part to the 1926 expedition), and the severe economic depression then gripping Australia made it extremely unlikely it could raise the funds needed for such a bore. Richards and his fellow committee members then came up with a much more modest project. They would visit some islands in Moreton Bay where they knew there was coral, stopping here and there to try out the hand-boring plant that Richards had wanted to use at Masthead Island. This was research on the cheap. The bay was just a short drive from Brisbane, and two committee members (one of whom was the commodore of the Royal Queensland Yacht Club) volunteered the use of their vessels. The band of researchers who eventually spent a weekend touring the bay in May was made up of Richards, three of his colleagues at the University of Queensland (two geologists and a physicist),[25] an eminent ophthalmologist who had once worked as a geologist (E.O. Marks, the committee’s secretary), and the director of the Queensland Museum, H.A. Longman, an expert on corals, as well as the owners of the two vessels.[26]
Richards and his colleagues had no reason to think that the coral in Moreton Bay would form reefs as thick as they supposed atolls and barrier reefs to be. Because the bay was very shallow (as explained in Box 1.3) there could be no wall of coral plunging to great depths. In any case, the wonder was that there was as much coral as there seemed to be, for, at 27° South, the water temperature in the bay was much lower in the winter than the water temperature in the tropical waters where reef-building coral thrived.[27] “It is true that we find coral colonies as far south as Moreton Bay”, one of the geologists on board had observed, “but their position seems precarious.”[28] The eight weekend expeditioners therefore had few expectations about what they would encounter. The committee’s minutes make it clear that their “immediate object” was simply to test the boring plant.[29]


Box 1.3
A shallow bay

A conspicuous feature of Moreton Bay was its shallowness. A hydrographic chart from 1913 shows that the deepest part of the bay, off the northwest shore of Moreton Island, was 19 to 25 fathoms (34.7 to 45.7 metres) deep but that much of the bay was less than 10 fathoms (18.3 metres) deep. The deepest spot between Mud Island and St Helena islands was just 4¾ fathoms (8.7 metres), while the deepest spot between St Helena and Green islands was 4½ fathoms (8.2 metres).[30] It was well understood that the bay had once been dry land. “Time was”, Henry Richards explained, “when the coastline was to the eastward of the present one, even beyond Cape Moreton”.[31] Scientists today explain how, in its present manifestation, the bay formed as the result of rising sea levels after the most recent of the numerous ice ages and associated sea level oscillations that have occurred in the past 2 million years: the sea level rose by as much as 150 metres until it peaked around 6,500 years ago and then fell by about 1.0 to 1.5 metres to its present level.[32] In keeping with the importance he placed on subsidence, Richards argued that the bay had formed as the land subsided and then become slightly shallower after it rose again.[33]
In the early twentieth century the bay was becoming even shallower as a result of erosion in the catchment of the Brisbane River (and, to a much smaller degree, the catchments of other waterways emptying into the bay). To some extent this was a natural process that had been underway for millennia. But the discharge of sediment into the bay had accelerated markedly in the late 1800s as European settlers cleared land for agriculture and removed stabilizing vegetation from the banks of the river and the creeks leading into it and the government deepened the river to improve navigation. A series of great floods around the turn of the century deposited huge quantities of sediment into the bay. “Those who remembered Wynnum 35 years ago”, W.M. L’Estrange, one of Richards’s fellow committee members and the owner of one of the vessels used for the tour of Moreton Bay, observed in 1931, “knew that at that time boats could be anchored off the jetty and taken away at low tide but to-day it was possible to walk dry shod round the jetty at low tide.”[34] As L’Estrange noted, the Harbours and Rivers Department was contributing to the shallowing of the bay by using it as a dumping ground for the sand and mud it was constantly dredging from the Brisbane River. At this time the shallowing was greatest in areas near the mouth of the river.

The two vessels visited Peel, Goat, Bird, and Mud islands. Peel Island, the site of a lazaret, was “surrounded by coral banks”.[35] Bird and Goat islands were two islets just south of the passageway between Peel and North Stradbroke islands. And Mud Island, near the centre of the bay, was the largest and northernmost of a chain of islands—King, St Helena, Green, and Mud—that stretched north from Wellington Point. In 1931 the chief engineer in the Department of Harbours and Marine neatly described Mud Island as “a vegetated reef with a very small patch above high water, in the centre of a large mangrove area which in turn is surrounded by a reef drying at low water”.[36] Richards reported to the committee on 14 July that the boring plant “was very efficient in making a bore, but was very unsatisfactory in bringing up samples”.[37] Nevertheless the expeditioners found much at Mud Island in particular that interested them. There, Richards told the committee, “there was a great deal more coralline material than at Peel Island, and members of the Committee were much impressed with its extent and the flourishing growth of coral on the southern bank of the island”. The reference to “its extent” would suggest that despite its failure to bring up samples the bore had given them some idea about the depth of the “coralline material”. Richards wanted to do more bores but he no longer saw boring in Moreton Bay merely as a way to test the plant. As Dorothy Hill, one of his former students, later explained, he believed that studies of the reefs of Moreton Bay “could throw light on the origin of reefs in general”.[38] Such research, Richards argued, would enable the committee to continue pursuing its goals even during this “period of financial stress”. One of the two vessel owners, a prominent engineer, volunteered the assistance of his staff in manufacturing whatever boring apparatus might be needed.[39] Another result of the weekend expedition was that Longman had collected a large number of coral specimens and placed some of them on display at the Queensland Museum.[40]

Operating as he did in many realms at the same time, Richards immediately saw what the committee’s discovery at Mud Island might mean for Queensland Cement and Lime. Here not far from the mouth of the Brisbane River was what might prove to be a very large deposit of calcium carbonate, not in the form of rock limestone but of coral. In the mid 1800s Moreton Bay’s coral had been “systematically collected, in barge-loads, for the purpose of making lime”.[41] Now, provided it met a certain standard and was present in sufficient quantities, it could be used to make cement. After all, the limestone quarried from Gore and elsewhere was sedimentary rock composed mainly of the fossilized remains of calcium-carbonate-producing marine organisms such as coral that lived millions of years ago.

Soon after the weekend expedition, almost certainly well before the committee met on 14 July, Richards informed QCL of the discovery. This news came at a time when the downturn in trade had forced the company to cut production by more than half of its 1928 level.[42] It had found some ways of cutting costs but it was more desperate than ever to find a cheaper source of limestone. Seeing the potential of the discovery to solve its limestone problem, QCL sprang into action. The company’s analysis book shows that QCL’s laboratory tested samples of coral from Cleveland Point on 22 and 24 July. The calcium carbonate content of all of these samples was between 90 and 93 percent. Then, after an analysis of marine mud from the same spot, QCL turned its attention to Mud Island. On 31 July the laboratory tested samples of coral, shells, and calcareous sand from the edge of the mangroves and from the high-water mark (thus close to the small area of land above high water in the middle of the island). All had a calcium carbonate content of between 92 and 95 percent.[43] Then, on 1 August, QCL began systematic testing of samples collected by bores, first at a spot at the water’s edge at half tide and then at a spot 200 yards inland from there. These all had calcium carbonate contents of between 83 and 91 percent. Intensive testing continued over the next few days with similar results. At some point in 1931 M.R. Hornibrook and Co., an up-and-coming engineering and construction firm, became involved in the boring.[44] It is likely Hornibrook and Co. was already involved in July and early August.

As for Richards, he kept a close eye on the results of the testing and in fact wrote to QCL about the deposits on 4 August.[45] QCL appears to have been thrilled by his assessment, for just three days later, on 7 August, G.J. Twine wrote to the state treasurer applying for a permit “to test and prospect the foreshores of Mud Island…, and that part of the bed which is adjacent thereto, for the purpose of determining by dredging or otherwise the existence” there “of calcareous deposits suitable for the purpose of this Company”. Because of the money QCL would have to spend on this work Twine wanted the treasurer’s assurance that if the testing proved to be a success the company would be given the exclusive licence to extract coral from the island.[46] He did not mention that QCL had already been taking samples for a few weeks.

Soon it became clear that what QCL wanted was a licence both to undertake testing and, if the test results merited it, to dredge coral. Licences to collect “coral or shell-grit” were granted in accordance with regulations made under the Fish and Oyster Act 1914. The government had issued many such licences to small-scale entrepreneurs in North Queensland who produced lime that sugar cane farmers used to make their soil less acidic. The regulations allowed the government to issue a licence for as long as fourteen years but the under secretary, Treasury, informed Twine that it would give QCL “favourable consideration” to an application for any period up to five years. He asked Twine to define the area to be covered by the licence, suggesting “it could be described as the whole or half of the reef surrounding Mud Island, exposed at low water and extending back from low water to the mangroves”.[47]

The government’s offer fell well short of what Twine wanted. As Twine explained to the under secretary when he formally applied for a licence at the end of August,[48] making the transition to coral would require “a considerable expenditure on plant of a permanent nature, for recovering and transporting the coral and shell grit on a large scale”. Five years was far too short a period to justify such an investment. QCL would need at least the fourteen years allowed by the regulations. He also expressed his alarm at a provision in the regulations allowing the government to terminate the licence with six months’ notice. He wanted assurance that the government would not suddenly terminate QCL’s licence. In addition, Twine was dissatisfied with the under secretary’s suggestion regarding the area to be covered by the licence. Figure 1.2 is a redrawing of the blueprint that Twine submitted with the application. It shows that QCL wanted the area to extend not only all the way around the island but also from the edge of the mangroves all the way out to the 10-foot contour (the line along the seabed where the water was 10 feet deep at low tide) rather than only as far as the low-water line. As QCL indicated on the blueprint, the total area amounted to about 2.9 square nautical miles (3.8 square miles, 9.85 square kilometres). Finally, Twine wanted the government’s assurance that it would not grant anyone mineral rights under the Mining Acts to the calcareous material in this area. QCL wanted to prevent any possibility of a competitor operating around Mud Island.
The government gave QCL everything it wanted. It extended the period to fourteen years, assured the company that it was extremely unlikely to terminate its licence, gave the company the area it asked for, and informed it that mineral rights could not be granted to any part of Mud Island except for the tiny area in the middle of the island that was above high water. And, considering that initially QCL would mainly be undertaking testing rather than dredging, the government charged the company the meagre sum of £112 a year for the licence. QCL received its licence in January 1932. The only condition placed on QCL’s operations at Mud Island was that it could not “cut or damage any of the mangroves growing on the island”.

Figure 1.2 Blueprint of Mud Island submitted with QCL’s application, August 1931

The company immediately dredged 170 tons of coralline material from around Mud Island[49] and turned it (along with the appropriate amount of clay or shale) into 100 tons of cement.[50] The quality was excellent. In the meantime boring had continued to produce encouraging results. As always, Richards had kept an eye on developments, and he undertook laboratory analysis of some of the samples himself. On 19 February Richards submitted a report about the calcareous deposits around Mud Island to QCL.[51] Summarizing his view, he declared that:

The whole deposit is uniform in character, it is 20ft. or more in thickness over the area between high and low water marks, its physical and chemical conditions are most satisfactory, it occurs around the whole of the island, it is still being formed, and to all intents and purposes must be regarded as virtually inexhaustible.

These final two points were closely connected: the deposit was “virtually inexhaustible” not only because of its magnitude but also because it was still being formed, as he made clear in this rhapsodic description of the island:

Especially on the southern end of the island during calm water conditions there may be seen on the submerged banks some excellent and quite extensive masses of growing coral. Calcareous algae and foraminifera[52] are most abundant everywhere, while bivalve molluscs which secrete calcareous shells flourish on the island banks, and so yield up their quota of calcium carbonate.

Here was a deposit that would go on producing calcium carbonate seemingly forever. In a statement issued a short time later QCL did not go quite this far but estimated that there was “over 50,000,000 tons of easily dredged shell grit and coralline material” within the area covered by the licence and concluded that if the company produced 60,000 tons of cement a year “we have enough for over 600 years”. QCL had struck gold. But so too, the company promised, had its customers, because, thanks to the great savings achieved by using coral rather than rock limestone, it would be able to reduce the price of cement.

In order to fully realize the commercial benefits of the Mud Island deposit QCL needed to transport the coral to the Darra plant as cheaply as possible. Rather than unloading coral dredged from around Mud Island at some point near the mouth of the river and then carrying it by rail or truck to Darra, the company concluded that “the most economical method of conveyance to the works” was to transport the coral nearly the whole distance by water.[53] This was possible because by sheer good fortune—it had not been part of its original calculations—QCL’s plant was less than 2 miles from the Brisbane River.[54] (See Figure 1.3.) By February 1932 at the latest the company had decided that it would land the coral in Oxley at a point just downriver from Seventeen Mile Rocks, about 35 miles from Mud Island by water. By the following month QCL had also worked out how it would convey the coral from the river to the factory: once the coral had been crushed and ground (and presumably cleansed of salt) at Oxley it would be “pumped in a slurry to the works at Darra”. QCL then applied to the Brisbane City Council (BCC) for approval of its plans.[55]

Figure 1.3 QCL’s plans in early 1932

Sometime while making these plans Twine began to worry about the possibility that the government would not renew QCL’s licence when it expired in 1945. There was nothing in the Fish and Oyster Act preventing the government from giving the licence to a competitor at that time. From QCL’s point of view there was no point in making such a great investment in the necessary dredging equipment, transport vessels, and treatment facilities for a period of just fourteen years. Twine therefore wrote to the government in April asking for an assurance that it would renew QCL’s licence in 1945 provided that the company abided by all the conditions placed on it or, if that was not possible, give QCL an assurance that, as the current holder of the licence, it would be given priority when the licence came up for renewal.[56] The government’s reply pointed out that neither was allowed under the act but did promise to consider QCL’s request when it came time to amend the act.[57]

By the middle of 1932 QCL had made about 300 tons of cement using coral. Some of that cement was subjected to tests that “proved that the product is very high grade and equal in quality to that of the present product”.[58] The remaining cement was used by M.R. Hornibrook to construct the southern portal of a 1.7 mile long viaduct between Sandgate and Redcliffe—the Hornibrook Highway—and an obelisk at Redcliffe in honour of two British explorers of Moreton Bay.[59] These were the first structures to be made using cement made from coral.

By the time of its annual general meeting in September QCL was becoming increasingly confident about its prospects. The Labor government of William Forgan Smith elected in June had signalled its intention to ease unemployment by undertaking large construction projects. And QCL’s licence at Mud Island would give it exclusive access to “inexhaustible supplies of high grade material” and allow it to reduce its costs greatly.[60] In October, in this newly confident mood, the company took the first step towards building the infrastructure needed to extract coral by buying a lighthouse tender, the Kyogle, which it planned to convert into a dredge and coral carrier. It now became all the more important to QCL to secure its long-term position at Mud Island. The company received some assurance in this respect in December when the state parliament amended the Fish and Oyster Act. The amendment did not give QCL the automatic renewal Twine wanted but did declare that a licence holder “shall have priority of the right to the renewal of his license, on expiry, upon such terms…as the Governor in Council shall approve”.[61] QCL had, at least partially, dealt with a possible threat to its grand scheme.

If QCL had any lingering doubts about this scheme they were banished in December by a further report from Henry Richards about the calcareous deposits at Mud Island.[62] This was a more detailed version of the report he had written in February. He noted the “highly satisfactory” level of calcium carbonate in the deposits, as high as 88 percent in the top 6 feet. As he had earlier in the year, Richards emphasized the important contribution calcareous algae, foraminifera, and shellfish made to building up the deposit. One concern was that the calcareous algae found in the deposits was a type (Lithothamnion) that according to the existing literature produced a high percentage of magnesium carbonate, but Richards reported the “very pleasing” news that extensive analysis had shown that “one need not be concerned with the magnesian content of the deposit”. Richards noted that boring had been confined to the area between the mangroves and the low-water mark but observed that the whole island was made up of similar material and in fact the deposits extended far beyond the low-water line. He would not attempt to estimate the total amount of calcareous material at Mud Island but was certain it was “of the order of several hundreds of millions of tons”. And it was “continuously being formed today by natural processes”, though it was hard to estimate at what rate. The results of QCL’s boring program, he concluded, “inspire great confidence”. In view of the vast quantities of calcareous material at Mud Island he proposed that it be called “Coral” Island instead.

Tucked into Richards’s report was the revelation that Mud Island might not be the only treasure trove in Moreton Bay. Since February members of the GBRC had made another visit to Peel Island. They observed that the “coral banks [there were] not as thickly covered as is usual in warmer waters” in the Great Barrier Reef but even so they discovered the area around the island to be “more continuously coralline” than they had expected.[63] Richards immediately saw the commercial possibilities of this discovery. While Mud Island had “the most extensive, thickest, most accessible and best deposits of calcareous materials in Moreton Bay”, he reported, “especially on the western side of Peel Island there exists a deposit of sufficient extent, thickness, and calcareous content to be very worthy of consideration as a raw material for cement and lime manufacture”. That was information QCL could keep in mind for the very distant future.

Thus, a year and a half after Richards had first informed QCL of the possibility of extracting coral at Mud Island, the company could be absolutely certain that it now had access to enough calcium carbonate to keep the Darra plant going seemingly forever. Now came the task of exploiting the riches of Mud Island on an industrial scale.

* * * * *

QCL had already made a start with the purchase of the Kyogle and plans to pump coral in the form of a slurry from the river to Darra. In the middle of 1934 the company reported that it had made “considerable progress” on the Mud Island scheme: the Kyogle’s conversion into a dredge was nearly complete and the company was about to select “the most suitable plant for handling and treating the material”.[64] Sometime during all this planning the idea of a slurry pump fell by the wayside and was replaced by plans to build an aerial ropeway from the river to the plant. The ropeway would convey coral to Darra at the rate of 100 tons an hour. By this stage QCL had bought up all the land between the river and the plant except for four public roads that the ropeway would have to cross. In February 1935 the company applied to the BCC for permission both to cross those roads and to construct a wharf at Oxley.[65]

Over the next few months QCL’s planning accelerated because of the expectation that it would win contracts to supply the huge quantities of cement needed to construct a dam across the Stanley River, a tributary of the Brisbane River, and a bridge across the Brisbane River at Kangaroo Point. The Kangaroo Point bridge (named the Story Bridge when it was opened) would require 55,000 tons of cement for the construction of its concrete piers. That was nearly as much as the plant was capable of producing in a year at full capacity. And right from the time the premier turned the first sod for the project in May 1935 the plan was to make that cement from coral extracted from around Mud Island.[66] Since the Kyogle conversion was still not complete QCL hired a clam-shell bucket dredge, the Crocodile, to begin work at Mud Island.[67] Because the Crocodile had no means of propulsion it had to be assisted by a tugboat, the Fearless. The Fearless towed the Crocodile to Mud Island and left it there to begin dredging. The tug returned the next day to tow the Crocodile and its load of coral up the river to a wharf at South Brisbane, from where trucks carried the coral to Darra (leaving “one big white line” all the way).[68] By July 1936 the Crocodile had extracted about 25,000 tons of coral from around Mud Island.[69] By this time QCL was making plans to reduce the amount of rock limestone that it brought from Gore.[70] At the same time the company was reducing its prices. This was partly in response to accusations that cement manufacturers were making big profits and then, in May 1936, federal legislation completely removing the tariff on British cement from the end of 1936.[71] It became all the more important to realize the cost savings expected from the switch to coral.

By August 1936 QCL had finally worked out how it would convey the coral from the river to the Darra plant. It had abandoned its plan to use a ropeway and would instead employ trucks. In order to make that possible it had begun construction of a short road (made of concrete) from the river to the main road to Darra. It had also ordered electric cranes for unloading coral at the wharf.[72] In October, as construction of the wharf continued, the Kyogle was finally brought into service.

Early in 1937, QCL, now without Twine driving the Mud Island scheme following his death in November,[73] decided that the Kyogle would not be able to supply enough coral to meet the company’s escalating requirements. In March it called for tenders for the “supply and delivery of approx. 100,000 tons of coral per annum to the Company’s works at Darra”.[74] It granted the contract to Brisbane Gravels, which in turn called for tenders for towing coral-laden barges from South Brisbane to the wharf at Oxley.[75] The whole scheme was in place with the commissioning of the wharf in July. By this time QCL’s cement was made entirely from coral, and as a result QCL announced that it would be closing its quarries at Gore.[76] The Railway Department was losing one of its biggest customers.

Just a few weeks before the commissioning of the wharf QCL had made yet another attempt to secure its rights at Mud Island beyond 1945. Just as Twine had, the company’s manager, E.V. Langevad, reminded the government of just how much it was investing in the Mud Island scheme. It was unmoved, pointing out that the 1932 amendment gave QCL priority when the existing licence expired.[77] QCL would have to be satisfied with that.

* * * * *

In 1938, as business picked up, QCL began a £150,000 expansion of the Darra plant by ordering a new (and much larger) rotary kiln, a new raw mill, and other equipment. The plan was to expand the plant’s capacity from 60,000 to 160,000 tons a year. Now that it was “assured of almost inexhaustible supplies of the highest-grade raw material”, the Courier-Mail reported, QCL was “determined to place itself in an unassailable position, from a production standpoint”.[78] (For a view of the plant’s coral stockpile at this time see Figure 1.4.) By the time kiln no. 3 was commissioned in May 1940 Australia was in the midst of another world war. “Ordinary government works” such as bridges, dams, roads, and sewage systems declined sharply, but this was more than made up for by demand for defence purposes.[79] And demand from the state government, local authorities, and business immediately improved with the end of the war. Between 1939 and 1947 QCL more than doubled production, from 61,000 to 131,000 tons a year.[80]

Figure 1.4 QCL’s coral stockpile in 1939

During this period a motley collection of vessels owned by QCL and local contractors, particularly Brisbane Gravels, continued to extract coral from around Mud Island and carry it up the Brisbane River.[81] Most of these vessels were both dredges and carriers, but whereas the Kyogle, Grazier, and the Kaione had means of propulsion the Crocodile, Mount Elliott, and Hercules had to be towed to the wharf at Oxley. The Grazier was able to dredge, carry coral, and tow other vessels; it was, for example, towing the Crocodile when the Crocodile sprang a leak in February 1939 and had to be beached on the banks of the river before it sank.[82] The Fearless continued to tow vessels to Oxley, as we know from another incident in early 1939: it was towing the Mount Elliott with its load of 400 tons of coral when the Mount Elliott sank in the main channel leading to the Brisbane River, closing the river to navigation until it could be salvaged.[83] Between 1938 and 1947 these vessels together “lifted more than 1½ million tons” of coral from around Mud Island[84] and transported it to Oxley Wharf.

During the first few years of QCL’s venture into coral the GBRC took a renewed interest in the corals of Moreton Bay. Leading this research was Dorothy Hill, who had recently returned to Brisbane after doing a PhD at Cambridge on the Carboniferous corals of Scotland. Hill and members of the Science Students’ Association at the University of Queensland visited the islands and reefs of Moreton Bay several times between 1938 and 1940 (when fuel restrictions brought their outings to a halt). In a report to the committee in November 1938 Hill gave the first general description of the bay’s coral reefs.[85] “The banks visible at low water around Peel, Mud, and Green, Bird and Goat Islands are dead fringing coral reefs,” she wrote, referring to Darwin’s three-fold classification of coral reefs. These reefs were “dead” in the sense that none of the coral on the broad flats exposed at low tide was alive. But there were living corals just below the low-water line, where the reefs “shoal gently to 6 to 8 feet below” mean low water before “descend[ing] quite suddenly into the Bay”. “If we can explain the death of the coral reefs, and the present distribution of living coral in the Bay,” Hill suggested, “we shall have explained also the factors limiting coral growth.” The bay was an ideal laboratory for this research because two of the factors thought to limit coral growth were present, namely, sand movements and rivers that “pour fresh water and mud” into the bay’s “almost land locked waters” during floods, and evidence of a third possible factor, “relative emergence of land”. One of the intriguing aspects of what Hill and her students had found was that all of the 21 species recognized on the “dead” Bird–Goat reef were at that time “flourish[ing] further north on the Barrier, but few of them are now found living in the bay”. Hill ended her report by setting out a research program for 1939. One of the goals she suggested was “to collect relevant information from companies interested i.e. Queensland Lime and Cement Co.”

The company’s focus was of course on extracting coral rather than understanding the life and death of coral reefs. Its ability to do this was entirely in the hands of the government. When QCL’s licence came up for renewal at the end of 1945 it explained to the government that because it had recently spent a great deal on dredging equipment (it had bought the Hercules from Brisbane Gravels and just acquired the Kaione) it wanted to renew the licence for “a long period to ensure continuity of supply of Queensland made cement at economical prices to the Government and the people of Queensland”.[86] In response, the government simply renewed the licence under the same terms and conditions as the original licence, though now with priority when it came time for renewal. The fee was still only £112 a year. The new licence would expire at the end of 1959. QCL was not satisfied.

Postscript: Henry Richards died in 1947. Out of his “pioneering scientific work on the Great Barrier Reef”, an obituary recorded, “came his advice that the Queensland cement industry could save itself thousands a year by using, as the source of its lime, the great accumulation of coral debris in Moreton Bay instead of the previous long haulage of expensive limestone”. Among the companies donating to a memorial fund established in his honour was QCL.[87] A breakthrough in the century-old debate about Darwin’s theory of reef formation came just a few years after Richards died when the US military was preparing to test thermonuclear bombs in the Marshall Islands. While investigating the strength of Enewetak Atoll’s substratum the US Geological Survey drilled through more than a kilometre of limestone before reaching a volcanic foundation and thereby, so an eminent geologist announced, “substantiated Darwin’s subsidence theory of atoll formation”.[88] Subsequent research has shown that (contrary to what Richards expected) the subsidence theory has limited applicability in the case of the Great Barrier Reef, mainly because most of it “rests on an unusually stable foundation”.[89]

[1] “Mr. Elphinstone vindicated: the Queensland Cement and Lime Co.”, Brisbane Courier, 15 September 1921.

[2] “Queensland Cement and Lime Co., Ltd.”, Brisbane Courier, 15 September 1921.

[3] “150 men out: Darra works closed—a temporary measure”, Telegraph, 30 July 1924.

[4] “Queensland Cement and Lime Co.: the annual meeting”, Brisbane Courier, 6 November 1925.

[5] Renamed the William Jolly Bridge in 1955.

[6] For an analysis see Ian McLaren, “The location of cement plants in Queensland: a study of market orientation”, unpublished MA thesis, University of Queensland, 1970.

[7] For one of the many articles about their complaints see “Breathing dust: cement workers’ case”, Daily Standard, 20 September 1922.

[8] See for example, “Cement works dust: complaint from Birkenhead”, The Register (Adelaide), 22 May 1925, and “Cement dust and smoke nuisance”, Geelong Advertiser, 31 August 1931.

[9] In 1930 the Darra plant was hooked up to the Brisbane electricity network.

[10] This description is based on several newspaper reports including “Concrete and steel landmark triumph for state: Grey Street Bridge”, Telegraph, 29 March 1932, and “Cement roads”, Queensland Times, 29 August 1930; Ian McLaren, “The location of cement plants in Queensland: a study of market orientation”, unpublished MA thesis, University of Queensland, 1970, and a variety of general accounts of cement making.

[11] Robert Courtland, Concrete Planet: The Strange and Fascinating Story of the World’s Most Common Man-Made Material (Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 2011), p. 193.

[12] “Cement manufacture”, Daily Standard (Brisbane), 23 September 1915.

[13] “Cement manufacture”.

[14] The other big expenses were for wages (£25,000 to £30,000), coal (£40,000), and transporting cement to customers by rail (£50,000). “Cement roads”, Queensland Times, 29 August 1930, reporting a talk by Twine.

[15] “Royal Commission on the Mining Industry: Transcript of evidence, 2 Apr – 7 May 1929” (ITM92084). Twine’s evidence is on pp. 235-38. See also “Mining in Queensland—value of limestone”, The Telegraph, 12 April 1929, and “Mining industry”, Brisbane Courier, 12 April 1929.

[16] Here “magnesia” simply means magnesium. I am grateful to Gregg Webb of the University of Queensland for his help on this point.

[17] Report of the Royal Commission Appointed to Inquire into the Mining Industry of Queensland (Brisbane: Government Printer, 1930), pp. 50, 91 (ITM136746); “Queensland mining industry”, Sydney Morning Herald, 8 March 1930.

[18] See the biographical sketch by Dorothy Hill in the Australian Dictionary of Biography (

[19] The following is based on Darwin, The Structure and Distribution of Coral Reefs, 3rd edition (New York: D. Appleton, 1897 [reprinted London: Forgotten Books, 2017]), and various secondary accounts including Iain McCalman, The Reef: A Passionate History (Melbourne: Penguin Books, 2013), part 3, and James Bowen, The Coral Reef Era: From Discovery to Decline (Dordrecht: Springer, 2015), pp. 38-41.

[20] Here I paraphrase “Ecology and biology of reef building” ( Other sources for Box 1.2 include J.E.N. Veron, A Reef in Time: The Great Barrier Reef from Beginning to End (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press, 2008), pp. 30-33, Charles Sheppard, Coral Reefs: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), pp. 28-32, and Bowen, The Coral Reef Era.

[21] H.C. Richards, The Great Barrier Reef of Australia (Melbourne: Government Printer, 1923), p. 16.

[22] McCalman, The Reef, p. 232.

[23] Richards, “Some problems of the Great Barrier Reef”, Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales, 71 (1937), 76-77. I thank Ove Hoegh-Guldberg for a copy of this article.

[24] Minutes of the GBRC (UQA S226 file 2 meeting 53, 25 March 1931, minutes page 6 box 1).

[25] Geologists W.H. Bryan and F.W. Whitehouse and physicist Thomas Parnell. Parnell set up the university’s famous (and ongoing) pitch drop experiment in 1927.

[26] Minutes of the GBRC (UQA S226 file 2 meeting 54, 14 July 1931, minutes pages 7-8 box 1).

[27] See Charles Hedley, “The surface temperature of Moreton Bay”, Transactions of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia (Queensland): Reports of the Great Barrier Reef Committee, vol. 1 (July 1925), 149-50. Hedley was the committee’s scientific director at the time.

[28] “Coral reefs: lecture by Dr. W.H. Bryan”, The Week (Brisbane), 4 October 1929.

[29] Minutes of the GBRC (UQA S226 file 2 meeting 56, 9 March 1932, minutes page 4 box 1).

[30] “Moreton Bay: Australia—East Coast: Queensland” (London: Hydrographic Office, 1910-13). JOL. The chart has two sheets, one for the northern part of the bay and one for the southern. It is a revised version of a chart first published in 1869.

[31] “The geology of Moreton Bay through the ages”, The Telegraph, 23 June 1938.

[32] David T. Neil, “Moreton Bay and its catchment: seascape and landscape, development and degradation”, and Simon C. Lang et al., “Sedimentation and coastal evolution, Northern Moreton Bay”, in Ian R. Tibbetts, Narelle J. Hall, William C. Dennison (eds.), Moreton Bay and Catchment (Brisbane: School of Marine Science, University of Queensland, 1998); Australasian Quaternary Association, Submission to the Inquiry into Climate Change and Environmental Impacts on Coastal Communities (2008), pp. 2 and 5 (House of Representatives, Australia). Different studies give different estimates for how long the highstand lasted and how rapidly the sea level fell to the present level. For a review of data for the coast south of Sydney see Craig R. Sloss, Colin V. Murray-Wallace, and Brian G. Jones, “Holocene sea-level change on the southeast coast of Australia: a review”, The Holocene, 17,7 (2007), 999–1014.

[33] “Moreton Bay: its why and wherefore”, The Telegraph, 12 June 1931. Richards made the same argument in “The geology of Moreton Bay through the ages”.

[34] “Moreton Bay gradually silting up”, The Telegraph, 10 July 1931. For a recent scientific analysis see Jack Coates-Marnane, Jon Olley, Joanne Burton, and Ashneel Sharma, “Catchment clearing accelerates the infilling of a shallow subtropical bay in east coast Australia”, Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science, 174 (2016), 27-40.

[35] F.C.W., “Moreton Bay”, Brisbane Courier, 28 December 1927.

[36] Chief engineer, Harbours and Marine, 15 August 1931 (ITM315185).

[37] Minutes of the GBRC, 14 July 1931.

[38] Dorothy Hill, “The Great Barrier Reef Committee, 1922-1982: The first thirty years”, Historical Records of Australian Science, vol. 6, no. 1 (1984), p. 11.

[39] Minutes of the GBRC, 14 July 1931.

[40] “Corals of Moreton Bay”, Brisbane Courier, 20 June 1931.

[41] William Saville-Kent, The Great Barrier Reef of Australia; Its Products and Potentialities (London: W.H. Allen, 1893), p. 96. Several other sources confirm this phenomenon. Also collected were great quantities of oyster shell, including from middens that the people living around the bay before British settlement had built up over hundreds of years.

[42] From 46,000 tons in 1928 to 20,000 tons in 1931. “Cement industry: Mud Island deposits”, Brisbane Courier, 23 February 1932.

[43] Register of Daily Chemical Analyses, box 11624 O/S: item 147, QCL Records.

[44] Judith Anderson, The Hands That Made the Cement: A History of QCL’s Darra Cement Plant (Milton: Queensland Cement Limited, 1997), p. 12.

[45] Richards mentions the letter in “Calcareous deposits at Mud Island in Moreton Bay, Queensland”, 9 December 1932, p. 3 (copy supplied by Library Services, Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, Queensland). This is almost certainly the “report” Anderson (The Hands That Made the Cement, p. 12) mentions that Richards wrote in August 1931. I have failed to locate a copy.

[46] Twine to treasurer, 7 August 1931 (ITM315185).

[47] Under secretary (J.H. Stanley) to general manager, QCL, 20 August 1931 (ITM315185).

[48] Twine to under secretary, 28 August 1931 and Twine to chief inspector of fisheries, 27 August 1931 (ITM315185).

[49] Anderson, The Hands That Made the Cement, p. 12.

[50] The following paragraph is based on “Cement industry: Mud Island deposits”. This article consists of a long statement issued by QCL that includes the report by Richards that I quote.

[51] The date comes from Richards, “Calcareous deposits at Mud Island”, p. 1.

[52] Foraminifera are single-celled organisms with (in the case of the organisms Richards was referring to) calcium carbonate shells.

[53] “Cement industry: Mud Island deposits”.

[54] On how QCL’s decision to locate its plant at Darra proved to be “fortuitous” see McLaren, “The location of cement plants”, pp. 160-61, 163.

[55] “Cement industry: company’s proposal”, Brisbane Courier, 11 April 1932.

[56] Twine to under secretary, Treasury, 28 April 1932 (ITM315185).

[57] Under secretary (Stanley) to general manager, QCL, 18 July 1932 (ITM315185). He was acting on advice in secretary, Department of Harbours and Marine, to under secretary, Treasury, 4 June 1932.

[58] “Queensland Cement and Lime Co. Ltd.”, Sunday Mail, 25 September 1932.

[59] History, Production and Utilisation of Cement in Queensland (Brisbane: Queensland Cement and Lime Co. Ltd and North Australian Cement Ltd, 1951); “‘Great men’, Flinders and Oxley, Redcliffe Memorial”, Queensland Times, 28 December 1932. The two structures, both designed by John Beebe in the art deco style, are still standing. I am grateful to Iona Cominos for her very helpful correspondence about the southern portal of the Hornibrook Highway. See Cominos, “Hornibrook Highway Bridge”, in Kimberley Wilson (ed.), Brisbane Art Deco (Brisbane: Jubilee Studio, 2015), pp. 43-51.

[60] “Sound position—Queensland Cement and Lime”, Telegraph, 8 September 1932 (quoted words); “Queensland Cement and Lime Co. Ltd.”

[61] Fish and Oyster Acts Amendment Act 1932, assented to 6 January 1933. The government made it clear this amendment was designed specifically to help QCL. QLA, Record of Proceedings, 7 December 1932, p. 2040. State parliament became unicameral in 1922 when the upper house, the Legislative Council, was abolished.

[62] “Calcareous deposits at Mud Island”.

[63] Minutes of the GBRC (UQA S226 file 2 meeting 57, 16 September 1932, minutes page 5 box 1). At this meeting Richards expressed the hope that on their next trip committee members would devote attention “to the reputedly rich coralline area off Green Island and to the foreshores of St. Helena”.

[64] “Report of Directors for Year Ended 31st July, 1934” (Box 11630 O/S, QCL Records).

[65] “Cement Company’s £30,000 plan”, Courier-Mail, 25 February 1935; “Aerial ropeway for cement works”, Queensland Times, 25 February 1935.

[66] “Premier inaugurates bridge works”, Courier-Mail, 25 May 1935; K., “Coral in bridge”, Sydney Mail, 12 June 1935.

[67] In 1947, when it was still dredging coral for QCL, the Crocodile was owned by William Collin and Sons. QCL Board, 14 October 1947.

[68] “Coral from the bay: two tugs and a lighter”, Courier-Mail, 21 August 1935; “Fearless recommissioned”, Courier-Mail, 23 July 1936. The quoted words come from Anderson, The Hands That Made the Cement, p. 13, where she is quoting a former QCL employee. According to the report of 23 July 1935, which apparently describes the Crocodile’s first trip to Mud Island, the Fearless was assisted upriver by another tug, the Forceful, but whether that remained the practice is unclear. The same report mentions that the coral was loaded onto “railway trucks” at South Brisbane but those were quickly replaced by motor trucks.

[69] “Report of Directors for Year Ended 31st July, 1936”, Box 11630 O/S (QCL Records).

[70] “‘Mud Island’ opposition”, Warwick Daily News, 28 May 1936.

[71] The connection between prices and the tariff is explicit in “Report of Directors for Year Ended 31st July, 1937” (Box 11630 O/S, QCL Records).

[72] “Cement industry has kept over £5,000,000 in Queensland”, Courier-Mail, 3 August 1936.

[73] “Mr. G.J. Twine dead”, The Telegraph, 23 November 1936.

[74] “Tenders called”, Construction and Real Estate Journal (Sydney), 3 March 1937.

[75] Advertisements, Courier-Mail, 15 May 1937.

[76] “Report of Directors for Year Ended 31st July, 1937”; Anderson, The Hands That Made the Cement, pp. 12-13; “Gore quarries to be closed”, Courier-Mail, 1 July 1937; “Closing down—Cement Mill quarries”, Warwick Daily News, 1 July 1937.

[77] QCL to Treasury, 3 June 1937, and reply of 10 June 1937 (ITM315185).

[78] “Queensland cement”, Courier-Mail, 12 August 1938.

[79] “Qld. Cement plant modernised”, Courier-Mail, 2 October 1940 (quoted words); “Queensland Cement and Lime Co. Ltd.”, Telegraph, 27 September 1945.

[80] QCL chairman, Symes, to premier, Hanlon, 29 October 1947 (ITM315185).

[81] A useful compilation of information on all of the vessels employed by QCL is Keith Boulton, “When Coral Was ‘King’: the vessels and coral dredging operations in Moreton Bay of the Queensland Cement & Lime Company, 1931 to 1987”, October 2015. I am grateful to Keith Boulton for giving me a copy.

[82] “Crocodile refloated”, Courier-Mail, 15 February 1939.

[83] “Port closed: lighter sinks in Brisbane”, Queensland Times, 1 February 1939.

[84] “Freak for coral run”, Courier-Mail, 16 September 1947.

[85] “Report on the investigations of the Great Barrier Reef Committee in Moreton Bay, 1938”, November 1938, attachment to Minutes of the GBRC (UQA S226 file 3 meeting 75, 25 November 1938). See also Dorothy Hill, “A scientific expedition to Moreton Bay”, Australian Journal of Science, August 1938, pp. 28-30.

[86] E.D. Scott, secretary, QCL, to chief inspector of fisheries, Harbours and Marine, 9 November 1945 (ITM315185).

[87] “Late Professor H.C. Richards”, Townsville Daily Bulletin, 30 September 1947.

[88] Bowen, The Coral Reef Era, pp. 107-8 (quoting Harry Ladd).

[89] Veron, A Reef in Time, p. 16. See also chapter 11, particularly p. 163.

“Unsuitable for any other purpose”

The demand for cement rose rapidly after the war. In addition to renewed demand from the state government, local authorities, and business there was a surge in demand from the housing sector. The surge was partly driven by a boom in the construction of new houses but even more important was a change in the materials used to build them. Up until World War II most Queensland homes were made of timber and stood on wooden stumps. Housing styles began to change rapidly right after the war. In 1946-47 the BCC approved the construction of a record number of new homes. Cement was used in one way or another in the construction of nearly all of these homes. Of the 4,733 dwellings approved the majority, 2,670, were made of timber but many timber houses now stood on concrete rather than wooden stumps. A further 1,197 houses were made of timber and fibro cement, 605 of brick (requiring cement to make the mortar), and 260 of concrete blocks.[1] Particularly notable was the widespread use of “fibro”, namely, asbestos cement sheeting, which was used not only as cladding, internal walls, and ceiling panels but also in the construction of garages, sheds, and fences. Fibro was popular largely because it was cheap and easy to work with. By 1947 far more cement was needed to make fibro than any other concrete product.

As the demand for cement rose QCL was determined not merely to produce more and more cement but, as its chairman, P.J. Symes, put it, “to supply the entire requirements of the State”.[2] In 1947 QCL fell only slightly short of achieving that target, but because it expected demand to continue to increase it knew that it would have to undertake a big expansion at Darra. It therefore decided to increase the plant’s capacity from about 150,000 to 250,000 tons a year.[3] QCL also knew that to achieve this level of production it would have to find ways to greatly increase the rate at which it extracted coral from around Mud Island and transported it to Darra. As a first step, it decided, in September, to buy a surplus army transport ship, the Crusader, with the intention of converting it into a coral carrier. As a transport ship it was capable of carrying 2,000 tons of tanks and other cargo. Once converted, it would be able to carry far more coral than any of the company’s other vessels. Its shallow draft would enable it to take on coral close to the island and navigate the Brisbane River comfortably. As “the most manoeuvrable ship in Australia”—it had six propellers (each driven by a separate engine) and four rudders—it would also be able to negotiate the river’s twists and turns very easily.[4] Investing as it was in plant and vessels, QCL appeared to be about to enter a period of rapid growth.

Around the time it took delivery of the Crusader QCL’s directors discussed the possibility of making another approach to the government concerning its access to Mud Island’s coral deposits.[5] Exactly what the directors had in mind became clear only when Symes wrote to the premier, Ned Hanlon, at the end of October asking for a perpetual lease over “the whole of the island”, by which he meant the area inside the outer edge of the mangroves. Like the area covered by the existing licence (and the area just seaward of the licensed area) that area had rich coral deposits. But beyond its coral deposits this area had a special attraction to the company. Having a perpetual lease over the island, Symes explained, would allow the company to develop “means…that would save expense, wear and tear and render our vessels less liable to the weather”, which at times brought dredging operations to a halt. As well as cutting a canal into the mangroves—where a dredge could work in nearly all weather conditions—QCL might establish a coral storage depot and “adopt pontoon pipe lines with pumping outfit on the island”. In the tone typical of QCL’s requests to the government Symes reminded Hanlon of the “valuable contribution” his government would be making to increasing cement production in the state by granting the company a perpetual lease over Mud Island. That island, he added, “is used for no other purpose than devoting its foreshores to coral dredging”. Symes awaited the premier’s “favourable consideration”.[6]

Granting a perpetual lease would have been a big step for the government, since such a lease would allow QCL to exploit the island for as long as it wished. Nevertheless, cabinet was at this point prepared to grant one provided that QCL met all the requirements in the Land Acts. In particular, QCL would have to construct buildings and other structures on the land. When the government asked the company what its plans were in this respect QCL’s manager, D.S. Geary, repeated much of what Symes had written in his original letter, again emphasizing that Mud Island “is unsuitable for any other purpose than a base for coral procuration”. There would be “development work” but “many of the improvements would be of an under-water nature due to the formation of the Island”. In any case, he implied, none of this really mattered very much, since Queensland needed more cement and the company’s expansion at Darra would bring about a big increase in employment.[7] Reading between the lines, officials in the department administering the Land Acts, the Lands Department, concluded that, whatever plans it had for Darra and the transport of coral, QCL had no plans whatsoever to build on the island. That ruled out any possibility of issuing a perpetual lease.

As officials came to this realization they decided that it would be much better to grant QCL a “special lease” over the island. A special lease imposed no building requirements on the lease holder. Moreover, this form of tenure had two advantages that suited the government’s interests. The first was that the government could grant the lease for a fixed term such as thirty years. Officials appear to have become increasingly uneasy about the idea of allowing QCL to monopolize the island’s corals in perpetuity. The second advantage concerned a growing discomfort regarding how little QCL was paying for the coral it was taking from the island. In addition to the nominal £112 it paid in rent a year, it paid river dues on the coral it carried up the Brisbane River to the wharf at Oxley. This varied according to the quantity carried but still amounted to only £1848 in 1947-48 and was in any case a charge for using the river, not for exploiting coral.[8] Now that QCL was planning to extract more and more coral, officials believed, the time had come to charge a royalty. A great advantage of a special lease was that, unlike a perpetual lease, it allowed the government to do just that.

These discussions were all based on a profound ignorance of the nature of Mud Island. This was not surprising, since hardly anyone ever set foot on the island, which the great early chronicler of Moreton Bay, Thomas Welsby, had described as “a brute of an island”, one he would be happy to have “removed to Basuto Land”.[9] Officials in the Lands Department were working on the assumption that the area QCL was hoping to lease was above high water and therefore came under the department’s jurisdiction. A report on the island by the land ranger, N. Trotman, in May 1948 did little, at least initially, to raise doubts about this assumption. On the one hand, he noted that except for “about 8 acres of dry land” (he included some sand islets near the outer edge of the mangroves) the island was “comprised of swampy mud flats and mangroves”. On the other hand, he declared that “the approximate area of the island above high water, which is defined by the outermost mangroves, is 900 acres”.[10] Only a few weeks later did an alert official, apparently after speaking with Trotman, suddenly realize that “the greater part of the land is tidal land and, as such, is under the jurisdiction of the Treasury Department”,[11] which was responsible for the Department of Harbours and Marine. With cabinet’s blessing the Lands Department quickly handed all the existing papers regarding Mud Island over to Treasury.

Among these papers was a map, prepared it appears by Trotman, showing where QCL dredged and had driven piles into the reef that it used for mooring its vessels (see Figure 2.1). The striking feature of the map was that it showed that the company was for the most part operating outside the 10-foot contour. The two areas marked “Dredging here” were beyond the 3-fathom (18-foot) line, while all but two piles were on or beyond that line. In short, QCL was in flagrant violation of its licence. No document I have seen pointed this out explicitly. But an awareness of what QCL was doing was implicit in Harbour and Marine’s attitude to QCL’s application when, after enquiries on its behalf by a law firm and prodding from the Premier’s Department,[12] it finally began to deal with the application in October 1948.

Figure 2.1 Areas around Mud Island being dredged by QCL in 1948

Reporting to Treasury, Harbours and Marine’s chief administrative officer, E.J. Coulter, wondered why QCL even needed to apply for more than it already had. It appeared to him that the company already had access to enough coral to “fulfil the Company’s requirements for very many years ahead”. Moreover, it could “cut docks or provide other means of protection it requires for its vessels against bad weather” using the area it already had, extending as it did right up to the outer edge of the mangroves. If, however, the government were to grant QCL rights to the coral on the island (meaning the area covered by mangroves) and surrounding waters it could do so under the Fish and Oyster Acts. Since the company would have priority of renewal it would be able to renew its licence every fourteen years. Any licence granted by the government, Coulter recommended, should have as its outer boundary the same 10-foot line stipulated in its current licence. Furthermore (this is where we see that Harbours and Marine knew where QCL had been dredging) QCL “should confine its operations strictly to the area covered by the license”, thereby leaving the deposits beyond the 10-foot line “intact”. He also recommended that the company be required not to damage any navigation markers. Finally, he suggested that the government ask the solicitor-general whether it could charge a royalty under the Fish and Oyster Acts.[13]

Convinced that QCL already had enough coral for its long-term needs and that its main motive was to monopolize the island’s deposits, the government decided to take QCL at its word. If, as the company claimed, its objective really was to allow its vessels to operate in all weather conditions, then this could be achieved without giving it access to the whole island. Thus, when the government wrote to QCL in January 1949 (by which time the solicitor-general had advised that the government could charge a royalty) it informed the company that it could apply for a licence under the Fish and Oyster Acts “for a defined area extending inland beyond the inner rim” of the area currently licensed to the company, namely, the outer edge of the mangroves. This would, the government told QCL, allow it to cut a canal into the mangroves for its vessels to use and to do everything else it said it wanted to do.[14]

When it responded just three weeks later QCL introduced an entirely new element into the negotiations. It announced that because the dredge it had acquired most recently (apparently the Kaione) was unable to work safely in water as shallow as 10 feet at low tide it would have to operate outside the 10-foot line stipulated in its licence. (It did not mention that it was already doing so.) Eventually the company would be able to extract coral from the area covered by its current licence (with what dredge was not explained) and then at some point in the future fulfil its goal of cutting “bays” (not “canals”) into the area covered by mangroves. In the light of all this QCL applied for two new licences in addition to the one it already had (see Figure 2.2). First, consistent with the government’s suggestion that the company apply for “a defined area”, it applied for the area “all round the island from the edge of the mangroves towards the centre of the island for a distance of 300 ft.” And, second, in accordance with the claim it was now making regarding the limitations of its dredge, it asked for the area “all around the island from the contour depth 10 ft. at low tide to the contour depth 25 ft. at low tide”.[15]

Figure 2.2 New dredging areas around Mud Island applied for by QCL in January 1949 (schematic)

After prodding from the acting premier, Vince Gair, Coulter eventually gave Harbours and Marine’s opinion on QCL’s proposal. He observed that QCL was asking for “a virtual monopoly of the Island and surrounding waters” and strongly advised against granting the application. He suggested, however, that if QCL really wanted access to areas inside the mangroves and beyond the 10-foot line it could be given a licence over one section of the island. By this he meant, for example, that the company could be given a licence over the southeastern section of the island from 300 feet inside of the outer edge of the mangroves out to the 25-foot line. At the same time QCL would have to give up its current licence. Thus, the company would no longer have access to the area between the outer edge of the mangroves and the 10-foot line except (to use the same example) in the southeastern section. Leaving aside all the details about where QCL might be allowed to dredge, Coulter felt compelled to warn the government that “any encroachment inside the outer edge of the mangroves will mean that in time the Island will be wholly or partly dredged away”. Harbours and Marine was not concerned about this prospect “but there may be objections on general grounds and particularly from an aesthetic point of view”.[16] Here, feeble though it may seem from our perspective, was the first acknowledgement of the impact dredging could have on Mud Island.

The government ignored Coulter’s warning and instead latched onto the approach he had set out regarding QCL’s application. In early May Gair took it upon himself to write to the company. The government, he explained, could not grant QCL what it had asked for. What the company had in mind amounted to a monopoly of the island’s coral deposits, especially since the 300-foot-wide ring around the outer edge of the mangroves would block access to the deposits inside that ring by anyone else wanting to exploit them. But, following Coulter’s suggestion, the government would consider an application for a section of the area QCL wanted. Just to make sure QCL understood what he meant Gair emphasized that “the right to operate will be confined to a limited frontage and not extended to completely encircle the Island”. He closed with the observation that according to Harbours and Marine the coral deposits around Mud Island “cease to exist before the 30 foot contour at low water is reached”.[17] The 25-foot line that QCL was asking for was very close to the outer edge of the reef.

It is possible that QCL did not entirely understand what Gair was proposing, for he did not explicitly mention that the company would be expected to give up its current licence. Thus the board’s minutes for 31 May 1949 record that while the premier was not prepared to give QCL all it had applied for it would “consider an extension of our present lease, if we so desired”. In any case, it became clear that the company did not completely understand the government’s position when Geary finally responded to Gair’s proposal nine months later in February 1950.[18] Following instructions from the board, Geary proposed just one change to QCL’s previous application. The government would, he suggested, reserve a 10-chain-wide strip (10 chains equals 660 feet) across the island (see Figure 2.3). The strip would run almost exactly north–south (358° to be precise) and include the small area above high water at the centre of the island. It “would give access to portions of the Island, not asked for by our Company[,] either by land or as a dredged channel”, thereby overcoming Gair’s objection that what QCL had asked for had blocked access to the area the company had not asked for. If my reading of Geary’s letter is correct,[19] the government misunderstood what he had proposed. As the government read the letter, QCL was asking for the whole island except for the north–south strip.[20] But even if the government had interpreted the letter as I have it is hard to imagine it would have made the slightest difference.

Figure 2.3 QCL’s revised proposal, February 1950 (schematic)

QCL was still asking for a 300-foot-wide ring all around the island except for the northern and southern ends of the strip. The company was still applying for the area between the 10-foot and 25-foot lines. Moreover, it had no intention of giving up any of the area it already held. Geary’s main justification for asking for so much was that QCL needed to ensure that it had an adequate supply of coral as it continued its rapid expansion. But this carried little weight within the government. Harbours and Marine estimated that even if QCL expanded as rapidly as it said it expected to there would be enough coral under the existing licence to last it fifty years.[21] By this stage the government had no desire to continue negotiations. In March 1950 it rejected QCL’s application out of hand.[22] Nearly two and a half years after Symes first wrote to Hanlon QCL had gained nothing.


Despite mounting anxiety about its long-term access to coral supplies QCL was, as Geary reminded the government, expanding rapidly. In November 1948 it had accepted a tender from a British firm to build a fourth kiln. By the time Geary wrote to the government QCL was aiming to increase its total production to 240,000 tons of cement a year. At the same time the company was beginning to streamline its coral operations. Up to now QCL had operated a ragtag collection of vessels. It had included some that both dredged and carried (and in the case of the Grazier also towed), and it was made up of vessels owned both by QCL and by various contractors. By August 1948 (by which time the Grazier was rotting away off the eastern tip of Mud Island, as explained in Box 2.1) the company was relying on the Kaione as its main dredge and the Crusader as its carrier. Both were owned by QCL. A special feature of the Crusader helped to speed up the delivery of coral to the wharf. During its conversion the bottom of the hull had been fitted with hopper doors. Whereas other carriers had to wait for the cranes to unload them, the Crusader could simply open its hopper doors, dump its load into the river next to the wharf, and head back to Mud Island to take on more coral while the cranes on the wharf recovered the coral from the riverbed. As the KaioneCrusader combination became more efficient it became clear that it would soon deliver more to Oxley Wharf than the wharf could handle. In these circumstances the company ended its contracts with the other companies that had been supplying coral to QCL and made plans to sell the Kyogle and Hercules while at the same time working on extensions to the wharf.[23]

Box 2.1
The Grazier

In January 1948 the Grazier and the Crocodile were dredging off the eastern side of Mud Island. As apparently they often did, the two vessels were working as a team. Each was loading its holds with coral and once both vessels were fully loaded the Grazier was going to tow the Crocodile up the river to Oxley Wharf. Both vessels were owned by William Collin and Son, which QCL had contracted to deliver coral to Oxley. After QCL bought the Crusader it made plans to terminate its contract with William Collin and Son as soon as the Crusader was ready to operate as a coral carrier.[24]

At 12:30AM on 15 January the Grazier “was loading coral…in about 18 feet of water” when, the vessel’s captain, David Collin, told the Courier-Mail, “two huge waves struck the ship simultaneously on the port side”. “In a few seconds, the ship’s holds were swamped and the vessel turned over completely on its side.”[25] Captain Collin and six crew members managed to escape but the vessel’s engineer, Henry Maddams, was trapped in his cabin and drowned. The seven survivors clung to the side of the Grazier until daybreak when crew on the Crocodile, anchored 500 yards away, became aware of the calamity and sent a rowing boat and dinghy to rescue them. According to a report in the Telegraph, yet another vessel, the Kaione, which was owned by QCL, had been dredging at Mud Island at the same time. Once they became aware of what had happened the Kaione’s crew conveyed the news of the disaster to the Grazier’s owners and the port authorities and arranged for the Fearless to tow the Crocodile and the survivors back to Brisbane.[26] The survivors arrived back in the city “without shoes and in sodden clothing” in the evening of the 15th, about 18 hours after the Grazier sank.

A Harbours and Marine inquiry exonerated Captain Collin and the crew of any blame for the disaster.[27] William Collin and Son sold the salvage rights to the Moreton Tug and Lighter Company. In early September 1949 the company recovered the Grazier’s boiler, winches, an engine, a propeller, and other gear. Most of it was “in good condition”. But very little remained of the Grazier itself. “Eaten by tiny timber worms and rotted”, so a partner in Moreton Tug and Lighter Company reported, “the hulk had fallen away”.[28] The wreck still appeared on a 1997 chart of Mud Island[29] but is not shown in the 2018 edition of Maritime Safety Queensland’s Beacon to Beacon Guide: Moreton Bay.


The rejection of its application was a big blow to QCL. “Naturally, we are disappointed with the decision arrived at”, the company responded with some understatement.[30] Nevertheless, it continued to work on ways to improve the efficiency of the coral supply chain stretching from Mud Island to Darra. At Oxley, in addition to undertaking an extension to the wharf, QCL ordered new transporter cranes that would speed up the loading of the trucks that transferred the coral along the company’s private road to Darra. The trucks themselves came under scrutiny, for QCL was also considering “the possibility of conveying coral by a belt system”.[31] This was a variation on the ropeway that the company had considered (and dropped) before it began coral dredging. Nothing came of the “belt system” at this time, but QCL did not give up on the idea of some sort of conveyor. Meanwhile, turning its attention to Mud Island, the board realized by 1950 that it could not rely solely on the Kaione to extract sufficient coral to keep up with the kilns, especially once the new kiln became operational. It therefore needed to add another dredge to its fleet. At some point QCL noticed that a tank landing ship, the 347-foot-long LST 3022, built originally for the Royal Navy and later acquired by the Australian navy, had come up for sale in Sydney “and it was thought that the hull could be very suitable for conversion to a suction dredge”.[32] After several months of negotiations QCL decided to buy the LST and in September 1951 had it towed to Brisbane for conversion. According to the Courier-Mail, the new dredge “will complete Australia’s queerest fleet”.[33]

Immediately after acquiring LST 3022, QCL made another attempt to gain access to more coral. In a letter to Harbours and Marine the company’s works manager, Leo Jones, explained how, as it worked to meet Queensland’s cement needs, “we have no stock of coral and rely completely on what is dredged from day to day”. QCL wanted to start dredging and transporting coral seven days a week but, so Jones wrote, “the only dredging ground available under the present system of operation is on the northern portion of Mud Island, and is so subject to summer weather conditions[34] that many off dredging days will result”. Jones therefore applied for a “lease” over the deposits beyond the low-water line on the eastern side of St Helena Island, the island just to the south of Mud Island best known as the former site of a prison, claiming that this would be “a more suitable dredging ground”.[35] At Harbours and Marine Coulter could not make sense of this request. Since QCL’s existing licence encircled the whole island, why, Coulter asked the company, could it not simply move its dredge to the protected side when the other side was buffeted by bad weather? He also wanted to know whether QCL would be willing to give up an equivalent area at Mud Island if it was given what it wanted at St Helena. Underlying Coulter’s response was his suspicion that QCL’s real objective was to block potential competitors by tying up all the best coral deposits in Moreton Bay.[36]

QCL ignored the suggestion it might give up some of the area it currently held but went part of the way towards answering Coulter’s question about its operations at Mud Island.[37] The basic problem was that the combination of the Kaione and the Cementco (as the Crusader had recently been renamed) could not operate safely anywhere around the island except in the northern area, where, QCL now claimed, the deposits were “almost worked out”. The difficulty the Kaione–Cementco combination was experiencing apparently had something to do with the topography of the reef in different areas and the fact that the Kaione had a fairly deep draft. In any case, so QCL explained, all would be well once the conversion of the LST was complete in about twelve months, presumably because it would have a shallower draft. Since it appeared that QCL had only a temporary need for access to St Helena, and since Coulter was determined to prevent QCL from obtaining a renewable licence under the Fish and Oyster Acts, the government simply gave QCL permission to dredge in the area it wanted for one year with the possibility of renewal for one more year after that.[38] In the event, QCL attempted to dredge in this area but stopped as soon as it found that it would have to spend a lot of time removing “a heavy overburden of mud” before extracting any coral. Unsatisfactory though QCL’s current arrangement at Mud Island was, it could not afford any interruption to the supply of coral to Darra. At the same time the company’s plan to dredge seven days a week came unstuck when the crews demanded more money than QCL was willing to pay.[39]

Despite Jones’s expectation that the LST would be ready to start dredging in about a year, a variety of problems, including the sheer scale and complexity of the task of converting a landing ship into a modern dredge, kept delaying completion of the work. In the meantime the demand for cement continued to rise. One source of this demand was a severe shortage of traditional clay bricks. QCL took full advantage of this shortage by installing machinery to make concrete bricks, which it was producing at the rate of 2000 an hour by 1953.[40] A big boost to QCL’s ability to meet the growing demand came when the long-planned kiln no. 4 began producing clinker in October 1953. The 350-foot-long kiln had a capacity of 100,000 tons per year and had many features designed to ensure that it operated as efficiently as possible.[41] It worked in conjunction with a new electrostatic dust precipitator that the company had installed following vociferous complaints from nearby residents about the effects of the cement dust emitted by the factory on their health and property.

As QCL’s capacity at Darra increased so too did its need to expand its coral operations. Providing greater carrier capacity was easily achieved with the purchase of another carrier, the Morib, in 1953.[42] Bringing the new dredge into service proved to be more difficult. When the converted LST—now named the Coral—was towed out to Mud Island to begin trials around the time the new kiln came into operation, the pumping equipment that sucked in the coral failed almost immediately, forcing QCL to buy new equipment (and consider what steps it could take to get compensation from the supplier of the original machinery). The Coral finally came into operation only in April 1954, two and a half years after it had arrived in Brisbane.[43]

The Coral was, when it finally became fully operational, a mighty machine.[44] It was twice as long as the Kaione and had three times the gross tonnage and yet, reflecting its origins as an LST, had a significantly shallower draft (10 feet as compared to 12½ to 14 feet). The Coral was, to give it its proper label, a cutter suction dredge. During the conversion the huge bow doors that are characteristic of an LST had been removed. Extending out of the open bow was a long “ladder” that could be raised and lowered during operations. At the end of this ladder were two rotary cutters. As the cutters ground into the reef pumps powered by 960-horse-power Cammell–Laird diesel engines sucked the loosened coral up pipes into the dredge and then propelled it directly into the carrier moored along the starboard (right) side of the Coral. Key to the operation of the dredge were two long heavy timber “spuds” near the stern—one on the port (left) side and one on the starboard side—that could be raised and lowered through the hull. These spuds enabled the dredge (under the power of a bow winch hauling in lines attached to mooring piles on the reef) to pivot 60° to 90° to the starboard side when the starboard spud was lowered into the seabed and then the same amplitude to the port side when the port spud was lowered. As it pivoted back and forth in this way it “walked” forward as if it were on stilts.[45] Each time it pivoted from one side to the other and back the dredge advanced about 3 feet further into the reef, devouring enormous amounts of coral as it proceeded. Also essential to the operation of the Coral were the three generators driven by 200-horse-power Ruston & Hornsby diesel engines. Two of the generators supplied power to the electric motors that drove the rotary cutters, winches, and all the other machinery aside from the pumps. In addition to immense dredging power the Coral also provided those who operated it a more comfortable working environment than its predecessors had. One perhaps somewhat idealized description written shortly before it came into service reported that “the crew will have hot and cold showers, refrigeration, chef-prepared food from a modern kitchen, amenities, well equipped cabins and deck space”.[46]

Operating at full efficiency the Coral could load 2,000 tons of coral into the Cementco in about 2½ hours. As soon as it was fully loaded the Cementco (or the Morib, which had a capacity of just 800 tons) headed up the Brisbane River to Oxley Wharf. The operation was timed so that the Cementco could make its way upriver on the rising tide. As soon as it had moored at QCL’s wharf it opened its hopper doors and dumped its load on the riverbed. Unloading the coral in this way not only allowed the carrier to immediately return to Mud Island on the falling tide but also washed the coral. The whole operation—loading, sailing upriver, unloading, and returning to the island—took about 12½ to 13 hours. The cycle continued on every tide Monday to Friday. Once the Coral became fully operational QCL kept the Kaione in reserve, bringing it back into service only when there was a problem with the Coral, as there was in late 1954 when a broken impellor put it out of action.[47]


The long-awaited commissioning of the Coral greatly increased QCL’s capacity to feed the kilns at Darra, but it also increased the company’s dissatisfaction with its current licence at Mud Island. As always QCL saw itself as fulfilling a higher purpose than its own profits. In keeping with that outlook the board considered the “proposition” that “in the interests of the State we should endeavour to tie up all the coral supplies”, apparently in the whole bay.[48] A few months later, in April 1955, a board member, J.F. Brett, who was one of Queensland’s leading businessmen, had an informal meeting with the Queensland treasurer about the company’s need for larger reserves.[49] Then, at a board meeting in June Brett argued that QCL “should endeavour to obtain sole rights to all coral in Moreton Bay”. None of the other board members disagreed with him but at least three of them counselled caution. Symes, who had retired as chairman but was still on the board, feared that a formal application “might raise a doubt in our shareholders minds as to whether we had sufficient continuity of supply at Mud Island”. The board decided that the first step would be to have informal talks with the government. The immediate objective would be to see if the government would be prepared to amend the Fish and Oyster Acts to enable QCL to obtain a long-term “lease” of Mud Island.[50]

Those talks occurred when the premier, Vince Gair (who had been premier for three years at this point), and the treasurer, Ted Walsh, visited the Darra plant on 4 July. Whatever the board members said to their guests, the visit appears to have been a resounding success. Walsh immediately told his department he wanted to remove the fourteen-year limit in the Fish and Oyster Acts and (in apparent ignorance of all the earlier negotiations) asked why the existing licence confined QCL’s dredging to the area between the outer edge of the mangroves and the 10-foot line. He particularly wanted to look into the possibility of allowing QCL to dredge within the area covered by mangroves, as QCL’s chairman, N. Jameson, had informed him that there were large quantities of coral there.[51] Meanwhile, just as Treasury was starting to look into these matters, Jameson wrote to Gair asking for an amendment to the Fish and Oyster Acts that would give the treasurer “power to grant a Perpetual or such other Lease of coral deposits for the purpose of obtaining coral for the manufacture of cement”. He indicated that if parliament passed such an amendment QCL would be applying not only for the area it already held but also for “such other area or areas as will be sufficient for the Company to carry on cement manufacture for not less than fifty years, with the right of renewal for a further fifty years”.[52] This would give QCL access to whatever areas it might be granted until 2055.

At this point Treasury asked Harbours and Marine’s chief engineer, E.C. Fison, for his advice on Jameson’s request and an estimate of the coral reserves at Mud Island. He recommended simply that the fourteen-year limit be deleted from the Fish and Oyster Acts and that QCL be granted a licence for the area from the high-water mark (thus including all of the area covered by mangroves) out to the 25-foot line, which he apparently assumed to be the outer limit of the island’s coral deposits. Based on a survey by the department’s echo sounding launch, an aerial photograph, and information from QCL[53] he came up with the estimates shown in Figure 2.4. The total came to 93 million cubic yards. If the government were to grant QCL a long-term licence to this area, Fison continued, it should impose a royalty of 6 pence on every cubic yard of coral taken by the company. Such a royalty was possible, he argued, under the Fish and Oyster Acts as they currently stood. He calculated that at the present rate of extraction a royalty of 6 pence would give the government a revenue of about £11,000 a year as compared to the £112 it currently received but add only 1 shilling to the price of a ton of cement. Finally, Fison proposed three conditions be attached to the licence. First, QCL would be responsible to undertake whatever work was necessary to protect “the central portions of the Island from erosion consequent upon the dredging operations”. Second, it would be responsible for replacing any navigation marks damaged by dredging. Third, the government would have the right to cancel or vary the licence “should it become evident that dredging operations are having a detrimental effect on adjacent foreshores”. Nothing in the relevant file indicates what Fison meant by “adjacent foreshores”. Presumably his first condition already dealt with the area above high water. It seems unlikely he had the outer edge of the mangroves in mind, since his recommendations would allow QCL to rip up everything except the area above high water. It also seems unlikely he was thinking of possible damage to St Helena Island, which was over two miles away, or the mainland, which was even further away. Nevertheless, unclear though it was, the condition would potentially place some sort of limitation on the way QCL conducted its operations.[54]

Figure 2.4 Areas E.C. Fision recommended be licensed to QCL, August 1955 (with estimated coral reserves in millions of cubic yards) (schematic)

After the Queensland parliament removed the fourteen-year limit with nods of approval from Liberal members in November,[55] a Treasury official gave Leo Jones, now QCL’s general manager, a copy of the amendment but also let him know that the government was considering imposing a royalty. At this meeting Jones informed the official that because of the company’s planned expansion it would soon need as much as a million tons of coral a year.[56] Then, just four days after this meeting, QCL’s new chairman, Albert Axon, submitted the company’s application under the amended Fish and Oyster Acts to the treasurer. He began by reminding Walsh of QCL’s constant appreciation of “its responsibility to the State to supply cement for its development” and outlining the expansion it had recently undertaken and was planning. He then asked for a 75-year “lease” to remove coral from two areas: (1) the area around Mud Island from the low tide line to the edge of the coral reef and (2) the corresponding area along the eastern side of St Helena Island.[57] At first sight this seems a rather modest application in comparison to some of its earlier submissions, but it is possible the areas it asked for were simply those where the Coral could dredge most efficiently. It is also possible that QCL was wary of overplaying its hand as it had in 1950. In any case, the government, on Fison’s recommendation, simply offered QCL the area Fison had earlier recommended be given to the company, namely, all of the area around Mud Island from the high-water mark out to the 25-foot contour. According to Fison, this would give QCL enough coral to last it 232 years at its current rate of extraction and over 50 years if it quadrupled its rate to 1,600,000 cubic yards a year.[58] The government decided to limit the term of the licence to 50 years. It also decided to impose a royalty of 4 pence per ton for the first 300,000 tons extracted in a year and 6 pence per ton for any coral taken over and above that amount and to review these rates every five years. Finally, the government decided to impose the three conditions—those concerning erosion of the central part of the island, navigation marks, and damage to “adjacent foreshores”—that Fison had recommended earlier.

This was not quite what Axon had applied for. In particular it did not give QCL anything at St Helena. Even so, it probably gave QCL access to even more coral than he had asked for and it certainly gave the company more than it had requested in 1950. The various terms and conditions presumably were not welcome, but the only one of these specifically mentioned in the board minutes was the royalty.[59] All in all, QCL saw it as a very good offer. It accepted immediately. At QCL’s request the new licence came into effect on 1 August 1956.[60]


[1] “Record building in Brisbane”, Construction (Sydney), 2 June 1948; “Concrete as house stump”, Courier-Mail, 29 January 1949; co-ordinator general of public works, “Cement works—North Queensland”, 25 September 1947 (ITM539427).

[2] “Strong market for industrials”, Courier-Mail, 20 September 1947.

[3] D.S. Geary to under secretary, Premier and Chief Secretary’s Department, 24 March 1948 (ITM315185).

[4] “Crusader—ugly duckling ship proves its usefulness”, Northern Times (Carnarvon, WA), 31 January 1947 (quoted words); “Freak for coral run”, Courier-Mail, 16 September 1947; Karl James, “The army’s ‘ugly duckling’”, Wartime (Australian War Memorial), 37 (Summer 2007), 64-65.

[5] QCL Board, 30 September, 14 October, and 28 October 1947.

[6] Symes to Hanlon, 29 October 1947 (ITM315185).

[7] Under secretary, Premier and Chief Secretary’s Department, to QCL, 17 February 1948, and Geary to under secretary, 24 March 1948 (ITM315185).

[8] E.J. Coulter, Department of Harbours and Marine, 27 August 1948 (ITM315185); QLA, Record of Proceedings, 31 August 1948, p. 146.

[9] Welsby, Schnappering (1905), in A.K. Thomson (ed.), The Collected Works of Thomas Welsby (Brisbane: Jacaranda, 1967), vol. 1, pp. 61-62. Even today only the most intrepid visitors are able to make their way to the tiny area above high water. For an account see Peter Ludlow, Moreton Bay Reflections (Stones Corner: Peter Ludlow, 2007), chapter 24.

[10] N. Trotman to the land commissioner, Brisbane, 25 May 1948 (ITM315185).

[11] J.P.H., memorandum, 17 June 1948 (ITM315185). Emphasis in the original.

[12] The enquiries are referred to in QCL Board, 13 October 1948, while the messages from the Premier’s Department are in ITM315185.

[13] Coulter to under secretary, Treasury, 21 October 1948 (ITM315185). Emphasis added.

[14] Under secretary, Premier and Chief Secretary’s Department, to manager, QCL, 6 January 1949 (ITM315185).

[15] Geary to under secretary, Chief Secretary’s Department, 25 January 1949 (ITM315185).

[16] Coulter to under secretary, Treasury, 20 April 1949 (ITM315185).

[17] Gair to manager, QCL, 4 May 1949 (ITM315185).

[18] Geary to under secretary, Premier and Chief Secretary’s Department, 15 February 1950 (ITM315185). I can see nothing in the sources that explains the long delay.

[19] Geary enclosed a blueprint showing the strip but the blueprint is not included in the file. In any case, the wording of his letter suggests that it probably did not indicate the area QCL was hoping to be given.

[20] Under secretary, Treasury, to under secretary, Chief Secretary’s Department, 27 March 1950 (ITM315185).

[21] Coulter to under secretary, Treasury, 20 March 1950 (ITM315185).

[22] R.B. McAllister (for under secretary, Premier and Chief Secretary’s Department) to manager, QCL, 31 March 1950 (ITM315185).

[23] See QCL board minutes for 31 August 1948 and other dates around this time.

[24] QCL Board, 14 October 1947.

[25] “Man drowns in bay capsize: seven escape”, Courier-Mail, 16 January 1948.

[26] “One lost when coral ship founders in bay”, Brisbane Telegraph, 15 January 1948. According to the Telegraph, which was an evening newspaper, the Fearless and the water police launch left Brisbane “after midday” and the Kaione “berthed at the Oxley wharf this afternoon”. My best guess is that the Kaione had no radio and therefore had to steam upriver to Brisbane to report what had happened, for otherwise the rescue mission would have begun much earlier than it did. Having reported the disaster, so I speculate, the Kaione continued on upriver to Oxley to unload its coral.

[27] “Master exonerated”, Brisbane Telegraph, 4 February 1948.

[28] “Sea bed boiler in good order”, Courier-Mail, 3 September 1949.

[29] Queensland Transport, “Moreton Bay: Mud Island QCL investigation survey”, November 1997 (ITM891402).

[30] QCL to Premier and Chief Secretary’s Department, 12 April 1950 (ITM315185).

[31] QCL Board, 26 September 1950.

[32] QCL Board, 19 December 1950.

[33] “Walking ship to dredge in Bay”, Courier-Mail, 17 August 1951.

[34] Jones did not specify what conditions he had in mind but almost certainly he was referring to the stiff northeasterly sea breeze that blows during summer afternoons and evenings. Because of the long stretch of open water to the northeast of the island rough conditions can develop very quickly on its exposed northern side. The wind and waves would have made it difficult and dangerous for the Cementco to moor next to the Kaione for loading. Also occurring in the summer are violent thunderstorms, but these generally pummel what QCL referred to in a follow-up communication as “the protected side of the Island”. QCL to Coulter, quoted in Coulter to Treasury, 11 October 1951 (ITM315185). I thank Craig Morgan for helping me to understand QCL’s letters on this subject.

[35] QCL (L.J. Jones) to Fisheries Board, Harbours and Marine, 17 September 1951 (ITM315185).

[36] Coulter to QCL, 28 September 1951, and to under secretary, Treasury, 28 September 1951 (ITM315185).

[37] QCL to Coulter, quoted in Coulter to Treasury, 11 October 1951.

[38] Coulter to Treasury, 11 October 1951.

[39] QCL Board, 20 November 1951.

[40] “The Queensland Cement & Lime Co. Ltd…speech by the chairman”, Courier-Mail, 2 October 1950; “Darra works to end dust worry”, Brisbane Telegraph, 3 October 1953.

[41] “£1m. cement plant to double output”, Brisbane Telegraph, 3 October 1953; QCL Board, 27 October 1953.

[42] “Boost cement output”, Brisbane Telegraph, 9 April 1953; QCL Board, 23 June and 18 August 1953.

[43] QCL Board, 27 October 1953 and 20 April 1954.

[44] The following is based mainly on Operations of the Queensland Cement and Lime Co. Ltd. in winning coral from Moreton Bay for the manufacture of high quality Darra “Ace” Portland Cement (Brisbane: Queensland Cement and Lime Co. Ltd. [c 1957]).

[45] For diagrams see Operations of the Queensland Cement and Lime Co. and figure 1.2 in Oceanics Australia, Coral Dredging in Moreton Bay: Impact Assessment Study (Oceanics Australia, 1983).

[46] “Ship has ‘legs,’—walks”, Courier-Mail, 3 July 1953.

[47] QCL Board, 2 November 1954.

[48] QCL Board, 19 October 1954.

[49] Under secretary, Treasury, 12 April 1955 (ITM315185).

[50] QCL Board, 15 June 1955.

[51] Under secretary, Treasury, to assistant under secretary (administrative), 14 July 1955 (ITM315185).

[52] Jameson to Gair, 14 July 1955 (ITM315185).

[53] Fison to treasurer, 3 April 1959 (ITM315185).

[54] Fison to under secretary, Treasury, 15 August 1955 (ITM315185).

[55] QLA, Record of Proceedings, 10 November 1955, p. 1272.

[56] Under secretary, Treasury, 15 December 1955 (ITM315185).

[57] A.E. Axon to treasurer, 19 December 1955 (ITM315185).

[58] Fison to under secretary, Treasury, 2 February 1956 (ITM315185).

[59] QCL Board, 17 April and 15 May 1956. The first of these meetings took place after Brett had spoken with the treasurer but before the government had written to QCL formally.

[60] The licence was not actually issued until early 1957. On the advice of the solicitor-general the licence did not include details about the royalty, but there was an understanding that it would be paid according to rates the government had set out earlier and that those rates would be reviewed every five years. ITM315185.

Beyond Mud Island

By September 1958 QCL was ready to embark on another expansion. Its aim was to increase its capacity from 300,000 to 500,000 tons of cement a year. But there was a problem. QCL now had rights to all the coral from the high-water mark out to the 25-foot contour. It calculated, however, that at its current rate of production there was just 30 years of coral available at Mud Island. This calculation assumed that the deposit was at least 18 feet thick “throughout the whole area” and that the Coral would not encounter any large mud intrusions or areas with a high magnesium content. If the deposit failed to meet these expectations then the coral would not last even 30 years. Because the directors were worried that Mud Island did not give the company sufficient reserves to justify a big expansion Albert Axon wrote to Thomas Hiley, the treasurer in the new Country–Liberal coalition government led by Frank Nicklin, applying for a licence “to remove coral from the foreshores of St. Helena Island”. Axon observed that there would still be ample reserves of coral at Green Island and Peel Island if QCL were granted access to St Helena. It had chosen St Helena because, he explained, “it permits easy extension of our present coral arrangements” nearby at Mud Island.[1]

Hiley noted the lack of any detail about exactly how much coral was at St Helena but assumed “they must have worked it out that it will give them what they want”.[2] In contrast, E.C. Fison at Harbours and Marine was scathing about the inadequacies of QCL’s application. He recommended that as well as providing soundings of the area to be dredged it demonstrate that it really would run out of coral at Mud Island in 30 years.[3] And so Hiley wrote to Axon asking for information on these matters. At this point QCL began trying to work out how to respond to Hiley’s request.

As QCL’s directors probably knew when Axon wrote to the treasurer, a Rockhampton accountant, W.R. Thomson, also had his eyes on St Helena. In July he had announced his intention to set up a cement factory near Rockhampton[4] but soon decided to establish one in Brisbane either instead of or in addition to one near Rockhampton. A month before Axon’s letter Thomson “lodged an application to remove coral from Peel Island, Bird Island, Goat Island, St. Helena Island and Green Island, and an area off Stradbroke Island opposite Peel Island” (the last of these probably referred to Myora Banks).[5] In short, with the exception of QCL’s deposit at Mud Island and the coral from King Island to Cleveland, his application covered nearly all the significant deposits of coral known to exist in the bay. By October Thomson had told Harbours and Marine that he would be willing to confine his application to St Helena, Green, and King islands but it was still a very large area. By November Thomson was placing notices in the Courier-Mail designed to draw distributors and large consumers of cement away from QCL.[6]

Faced with the competing applications from QCL and Thomson, Treasury again asked Fison for his advice. Fison was concerned that dredging could have a catastrophic impact on Green and King islands because neither had a rocky centre. And he could foresee a time when it might “become necessary to curtail operations on Mud Island before the island is entirely consumed”. When that happened, he wrote, QCL’s operations would be transferred to St Helena Island. He concluded that “I am of the opinion that there should be no new large despoliations of coral deposits of Moreton Bay”.[7] Not surprisingly, Hiley was flummoxed by this seemingly contradictory advice and asked for clarification. Fison indignantly insisted that his advice was in no way contradictory. What he meant was simply that St Helena should be reserved for the future needs of the existing company. Dredging at St Helena would not constitute a new “despoliation”, he implied, as long as it was undertaken by QCL.[8]

In April 1959 Hiley decided that both St Helena and Green islands should be regarded “as reserves for the existing Co.” He left open the possibility that Thomson or some other newcomer could be granted a licence to dredge elsewhere once a survey of the bay’s coral deposits had been completed. He was particularly interested in surveying the area between King Island and Ormiston, where, he believed, there were “vast banks” of coral. But he recommended that Peel Island, which was popular with boating and fishing enthusiasts (of whom he was one), should be preserved “for all time”,[9] for, as Hiley later told Thomson, the corals there “constitute the best example of live coral growth in the Moreton Bay area and, as such, are unique”.[10] The waters around Peel Island were simply too precious for any exploitation. Whether this would become government policy remained to be seen.

Around the time Hiley was making these decisions, QCL took him on a boat trip to inspect both its operations at Mud Island and “the deposits and leases which are under consideration”. But, as Axon was forced to concede shortly after the boat trip, QCL had made no progress in obtaining the information Hiley had asked for months earlier. The estimate of 30 years that it had given the previous September had been based on aerial photographs and data from the borings taken in 1931-32. Unable to provide any further information, Axon appealed to Hiley to accept its estimate “in order that the Company may have sufficient reserve of coral to enable it to continue the manufacture of cement to supply the demands of Southern and Central Queensland and other areas for a limited period of at least 50 years”. Without St Helena QCL could not undertake the big investment it planned.[11]

This time when Treasury asked for his advice Fison revealed that he had a plan to investigate the coral deposits of Moreton Bay using a grab dredge. The investigation would take samples at various depths at St Helena, Green, and Peel islands and at Wellington Point. He dismissed Axon’s latest letter as “rather lame”, since QCL was asking for more coral without knowing how much it already had. This criticism struck Hiley as “a delightful case of the pot calling the kettle black”, since Fison did not know exactly how much coral there was either.[12] The fact of the matter was that no one had an exact idea of how much coral there was at Mud Island let alone elsewhere in the bay. Hiley decided to tell QCL that its application would not be granted at this stage but that the government would be prepared to reconsider “when [the] facts [were] known”. At the same time, so he ruled, the government would “decline any other application for other than trifling quantities”.[13] Treasury informed Thomson that there would be “no further leases of coral in Moreton Bay until a survey of resources has been completed”. That survey was to be conducted by Harbours and Marine when the appropriate dredge became available the following year.[14]

With each passing month Thomson became increasingly impatient. In August he proposed undertaking the survey himself. Hiley rejected that suggestion on the grounds that the government could not rely on results provided by an interested party. When 1960 arrived with no sign of any testing taking place Thomson proposed hiring a private firm to undertake the investigation—again at his expense—under the supervision of Harbours and Marine. He was worried, so he claimed, that unless he could be assured of coral supplies soon he might not be able to maintain the interest of his German and English backers.[15] But Hiley refused Thomson’s new proposal as well. He was forced to concede that Harbours and Marine would not be able to undertake the large-scale survey it had originally envisaged. But soon, he added, it would at least be able to test the deposits between King Island and Empire Point, since “these lend themselves to fairly simple testing”.[16]

When it finally got underway in the middle of 1960 (as duly noted by Thomson, who seems to have kept a close eye on activity in the bay), the survey was indeed a rudimentary affair. The grab dredge, the aptly named Tridacna, took coral from just five spots between King Island and Empire Point. The survey concluded that “there is a bed of coral about 10 ft. thick which could be exploited for commercial uses”. But it made no assessment about the calcium carbonate content of the deposit or whether the coral was sufficiently free of “deleterious impurities” such as magnesium. As Fison pointed out, any company interested in exploiting the coral of this area would have to do its own borings and sampling.[17]

Having parried Thomson for so long, Hiley finally gave him permission to do his own testing in the same area and made a commitment not to consider any other applications to dredge until March 1961.[18] Whether Thomson actually did any testing in the King Island–Empire Point area is not clear from the sources. Most of his time appears to have been consumed by his plan to establish a cement factory at Rockhampton. A move by QCL quickly undermined that scheme. In 1948 the company had helped to establish North Australian Cement Ltd (NACL) in Townsville. Now QCL joined forces with NACL, of which it was still a part owner, to launch Central Queensland Cement (CQC), to be based at Rockhampton, with QCL as the majority owner. But Thomson, who now referred to QCL and its associated companies as “the Monopoly”, still insisted that he would press ahead with a factory, provided that the government did not give CQC any unfair advantages. And he still had grand plans for Brisbane. In late 1961 Thomson informed the premier that his company was “about to commence a large Cement Works at Lytton”, near the mouth of the Brisbane River.[19] By this point the government was becoming increasingly fed up with Thomson.

For its part, QCL was, as always, taking steps to maintain its supremacy well into the future. In July 1961 it commissioned a new 465-foot rotary kiln, which “with its heat exchangers and generally improved design is far more efficient than the older ones”. With a capacity of 200,000 tons of cement a year kiln no. 5 brought the Darra works’ total capacity to about 500,000 tons.[20]


Ignoring attacks by the Labor member for Rockhampton North about its “giant monopoly”,[21] QCL continued to go about the business of dredging coral from Mud Island and converting it into cement. Over the course of 1961-62 the Cementco and Morib carried 488,311 tons of coral to Oxley.[22] This meant, assuming that the deposits were 6 yards thick throughout the dredged area, that in that year alone the Coral removed roughly 25.9 acres (10.5 hectares).[23] If, as sometimes happened, the dredge encountered mud gutters then the area would have been even greater, since QCL dumped loads that proved unsuitable.[24] The Coral was gobbling up the reef at a rapid rate. This was confirmed when, in the middle of 1962, QCL’s chief engineer, Karl Jones, and two other senior staff members submitted a report to the general manager, Leo Jones, estimating the amount of coral left at Mud Island. Based on “photographs of Mud Island and a physical survey”, they concluded that “there were reserves of coral at the island sufficient for about 18 years’ usage by us”.[25] This was significantly less than the 30 years QCL had estimated just four years earlier.

Following this alarming reassessment QCL considered various ways to maximize its coral supplies. One approach was to consume as much of Mud Island as possible. QCL revived the old idea of cutting into the area covered by mangroves. Specifically, it would “cut through the island from the western side and dredge the eastern side from inside the island”.[26] Not only would this “give better protection to our ships”—the original motivation for this scheme—it would also give QCL access to much more of the coral at Mud Island. Another approach to the problem of coral supplies, taken to ensure the long-term viability of the Darra plant, was to redouble efforts to obtain licences to dredge areas beyond Mud Island. As early as October 1962 the board was discussing a draft letter to Hiley, and by early the next year Axon and Jameson (who had remained as a director after his chairmanship) had had, so the board minutes recorded, “a very favourable interview with the Treasurer”. As Axon and Jameson interpreted the meeting, QCL had every reason to expect that the company would be granted an exploration licence over certain areas and, “should the investigations prove satisfactory”, the exploration licence “would be followed by a dredging licence”.[27]

One of the areas QCL was determined to gain rights to was the Empire Point–Raby Bay area, where the company was confident that there was an abundance of coral. Sometime in the middle of 1962 the board came up with the idea of buying land at Ormiston, a semi-rural area on the western side of Raby Bay. It planned to build a completely new cement factory that would rely on the nearby coral deposits. With this goal in mind, starting in September QCL quickly bought up 23 acres of land at Ormiston. It also bought a small block of land about a mile away where there was a clay deposit. In order, so QCL later claimed, to avoid paying excessive prices the company did not buy the land in its own name. Instead one of its managers bought it in his name with funds provided by QCL.[28] Meanwhile, QCL made plans to mount its land-boring machine on punts and begin test bores in the bay near Ormiston.[29] For several weeks no one in Ormiston or elsewhere in Redland Shire knew what was going on.

Then, sometime in February 1963, QCL’s plan became public knowledge. There was an uproar in the Redlands. The shire council immediately passed a by-law giving itself the right not to issue a licence to “industries of a noxious nature and offensive to the health and agricultural prospects of this Shire”, while a public meeting condemned the scheme and made plans to send a deputation to the premier.[30] The greatest fear was that dust spewing from the factory would contaminate local crops—particularly the shire’s famous strawberries—and destroy the Redlands’ reputation as “the salad bowl of south Queensland”. In response, Axon wrote to the Redland shire clerk suggesting that “the establishment of a major industry of this nature should not lightly be rejected”, since the factory would attract subsidiary industries to the area. He told the clerk that QCL would install the most efficient dust arrestors available and reminded him that the Clean Air Bill that the government planned to introduce to parliament soon would force QCL to reduce dust emissions to extremely low levels. He then described the bowling green, lawns, trees, and gardens maintained by QCL in the heart of its Darra works and rejected any suggestion that cement dust was “a menace of health”. After asking whether he might be able to meet with the council to explain QCL’s plans, he added that the company would not begin building the factory at Ormiston until the Darra plant had reached its maximum capacity.[31]

None of this mollified the shire council. Planning went ahead to send a deputation to speak with the premier. The deputation consisted of the local member of state parliament, the chairman of the Redland Shire Council, who was also chairman of the Redland Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association, a councillor who was the secretary of the same association, an Ormiston resident, a local businessman, and a member of the Redlands Chamber of Commerce who was also a landowner in the district. When they met Nicklin on 27 March they asked him why a state government official who had known about QCL’s land purchases at Ormiston had failed to tell them what the company was up to. Nicklin defended the official on the grounds that he had learned about QCL’s moves “in a private capacity”. As well as using arguments similar to Axon’s—“two-thirds of the State were a lot worse off from the point of view of dust and ash per square mile” than the area around the Darra factory—he pointed out flaws in the new by-law such as doubts about whether a cement plant could even be classified as a “noxious” industry. He intimated that in any case the by-law would be subject to government approval. He suggested that “a more effective method of protection…was the legal right of a person to claim for damage by the issue of an injunction against the Company for any damages”, a step that of course could be taken only after the plant was already up and running. Nothing Nicklin said softened the deputation’s opposition to the factory. In the end, little came out of the meeting except for a commitment by Nicklin to ask QCL to meet with the shire council.[32]

Two weeks later Leo Jones and two other members of QCL’s senior staff attended a special meeting of the council, where they faced a barrage of hostile questions. Jones apologized for the secrecy surrounding the land purchases but otherwise stuck firmly to the arguments Axon had outlined in his letter.[33] This meeting too failed to weaken council’s determination to fight QCL’s plans with every means at its disposal.

At the end of the meeting Jones had taken the opportunity to ask for permission to renovate a building on the land QCL had bought at Ormiston. Two days later the council issued QCL with a permit to undertake the renovation on the understanding that the permit in no way indicated council’s approval of a cement factory. At the same time the council reaffirmed the new by-law allowing it to block a “noxious” industry.[34] When the council began drafting a new town plan it took the further step of proposing to zone the area where QCL had bought land as residential to prevent it from building a factory. The plan also included an esplanade that would run along the Ormiston foreshore. In order to construct the esplanade the shire would resume QCL’s land immediately adjacent to the bay.[35] This proposal posed a serious threat to QCL’s plans at Ormiston. Early testing had discovered “a deposit of coral sand…which might amount to a few million tons”. The coral sand, so the board suggested, “could be pumped ashore from a pontoon dredge”.[36] In this way QCL could supply the new factory with the coral it needed. In the short term the company could also, as it was now planning to do, truck the coral to Darra to help meet its needs there. But neither the factory nor the plan to truck coral to Darra would be possible if QCL did not have access to the land right along the shore. QCL had to act quickly. It therefore decided to “build the first stage of a coral receiving basin to forestall the Council’s proposals”.[37] QCL and the Redland Shire Council were now at loggerheads.

Troublesome though the council’s manoeuvres were, QCL knew that the authority that really mattered when it came to its operations was the state government. Immediately after the Nicklin government was reelected on 1 June 1963 the board wrote to the premier congratulating him “upon the successful outcome of the recent elections”. At the same time Jameson wrote to Hiley on behalf of the board “regarding granting us…a consolidated lease of the coral areas in Moreton Bay at present held at Mud Island and at St. Helena and Green Islands, together with the foreshores of Raby Bay”.[38] The government was not prepared to grant Jameson’s request immediately but instead gave QCL a licence to explore the 50-square-mile area stretching from Mud Island to Cleveland shown in Figure 3.1. The exploration area did not encompass Peel Island but it did include the area around King Island and Empire Point that had been covered by Thomson’s now-lapsed exploration licence. There was every reason to expect that the 50-square-mile area would contain enough coral to feed Darra’s kilns for a long time. There was no assumption that QCL would be granted all the coral in the 50-square-mile area, for the government wanted to leave open the possibility of some competitor establishing a cement factory in the Brisbane region. But there was an understanding with QCL that the company should be assured of “security of supply” for a period of 25 years. When Harbours and Marine wrote to QCL in September 1963 setting out the conditions of the exploration permit it reaffirmed the government’s commitment to 25 years.[39] How much of the 50-square-mile area QCL would be allowed to dredge would, so it was understood, depend on how much of that area it needed to obtain coral for that period.

Figure 3.1 Moreton Bay coral deposits exploration area, 1963

As it worked to gain access to more and more coral, QCL was by this time also developing a plan to use its Ormiston property as the base for its marine operations. In October the board decided to buy a base radio station,[40] which staff based at Ormiston would use to keep in touch with the company’s vessels. At this point QCL had only one dredge and one carrier but it had every reason to expect to need more vessels before long.


These were heady times for QCL. A credit squeeze in 1961 had slowed the steady increase in demand for QCL’s cement, but by 1963 demand was soaring. Central to this surge in demand was a housing boom in the greater Brisbane area, where developers opened up new suburbs featuring one- and two-storey brick-veneer homes. Because clay bricks had become readily available (and were much preferred by consumers) QCL stopped making concrete bricks in 1961 but it profited greatly from the housing boom because so much cement was needed not only for mortar but also for driveways and particularly the concrete slabs that the houses were built on. Among the developments was Centenary Estates, which was just north of QCL’s Darra plant. Key to the success of the project was a new bridge—the Centenary Bridge—linking the estates to the north side of the river. It too required large amounts of QCL cement. Even natural phenomena contributed to the boom conditions, as, thanks to a drought, building and construction activity was not interrupted by periods of wet weather.

In order to meet the escalating demand QCL planned yet another expansion. Rather than building a new factory at Ormiston as soon as the current plant at Darra had reached its capacity QCL decided that it would first increase the capacity of the Darra plant to 750,000 tons of cement a year. That was expected to take place in the late 1960s. It is possible QCL wanted to buy time while it dealt with the Redland Shire Council’s continued intransigence to its plans in the shire. However, in February 1964 a joint letter to Nicklin from Axon, as chairman of CQC as well as QCL, and the chairman of NACL simply described the plan to expand first at Darra as “more economic” than building a factory at Ormiston in the near future. As the two chairmen saw it, QCL’s plans at Darra and (in the longer term) Ormiston were part of a “progressive programme” in which QCL, CQC, and NACL would fulfill their “responsibility to make adequate provision to supply a commodity essential for the development of this State”. After declaring how much the directors of their companies appreciated “the assistance they have received at all times from you and your Government” the chairmen told the premier that the directors knew he would “appreciate the magnitude of the proposed programme” and would continue to give them his “full support”. The chairmen asked in particular that the government assist QCL with its investigations in Moreton Bay “to ensure that ample supplies of coral will be available for the manufacture of cement by” QCL.[41] Following this letter the chairmen had a meeting with Nicklin. Immediately afterwards the premier not only wrote to Axon thanking him and the chairman of NACL for their “tremendous announcement” but also issued a press statement pledging the government’s support of QCL’s coral investigations.[42] Rarely had the blend of gratitude, presumption, and entreaty that characterized QCL’s applications for government assistance yielded such promising results.

In this encouraging environment QCL was making progress with its investigations. In addition to the drilling it was already doing in the Empire Point–Raby Bay area QCL hired a French firm, Compagnie Générale de Géophysique (CGG), to undertake a seismic survey. A seismic survey would fairly quickly map the areal extent and thickness of the coral deposits. This information would in turn give the company a rough indication of the volume of the deposits and therefore (assuming that the deposits had a certain density) how many tons of coral they contained. CGG presented a preliminary report in February 1964 but the QCL board minutes give no indication of what was in the report. CGG proposed a “complete survey” but the board balked both because of the expense and because “there would be no guarantee of results”.[43] The board eventually decided to go ahead with a complete seismic survey but rather than CGG it hired a British firm, Ground and Marine Geophysics Ltd, to do the work. In the meantime, QCL stepped up its drilling program. In addition to the equipment it was using in the Empire Point–Raby Bay area it began drilling in other parts of the 50-square-mile area using a drilling rig that it had mounted on a military-surplus blitz wagon that it had in turn mounted on pontoons. By June it had taken 15 bores, mainly it appears at St Helena Island.[44]

QCL regarded drilling as an essential component of the exploration, for while the seismic survey would indicate the size of a deposit only drilling could reveal its quality. It was important to ensure that a deposit did not contain more than a tiny amount of magnesium. Assuming that the level of magnesium was sufficiently low, the central question was how much calcium carbonate was in, say, a cubic yard of the deposit. The answer to that question depended mainly on whether the deposit contained sand and mud. The greater the amount of sand and mud in the deposit the smaller the amount of calcium carbonate and therefore the smaller the amount of clinker that could be produced from that deposit. The results of the two components of the survey—finding out both the size and the quality of the various deposits—would allow QCL to work out the “clinker equivalent” of those deposits. The clinker equivalent was simply how many tons of clinker could be produced from a particular deposit.

Ground and Marine Geophysics appears to have begun its seismic survey in September 1964. By October the survey was showing “good deposits of coral” but QCL insisted that “these deposits would have to be proved by drilling”.[45] Ground and Marine Geophysics completed the survey the following month and soon submitted its final report. Accompanying the report was a chart mapping the coral deposits of the 50-square-mile area. Figure 3.2 gives a simplified view of the results for Green Island. Encircling the island are isopachs showing where the coral deposit was 10 and 5 feet thick and where, at the 0-foot isopach, the deposit (and the reef) ended. Also on the chart are two patches to the east of the island where the deposit was 15 feet thick. The chart showed a similar pattern around St Helena Island, though without any areas where the coral was 15 feet thick. It also showed a 10-foot-thick deposit of coral all the way from King Island to Raby Bay. Finally, the chart showed “existing dredged areas” on the northern, northwestern, and southern sides of Mud Island and evidence of dredging around the eastern side of the island as well. When it discussed the report in January 1965 the QCL board noted that the seismic survey gave a “good picture of the position in Moreton Bay” but again took the view that “it would be necessary to prove certain areas for coral by boring”. So far the results of the boring program looked promising. At the time of the board meeting drilling had “indicated further deposits of good coral” at Green Island.[46] Soon QCL put both of its drills to work in the Wellington Point area.

Figure 3.2 Results of seismic survey for Green Island, 1964

About September 1964, even as the results of the exploration were just starting to come in, QCL applied to Hiley for an “emergency” permit to dredge in the Empire Point–Raby Bay area.[47] Such a permit would allow the company to begin dredging, so it hoped, before it obtained a long-term licence to most or all of the 50-square-mile area. The Redland Shire Council remained implacably opposed to QCL’s plans at Ormiston. In October the council informed QCL that the company’s property would be zoned residential in the new town plan. It also refused to allow QCL to land coral on the foreshore at Ormiston,[48] forcing the directors to make enquiries about transporting the coral by water to the wharf at Oxley.[49] In the early part of 1965, however, QCL was able to work out at least a short-term resolution to the problems it faced in the Redlands. In April Harbours and Marine assured Leo Jones “that there would not be any problems with the Department in obtaining coral from Raby Bay”[50] and a short time later the department gave QCL permission to land and stockpile the coral on its property for a limited period.[51] By June 1965 it had chartered a single-cutter suction dredge, the Kawana Island, and a month later it began dredging.[52] The Kawana Island was a minnow compared to the Coral—it was just 72 feet long—but its draft of just 4.5 feet made it ideal for working in the Empire Point–Raby Bay area.[53] Rather than pumping the coral into a carrier in the way the Coral did at Mud Island the Kawana Island pumped it directly to shore through a long floating pipe. Once QCL had built up a stockpile of coral at Ormiston it could start trucking it to Darra. This was regarded as a temporary arrangement until QCL had worked out the logistics of transporting the coral by water.

Because QCL wanted to bring about a big increase in coral deliveries in the coming years it worked on ways to speed up the rate at which it transported coral from dredge to plant. In March 1964 it began to consider buying a new carrier. QCL wanted a carrier that could navigate the Brisbane River during all tidal conditions. Early the following year it contracted a local engineering firm, Evans Deakin, to construct the vessel. The first vessel especially designed and built for QCL, it would be able to carry 3000 tons of coral as compared to the 2000 carried by the Cementco. The company hoped to take delivery in 1966.[54] As it increased the fleet’s carrying capacity QCL needed to speed up the movement of coral from the wharf at Oxley to the plant at Darra. Early in 1964 it revived its old dream of constructing some sort of conveyor. A conveyor would do away with all the complications associated with using trucks, and removing the trucks from local roads would be greatly welcomed by the residents of Centenary Estates. By September QCL had already accepted a tender to construct the conveyor, subject to the necessary approvals. For most of its length the conveyor, which QCL regarded as the “backbone” of all the steps it was taking to increase production, would traverse land owned by the company. But because it would cross public roads in four places QCL needed the government’s permission before it could go ahead. QCL applied to the minister for local government, while Axon wrote to Nicklin asking for his assistance.[55] The government quickly approved the application. QCL was aiming to have the conveyor ready by 1966.


QCL wrapped up its drilling program in August 1965 and in September the board discussed the final report on the exploration. The survey showed that the percentage of calcium carbonate in samples taken from the 50-square-mile exploration area varied greatly from one part of the area to another. It ranged from as high as 70 percent in “coral already taken from Mud Island” (whether this referred to coral in the stockpile at Darra is unclear) to 51.2 percent at Wellington Point and 47.6 percent at Empire Point.[56] These results as well as information from the seismic survey allowed QCL to estimate the clinker equivalent of the deposits within the exploration area. As it happened, there were some areas within the exploration area where QCL had not drilled. These were the part of Mud Island covered by mangroves and patches of reefs on the western and northwest sides of St Helena Island and the eastern side of Green Island. In keeping with its principle that it was necessary to “prove” the results of the seismic survey before accepting those results, QCL did not include those areas when it came up with this estimate of the amount of clinker (in tons) that could be produced from the coral in the exploration area:[57]


Mud Island   4,930,000
St Helena   4,690,000
Green Island   7,000,000
Lota–Cleveland foreshore 10,989,000
Total 27,609,000


This was much less than QCL had expected. Indeed, according to its calculations, these deposits would, assuming a 6 percent annual increase in sales (and therefore in clinker production), give the company just enough coral for the next 25 years. Since QCL believed that it must always hold at least 25 years of supplies in reserve, and since the government had accepted 25 years as the benchmark in its dealings with the company, the company decided to apply for a licence to dredge the whole exploration area.[58] It immediately submitted both the results of the survey and its application to the government.

As well as encouraging QCL to apply for a licence over the whole area the survey results forced the company to rethink its plans at Ormiston. It was suddenly obvious to QCL that if the area contained barely enough coral to sustain production for 25 years then its plan to build a new plant at Ormiston was now “impracticable”. Instead, an expansion at Rockhampton as well as the planned expansion at Darra “would satisfy the market for many years to come”.[59] At its next meeting the QCL board noted that it would be cheaper to expand at Darra than to construct a new plant at Ormiston and that production costs would be significantly lower at Darra than at Ormiston.[60] And in October it definitively decided that “the next expansion of plant should be at Darra”.[61] It remained vitally important, however, to be able to land and stockpile coral at Ormiston. Whether the town plan being prepared by the Redland Shire Council would allow this was far from certain.

While QCL was rethinking its future at Ormiston the government was considering the company’s application for a licence to dredge throughout the entire exploration area. In order to help the government make a decision Hiley asked Harbours and Marine to assess the survey results. According to the department the coral in the exploration area had a clinker equivalent of 36,179,000 tons,[62] which was 8,570,000 tons more than QCL’s estimate.[63] The reason for this difference was simple: Harbours and Marine included those areas where the seismic survey showed substantial deposits but where QCL had done no drilling. It was the coral in these areas that accounted for the difference of 8,570,000 tons. After much discussion within the relevant departments Hiley wrote to Axon on his last day as treasurer, 23 December, informing him that “my officers” had determined that what was left at Mud Island and what was in “the distinct additional area stretching from King Island down to Raby Bay” would give QCL enough coral for 30 years.[64] That was more than the 25 years “which had been regarded as virtually the target period of assured supply”. But “after consideration, the view is taken that it is not sufficient to justify splitting up the supplies of that area and that, consequently, no objection will be taken to the granting of the leases”. This letter did not convey a formal government decision. It seems that as Hiley tidied up unfinished business he simply wanted to assure QCL that after years of negotiations all was well.

As far as specific deposits were concerned, the only commitment Hiley made was in relation to the area from King Island to Raby Bay. But he also reaffirmed the government’s commitment to ensuring that QCL had reserves for 25 years. That was what really mattered to the company. Since QCL believed that the only way it could have such a reserve was to obtain a licence to dredge the entire exploration area, it interpreted Hiley as assuring the company that it would be granted a licence for the whole area.[65] The QCL board was therefore delighted with Hiley’s letter.

Unbeknownst to the board, however, the premier, Frank Nicklin, now acting treasurer as well, either did not know about Hiley’s assurance to QCL or chose to ignore it. Nicklin recommended that the government reserve “all the coral other than live coral” in the exploration area for cement manufacture. But he did not want QCL to tie up all those deposits, as there were other companies interested in producing cement in the Brisbane region. One of them was W.R. Thomson, who in 1964 had “sought approval to remove coral in the St. Helena–Green Island–King Island area for the establishment of a cement works at Lytton”. Nicklin dismissed Thomson out of hand (“his reputation is not such that he could be regarded as bona fide”) but he did want to give a large British company, Associated Portland Cement Manufacturers (APCM), a chance to establish itself if it decided to set up a factory in Brisbane. He expected that APCM would shortly apply for a licence to explore all the areas in the bay not covered by QCL’s exploration licence. He therefore recommended that in addition to QCL’s existing rights at Mud Island the government grant the company a licence to extract coral at St Helena Island or Green Island or in the area between Lota and Cleveland. QCL could pick only one of those three areas. Even according to Nicklin’s own calculations the combination of its existing licence at Mud Island and a licence to one of these three new areas would give QCL security of supply for 17 to 21 years depending on which it picked.[66] This fell well short of the 25 years that the government had accepted as the company’s minimum requirement. Nevertheless, on 18 January 1966, the very day QCL’s board was expressing satisfaction with Hiley’s letter, cabinet approved Nicklin’s recommendations.[67]

This sudden turnabout rocked QCL. Axon wrote to the new treasurer, Gordon Chalk, all but accusing the government of a breach of trust. After quoting Hiley’s letter in full, Axon pointed out that what the government had offered would, along with what remained at Mud Island, give QCL enough coral (according to QCL’s calculations) for just 18 years at the most. He referred to the large investments QCL had made and was planning to make in order to fulfil Queensland’s cement needs. He explained that the company would find it very difficult to raise share capital for its expansion if it could not assure its shareholders that it had enough coral for at least 25 years. He detailed the company’s efforts to keep prices low for the good of the state. And, not least, he pointed out that QCL had spent £21,000 on a survey the government asked for. “We request you…to resubmit our application for further coral leases”, Axon concluded. “You can feel assured…that we will make efficient use of them to the benefit of the State Government.”[68]

The director of Harbours and Marine, Arthur Peel, saw no reason to change the decision. He argued that if APCM or some other newcomer established a cement factory in Brisbane it would need to have access to at least some of the coral within the exploration area; there simply was not enough in the areas outside the exploration area to sustain a factory in the long term. Peel also argued that if a competitor successfully established itself in Brisbane QCL would not need as much coral as it claimed to need.[69] Chalk agreed that QCL could not be given all the coral in the exploration area, but he believed it should be assured of a 25 year supply. He therefore recommended that QCL be given access to deposits that would give it a clinker equivalent of 27,600,000 tons, which of course was almost exactly the figure the company had come up with for the whole exploration area. He also recommended that he be given the authority to approve the areas to be licensed after discussions between QCL and Harbours and Marine. Cabinet accepted these recommendations on 15 February.[70]

The decision came as a great relief to QCL, but it did not result in the company gaining access to all the coral within the exploration area. During discussions between QCL and Harbours and Marine the department insisted on using its own figures, which unlike the company’s included areas covered by the seismic survey but not the drilling program, in determining the areas to be given to QCL. As a result, the settlement that Chalk approved on 8 March gave QCL all of the reefs around St Helena and Green islands but only about a quarter of the deposits in the area from Lota to Raby Bay, specifically, the deposits off Empire Point that were closest to the company’s property at Ormiston.[71] It was then left to Harbours and Marine to determine the precise boundaries of the areas to be given to QCL. The company had not gained everything it had wanted but thanks to the reconsideration it received a great deal more than it had been initially granted.

On the same day as Chalk approved the settlement with QCL cabinet made a decision regarding APCM’s application for an exploration licence. APCM had applied to explore almost everywhere in the bay outside QCL’s exploration area known to contain coral deposits. This was a vast area, as shown in Figure 3.3. As Chalk noted in his cabinet submission, the bulk of the coral outside QCL’s exploration area was almost certainly “to be found around Peel Island”. However, the treasurer balked at the prospect of dredging taking place there. “Although the majority of the coral around Peel Island is dead”, he explained, “a certain amount is known to be alive”. He feared that mud stirred up by dredging dead coral could cover and kill living coral on the fringe of the reef. He noted that it might be possible to protect the living coral using “special techniques” to remove dredge spoil from the water, but he did not elaborate on this suggestion, for to him the dead coral was itself an important part of the reef:

Both the live and dead coral provide a nursery ground for juvenile squire or schnapper, and whilst reef fish also frequent the live coral areas the inshore section of weed covered dead coral offers good bream fishing. The waters fringing the island are a real attraction to anglers and a great number of boats frequent the reefs.

Arguing that dredging could destroy Peel Island as an angling spot, a fish nursery, and a place to view live coral, he concluded that the coral around Peel Island “should remain untouched at this stage. This would include the adjacent islands of Bird and Goat which are really part of the Peel Island reef system and where dredging operations would probably affect the Peel Island coral.” He recommended that APCM be given a permit to explore the coral everywhere in the area it asked for but excluding that portion north of a line from Cleveland Point to a point 3 miles south of Dunwich (see Figure 3.3). In other words, though he stopped short of stating this explicitly, APCM would be given permission to explore everywhere except where most of the coral was believed to be.[72] After cabinet accepted Chalk’s recommendation it was left to Harbours and Marine to determine the precise boundaries of the exploration area, just as it had been in the case of QCL’s new dredging licence.

Figure 3.3 The coral exploration area APCM applied for in 1966

The next few months were a very difficult time for QCL. Sales were soaring but it was finding it hard to supply the kilns (of which there were now three following the dismantling of the two small and now obsolete kilns the company had installed during and immediately after World War I)[73] with enough coral to meet the demand. Because of delays in the construction of the new coral carrier it lacked the capacity to move sufficient coral from Mud Island to Oxley Wharf. And because it was so difficult to build up a large stockpile of coral at Darra QCL could not withdraw the Coral for an overhaul without being forced to cut back on production. In its desperation QCL bought clinker from Goliath Cement in Tasmania at great expense and even considered transporting limestone to Darra from Rockhampton.[74] In these circumstances QCL wanted to step up operations at Ormiston. Even though residents were already complaining about the noise generated by the dredge and the trucks carting coral through the streets of Ormiston,[75] the company “proposed to operate Raby Bay for 24 hours a day”.[76] When Nicklin asked that “every avenue be explored before a decision was taken to operate the dredge…on a 24-hour basis”, Axon replied that the company was trying to avoid doing this because of the greater cost of Raby Bay coral. He also assured the premier that QCL was doing all it could to keep the carting of coral from Ormiston to Darra outside normal working hours to a minimum.[77] Whatever assurances Axon gave the premier, however, QCL was determined to push its Raby Bay operation as hard as it could, for, “completely uneconomic” though it was, that operation was vital “to keep[ing] the plant at peak production”.[78] The minutes of a board meeting on 5 July note that “coral stocks are being maintained with the assistance of supplies from Raby Bay”. More relief appeared to be on the horizon when Lady Axon launched the new coral carrier, christened the Darra, on 10 August.[79]

Throughout these months QCL had waited impatiently while Harbours and Marine appeared to be doing nothing to finalize its new licence. After appealing to Chalk for help, however, the board learned that the department was still working out the precise boundaries of the three areas to be covered by the licence. The government finally issued the licence on 15 August. It came into effect on 1 September 1966 and was to expire on 31 August 1991. The result was that QCL now held licences over all the areas shown in Figure 3.4.[80]

Figure 3.4 QCL’s coral licences, September 1966

The new licence included conditions not attached to the Mud Island licence. The licence prohibited QCL from taking or damaging any live coral within the licence area. Harbours and Marine could also direct the company to take coral no closer than 150 feet from the high-water mark if the department thought “valuable mangrove area” was endangered by dredging. And the department, in a measure intended to prevent erosion, could also require QCL to “leave a slope not steeper than one in seven from high-water mark to low-water mark, and not steeper than one in three below low-water mark”.[81] My sources give no indication whether these measures reflected concern that dredging could affect the areas now being granted QCL in the same way that Mud Island was being affected. What is certain is that there was little or no concern about the fate of Mud Island itself, for implicit in the government’s discussions in 1966 was that it was happy for QCL to dredge right into the mangroves around Mud Island.

Around the same time as it was finalizing the new licence the government reviewed the royalties it charged QCL for coral taken from Mud Island. The government had increased the royalty in 1961 and, accepting Chalk’s view that QCL’s financial position was “sound” and that the company “should be called upon to make a greater contribution for its long term exclusive rights to the raw materials in the area under licence”, it now decided to do so again. The new rate of 8 cents a ton was expected to generate $44,000 a year in revenue.[82] The government then imposed the same rate on coral taken under the new licence as well.

In September, after sorting out these loose ends with QCL, the government finally issued APCM an exploration licence. For reasons unclear to me the area granted the company “covered three areas totalling 4,260 acres [6.7 square miles] only”, which was much smaller than the area cabinet had approved in March, though it is possible the three areas included all the areas within that area known to contain coral. APCM was expected to submit quarterly reports on its progress.[83]


At about the time APCM received this licence the Courier-Mail began to carry letters and reports about another company with its eyes on Moreton Bay’s coral. It emerged that Queensland Glass Manufacturers Company had applied to dredge between 10,000 and 15,000 tons of coral a year for about 20 years in a long narrow 64-acre strip just off the southern end of the Rainbow Channel.[84] The northern end of this strip included at least part of an “extensive coral patch”[85] near Myora Light. The patch contained many living specimens of branching coral of the genus Acropora that were rare or non-existent elsewhere in the bay except in “subfossil” form (namely, in the coral rubble that formed the reefs around Mud and other islands).[86] The quantity of coral that Queensland Glass wanted to dredge was very small compared to the approximately 600,000 tons a year that QCL was extracting from Mud Island at that time[87] or the amounts APCM would need to establish a viable cement works, but the location alarmed a variety of groups and individuals. The Professional Fishermen’s League feared that dredging would ruin one of the prime fishing spots in the bay. Holders of oyster leases in the area believed that silt stirred up by dredging would muddy the clean water essential for growing oysters. Young biologists at the University of Queensland were outraged “at the prospect of having the rich fauna of this area obliterated”.[88] Also condemning the proposal were the Redland Shire Council (which included at least two councillors with oyster leases in the area), the Queensland Naturalists’ Club, the Malacological Society of Australia, and the Dunwich Progress Association.[89]

As two history lecturers opposed to the proposal observed, a fundamental problem was that because QCL had already tied up so many of the known coral deposits in the bay “latecomers” such as APCM and Queensland Glass “have been obliged to select locations previously avoided because of their wild-life value”.[90] Now that APCM was being granted an exploration permit over some of the area QCL did not already control, Queensland Glass had even less choice about where it might obtain coral. There apparently was no discussion of giving Queensland Glass a deposit in the 50-square-mile area reserved for cement making that the government had withheld when it gave QCL its new licence. Instead, as had been suggested by the Queensland Naturalists’ Club, the government encouraged Queensland Glass to ask QCL to see whether it would be willing to supply the company with the coral it needed. Initially, so the sources suggest, QCL was willing to consider such an arrangement. At the same time as this possibility was being explored the senior fisheries official in Harbours and Marine, Geoffrey Harrison, asked Eddie Hegerl, the founding director of the Queensland Littoral Society, to lead “an underwater team composed of Harbours & Marine and Littoral Society personnel in a biological survey of the coral areas of Moreton Bay”, particularly those around and near Peel Island.[91] This was an extension of surveys Hegerl and his colleagues in the QLS were already doing in the bay. They were, it appears, the first to use scuba gear to study the bay’s marine life. While all this was going on Queensland Glass’s application was on hold.


In the latter part of 1966 QCL had a breakthrough in its dispute with the Redland Shire Council. After intense negotiations between the company, the council, and the Department of Local Government the council agreed to allow QCL to stockpile coral on its Ormiston property and not to resume any of the company’s land for an esplanade or any other purpose. The land would be zoned as industrial but there was an understanding that QCL would never establish a cement factory at Ormiston. With an eye on the future use of the land, QCL gained the council’s assurance that it would agree to rezone that land as residential if the company should ever ask for such a change.[92] This breakthrough did not resolve all the problems at Ormiston. In particular, residents were still unhappy with the noise generated by the dredge and the damage the trucks were doing to local streets. And nothing had been done about a complaint by the council chairman that QCL’s dredging “leaves an area of sediment which is fast growing round all the foreshores”.[93] But the company could at least be confident that the council was not about to put an end to its operations at Raby Bay.

In May 1967, as demand for cement fell sharply as a result of wet weather, the QCL board briefly considered stopping these operations. QCL had sold the Morib, and it had taken several months to get the Darra fully operational, but even so the stockpile at Darra was so big that the company did not really need to maintain supplies from Raby Bay. By the middle of the year, however, all such thoughts were banished. When Axon addressed the annual general meeting in September (for the last time, as ill health soon forced him to retire after thirty-one years on the board), he was able to report that with the return of good weather sales had reached a record level in August.[94] Indeed, QCL was humming along as well as any such highly complex business could. The company had recently extended the wharf at Oxley, added a second transporter crane, and installed a new coral crusher at the wharf, and at long last the conveyor (the subject of sabotage in July) was moving coral from the wharf to Darra,[95] fulfilling the dream of generations of QCL’s leaders.

While QCL was realizing the fruits of its capital investments, Queensland Glass, in contrast, was making no progress in its dealings with QCL. Over the course of 1967 it became clear to the company that QCL was making little or no effort to accommodate its desire to obtain a small amount of coral. This was hardly surprising in view of the surge in demand for cement—QCL needed to process every ton of coral it could extract from the bay. By the end of the year Queensland Glass again turned to Harbours and Marine for assistance. Harbours and Marine could not force QCL to sell coral to Queensland Glass, since it was under no obligation to do so. But Arthur Peel was able to tell Queensland Glass that certain exploration leases were likely to become available soon. This was because APCM, after filing just one quarterly report, had called a halt to its investigation of coral reserves after it failed to find enough coral to justify a new cement factory in the Brisbane area. By this time the joint QLS–Harbours and Marine underwater survey had confirmed the abundance of marine life in the Peel Island area.[96] Peel presumably had the survey, and perhaps the mining warden’s recommendation in a similar case regarding Ellison Reef (see Box 3.1), in mind when, on 14 December, he made it clear to Queensland Glass that it would not be able to undertake explorations or dredging at Myora or around Peel, Bird, and Goat islands.[97] At the same time he gave the company hope that it might soon be able to obtain an exploration licence over all or part of the area APCM had been exploring. But because APCM’s exploration licence was not yet formally terminated Queensland Glass would have to wait a little longer before the government could even consider giving it access to some of the bay’s coral.

Box 3.1
Ellison Reef

Ellison Reef lies about 30 kilometres northeast of Mission Beach in north Queensland. In the middle of 1967 an Innisfail cane farmer, Donald Forbes, applied to mine the reef’s coral to provide his fellow farmers with a source of lime. In his application he emphasized that Ellison Reef was “dead”. The application alarmed the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland (WPSQ), which had been founded in 1962 with the goal of “remedying the growing vandalism and ignorance of Australia’s unique flora and fauna”.[98] It feared that if the application were approved it could set a dangerous precedent for mining and oil exploration in the Great Barrier Reef generally. Initially, the WPSQ turned to the GBRC and senior scientists at the University of Queensland for support, but because they too regarded the reef as dead and were in any case resigned to a certain amount of exploitation of the Great Barrier Reef they declined to assist. The WPSQ then sought the help of Eddie Hegerl and the QLS, which had only recently conducted the survey of the Peel Island area on behalf of Harbours and Marine. After he and two of his colleagues conducted an underwater survey of the reef Hegerl was able to tell the mining warden considering the application that contrary to Forbes’s claim the reef was home to a great variety of species of live coral, fish, and other marine animals. And he warned that the currents would carry fine silt stirred up by dredging beyond the mining site and harm sedentary organisms wherever it settled. The WPSQ also enlisted the help of Don McMichael of the Australian Conservation Foundation, yet another environmental group founded around this time. McMichael, who had dived on the reef both in 1965 and the day before he gave evidence, told the warden that the reef “is just as much a living coral reef as any other coral reef I have examined” and that the coral sand Forbes wanted to mine was the home of a rare species of mollusc. He too stressed the destructive impact of the fine silt that would be generated by dredging. At the same time, the WPSQ, led by the poet Judith Wright, mounted a public campaign to save the reef from mining.

Those opposing the application had little expectation that the warden would rule against Forbes. The cane farmers were politically influential, and the government was encouraging “development” in every possible way. Moreover, as far as the application itself was concerned, Forbes had observed all the provisions of the Mining Act. However, so the warden announced on 8 December, “there were other factors to be considered”, including evidence that the reef was “very much alive”. He therefore recommended “that in the public interest, and in the interest of probable preservation of the Great Barrier Reef, the application be refused”.[99]

The final decision lay with the mines minister, Ron Camm. Camm indicated that “there would have to be some special reason before he would over-rule the warden”.[100] Because he was renowned for his promotion of mining and was himself a cane farmer, however, it still came as a great surprise when, on 30 April 1968, he decided to uphold the warden’s recommendation.


Meanwhile, QCL was powering ahead. During the year ending 31 July 1968 cement sales shot up by 18.5 percent. To meet the demand the company drew down on existing stocks and brought in clinker from the Rockhampton plant. As sales soared, it placed an order for a new, 250,000-tons-per-annum rotary kiln and associated plant. And it took several steps to make sure it had plenty of coral to feed the Darra plant’s ever-increasing appetite for calcium carbonate. QCL carried out an “extensive overhaul” of its two old workhorses, the Coral and the Cementco.[101] It began drilling within the huge mangrove-covered part of Mud Island to confirm whether it really did contain, as the seismic survey had suggested, significant coral deposits. Because of Harbours and Marine’s refusal to extend QCL’s licence to stockpile coral at Ormiston for more than one year at a time the company began seriously investigating the possibility of transporting coral by water directly from the dredge at Empire Point to Oxley.[102] Most significantly, QCL began discussions with the government about obtaining more coral deposits.[103] Even though it had yet to dredge at St Helena Island or Green Island the company held fast to its position that it must always maintain at least 25 years’ worth of reserves. By July the scope for obtaining more deposits widened when APCM’s exploration permit was withdrawn.[104]

By October QCL had submitted a formal application.[105] The application had two components. The first concerned the coral in the 50-square-mile exploration area that the government had reserved for cement making in 1966 but had not granted QCL. The government had given QCL a licence to dredge at Empire Point but not elsewhere in the area between Cleveland Point and King Island. Now the company wanted the remaining coral, estimated to have a clinker equivalent of 8,470,000 tons. The second component concerned deposits outside the 50-square-mile exploration area. QCL was applying for a licence to explore all the areas within the bay that had not already been explored. For all practical purposes that meant exploring in the southern part of the bay, as there was almost no coral anywhere in the bay north of Mud Island.

As they had been for some time, the deposits around and near Peel Island were off limits. In January 1969, as QCL waited for the government to respond to its application, the government designated Myora a Fish Habitat Reserve, where fishing was allowed but the removal of coral (dead as well as living) and shell was forbidden.[106] It is quite likely that the government already had plans to declare other areas around and close to Peel Island as reserves as well. In April the government put another area out of QCL’s reach when it gave Queensland Glass a permit to explore the coral reef off the northwest tip of Coochiemudlo Island. Otherwise, however, all the coral deposits in the southern part of the bay—not only in the areas previously held by APCM but also in many areas that had not been covered by its exploration licence—were potentially available for exploration by QCL.

In July, as QCL continued to wait for a response from the government, it completed its latest expansion at Darra. As well as the new 475-foot-long kiln, kiln no. 6, the expansion “included a new raw mill, clinker cooler, pulverised coal plant, electrostatic precipitator, two slurry silos, slurry basin, two clay skip silos and No. 3 transporter crane for Oxley Wharf”.[107] The Darra plant now had a capacity of 750,000 tons of cement a year, 12.5 times more than it had had in the mid 1930s.[108] The plant’s need for coral had increased correspondingly. QCL’s desire for new licences may have become all the more pressing when initial drilling inside Mud Island’s mangroves “disclosed clay and mud but no coral”.[109]

Cabinet finally got around to considering QCL’s application in October. By this time the premier in the Country–Liberal government was Joh Bjelke-Petersen. With the unanimous support of his Country Party colleagues, who regarded him as a “stopgap appointment”, Bjelke-Petersen had seized the premiership from Gordon Chalk (a Liberal) in August 1968 after Chalk had led the government for just one week.[110] Chalk remained as treasurer, and in that position had overseen the introduction of Fish Habitat Reserves, but sometime in the first half of 1969 responsibility for Harbours and Marine—and with it the question of coral licences—was handed over to the minister for conservation, marine and Aboriginal affairs, Neville Hewitt.

Hewitt’s cabinet submission[111] was generally sympathetic to QCL’s application but it posed a fundamental question: was the government “prepared to virtually exclude the possibility of competition for Queensland Cement and Lime from another manufacturer perhaps for all time”? Hewitt was himself reluctant to take this step. Whether the government would have no choice but to give QCL what amounted to exclusive access to Moreton Bay’s coral deposits, however, depended on just how much coral there was in the bay. He noted that APCM had given up its search for coral deposits but wondered whether “a more exhaustive survey might disclose further materials which could change the picture”. Hewitt therefore proposed that except in the vicinity of Peel Island and Myora and in Deception Bay (where there were two Fish Habitat Reserves but no known coral) QCL “undertake an intensive survey for coral for cement making purposes within Moreton Bay”.[112] QCL was happy to undertake such a survey but wanted immediate access to the remaining deposits in the Raby Bay–King Island area. But Hewitt worried that if the government were to grant this request QCL would be in no hurry to complete the survey. To prevent this from happening he proposed that the government postpone a decision on QCL’s request until after the company had conducted the survey. Once the survey was completed QCL would be given a licence to the remaining deposits (having a clinker equivalent of about 8,470,000 tons) in the Raby Bay–King Island area. If, as a result of the survey, the government decided to reserve more coral for cement making, QCL would be granted a licence to dredge some of that coral, up to an amount having a clinker equivalent of 2,000,000 tons. Whether QCL would be licensed to dredge reserves over and above that amount would be considered only after the survey was completed. Finally, the government would, when granting licences after the survey, review the royalties the company was paying “in light of the proportion of the total known reserves held by the Company following completion of the survey”. The implication was that the higher the proportion the higher the royalty would be.

Cabinet approved Hewitt’s recommendations in full. Interestingly, Hewitt’s submission had made no mention of the exploration licence the government had given Queensland Glass in March. It appears that by this time Queensland Glass had, like APCM, fallen by the wayside. Thus, QCL would be surveying the area around Coochiemudlo Island along with all the other areas it was now licensed to explore. The cabinet decision in fact implied that QCL should conduct investigations everywhere in the bay where there was likely to be coral except in the three areas specifically excluded. This meant that it was free to resurvey areas within the 50-square-mile exploration area if it so chose.


That is in fact what QCL did. In August 1970 it was revealed in parliament that QCL’s drilling operations extended from “near King Island…as far south as Raby Bay”.[113] A statement in parliament two months later by a member attacking QCL’s “prostitution of coral reserves” implied that the company’s exploration had by then reached as far south as Karragarra Passage, the channel at the southern end of Macleay and Lamb islands.[114] By the time it finally submitted the results of its survey in December 1971 QCL had explored from King Island to as far south as Macleay and Lamb islands and as far east as Pelican Banks (shown in Figure 3.3). The results indicate the clinker equivalent of deposits in the Wellington Point–Raby Bay area and (suggesting that it had relied entirely on seismic results in these areas) estimates of the volume of deposits at Cleveland, Coochiemudlo Island, Macleay Island, Perulpa and Lamb islands, and at Pelican Banks. By far the largest deposits were in the Wellington Point–Raby Bay area and at Cleveland. According to the government’s brief summary of the results the estimated clinker equivalent for “Raby Bay” (a term that may have included the Wellington Point area) was 6,062,000 tons, while that for all the other areas combined was 3,400,000, over half of which was around Cleveland Point. Thus the total for all the areas surveyed was 9,462,000 tons.[115] Since the government had excluded the Peel–Myora areas from the survey, and since, moreover, the government had recently taken the further step of designating the waters around Peel, Goat, and Bird islands as a Fish Habitat Reserve,[116] this figure represented, for all practical purposes, all the coral remaining in the bay that was not already licensed to QCL. QCL now applied for a licence to dredge coral in all of these remaining areas.

By the time cabinet considered QCL’s application administration of fisheries—and therefore of the Fisheries Act 1957 under which coral licences were now issued—had become the responsibility of the minister for primary industries, Victor Sullivan. There was no problem about giving QCL the entire 6,062,000 tons clinker equivalent it applied for in the Raby Bay area.[117] But many of the other areas presented problems. Harbours and Marine opposed dredging around Macleay, Perulpa, and Lamb islands and at Pelican Banks both “because of the danger of erosion” and because these areas were close to recently developed private freehold land. The Department of Primary Industries (DPI) was against dredging in these same areas “because of habitat disturbance, the value of the locality generally as a fishery and oyster area, and the necessity to preserve the southern section of Moreton Bay as a fish nursery ground”. These objections ruled out dredging everywhere south of Coochiemudlo Island. Included in QCL’s application was an area just north of Coochiemudlo (the same area Queensland Glass had earlier held an exploratory licence for) and off Point Halloran. Harbours and Marine took the view, endorsed by DPI, that QCL could dredge in these areas only if it could demonstrate that this dredging would leave enough coral to maintain the stability of the channel and of the shoreline. That left the Cleveland Point area. There were no major objections to dredging in this area but in his submission Sullivan insisted that dredging not come too close to the proposed extension of Toondah Harbour (location of the North Stradbroke Island ferry terminal), jetties, navigational aids, or the water inlet used by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation’s laboratory at Cleveland. He also recommended that, as apparently was now standard whenever dredging permits were issued, that QCL be required to maintain a “suitable side batter to dredge working areas”. The purpose of leaving such a “batter” (receding slope) was to reduce erosion along the shoreline. In a separate submission, after observing that QCL “could reasonably be called upon to make a greater contribution in royalty for its long term exclusive rights to raw materials”, Sullivan recommended that the company’s royalty be increased from 8 to 10 cents a ton. Hewitt estimated that at QCL’s present rate of consumption the new rate would increase total royalty payments from $58,800 to $73,500 a year. All but $3,500 of that total would come from Mud Island’s coral.[118]

Cabinet accepted Sullivan’s recommendations in full. What apparently followed was nearly two years of negotiation and bureaucratic manoeuvres regarding the precise boundaries of the areas to be licensed to QCL. Figure 3.5 shows the areas that the company finally was licensed to dredge on 1 June 1974. QCL received the area around Wellington Point and four areas in the vicinity of Cleveland Point: one stretching from the southern part of Raby Bay (immediately to the south of the area it already held at Empire Point) around to the eastern side of the point, two near Cassim Island, and another at Cox Bank. Notably missing was the Coochiemudlo–Point Halloran area, after, so it appears, QCL had failed to convince Harbours and Marine that it could meet its conditions in that area. Nevertheless, QCL now held almost all the deposits (outside those in Fish Habitat Reserves) of any economic significance in Moreton Bay. There would be no opportunity to obtain any more.

Figure 3.5 QCL’s coral licences in the Wellington Point-Cleveland Point area, June 1974


While all these events were taking place, the Coral had continued to dredge at Mud Island and the Cementco and Darra to carry coral to the wharf at Oxley. The amount of coral extracted from the island and carried to the wharf had increased from about 25,000 tons in 1935-36 to 488,000 tons in 1961-62 and then to 781,000 in 1970-71.[119] As the rate of extraction increased so too did the rate at which dredging was devouring the reef. Using aerial photographs, Allingham and Neil estimate that between 1942 (when the reef was still relatively intact) and 1958 QCL removed 118 hectares of the open reef flat (9.5 percent of the total area) at an average rate of 8 hectares a year. Between 1958 and 1972, as cement production accelerated, it removed a further 307 hectares (24.5 percent of the total) at an average rate of 22 hectares a year.[120] By 1972 dredging had removed nearly all of the open reef flat at the northern end of the island, most of the open flat along the eastern and southeast sides, and some of the open flat along the west side. The aerial photograph in Figure 3.6 shows how little reef flat remained in 1972.

Figure 3.6 Mud Island in 1972

Dredging was transforming the island in another way as well. A photograph in the company’s 1969 annual report shows the Darra alongside the Coral as the Cementco stood by ready to be loaded (Figure 3.7). Though the report makes no mention of it, the photograph also shows a ridge of coral rubble forming roughly parallel to the outer edge of the mangroves. Allingham and Neil estimate that by 1972, when the aerial photograph in Figure 3.6 was taken, rubble ridges encircled 44 percent of the island, all in areas where dredging had removed reef flat inside the low-water line.[121] Also shown in the 1969 photograph is a plume of sediment caused both by the cutter heads grinding into the reef and by coral and mud spilling over the side of the carrier as it was loaded.

Figure 3.7 The Darra alongside the Coral as the Cementco stands by ready to load, 1969

Within the government there was some appreciation of the impact dredging could have on marine habitats. That appreciation was the basis for establishing Fish Habitat Reserves. But there was to the best of my knowledge no appreciation about what was already happening at Mud Island. It remained “unsuitable for any other purpose”.

[1] Axon to Hiley, 23 September 1958 (ITM315185).

[2] Hiley to Harbours and Marine, 30 September 1958 (ITM315185).

[3] Fison to under secretary, Treasury, 8 October 1958 (ITM315185).

[4] “Wants aid for cement works”, Courier-Mail, 29 July 1958, quoted in QLA, Record of Proceedings, 29 October 1959, p. 1029.

[5] Harbours and Marine to under secretary, Treasury, 28 October 1958 (ITM315185).

[6] “New Portland Cement Works for Brisbane”, Courier-Mail, 17 November 1958 (ITM315185).

[7] Fison to under secretary, Treasury, 19 November 1958 (ITM315185).

[8] Fison to under secretary, Treasury, 10 March 1959 (ITM315185).

[9] Hiley, minute, 6 April1959 (ITM315185).

[10] Hiley to Thomson, 3 February 1960 (ITM315185).

[11] Axon to Hiley, 13 May 1959 (ITM315185). Axon, who was also the chancellor of the University of Queensland, had been knighted in January.

[12] As Fison acknowledged in an earlier letter to the treasurer, 3 April 1959 (ITM315185). That letter cast doubt on the accuracy of the estimates he had given in 1955 (see Figure 2.4).

[13] Hiley, minute, 26 June 1959 (ITM315185).

[14] Hiley to private secretary, 30 July 1959 (ITM315185).

[15] Thomson to Hiley, 18 January 1960 (ITM315185).

[16] Hiley to Thomson, 3 February 1960.

[17] Fison to under treasurer, 22 August 1960 (ITM315185). A map showing the location of the five spots where the Tridacna took samples is in ITM315185.

[18] Hiley to Thomson, 15 September 1960 (ITM315185).

[19] Thomson to Nicklin, 8 November 1961 (ITM539428).

[20] Anderson, The Hands That Made the Cement, p. 20; McLaren, “The location of cement plants”, p. 153 (quoted words).

[21] This was Merv Thackeray. See in particular QLA, Record of Proceedings, 14 September 1961, p. 359.

[22] Chalk, submission, 28 July 1966, in Decision No. 9236, 1 August 1966.

[23] These calculations are made on the basis that 1 ton of coral occupies roughly 1.54 cubic yards.

[24] QCL Board, 22 August 1963.

[25] QCL Board, 7 August 1962.

[26] QCL Board, 20 November 1962.

[27] QCL Board, 5 February 1963.

[28] E.G.W. Wood, chairman, Redland Shire Council, “Proposed establishment of cement manufacturing industry in Redland Shire”, March 1963 (ITM539426), Redland Shire Council, minutes, special meeting, 8 April 1963 (ITM869172), and copies of titles and transfers provided by the Lands Division, Queensland Department of Resources, December 2021 and March 2022. The manager bought three properties, covering a total of 23 acres and 4 perches, and later formally transferred them to QCL.

[29] QCL Board, 5 February 1963.

[30] “Council passes noxious industries by-law” and “Proposed cement works citizens protest”, Redlands News, 8 March 1963 (ITM539426).

[31] Axon to Redland Shire clerk, 13 March 1963 (ITM539426).

[32] “Notes of deputation from growers and residents in the Redlands area…27th March, 1963” (ITM539426).

[33] Redland Shire Council, minutes, special meeting, 8 April 1963.

[34] Redland Shire Council, minutes, special meeting, 10 April 1963 (ITM869172).

[35] “Battle is on over factory”, Sunday Mail, 11 August 1963 (ITM539426).

[36] QCL Board, 19 March 1963.

[37] QCL Board, 6 August 1963.

[38] QCL Board, 11 June 1963.

[39] Arthur J. Peel to Treasury, 10 February 1966, in Decision No. 8637, 15 February 1966. The permit appears to have been granted for part of the 50-square-mile area in September 1963 and the remainder a year later. QCL Board, 8 September 1964.

[40] QCL Board, 15 October 1963. The plan was to install the base radio station in Doobawah House, a historic Queenslander on the company’s property which would also become the home of Captain Hill-Willis, QCL’s superintendent of marine operations. I assume Doobawah House was the building that Leo Jones had obtained the Redland Shire Council’s permission to renovate. I thank Barry Neden for his recollections of QCL’s Ormiston property. Email message, 5 February 2021.

[41] Axon and J. Kruttschnitt to Nicklin, 13 February 1964 (ITM539426).

[42] Government press release, 18 February 1964, and Nicklin to Axon, 18 February 1964 (ITM539426).

[43] QCL Board, 10 December 1963 and 25 February 1964 (quoted words).

[44] QCL Board, 21 April, 2 June, and 16 June 1964.

[45] QCL Board, 20 October 1964.

[46] QCL Board, 19 January 1965.

[47] QCL Board, 20 October 1964.

[48] Redland Shire Council, minutes, special meeting, 29 October 1964 (ITM869175).

[49] QCL Board, 3 November 1964.

[50] QCL Board, 13 April 1965.

[51] That permission did not extend beyond July 1966, for it was extended to March 1967 at that time. QCL Board, 19 July 1966. See also QCL Board, 24 April 1967 and 21 May 1968.

[52] QCL Board, 1 June and 17 August 1965.

[53] Measurements from Boulton, “When Coral Was ‘King’”, p. 26.

[54] QCL Board, 10 March and 21 April 1964; Boulton, “When Coral Was ‘King’”, pp. 22-24; “Evans D. builds a coral carrier”, Canberra Times, 31 March 1965.

[55] McLaren, “The location of cement plants”, p. 160; Axon to Nicklin, 30 September 1964, and Harold Richter, cabinet submission, 8 October 1964 (ITM539426).

[56] Nicklin, submission no. 7494, 13 January 1966, in Decision No. 8546, 18 January 1966.

[57] Axon to Chalk, 4 February 1966, in Decision No. 8637, 15 February 1966.

[58] QCL Board, 14 September 1965.

[59] QCL Board, 14 September 1965.

[60] QCL Board, 28 September 1965. A related problem was, as McLaren explains, that “rail transport was not available [at Ormiston] and could not easily be provided”. “The location of cement plants”, p. 155. The line to Cleveland was closed in 1960. I am grateful to Sandra Davis of the Redland Museum for this information.

[61] QCL Board, 19 October 1965.

[62] A table showing Harbour and Marine’s estimates for all the areas within the exploration area is attached to Nicklin’s submission of 13 January 1966. This table contains a few inconsequential mathematical inconsistencies.

[63] Peel rounded off the figure to 8,500,000 tons. Peel to Treasury, 10 February 1966.

[64] The letter is quoted in Axon to Chalk, 4 February 1966.

[65] The board minutes record that Hiley “has recommended to cabinet that the coral leases we had asked for be granted”. QCL Board, 18 January 1966.

[66] Nicklin, submission, 13 January 1966.

[67] Decision No. 8546, 18 January 1966.

[68] Axon to Chalk, 4 February 1966.

[69] Peel to Treasury, 10 February 1966.

[70] Gordon W. Chalk, submission, 11 February 1966, in Decision No. 8637, 15 February 1966.

[71] My main source for working out what happened is N.E. Hewitt, minister for conservation, marine and Aboriginal affairs, submission, 3 October 1969, in Decision No. 13600, 6 October 1969.

[72] Chalk, submission, 7 March 1966, in Decision No. 8702, 8 March 1966.

[73] Anderson, The Hands That Made the Cement, p. 20.

[74] Axon to Nicklin, 21 June 1966 (ITM539426); QCL Board, 12 April 1966.

[75] QCL Board, 29 March, 12 April, and 26 April 1966; Health and Building Committee, Redland Shire Council, minutes, 1 April 1966 (ITM869178).

[76] Axon to Nicklin, 21 June 1966.

[77] Memorandum, Premier’s Department, 24 June 1966 (ITM539426).

[78] McLaren, “The location of cement plants”, p. 155.

[79] QCL, Annual Report for the Year Ending 31st July 1966.

[80] For the precise boundaries see “Q.C.L. licensed areas” (ITM957429).

[81] QLA, Record of Proceedings, 16 September 1970, p. 651. The statement referred only to St Helena, presumably because the question that prompted it asked specifically about St Helena, but I assume it applied to Green Island and Empire Point as well.

[82] Chalk, submission, 28 July 1966.

[83] Hewitt, submission, 3 October 1969 (quoted words); Peel to under treasurer, 11 March 1969 (ITM957429); Decision No. 8702, 8 March 1966. I have not seen a map showing the three areas.

[84] “‘Negligible damage’ if coral dredging”, Courier-Mail, 13 September 1966 (ITM957429). I take the area from Robert H. Reece and Christopher Falkus, letter to the editor, Courier-Mail, 14 September 1966 (ITM957429). They also give the best available description of the location. I have not seen a map showing the precise boundaries of the area Queensland Glass applied for.

[85] John W. Wells, “Recent and subfossil corals of Moreton Bay, Queensland”, Papers, Department of Geology, University of Queensland, 4 (n.s.), 10 (1955), 4.

[86] In his December 1932 report Richards observed that the dead coral taken from around Mud Island “is chiefly the genera Acropora and Turbinaria”. “Calcareous deposits at Mud Island”, p. 1.

[87] In June 1966 Axon estimated that between 1 June and 30 November 1966 the Darra plant would receive 310,000 tons of coral from Mud Island if there was no overhaul of the dredge and carriers during that time and 225,000 tons if the vessels were overhauled. This would give an annual rate of as high as 620,000 tons or as low as 535,000 tons. Axon to Nicklin, 21 June 1966.

[88] O.E.S. Kelly, letter to editor, Courier-Mail, 12 September 1966 (ITM957429).

[89] A large number of protest letters are in ITM957429.

[90] Reece and Falkus, letter to the editor. Reece (email message, 9 June 2015) recalls that at that time he had a lot to do with Howard Choat, who as a postgraduate student in fish biology at the University of Queensland was active in efforts to protect coral reefs. Judith Wright, Coral Battleground, new edition (North Melbourne: Spinifex, 2014 [1977]), pp. 22-23, 68.

[91] Queensland Littoral Society, “Ellison Reef Report”, March 1968, p. 16 (ITM294293) (quoted words);; Eddie Hegerl, interview, 10 January 2017. Harrison was appointed chief inspector of fisheries and senior biologist in 1963 and later became the first director of fisheries. He had a special interest in preserving fish habitats. For his battles within the public service and, from 1968, with the government see his Demonocracy and Other Fishy Matters: The True Story of the Queensland Commercial Fishing Industry ([Underwood]: InHouse Publishing, 2017).

[92] QCL Board, 5 July and 20 December 1966; QLA, Record of Proceedings, 11 October 1966, p. 839 (E.G.W. Wood); Redland Shire Council, minutes, ordinary meeting, 17 November and 15 December 1966 (ITM869179).

[93] QLA, Record of Proceedings, 11 October 1966, p. 838 (E.G.W. Wood, who was the local member as well the council chairman).

[94] “Q’ld Cement trend firm”, Canberra Times, 22 September 1967.

[95] QCL, Annual Report for the Year Ending 31st July 1967. Disgruntled truck drivers, about to lose their jobs, came under suspicion for the sabotage. “Sabotage blamed for belt damage”, Canberra Times, 14 July 1967.

[96] I have failed to locate a copy of the report coming out of this survey.

[97] R.D. Gates, Queensland Glass, to Harbours and Marine, 8 December 1967; Gates to Peel, 3 January 1968; and Peel to Treasury, 26 January 1968 (ITM957429).

[98] Judith Wright, Kathleen McArthur, David Fleay, and Brian Clouston, quoted in “Catalyst for action: formation of a conservation society”, WPSQ Historical Papers (

[99] QLA, Record of Proceedings, 9 April 1968, p. 2889. For accounts of the campaign to save Ellison Reef see Wright, Coral Battleground, pp. 6-14; Patricia Clare, The Struggle for the Great Barrier Reef (London and Sydney: Collins, 1971), pp. 86-114 (McMichael quoted on p. 100); and McCalman, The Reef, pp. 277-81. An immensely useful source is ITM294293, which includes the QLS’s report on Ellison Reef.

[100] “Move to mine N.Q. coral rejected”, Courier-Mail, 9 December 1967 (ITM294293).

[101] QCL, Annual Report for the Year Ending 31st July 1968.

[102] QCL Board, 21 May, 30 July, and 10 September 1968.

[103] QCL Board, 4 June, 22 October, and 17 December 1968; Peel to Treasury, 11 March 1969 (ITM957429).

[104] Peel to Treasury, 11 March 1969.

[105] Peel to Treasury, 11 March 1969.

[106] Decision No. 11046, 14 January 1969 (accompanying this decision is a submission by Chalk that shows, from a present-day perspective, a remarkable sense of ecology); Harrison, Demonocracy, pp. 66-68; H.F. Olsen, Fish Habitat Reserves (Brisbane: Queensland Fisheries Service, 1977); Olsen, “Fish Habitat Reserves of Moreton Bay”, in A. Bailey and N.C. Stevens (eds.), Northern Moreton Bay Symposium (Brisbane: Royal Society of Queensland, 1979).

[107] Anderson, The Hands That Made the Cement, p. 20.

[108] QCL, Annual Report (1989), p. 3.

[109] QCL Board, 17 December 1968.

[110] John Wanna and Tracey Arklay, The Ayes Have It: The History of the Queensland Parliament 1957-1989 (Canberra: ANU E-Press, 2010), p. 252.

[111] Hewitt, submission, 3 October 1969.

[112] And, so he added, “areas adjacent to Moreton Bay”, which may have referred to Flinders Reef, just off the northern tip of Moreton Island. To the best of my knowledge QCL confined its survey to the bay itself.

[113] QLA, Record of Proceedings, 25 August 1970, pp. 313-14 (question by Ted Harris, Labor member for Wynnum, and response by Hewitt).

[114] QLA, Record of Proceedings, 29 October 1970, p. 1488. The speaker was Ted Harris.

[115] I take the list of areas explored from E.R. Lovell, “The reef building corals (Coelenterata: Scleractinia) of Moreton Bay, Queensland: their distribution and ecology”, unpublished MSc thesis, University of Queensland, 1975, p. 13, and the total tonnage from V.B. Sullivan, submission, 31 August 1972, in Decision No. 17548, 4 September 1972. Lovell, who cites a report QCL submitted to the minister for primary industries that I have not been able to locate myself, gives values for Raby Bay and Wellington Point, specifically, 8,470,000 tons (clinker equivalent) and 6,062,000 tons respectively. Sullivan gives the same figure for Raby Bay, 6,062,000 tons, that Lovell gives for Wellington Point but does not mention Wellington Point at all. It is impossible to resolve this confusion without reading the report Lovell cites or other supporting documents. Leaving aside this problem, the data in the two sources are, to the extent they overlap, entirely consistent. The estimated total tonnage was based on the assumption that the clinker equivalent for those areas for which the survey had only provided volumes was 0.5 tons of clinker per cubic yard. If the results of the survey completed in 1965 are any guide, this figure was almost certainly an overestimate, though Sullivan does not point this out.

[116] This had happened in June 1971. See Olsen, “Fish Habitat Reserves of Moreton Bay”, p. 75 and accompanying map.

[117] Sullivan, submission, 31 August 1972, in Decision No. 17548.

[118] V.B. Sullivan, submission, 31 August 1972, in Decision No. 17549, 4 September 1972. The new rate applied to coral taken under QCL’s existing licences. I assume that it was at some point applied to any coral taken under the new licence as well.

[119] The figure for 1972 comes from Sullivan, submission, 31 August 1972, in Decision No. 17549.

[120] D.P. Allingham and D.T. Neil, “The supratidal deposits and effects of coral dredging on Mud Island”, Zeitschrift für Geomorphologie, 39 (1995), 282-83 (Griffith University Library, Nathan). I have used the authors’ figures for the area removed to calculate the average rates. Earlier in this chapter I estimated the area of reef the Coral removed in 1961-62 based on the amount of coral QCL carried from the island to Oxley and certain assumptions about the thickness and density of the reef. Applying the same method to data I have for 1961-62 to 1964-65 (Chalk, submission, 28 July 1966) and 1966-67 to 1970-71 (Sullivan, submission, 31 August 1972, in Decision No. 17549), I get an average rate of 13.2 hectares a year. By relying on aerial photographs Allingham and Neil did not have to make any of the assumptions I did. Moreover, their method automatically took into account material that the Coral dredged from around Mud Island but that was dispersed, dumped, or otherwise lost.

[121] Allingham and Neil, “The supratidal deposits”, pp. 288, 285-86. As will become clear in later chapters, “rubble ridges” is but one of many terms for the same geomorphic phenomenon. Allingham and Neil call them “coral shingle ridges”.

St Helena and the Gladstone connection

Between 1967 and 1973 QCL increased cement production at Darra from about 493,000 to 668,000 tons.[1] Between 1965-66 and 1971-72 sales had increased at an average annual rate of 6 percent but then, in 1972-73, they shot up a further 23 percent. As sales increased, the company was forced to draw down stock and import cement in order to meet the spiralling demand, which was fuelled not only by domestic and commercial building but also by state government projects such as the Captain Cook Bridge across the Brisbane River near Parliament House.[2] The time had come for QCL to undertake yet another expansion. But the company found itself at a crossroads. The question was whether it would even be possible to expand at Darra. The directors and management faced two fundamental problems, one immediate and one looming on the horizon.

The immediate problem was dust. QCL had battled with dust since its first kiln became operational but the problem had become more acute as the Darra plant expanded and as new suburbs, built using QCL cement, sprang up near it. Since the 1950s the company had taken measures to reduce the amount of dust the plant emitted but with the passage of the Clean Air Act 1963 the standard it had to meet became increasingly stringent. In 1969 QCL’s chairman told his board that the company would have to make a great effort “to achieve a better state of housekeeping at Darra”.[3] By this time QCL was working closely with the body established under the act to monitor air pollution and make recommendations about improving air quality, the Air Pollution Council, to ameliorate its dust problem. When QCL was unable to meet a council deadline it was granted a short extension. By 1971 the company had spent nearly $1 million on installing new electrostatic precipitators for kilns no. 3 and no. 5, increasing the capacity of kiln no. 6’s precipitator, and undertaking various other measures. By 1972 all four of the plant’s kilns were operating within the standard set by the council. And yet the problem remained. In fact, in June 1972 a recording station on nearby Killarney Avenue “had the highest fall-out levels ever recorded”. As the council commented, this result was “most disheartening” since testing at the kilns themselves “had shown low emission levels”. Analysis of the fallout indicated that the source was not the kilns but low level sources such as unpaved roads within the plant and linking the plant to the Centenary Highway. At the time of its report for 1971-72 the council was investigating exactly where the dust was coming from and what could be done to control it.[4] There was no suggestion that QCL would have to close down the Darra plant but according to the QCL-commissioned history of the plant the director of Air Pollution Control indicated sometime in 1972 that “it would be unlikely that the company would be permitted to install additional plant at Darra”.[5] If QCL wanted to expand, it would almost certainly have to do so somewhere else.

The other fundamental problem, the one looming on the horizon, lay in Moreton Bay. By early 1973 QCL expected that it would exhaust its coral reserves in around 25 to 30 years.[6] And there was no possibility of obtaining any more reserves in the bay. That left just two alternatives. One was to obtain limestone from Gore or some other location very far from Darra. But it had been largely because of the expense of doing this that QCL had switched to coral in the 1930s. Aside from the expense there would also be the logistical challenge of transporting ten to fifteen times as much limestone to Darra as the company had before making the switch. As the QCL-commissioned history of the plant explains, “If limestone was to be used to replace the coralline material then rail handling of such quantities would be ‘rather complicated’”.[7] The second option was to build a completely new plant fairly close to a major source of limestone. This would allow QCL to close down its Darra plant at some time in the future as it expanded production at the new location.

In March 1973 the chief engineer, Karl Jones, submitted a report carefully assessing QCL’s situation and its various options. In view of the two fundamental problems the Darra plant faced he recommended “a completely new works on a fresh site”.[8] The board accepted his recommendation but rather than immediately establishing a completely new factory it decided to work towards that goal in a series of steps. In early June the chairman, H.L. Elphinstone, announced that QCL would be building a $3.5 million clinker grinding plant on land Harbours and Marine was developing at Parker Island alongside the north bank of the Brisbane River just downstream from the suburb of Hamilton.[9] He did not mention where the clinker would come from, but it is likely that the board was already thinking of establishing a clinker factory in Gladstone, 450 kilometres north of Brisbane, for as early as June 1969 it was discussing the possibility of obtaining a limestone prospecting lease there.[10] Thus, so it would appear, the idea was to produce clinker at a factory in Gladstone and then transport the clinker to the grinding plant on the Brisbane River where it would be turned into cement for sale in southern Queensland. It was a bold plan, as daring as the decision to make the switch to coral in the 1930s.

Bringing the plan to life took several years. Both Labor and Brisbane-based Liberal members of parliament were opposed to the prospect of a cement factory being located so close to residential areas. Whether for that reason or not, sometime in the first part of 1974 (when much of Brisbane was dealing with the flood described in Box 4.1 and its aftermath) the government denied QCL’s application to construct the clinker grinding plant on Parker Island, at which point QCL began making plans to establish the plant a few kilometres downstream on Bulwer Island. There were more protests but by 1975 both the BCC and the government had given their approval after satisfying themselves that the plant would not generate unacceptable amounts of dust. QCL began work immediately and (after spending $9 million on the project) brought the plant into operation in 1976. By the middle of that year the company had, despite vociferous opposition from local farmers, obtained a lease to mine limestone in the East End–Bracewell area about 15 kilometres west of Gladstone[11] and begun planning to build a new clinker plant at Fisherman’s Landing at the northern end of Gladstone harbour. Since it would be some years before the plant would be producing clinker for grinding on Bulwer Island, QCL contracted a South Australian company, Adelaide Brighton Cement, which had surplus clinker capacity, to supply it with clinker as an interim measure. Now that the clinker grinding plant was up and running QCL concentrated on its Gladstone venture. The plan was to crush the limestone at the mine site and then pump it as a slurry all the way to the new plant. If normal procedures had been followed, the project would have required prolonged—and uncertain—negotiations with numerous state and local authorities. Instead, QCL and the state government negotiated one comprehensive package that incorporated “the right to construct the plant on the harbour at Gladstone, together with agreements with Government and Semi-Government Authorities covering the infrastructure requirements of water, electricity, harbour facilities and roads”.[12] This time QCL would not have to deal with the troubles it had faced in the Redlands. Parliament passed the agreement into law as the Queensland Cement & Lime Company Limited Agreement Act 1977 in October 1977. Under the agreement QCL was required to secure finance by 31 December 1978.

Box 4.1
The 1974 flood

In January 1974 the remnants of Cyclone Wanda dumped huge amounts of rain in the Brisbane River catchment causing a great flood that inundated Brisbane’s low-lying suburbs and much of the CBD, destroyed a great deal of property, and killed 16 people.[13] At the height of the flood the Cementco and Darra had to be ushered to safety downriver. Barry Neden, an engineer at QCL, later recalled that “the wharf at Oxley was badly flooded and operations ceased there for some time waiting for the river level to subside and then cleaning and drying out of equipment”. Dredging had to stop until the wharf was operational again. The plant at Darra was not badly damaged and was able to continue producing cement by drawing down its coral stockpile.[14] But because the flood damaged the homes of several of QCL’s workers, so the history of the Darra plant notes, the plant “worked with reduced staff during the worst of the flooding when employees couldn’t get to work, at the same time providing ‘clean up teams’ for all those who needed help”.[15]

Also suffering damage were corals living in Moreton Bay, as we know from a thesis by Edward Lovell, a postgraduate student at the University of Queensland who was conducting research on the bay’s reef-building corals at the time. Lovell had surveyed the bay’s corals before the flood. When he resurveyed the corals after the flood he found that “All coral assemblages on the western side of the Bay experienced 100% mortality. The islands of Mud, St. Helena, and Green also had total mortality with the exception of the deep reef on the eastern side of Green Island”, where mortality “was partial”, thanks to the survival of some specimens of the two hardiest genera, Favia and Psammocora. In contrast, there was little or no mortality at various locations around Peel Island and at Myora. Overall, however, the impact was “catastrophic”.[16]

The large-scale death of the bay’s corals raised two important questions. First, what exactly killed the corals? In 1938 Dorothy Hill had identified the presence of rivers that “pour fresh water and mud” into the bay’s “almost land locked waters” during floods as one of the factors thought to limit coral growth (chapter 1). As it happened, the flood carried vast amounts of sediment-laden fresh water downriver and out into the bay. Now, Lovell tried to determine the relative contributions of sediment and fresh water to coral mortality. Based on experiments he had been conducting in the bay as well as observation of coral mortality following the flood Lovell argued that the dramatic reduction in salinity had had a far greater impact than the big increase in the amount of silt suspended in the water. He noted that in the areas where there had been no coral mortality—at Myora and at various places around Peel Island— salinity levels had remained normal during the flood, as these areas were much more under oceanic influences.

The second important question concerned the future: would the coral grow back? DPI apparently thought the loss of coral around Green Island “may be irreversible because of the accumulation of silt in the vicinity”,[17] while a comprehensive study of coastal management in southeast Queensland commissioned by the Queensland government argued that it was “reasonable to suppose that the depletion of the coral on the western side of the Bay is only temporary, as the reefs have obviously recovered from previous floods”.[18] And there the question rested for the time being.


Shortly after the agreement became law Adelaide Brighton made a move that threatened to undermine everything that QCL had achieved so far. Having gained a foothold in the Queensland market, it now applied for permission to build a clinker grinding plant of its own on land controlled by the Port of Brisbane Authority on Fisherman Islands at the mouth of the Brisbane River. Fortunately for QCL, however, the state government, eager as it was to support a Queensland company, quashed this move by ordering the port authority to reject the application.[19] Adelaide Brighton could still try to establish a plant on private land, but at least for the moment it appeared as if QCL could get on with the job of raising finance without fear of competition.

Throughout these developments QCL had relied on advice from the Swiss firm Holderbank, one of the largest cement makers in the world, with which QCL signed a technical assistance agreement in 1972. Now QCL turned to Holderbank for finance as well. When the highly complex financial negotiations finally took shape in September 1978 the total investment came to $98.4 million. This was an enormous sum for a company that had already had to raise funds for the Bulwer plant and made a profit of $3.1 million in 1977-78.[20] Holderbank was prepared to commit a total of $19 million in equity funds. The other major prospective investor at this stage was the State Government Insurance Office (SGIO). In addition to taking up $10 million of the $19 million of new shares QCL planned to issue SGIO was prepared to lend QCL $18 million but only if the government was willing to guarantee that loan. In effect, SGIO was asking the government to act as QCL’s guarantor. At stake was not only the $18 million loan but also loans from other investors who had expressed an interest in the project but wanted to be sure it had the government’s backing before committing any funds. Thus, if the government was prepared to guarantee SGIO’s loan to QCL the whole funding package would come together. At some point during these proceedings Adelaide Brighton tried to derail this grand scheme by telling Bjelke-Petersen and other ministers that “it could supply clinker at a lower cost than QCL without the need for the State Government to provide a financial guarantee for QCL’s Gladstone expansion”. The government, however, spurned this overture, informing Adelaide Brighton that it required any cement company wanting to do business in Queensland to make a substantial investment in the state.[21]

Now, the minister for industry, Norm Lee, not only recommended that the government guarantee the loan QCL needed but also, “as a further indication of support”, proposed that the government take two other steps to shore up QCL’s position. One was to impose the requirement that for ten years all government construction contracts use only QCL cement or cement from one of its associated companies. The other was to reaffirm the decision cabinet had already made concerning Adelaide Brighton’s application to establish a clinker grinding works at Fisherman Islands and to extend it to include all lands adjacent to the Port of Brisbane that were subject to state government control. In September 1978 cabinet accepted Lee’s recommendations in full.[22] QCL was now able to finalize its financial arrangements and begin construction at Gladstone.

QCL now had the finance it needed to open a new plant at Gladstone. It also had, so it appeared, the full backing of the government, which now had a substantial financial stake in the company. It needed that backing, for, remarkable though the outcome of the years of planning and negotiations was, the company was living on the edge. It had an enormous debt and had to do everything possible to make sure that nothing went wrong. Otherwise, it would find itself in dire straits. In order to keep its head above water it had to produce as much cement as possible at its Darra works and to sell that cement at a good price. Much of its effort over the next few years was directed at doing precisely that.


Although QCL could not expand its Darra works, it had already taken steps to improve the efficiency of its operations in Moreton Bay. Between 1970 and August 1973 it upgraded the wharf at Oxley, replaced the Coral’s pumps, replaced the engines driving the pumps with even more powerful engines, upgraded the dredge’s accommodation quarters, and made certain modifications to the Cementco. QCL also finally achieved its goal of transporting coral from Raby Bay by water rather than by road after launching two split barges, SB1 and SB2, and a loading barge, LB1.[23] A QCL brochure explained how the new vessels worked in conjunction with the dredge Kawana:

The Kawana…pumps material through a floating pipeline via…LB1. The barge carries the distributing pipe system which discharges the material into one of two split barges, SB1 and SB2. These Dutch designed, locally built barges are of unique construction in that the hull is in two hinged halves which open out allowing quick and accurate bottom discharge. Each of 1,000 tonne capacity, they are towed by tug to Oxley Wharf, returning empty to Raby Bay. The normal dredging sequence is one loaded barge leaves LB1 approximately midday and one at 10.00 p.m. Dredging ceases until the empty barge returns in the morning.[24]

Thus, while giving the residents of Ormiston just a few hours of peace and quiet during the dead of night, this system delivered 2,000 tonnes of coral to Oxley every day. Together all these improvements to QCL’s dredging and coral-carrying capacity provided a major boost to QCL’s coral intake.[25] I have no figures for how much either the Raby Bay operation or the one at Mud Island contributed after 1973. The sources do reveal, however, that by 1975 the two operations were together providing the Darra works with slightly more than 1,000,000 tons of coral a year and that they continued to do so until 1980.[26]

As it happened, the royalty QCL was paying for this coral came up for review around the time the government was finalizing the QCL agreement. In September 1977 the minister responsible for administering the Fisheries Act (now revised as the Fisheries Act 1976) was Claude Wharton, minister for Aboriginal and Islanders advancement and fisheries. Wharton observed that “effectively, the Company has a monopoly on the marketing of cement in southern Queensland and with current licenses, almost all available economic coral areas are accessible to the Company”. That monopoly enabled QCL to pass on cost increases to its customers and so maintain its profits. It was only reasonable, he argued, that the company be “called upon to make a greater contribution in fees for its long-term exclusive rights to the raw material”. He therefore recommended that the royalty be increased even more than the then high inflation rate, specifically, from 10 to 27 cents a tonne. Cabinet endorsed Wharton’s recommendation on 12 September.[27]


Out in the bay dredging continued to transform Mud Island. Between 1972 and 1981 the Coral removed the island’s open reef flat at an average rate of 19 hectares a year (as compared to 17 hectares a year between 1958 and 1972). By 1981, Allingham and Neil estimated, a total of 48 percent of the reef flat had been removed. The latest dredging phase had consumed most of the reef off the northeastern side of the island, more of the reef on the northwestern side, and a large section at the southern end. As the reef disappeared the rubble ridges extended to encircle about 61 percent of the island. Allingham and Neil also showed that these ridges were slowly but steadily moving shoreward, at about 2.8 metres a year.[28]

These rubble ridges could form very quickly, as Jim Davie, a PhD student at the University of Queensland, observed while conducting a field study of Mud Island’s mangroves in the late 1970s. When he began his research there was no rubble ridge along the northwest side of the island. But “coral mining” in that area “during 1979 resulted in the formation of a coral rampart [rubble ridge] along the seaward edge of the mangroves”. Davie also observed that the island’s rubble ridges were having an impact on the mangroves. He therefore devoted part of his thesis to explaining how these ridges were forming. Normally, he explained, the broad, very gently sloping reef flat ameliorated the energy of waves and so created an environment in which mangroves could establish themselves and thrive. By removing large sections of the reef, however, dredging exposed the innermost reef to the full force of the waves. During storms the waves pounded the vertical wall created by the dredge, eroding the coral and throwing the coral up on to the remaining open reef flat or, where the dredging had come up to the edge of the mangroves, right into the mangroves, forming a ridge of coral rubble. Over successive storms the ridges became bigger and moved slowly shoreward. As the ridges encircled more of the island they blocked the free flow of water into and out of the mangroves as the tide rose and fell, creating ponds of stagnant water. In a ponded area that Davie studied Rhizophora stylosa (long-style stilt mangroves) continued to grow, but the greatly reduced drainage had killed off all the mature Avicennia (grey mangrove) trees.[29] As it transformed Mud Island’s geomorphology so too was dredging altering its biota.

For a brief period in 1975-76 the changes taking place at Mud Island aroused some attention within parliament. The member for Wynnum, Bill Lamond, a member of the National Party (as the Country Party was now called), decried the “devastation” of Mud Island (“what was done was criminal”) and, while not absolutely opposed to dredging, insisted that the sort of coral dredging that had taken place at Mud Island “should not be permitted around St. Helena, Green Island and other areas in Moreton Bay”.[30] And the leader of the Labor opposition, Tom Burns, who as well as representing another bayside electorate, Lytton, loved nothing more than to take his boat out into the bay for a spot of fishing, complained about how over the years the government had given QCL “the opportunity to destroy all the natural reefs in the bay”. Burns’s greatest fear was that as a result “eventually the area will be denuded of fish”.[31] In response, the government claimed that it was doing something about these concerns.[32] At the same time, however, it did not want to jeopardize the ready supply of an essential building material, which at that time was needed for a number of major public works. “I am sure”, Claude Wharton told parliament, “that all honourable members appreciate the need for cement works.”[33] As far as I can determine, QCL did not change its dredging practices in any way at this time.


Fundamental to QCL’s Gladstone move was the expectation that along with NACL and CQC it would be able to maintain its nearly complete monopoly over the state’s cement supply for many years to come. Without this monopoly it would find it much harder to service its huge debt. As it happened, Adelaide Brighton, though already rebuffed twice, refused to stop trying to establish a cement business in Queensland.[34] At the end of 1979 Patrick Operations asked the Port of Brisbane Authority for permission to erect silos at Hamilton to store cement imported by Adelaide Brighton. Again the government directed the authority to refuse. A year later Patricks tried to get permission for a similar project but on a nearby parcel of land held under a sublease from the Port of Brisbane Authority. Yet again the government directed the authority to refuse, but this time Patricks notified the government that it wanted to take the matter to arbitration. Meanwhile, Adelaide Brighton applied to the BCC to build cement silos on freehold land in the inner Brisbane suburb of Teneriffe. The council rejected this application. Adelaide Brighton’s goal was, as it always had been, to establish a clinker grinding plant on Fisherman Islands, but as an interim measure it began bringing small quantities of cement to Brisbane by rail in special dust-free containers and then using the containers to receive cement brought from New Zealand by ship. Although both the BCC and the Air Quality Council were satisfied that Adelaide Brighton was handling the cement at Teneriffe without emitting any dust, residents were strenuously opposed to any sort of cement works in their suburb. Throughout these proceedings the government insisted that it was happy to allow Adelaide Brighton (or any other cement company) to establish itself in Queensland as long as it produced cement using Queensland resources and labour. It was implacably opposed to any operation that merely imported cement or clinker. But then, in January 1982, the government buckled. Having determined that it had limited powers to keep the southern interloper at bay any longer, it decided to enter into negotiations with Adelaide Brighton.[35] There was talk about allowing Adelaide Brighton to erect storage facilities on Fisherman Islands.[36]

The Gladstone plant had begun producing clinker in December 1981 and the first shipment arrived at the Bulwer plant for grinding in January 1982,[37] but by the time the premier officially opened the plant in March it looked all but certain that cabinet would abandon its efforts to stop Adelaide Brighton from establishing itself in Queensland. Speaking to the 400 guests, who included Bjelke-Petersen and the managing director of Adelaide Brighton, Elphinstone declared that allowing into the market a competitor who would simply import clinker or cement would do nothing to boost the Queensland economy. Even worse, it would lead to higher cement prices, since the new Gladstone plant would be forced to operate at less than its optimum level of output.[38] But when cabinet met on 10 May it gave Adelaide Brighton nearly everything it wanted. It would allow the company to lease land at Fisherman Islands and establish storage and clinker grinding facilities there provided that it agreed to four conditions:[39]

  • As a measure designed to satisfy residents of Teneriffe and the Liberal minister whose electorate included the suburb,[40]Adelaide Brighton would be required to cease its cement storage operations on its land at Teneriffe as soon as it was able to conduct those operations at Fisherman Islands.
  • It could not bring a clinker grinding plant into production before July 1985.
  • It could not in the meantime unload more than 100,000 tonnes of cement a year.
  • In keeping with the government’s position that Adelaide Brighton should do more than import cement and clinker, the company would be required to construct a factory that would produce at least 500,000 tonnes of clinker a year. It would have to begin construction by the end of 1989 and finish it by the end of 1992. Adelaide Brighton could postpone construction of the clinker factory beyond 1989-92 if it could convince the Minister for Industry Development that it would not be “economically viable” to proceed at that time, but there was no provision for not eventually constructing the plant.[41]

While the second and third conditions gave QCL some short-term protection from Adelaide Brighton’s onslaught, QCL regarded the deal as a gross betrayal of the relationship it had thought it had with the government. It was made all the harder to bear because at one point the government had rejected QCL’s own application to lease land at Fisherman Islands, forcing it to undertake expensive reclamation work on Bulwer Island before building its clinker grinding plant there. Now, QCL complained in its annual report, the government was “prepared to grant a lease to an interstate competitor in the area previously denied to this Company, with facilities financed by the Queensland taxpayer”.[42] For its part the government upheld its requirement that all building projects involving state funds use QCL cement only. But now that Adelaide Brighton was establishing itself in Queensland QCL knew that it would not be selling as much cement as it had counted on.

In fact, Adelaide Brighton’s entry into the Queensland market, limited though it was at this stage, had an immediate impact on QCL’s business. In February 1983 the minister for commerce and industry reported that the company’s sales had fallen about 25 percent over the past few months. This was largely due to the recession Australia was experiencing “but also due to increased competition”. QCL responded by increasing its cement price, since this was the only way it could continue servicing its debt at the reduced volume of sales.[43]

Adding to the company’s financial pressures, the government increased the royalty QCL had to pay on the coral it dredged from Moreton Bay from 27 to 50 cents a tonne. The company would now, assuming current levels of extraction, pay about $500,000 a year for the coral it needed to operate the Darra plant.[44]


Also fundamental to QCL’s Gladstone venture was the assumption that it would continue operating its Darra plant for the remainder of its economic life, estimated to be about 20 years. During that period, so it hoped, QCL would operate its Darra plant profitably and in so doing help pay off its huge debt. In theory, QCL could immediately expand capacity at Gladstone and close down the Darra plant. But that made no sense, even if QCL had been able to raise the capital needed for such a step, since the Darra plant was operating efficiently. In any case, QCL had, when negotiating loans for the Gladstone venture, offered that plant as security on the understanding that it would remain operational. Implicit in that understanding was the assumption that QCL would be able to continue dredging coral at least until it had paid off its loans. In 1983 it was estimated that the company had about 20 years’ worth of coral reserves. That was just enough to allow it to supply the plant with the calcium carbonate it needed for the remainder of its economic life.

This was QCL’s situation in early July 1983 when, apparently as a routine matter, it notified the government that it was about to shift its dredging operations from Mud Island to the eastern side of St Helena. The company was making this switch because only about a year’s worth of coral remained at Mud Island and it wanted to keep that coral in reserve in case it was needed for blending with coral from other sites. QCL planned to begin “exploratory operations” at St Helena immediately and full-scale dredging in late September. It also planned to continue dredging at St Helena until its licence for St Helena, Green Island, and Empire Point expired in 1991. And, so it appears, it planned to continue dredging within this licence area for some years beyond that date. The minister for primary industries, Mike Ahern, commented that, while it was impossible to predict how long QCL would continue to dredge, “it should be assumed that the company will continue to require coral supplies from within Moreton Bay for economic reasons past the year 2000”.[45] This would be possible only if the government were to extend its licence to dredge at St Helena and Green islands beyond 1991, since these were the only areas licensed to QCL that still contained substantial reserves of high quality coral. The licence for Wellington Point, Raby Bay, and Cleveland Point, which expired in 1999, contained a great deal of coral, but it was not of as high quality as the coral around St Helena and Green islands. QCL planned to use the coral from Wellington Point, Raby Bay, and Cleveland Point to supplement what it extracted from those islands, just as it had long done in the case of Empire Point.

Lying just 7 kilometres from Wynnum, St Helena was, unlike Mud Island, often visited by boating and fishing enthusiasts. A small number of commercial fishermen cast their nets there as well. And the island itself was the location of a national park featuring the remnants of the prison that had operated on the island until 1932. Thus, when, on 20 July, QCL informed a meeting of representatives from various organizations and government departments with an interest in Moreton Bay what the company planned to do “fishing and recreational boating representatives” objected to the proposal.[46] QCL began “trial dredging” at the island the very next day.[47] An aerial photograph of the island taken a short time after it started dredging shows the Coral stationed off the southeastern shore of the island (Figure 4.1).

Figure 4.1 St Helena Island in August 1983

Also expressing their opposition to the proposal were certain Liberal ministers within the National–Liberal coalition government. These ministers, it was reported on 25 July, “will move in Cabinet tomorrow to require Queensland Cement and Lime to complete an environmental impact statement before large-scale dredging goes ahead”.[48] By this time Bjelke-Petersen had built up a reputation in many quarters as an environmental vandal. He had for example fought tooth and nail to allow oil drilling on the Great Barrier Reef until a campaign by the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland, the QLS, and other environmental organizations persuaded the federal government to use its powers to block mining of any sort on the reef. But on this occasion he issued a press release expressing his “concern about trial dredging adjacent to St. Helena Island”.[49] When cabinet met it decided to investigate possible alternatives to dredging at St Helena and to ask QCL to suspend its trial dredging there until the investigation was completed. “Naturally we’re concerned that no damage is done—and there won’t be, don’t worry”, the premier told reporters.[50] Over the next few days, as commercial fishermen and bayside residents protested against what was happening at St Helena, the government decided that because QCL was entitled to dredge wherever it wanted to within the area covered by its licence the most it could hope to do was to persuade QCL to undertake an impact assessment study of the work it planned to do at St Helena and to see if the company would be willing to put that work on hold until the study was completed. After feverish negotiations between the government and QCL the company agreed to commission a consultancy firm, Oceanics Australia, to undertake such a study, but it was willing to suspend dredging only for as long as the annual overhaul of the Coral, Cementco, and Darra. That overhaul was scheduled for five weeks starting on 4 September.

There were further negotiations as the government, QCL, and Oceanics Australia, which had conducted environmental impact studies for QCL when the company was establishing its Bulwer Island plant and planning to mine limestone in the East End–Bracewell area, worked out the guidelines for the study. When the document was finalized in early September it carried the title “Guidelines for impact assessment study on proposed coral dredging off St. Helena and Green Island” but a footnote explained that “primary attention” was to be given to St Helena. The guidelines themselves encompassed a large number of issues. The study was to examine the impact dredging had had on Mud Island and would probably have at St Helena. It was to consider various alternatives to dredging at St Helena such as dredging elsewhere in the bay, obtaining rock limestone from some source, and closing down the Darra plant immediately. It was to undertake an economic analysis both of proceeding to dredge at St Helena as QCL planned and of the various alternatives. Oceanics Australia was also asked to examine possible changes to QCL’s dredging methods. And it was expected to consider a possible environmental monitoring program that QCL would observe in the event of dredging going ahead.

The Fisheries Act gave the government a great deal of latitude to deal with the study’s findings, whatever they might be. It allowed the government to suspend or cancel QCL’s licences provided it could demonstrate a “substantial change in circumstances” since the licences had been issued or considered that “it is in the interests of the fishing industry to do so”.[51] But, whatever impression Bjelke-Petersen may have given in his recent public statements, the last thing the premier and most of his ministers wanted to do was to immediately stop QCL’s operations in the bay. This was partly because the government saw it as its mission to promote Queensland industry. It was also because it still had a large financial stake in the company. Moreover, even though the Fisheries Act explicitly denied the licence holder any right to compensation, the government might well have felt obliged to compensate QCL for the loss of the Darra plant’s primary raw material,[52] especially since there was no suggestion that the company had violated the terms of its licence. As notes on a meeting of high-level officials summarized the situation, “it would be necessary for the Government to support the Company” as long as the impact assessment study’s findings were “generally favourable” to QCL’s dredging plans.[53]

Tilted in QCL’s favour though the outcome was, Oceanics Australia faced the daunting task of dealing with a long list of substantial matters in just a few weeks. Fortunately, it began its work even before the guidelines had been finalized. It was therefore able to observe dredging operations off St Helena before QCL’s vessels underwent their annual overhaul. By the middle of September or so Oceanics Australia’s researchers had studied the impact dredging had had on corals, seagrass, mangroves, fisheries, and navigation at Mud Island, studied the formation of rubble ridges around the island, conducted underwater surveys along transects at various points around St Helena and Green islands, and calculated the likely economic impacts of cancelling QCL’s dredging operations. And somehow it managed to deliver a draft report to QCL on 4 October 1983.[54]


The starting point of Oceanic Australia’s report was the basic observation that without access to the coral around St Helena and Green islands the Darra plant would have to close down in about three years. That was roughly how long the plant could continue to operate before it had used up its coral stockpile and extracted the coral it held in reserve at Mud Island. The coral in the Wellington Point–Cleveland licence areas would supplement these sources but since that coral was of lower quality and more expensive to obtain it could never take the place of coral taken from St Helena and Green islands. And of course there was no source of rock limestone within an “economic” distance of Darra. But closing the Darra plant would, the report argued, put QCL in a precarious position. Since an operational plant had formed a substantial part of the company’s security when it negotiated the financing of the Gladstone project, closing the plant would place the company at the mercy of its creditors. It was highly unlikely that QCL would be able to raise the $60,000,000 needed to expand the Gladstone plant by 500,000 tons a year (the plant was designed to be expanded in modules of that amount) and even if it could that would still fall 200,000 tons a year short of the Darra plant’s capacity. The company was in grave risk of going into liquidation. It could avoid such a disaster only if it was awarded a great deal of compensation, presumably (though the report did not make this explicit) by the state government. The report highlighted the need for compensation on three occasions.

The report devoted many pages to analysing the economic consequences of closing the Darra plant. First of all, 492 QCL workers would lose their jobs, as would an even larger number of workers employed by enterprises that supplied the company with coal, electricity, equipment, and a myriad of other goods and services. Some of these workers would find employment elsewhere or obtain social security support but about three-quarters of them would not. At the same time the state government would lose $500,000 a year in royalties, while the Port of Brisbane Authority would lose $230,000 a year in river dues. Then there was the impact that closing the Darra plant would have on construction costs. Unable to generate income at Darra, QCL would be forced to increase cement prices a great deal in order to pay off its huge debt. It almost certainly would be able to get away with such an increase, the report argued, since no competitor was yet well enough established to immediately fill the gap left by the closure. Among those feeling the impact of the higher prices would be new home buyers, since the cost of a new house was expected to increase by about $600.[55] Thus, cancelling QCL’s licence to dredge at St Helena and Green islands would be not only potentially disastrous for the company but also detrimental to the state generally.

Having surveyed Mud Island, Oceanics Australia was well aware of the environmental impact dredging had had there. Most obviously, dredging replaced a shallow bottom made up of coral rubble and associated organisms with a deeper one largely consisting of mud. The report vividly described the formation of rubble ridges (referred to as “rubble banks”). As it happened, the researchers’ time at the island coincided with a period of strong northerly and north-westerly winds that generated powerful waves. They were therefore able to witness a ridge forming along the northern shore of Mud Island in an area where the Coral had been dredging five weeks before they began their survey.[56] They also identified two processes by which the ridges were killing mangroves. First, where the ridges encroached on the mangroves they abraded the bark from trunks, broke pneumatophores (aerial roots), and smothered both roots and the lower trunks (Figure 4.2). Second, the stagnant ponds (“lagoons”) that formed landward of the ridges waterlogged the soils and increased the level of toxic sulphides (Figure 4.3). The report estimated that these two processes had killed off 2.5 hectares of mangroves around the fringe of Mud Island. That represented just a tiny proportion of the total of 7,500 hectares of mangroves in the central and southern sections of Moreton Bay.[57]

Figure 4.2 Mangroves killed by encroaching coral rubble ridge, Mud Island, August 1983
Figure 4.3 Mangroves in stagnant pond landward of a coral rubble ridge, Mud Island August 1983

Whether it was a tiny proportion or not, any such destruction contravened government regulations protecting mangroves. QCL would therefore need to find a way to prevent rubble ridges from destroying mangroves when it dredged around St Helena and Green islands. Making the need to protect the mangroves on these islands all the more pressing were St Helena’s status as a national park and the expectation that Green Island would soon become an environmental park. Oceanics Australia offered a solution. At Mud Island QCL had dredged right up to the outer edge of the mangroves in several sectors. QCL’s dredging licence at St Helena and Green islands allowed the company to dredge up to 50 yards from the high-water mark. Since in many places the high-water mark lay well inside the mangroves, however, that meant it was allowed to dredge right up to the outer edge of the mangroves (and even further inside the outer edge depending on where the high-water mark was), just as it had at Mud Island. Oceanics Australia proposed that QCL dredge no closer than 50 metres from the outer edge of the mangroves. That would mean that any rubble ridges created by dredging would form further from the mangroves than many of those at Mud Island had. As a result the ridges would not encroach on the mangroves. It would also be possible to take steps to prevent the formation of stagnant ponds, thereby protecting the mangroves from the other major cause of dieback.[58] Oceanics Australia did not regard the ridges themselves as a problem. They were a problem only insofar as they caused damage to the islands, and that damage could be prevented easily.

The report also considered the sediment plume generated during dredging. Figure 4.4 shows a plume the researchers observed at St Helena before the vessels underwent their overhaul. As the report explained, sediment plumes smothered benthic organisms and reduced the amount of light that penetrated the water. In the conclusion, however, the report downplayed the impact such plumes would have at St Helena and Green islands. These plumes would, it argued, cause no smothering more than 500 metres from the dredge and would not significantly reduce light beyond 2000 metres. In any case, the report pointed out, the amount of sediment stirred up by coral dredging was insignificant in comparison to the quantity of dredged material the Port of Brisbane Authority dumped at the “spoil ground” to the northwest of Mud Island. Nevertheless, Oceanics Australia proposed ways to reduce the impact of sediment plumes. The seals of the carriers’ bottom doors should be checked to ensure that as little dredge material as possible leaked through them. The bigger of the two carriers, the Darra, should (as apparently was already the practice) be loaded on the ebb tide, so that sediment would flow northward rather than towards more environmentally sensitive areas to the south, while loading of the Cementco on the flood tide should be reduced whenever less coral was required at Darra.[59]

Figure 4.4 Sediment plume generated as the Coral loaded a carrier at St Helena, August 1983

Two benthic organisms that the report paid special attention to were seagrass and coral. In both cases the report concluded that dredging at St Helena and Green islands would result in minimal damage. Dredging would remove a certain amount of seagrass, and the plumes generated by dredging would (even after QCL adopted less damaging dredging methods) damage some more. But the amount lost would constitute no more than a very small proportion of the seagrass in Moreton Bay. As for coral, the researchers had discovered colonies of Favia speciosa living around Green Island (Figure 4.5). Judging by their size (less than 15 centimetres across), Oceanics Australia concluded that these colonies had established themselves since the 1974 flood (Box 4.1). But they now covered “less than 1% of the narrow shallow water fringe which, in two areas, previously supported a 70% live coral cover of up to eight species”. Moreover, the report asserted, there was no reason to expect that the coral around Green Island would ever re-establish itself to anything like its former state.[60]

Figure 4.5 Favia speciosa colony off the northwestern tip of Green Island, September 1983

Oceanics Australia devoted some attention to the impact dredging at St Helena and Green islands might have on commercial and recreational fishing. The report estimated that removal of shallow shelf areas would reduce the area where commercial tunnel-netters could set their gear by 15 to 20 percent. This would result in “a maximum loss in employment of four persons”. And recreational fishers would be barely affected. They might not be able to catch the same species they were used to catching in that area but they would still catch something.[61]

Another focus of the report was the damage dredging might do to remnants of the prison on St Helena. Of particular concern were the kiln very close to the southwestern shore of the island (the prisoners had made lime from coral and shellfish) and the causeway at the southwestern tip. The fear was that removing too much of the reef could damage those structures by exposing that part of the island to the full force of the waves and causing significant erosion. But here too Oceanics Australia offered a solution. QCL could minimize the danger of erosion, it argued, simply by not dredging any further west than 600 metres east of the lime kiln.[62]

Oceanics Australia did not make a recommendation about whether QCL should be allowed to dredge at St Helena and Green islands. It had not been asked to do so. Nevertheless, its overall message was clear: the cost of cancelling QCL’s licence far outweighed any environmental benefits that would flow from cancellation, particularly since QCL could easily minimize the harmful consequences of dredging by taking a few simple steps.


On 7 October, just three days after QCL received the draft impact assessment study, three representatives of the company including its newly appointed general manager, James Anderson, delivered copies of the report to officials in the Premier’s Department. They used the occasion to inform the officials that the report contained “nothing that is detrimental to [QCL’s] interest”, supported “continuation of the coral dredging operation on economic grounds”, and suggested “that environmental effects are small”. They also told the officials that QCL would start dredging at Mud Island on 17 October while it waited for the government’s response. The officials promised to immediately distribute the copies to the relevant departments for their comments.[63]

The responses from these departments all agreed with the general thrust of the report. But they also pointed out what they regarded as its deficiencies. The report had, for example, provided little detail about commercial fisheries in the bay and failed to mention how badly tunnel-net fishermen in particular would be affected. It had neglected to make it clear that Peel Island was a Fish Habitat Reserve where dredging was prohibited. It had not substantiated “the statement that a comparable pre-1974 flood coral community is unlikely to develop”. And, most significantly, it had not included an environmental monitoring program.[64] As well as critiquing the report, the chairman of the Queensland Fisheries Management Authority raised two points that he hoped the government would consider. He predicted that the sediment plume generated by the dredge would raise greater opposition from the local community when dredging operations eventually shifted to Green Island, which was just 5 kilometres out from Manly boat harbour, than had occurred when QCL began dredging at St Helena. He also believed that QCL should not be given the impression that its licences would be automatically renewed once their terms expired. This was a matter of some importance since the licence covering the areas with the biggest reserves of high quality coral—the one that included St Helena and Green islands—would expire in just eight years.[65]

On 22 October, just a day or two after the last of these responses reached the Premier’s Department, Queensland had a state election. By this time the coalition had collapsed after one of Bjelke-Petersen’s Liberal opponents in cabinet won the leadership of his party and the premier refused to accept him as deputy premier. The Labor Party gained several seats at the election, mainly at the expense of the Liberals, but so too did the Nationals, who (aided by a malapportioned electoral system) won half the seats. Then, three days later, Bjelke-Petersen gained an absolute majority when two former Liberal ministers defected to the National Party.[66] None of this is mentioned in the voluminous file concerning QCL’s plans to dredge at St Helena and Green islands but now that “the Premier and his handpicked National ministry [were] freed from the counselling and safeguards provided by the Liberals”[67] it was even less likely the government would stand in QCL’s way.

On the very day that the Nationals gained an absolute majority the co-ordinator-general informed James Anderson that while it appeared “the adverse impacts identified in the report do not…appear to outweigh the benefits derived from a continuation of the use of the coral resource, it is apparent from the report that there are some aspects of the company’s operation that may require modification”. He included a list of the deficiencies departmental officials had identified in the report and asked QCL to confine its dredging to Mud Island until the government had reviewed the amended report and made a decision about the future of dredging in the bay.[68]

For its part, QCL had every intention of resuming dredging at St Helena as quickly as possible. It even flagged the possibility of dredging at Green Island in the first half of 1984.[69] In the meantime, Oceanics Australia prepared its response to the points raised by officials.[70] In most cases it defended the report as it stood but it did agree to make a few changes. For example, it would now make it clear that Peel Island was a Fish Habitat Reserve. It would acknowledge that, though the number of tunnel-net fishermen who would lose their jobs as a result of dredging at Mud Island was small, the impact would be great for those affected. It would substantiate its view that there was very little likelihood of live coral regenerating to its pre-flood state, arguing that increasing siltation in Waterloo Bay, changes to the Brisbane River that had resulted in flood waters being directed in a more southerly direction, and shifts in the bay’s tidal regime all made regeneration very unlikely. And, most notably, it would propose an environmental monitoring program that would collect data about the water quality in the area being dredged, bottom conditions, any changes to the shoreline, and impacts on fishing. Oceanics Australia recommended that the water quality data be collected by the Water Quality Council, which already monitored water quality in some other parts of the bay.[71] On 9 November Anderson and three other representatives of QCL presented the proposed amendments to the Premier’s Department at a meeting also attended by Max Winders of Oceanics Australia.

As far as Anderson was concerned, the study showed that “dredging is not causing any damage”, while the “perceived damages were emotional particularly when compared to the actions of the Port of Brisbane Authority in dumping dredge spoil”. He emphasized that QCL had to resume dredging at St Helena on 13 December, agreed to adopt the monitoring program proposed by Oceanics Australia, and declared that the company would “seek to renegotiate its leases in Moreton Bay to ensure a rational termination of dredging activities” sometime around 2003. Winders commented that the study had shown up “a number of minor problems” but added that the monitoring program would solve them.[72] There is no mention in the notes on this meeting that QCL raised the possibility of seeking compensation if the government cancelled its licence to dredge at St Helena and Green islands or refused to allow it to dredge at those islands beyond 1991. By now QCL had every reason to feel confident that at the very least the government would not cancel its licence. When Anderson asked the government to pay half of the cost of the impact assessment study, an official assured him that a submission being prepared for a cabinet meeting on 21 November would recommend such a payment.

When Oceanics Australia’s response was circulated to the relevant departments all but one expressed satisfaction. The exception was the Department of Commercial and Industrial Development, which was critical of the proposed monitoring scheme. It pointed out that except for recommending that the Water Quality Council expand its monitoring to include spots around St Helena and Green islands Oceanics Australia had failed to mention who would actually conduct the monitoring. It had also neglected to mention who would pay for it, or what would happen if monitoring revealed a problem.[73] Sometime over the next few days Oceanics Australia finalized its report. It incorporated all the changes it had presented on 9 November but did not deal with the questions raised by Commercial and Industrial Development.

While Oceanics Australia was wrapping up its work, senior officials completed the cabinet submission. This document recommended that QCL be allowed to dredge at St Helena and Green islands but that DPI negotiate changes to the company’s dredging practices and (mainly to prevent dredging too close to the ruins on St Helena) the company’s licence area boundaries. DPI would also be given the task of preparing guidelines for a monitoring program. There was still no mention of who would actually conduct the monitoring or what might happen if the program revealed a problem. But, as promised, the submission recommended that the government meet half the cost of the study. When cabinet met on 21 November it approved all of these recommendations.[74] It also issued a statement emphasizing the huge economic costs that would have flowed from not allowing QCL to dredge at St Helena and Green islands. At the same time it assured the public that “a monitoring programme would…ensure that environmental impacts from dredging were minimized” and that “proper controls and practices would ensure that the dredging would not cause destruction of mangroves or lead to erosion damage to the convict structures on St. Helena Island”.[75] Indeed, so Bjelke-Petersen told parliament three days later, the consultant’s report on QCL’s proposal had shown that “no harm in any shape or form would be done to the environment”.[76] After thanking the government for its decision and expressing its willingness to cooperate with DPI,[77] QCL resumed dredging at St Helena in December as planned.

The bitterest criticism of the decision came from the Labor member for Wynnum, Eric Shaw. Referring to a report in the Courier-Mail summarizing the statement the government had released on 21 November, he challenged the premier to justify the decision:

Mr SHAW: ….The article…says that there are no alternatives to the dredging. During the building boom, the South Australian based firm [Adelaide Brighton], which I am sure the Premier is familiar with because he has been dealing with it for some time, supplied a large quantity of this raw product. So an alternative is available.

Mr Bjelke-Petersen: Yes, but that comes from down south.

Mr SHAW: Would it not be better for them to destroy their environment, if we can get the product cheaper and there is no other mitigating circumstance? Let them destroy their environment. We should not be destroying such a precious commodity as we have on St Helena Island.

Mr Bjelke-Petersen: You are going to put a lot of men out of work.

Up to this point neither opposition members nor the public had read Oceanics Australia’s report. The government had not even revealed who had undertaken the study. Under questioning from Shaw the premier agreed to release the report but this was an empty concession.[78] The government would not be considering any objections anyone might have to the report.

In his attack on the decision Shaw also complained that QCL had resumed dredging without any government supervision. As it happened, the government was right then finalizing guidelines for a pilot monitoring program. It was to be carried out mainly by the fisheries section of DPI but with contributions from the Water Quality Council and QCL itself. By the start of 1984 there was still, however, no agreement about who would pay for the program.

[1] QCL, Annual Report for the Year Ended 31st July 1967; QCL, “Address by Chairman, Annual General Meeting of Shareholders on 28th November, 1973”. These sources give figures for clinker production. I have converted these into quantities of cement on the basis that 1000 kilograms of cement contained 50 kilograms of gypsum (QCL, Queensland’s Cement Maker (Darra: The Company, 1982), p. 4). At that time gypsum was the only material added to clinker to make cement.

[2] QCL, “Address by Chairman…on 28th November, 1973”; Anderson, The Hands That Made the Cement, p. 24.

[3] QCL Board, 15 July 1969.

[4] Air Pollution Council of Queensland, First Annual Report—1971 and Second Annual Report—1971-72. Quoted words from the 1971-72 report. See also Alan Gilpin, Air Pollution, 2nd edition (St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1978), pp. 126-27, 138. Gilpin was the director of Air Pollution Control at the time of these events.

[5] Anderson, The Hands That Made the Cement, p. 24.

[6] In a 1978 report on QCL’s situation J.G.A. Tucker gave a figure of about 25 years. Tucker to chairman, SGIO, 19 April 1978 (ITM963607).

[7] Anderson, The Hands That Made the Cement, p. 24. The “rather complicated” apparently comes from Jones’s report, mentioned in the next paragraph.

[8] Anderson, The Hands That Made the Cement, p. 24. I have not been able to find a copy of Jones’s report.

[9] “Qld. Cement new $3mil. local plant”, Courier-Mail, 7 June 1973 (ITM19154).

[10] QCL Board, 17 June 1969.

[11] QCL, Annual Report 1976; QLA, Record of Proceedings, 28 September 1977, p. 997 (R.E. Camm). For the farmers’ opposition see Joyce Slater, “Farmers boycott election”, Tribune (Sydney), 2 June 1976, and especially Alec Lucke, Road to Exploitation: Political Capture by Mining in Queensland (Bingara, NSW: Alec Lucke, 2013), pp. 22-27.

[12] SGIO to Knox, 23 May 1978 (ITM2156591).

[13] Margaret Cook, A River with a City Problem: A History of Brisbane Floods (St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 2019), p. 111. The figure of 16 includes two in Ipswich.

[14] Neden, email message, 31 October 2019. For more on the Cementco and Darra see Boulton, “When Coral Was ‘King’”, pp. 21, 24.

[15] Anderson, The Hands That Made the Cement, p. 25. See also the address by QCL’s chairman, H.L. Elphinstone, 27 November 1974 (JOL).

[16] Lovell, “The reef building corals…of Moreton Bay”, chapter 5.

[17] Gutteridge, Haskins & Davey, Coastal Management: Queensland—New South Wales Border to Northern Boundary of Noosa Shire (Brisbane: Co-ordinator-General’s Department, 1975), vol. 1, p. 33. The context suggests that at this point the report is citing Primary Industries’ views. Primary Industries had conducted surveys of live coral at St Helena and Green islands in 1971.

[18] Gutteridge, Haskins & Davey, Coastal Management, vol. 2, p. 35.

[19] Decision No. 27453, 6 December 1977, and accompanying submission by A.M. Hodges, minister for tourism and marine services, 2 December 1977.

[20] QCL, Annual Report 1978, p. 4.

[21] Co-ordinator-general, “Report on a proposal…”, 6 May 1982, in Decision No. 37629, 10 May 1982, p. 3.

[22] Lee, submission, 15 September 1978, in Decision No. 29188, 18 September 1978. Documents analyzing these arrangements in great detail are in ITM2156591 and ITM963607. Particularly useful is Tucker to chairman, SGIO, 19 April 1978 (ITM963607).

[23] QCL, “Address by Chairman…on 28th November, 1973”.

[24] QCL, Queensland’s Cement Maker, p. 15.

[25] A point made in QCL’s annual reports for 1975 and 1976.

[26] Claude Wharton, submission, 12 September 1977, in Decision No. 27034, 12 September 1977, gives the amounts of coral taken from 1973 to 1976. Annual reports give clinker production for 1973 to 1980. Assuming that the coral:clinker ratio for 1977-80 was the same as that for 1973-76 (namely, 1.561), the average annual quantity of coral taken from Moreton Bay between 1977 and 1980 was 1,010,000 tons.

[27] Claude Wharton, submission, 12 September 1977, in Decision No. 27034, 12 September 1977. Accompanying his submission are memorandums from the under treasurer, Leo Hielscher, and the director, Queensland Fisheries Service, C.F. Reardon.

[28] Allingham and Neil, “The supratidal deposits”, pp. 282-84, 288.

[29] James David Spencer Davie, “Pattern and process in the mangrove ecosystems of Moreton Bay, Southeastern Queensland”, unpublished PhD thesis, University of Queensland, 1982, pp. 49, 142, 144, 247. I am grateful to Jim Davie for recalling his research on the island and giving me more insights into Mud Island during a phone interview, 27 June 2019, and in email messages, June-July 2019.

[30] QLA, Record of Proceedings, 18 November 1975, p. 2002, 18 November 1975, p. 2002, and 9 September 1976, p. 344. Also 12 March 1975, p. 233.

[31] QLA, Record of Proceedings, 23 November 1976, p. 1789.

[32] QLA, Record of Proceedings, 30 October 1975, p. 1633 (Wharton), 20 November 1975, p. 2072 (T.G. Newberry), and 23 November 1976, p. 1809 (Wharton).

[33] QLA, Record of Proceedings, 23 November 1976, p. 1806.

[34] For a summary of Adelaide Brighton’s moves between 1977 and 1982 see co-ordinator-general, “Report on a proposal…”, 6 May 1982.

[35] V.B. Sullivan, minister for commerce and industry, 12 January 1982, in Decision No. 36875, 12 January 1982); Decision No. 36931, 19 January 1982.

[36] Helen Dash, “Residents seek union help in cement protest”, Courier-Mail, 25 January 1982, and Derek Hanaghan, “Why Joh’s love affair with QCL is on the wane”, Courier-Mail, 2 February 1982 (ITM539426).

[37] “Importation of cement to Brisbane”, attached to Sullivan, submission, 19 January 1982, in Decision No. 36931, 19 January 1982.

[38] Jack Lunn, “QCL chief hits out at cement imports”, Courier-Mail, 1 April 1982.

[39] Decision No. 37629, 10 May 1982, and accompanying submission by Bjelke-Petersen, L.R. Edwards (treasurer), V. Sullivan (minister for commerce and industry), and D. Lane (minister for transport), 6 May 1982. I have simplified the conditions and switched the order of the second and third conditions.

[40] The minister was Don Lane, who defected to the Nationals after the 1983 election.

[41] Decision No. 37629, 10 May 1982.

[42] QCL, Annual Report 1982, p. 6.

[43] W.A.M. Gunn to Bjelke-Petersen, 1 February 1983 (ITM539426).

[44] Mike Ahern, 22 July 1983 (ITM575928). I do not know exactly when the royalty was increased but assume it was around September 1982, five years after the previous increase.

[45] Submission No. 36655, 22 July 1983 (ITM575928).

[46] Mike Ahern, 22 July 1983, and “Notes of meeting concerning coral dredging operations in Moreton Bay…10 August, 1983” (ITM575928).

[47] David Landers, “Liberal bid to limit Bay dredge run”, Courier-Mail, 25 July 1983.

[48] Landers, “Liberal bid to limit Bay dredge run”.

[49] Media release from the premier, 25 July 1983 (ITM575928).

[50] David Landers, “Premier seeks dredging delay”, Courier-Mail, 27 July 1983.

[51] The solicitor-general, D.V. Galligan, reviewed the legal options in a letter to the co-ordinator-general, Sydney Schubert, 12 August 1983 (ITM575928).

[52] As a “government source” hinted to the Courier-Mail. Landers, “Liberal bid to limit Bay dredge run”.

[53] “Notes of meeting concerning coral dredging operations in Moreton Bay…10 August, 1983” (ITM575928).

[54] This is the date on the revised version and correspondence in ITM575928 indicates that the draft was submitted about that time. I do not have a copy of the draft but have been able to establish fairly clearly the ways in which it differed from the revised version. The pagination appears to have been identical. I am grateful to Craig Morgan (interview, 17 July 2015) and Max Winders (phone interviews, 29 July 2015 and 9 August 2019) for their recollections of the impact assessment study. Morgan was one of Oceanic Australia’s researchers and Winders was one of its founders.

[55] In 1983 the median house price in Brisbane was $55,600 (

[56] Oceanics Australia, Coral Dredging in Moreton Bay, p. 24.

[57] Oceanics Australia, Coral Dredging in Moreton Bay, pp. 49-50.

[58] Oceanics Australia, Coral Dredging in Moreton Bay, pp. 50-51.

[59] Oceanics Australia, Coral Dredging in Moreton Bay, pp. 68, 73, 74.

[60] Oceanics Australia, Coral Dredging in Moreton Bay, p. 69, appendix B (iii).

[61] Oceanics Australia, Coral Dredging in Moreton Bay, pp. 69-70. On the net fishermen see John Parke, Against the Tide: Queensland’s Moreton Bay Fishing Industry since 1824 ([Brisbane]: 5Word Productions, 2013), particularly p. 58 for the impact dredging at Mud Island had already had on their livelihood.

[62] Oceanics Australia, Coral Dredging in Moreton Bay, pp. 54, 70.

[63] D. Cook, “Note for file 7319”, 7 October 1983 (ITM575928).

[64] All the responses are in ITM575928. Quoted words from J.G. Miller to co-ordinator-general, 14 October 1983.

[65] W.D. Mitchell to Schubert, 17 October 1983 (ITM575928).

[66] Wanna and Arklay, The Ayes Have It, pp. 535-45; “Queensland Liberals watch party’s top echelons crumble”, The Canberra Times, 26 October 1983.

[67] Wanna and Arklay, The Ayes Have It, p. 545.

[68] Schubert to Anderson, 25 October 1983 (ITM575928).

[69] G.N. Berezovsky, QCL, to DPI, 27 October 1983 (ITM575928).

[70] Oceanics Australia, “Responses to comments from Premier’s Department re coral dredging report” [9 November 1983] (ITM575928).

[71] The monitoring program appears in the final report as appendix D.

[72] I.M. Clague, “Notes of meeting—Wednesday, 9th November, 1983” (ITM575928).

[73] Director, Department of Commercial and Industrial Development, to co-ordinator-general, 14 November 1983 (ITM575928).

[74] Decision No. 41795, 21 November 1983, and accompanying submission by Bjelke-Petersen, “Coral Dredging—Moreton Bay”, 17 November 1983 (ITM575928).

[75] Media Release from the Premier of Queensland, 21 November 1983 (ITM575928).

[76] QLA, Record of Proceedings, 24 November 1983, p. 58.

[77] Anderson to Schubert, 2 December 1983 (ITM575928).

[78] QLA, Record of Proceedings, 22 December 1983, pp. 1132-36, 1154-55 (quoted passage on p. 1133).


By the end of 1984 QCL had acquired 100 percent ownership of NACL and CQC. The QCL group was now made up of cement factories in Townsville, Rockhampton, and Darra, a clinker factory in Gladstone, and a clinker grinding plant on Bulwer Island. Central to QCL’s operations was the link between Gladstone and Bulwer Island. It was more efficient to mine rock limestone in the East End area, produce clinker at Gladstone, and ship the clinker all the way to Bulwer Island to be ground into cement for sale in Brisbane than it was to make cement at Darra. This was partly because the semi-wet process used at Gladstone required less than half as much coal to produce a tonne of clinker as the wet process used at Darra did.[1] It was also because the East End limestone was a higher quality source of calcium carbonate than coral dredged from Moreton Bay.[2] During 1984-85 QCL reinforced the link between Gladstone and Bulwer Island by commissioning a second grinding mill on Bulwer Island and a 15,000 tonne ship for carrying clinker from Gladstone to Bulwer Island. This allowed QCL to operate the Gladstone plant at maximum capacity while using its Darra plant to meet whatever demand there was over and above what the Gladstone plant could meet. This practice had big consequences for the Darra plant and the company’s operations in the bay.

One of QCL’s greatest assets at this time was the government’s commitment to buy all the cement it needed from the company. Government-funded projects generated a large proportion of total sales. Most notably, QCL supplied all the cement used in the construction of Wivenhoe Dam (commissioned in 1985) and the mighty Gateway Bridge just upriver from Bulwer Island (1986). But overall demand for QCL cement was low because of a downturn in the building industry, imports from New Zealand, and, most irritatingly for the company, Adelaide Brighton’s growing presence in the market. In 1985 Adelaide Brighton, trading in Queensland as Sunstate, opened a clinker grinding plant on Fisherman Islands in accordance with its agreement with the government. The QCL-commissioned history of the company records how QCL worked to improve “customer service to increase customer loyalty in the face of this new competition”.[3] Even so, QCL had by 1987 lost about 20 percent of the south Queensland market.[4] Had the market been growing QCL might have easily weathered the competition. But because it was static at best the company had no choice but to cut back on production. In keeping with its practice QCL chose to do so by operating the Darra plant well below its maximum capacity.

Initially, dredging operations continued as usual despite the reduction in Darra’s output. The Coral continued to munch away at the reef on the eastern side of St Helena, the Cementco and Darra to carry the coral to Oxley, and the Kawana to load coral on to the two split barges for transport up the river. But in September 1984 QCL withdrew the Cementco from service. It had carried about 23 million tonnes of coral up the river to Oxley since 1948. The company also withdrew one of the split barges from service. In July 1985, about the time the Cementco was scuttled off Moreton Island (and its legendary name transferred to the new clinker carrier), QCL “temporarily” stopped all dredging in the southern leases.[5] About three months later QCL reported that it “has built up large coral stocks at the Darra Cement Works and requirements can now be met by a single vessel, the M.V. ‘Darra’”.[6] And yet because of the cutbacks in production and a bonus agreement that the Seamen’s Union, which represented QCL’s maritime workers, had with the company to deliver coral to Oxley Wharf the stockpile at Darra kept on growing.[7] By early 1987 QCL estimated that it had enough coral at Darra to maintain production there for 6 years.[8]

QCL had found itself at another crossroads. It could continue stockpiling coral in the hope of an upturn in demand, but it saw little prospect of conditions improving. Adding even more to the stockpile, the company’s general manager, James Anderson, said on 12 March 1987, would be “irresponsible”. And so he announced that QCL was immediately stopping all dredging operations in Moreton Bay and sacking the 45 crew members who operated the Coral and the Darra. It would also make 130 workers at the Darra plant redundant by June. Altogether QCL was cutting its Darra workforce by 35 percent. Anderson placed a lot of the blame for QCL’s position on Adelaide Brighton’s intrusion into Queensland. He apparently stopped short of criticizing the Queensland government for the decision it had made in 1982, but a reporter observed that QCL “has not really forgiven Sir Joh’s team”. Anderson was angry that the South Australian government had made matters even worse for QCL by preventing it from competing with Adelaide Brighton in South Australia. And he was critical of the federal Labor government. He feared that the budget to be announced in May would further damage the cement industry. These were, as one headline put it, “hard times” for QCL and particularly the Darra plant.[9]

In the following months QCL gave no sign that it would resume dredging. Sometime during 1987-88 it sold the Coral and the Darra. They were, so the company claimed, “at the end of their useful lives”.[10] So too, incidentally, was the 73-year-old name of the company, which the 1987 annual general meeting changed to “Queensland Cement Limited”, thereby streamlining the old name while retaining the company’s beloved initials.


By the time of Anderson’s announcement QCL had operated at St Helena for just 3½ years. As far as I can establish, QCL agreed not to dredge within 40 metres of the mangroves (rather than the 50 metres recommended by Oceanics Australia)[11] but otherwise continued to operate as it long had. In 1985 the minister for primary industries informed cabinet that his department was carrying out “impact assessment programmes relating to the Company’s activities around St Helena”[12] but these appear to have amounted to little. A report prepared by QCL in 1990 commented that “both QCL and the Government are open for criticism for not implementing” a monitoring program as recommended by Oceanics Australia.[13]

During the brief time it operated at St Helena the Coral began to transform the island’s reef. Dredging off the southeast shore, it removed 30 hectares of the island’s reef at a rate of 8 or 9 hectares a year.[14] By operating much of the time inside the low-water line in an area exposed to the stiff winds that often came across the bay from the southeast the Coral created the conditions for rubble ridges to form. And form they did, as shown in Figure 5.1, which is extracted from an aerial photograph taken in late 1987. We can see a series of rubble ridges stretching roughly 900 metres along the inner edge of the area the Coral had dredged.[15] Also visible is the Coral itself. QCL had anchored it at St Helena pending its disposal rather than mooring it at great expense somewhere up the Brisbane River.[16]

Figure 5.1 St Helena Island in December 1987


In mid 1988 it appeared that the Darra plant’s days were numbered. In June Australian Business reported that James Anderson had recently said (apparently to the reporter) that the Gladstone plant would soon double its capacity and that, “coinciding with the Gladstone expansion, the company’s cement plant at Darra…will be closed early next decade”.[17] By the end of the year, however, QCL had banished any thought of closing the Darra plant in the near future. Exactly what happened is unclear. An extensive review of the company by management consultants McKinsey and Company may have played a part, but a dramatic recovery in demand for QCL cement was probably more important. During 1987-88 changes to federal tax policies encouraged dwelling construction, while a number of major building projects, most notably Expo 88, consumed large amounts of cement. The Darra plant resumed operating at maximum capacity in September 1988 following refurbishment of no. 6 kiln. In late 1988 QCL reported that the company had achieved “record clinker production”.[18]

The Darra plant still had a sizeable stockpile of coral but QCL’s directors and managers knew that the company would soon have to restart its dredging operations in the bay. Around September 1988, about the time Darra was back in full production, the board decided to buy a new dredge and carrier at a total cost of $16 million. But QCL wanted assurance on two fronts before it dared make such a big investment. First, it was worried about the threat the clinker-producing plant Sunstate was committed to start constructing at the end of 1989 would pose to its business. As it happened, Sunstate was equally unenthusiastic about the prospect of having to construct a clinker plant. And so, once they saw their common interest, QCL and Sunstate came together to make a joint approach to the premier, Mike Ahern. Ahern, who had become premier after Bjelke-Petersen resigned following revelations of corruption within his government and the police force, summarized their concerns as follows:

The Queensland cement market is currently in reasonable balance. The addition of clinker plant of the required 500,000 tonnes per annum minimum size, or about 30% of the State production, would upset this balance and precipitate a marketing war damaging to both parties. The inevitable loss of sales by QCL to Sunstate could force the closure of the Darra factory with a loss of over 200 jobs….

Exactly how a marketing war would have damaged Sunstate is less clear from Ahern’s report. I suspect that Sunstate had never wanted to build the clinker plant. No document I have seen explains how a plant situated so far from any large source of limestone (except of course the coral licensed to QCL) could have been viable. In any case Sunstate desperately wanted to be released from the commitment it had made in 1982, and QCL was equally desperate for Sunstate not to go ahead with a clinker plant. By the time they met Ahern they had come up with a solution. Sunstate would buy 200,000 tonnes of QCL clinker a year for ten years on the condition that the government released it from its commitment to build a clinker plant. The premier was happy with this solution. Although it would not result in a new clinker plant it did mean that a Queensland company, QCL, would increase the production of clinker. He expected some criticism of the government for supporting QCL yet again but “on balance” supported the arrangement.[19] Cabinet did not make a final decision when it met in January but QCL had every reason to believe it would soon give its approval.[20] At least for the near future, so it appeared, Sunstate would be more a customer than a rival. Much of Sunstate’s cement would be made from QCL clinker.

The second front on which QCL needed assurance went to the very heart of its Brisbane operations. It needed to be assured that the government would renew its dredging licences. The most important licence was the one covering St Helena and Green islands and Empire Point, for the reef around Green Island contained the largest remaining deposit of high quality coral and a great deal of coral still remained at St Helena. This licence expired in August 1991. The company now estimated that it had about 20 years’ worth of coral remaining in all the areas it currently held. QCL needed to take full advantage of those reserves in order to justify a large investment in a dredge and carrier and the expense of refurbishments at Darra. With all these considerations in mind the company wrote to the minister for primary industries, Neville Harper, in October 1988 asking the government to amalgamate its existing licences into a single licence and to extend the company’s access to the areas covered by the licence to 2011.[21]

Harper was receptive. He wanted to excise certain parts of Mud Island and some of the areas around Wellington and Cleveland points QCL had been granted in 1974, but in view of QCL’s contribution to the building industry and the Queensland economy he was happy to give the company everything else it asked for. For its part QCL was prepared to give up some of the areas it now had at Mud Island and around Wellington and Cleveland points in order to gain long-term access to the areas that contained most of the remaining coral, namely, Green and St Helena islands. But because of the agreement to excise certain areas, QCL’s desire to amalgamate its holdings into a single licence, and limitations on the terms of licences the government could not simply renew the existing licences. As a result the government and QCL would need to negotiate a new licence. After receiving Harper’s recommendations cabinet made two decisions on 27 February 1989. Both referred to the Governor in Council, which, acting on behalf of the Queen, had to give formal approval to many of the decisions made by cabinet and government departments. First, cabinet recommended that the Governor in Council “approve an exclusive licence to Queensland Cement and Lime Company Limited to take coral limestone from St. Helena Island, Green Island, Empire Point areas of Moreton Bay to expire on 31st August, 2011”. And, second, it approved the combination of the three licences into a single licence for the period 1 September 1991 to 31 August 2011 “subject to excision of portions from the Mud Island and Cleveland (Raby Bay) licence areas and approval of the grant of the single licence by the Governor in Council”.[22] Immediately after the meeting Harper wrote to Anderson informing him of cabinet’s decisions. Harper made it clear that QCL would have to agree to the excision of portions of the areas mentioned in the second decision before the government could finalize the single licence.[23]

The decisions came as a great relief to QCL. It would still have to work out the details with the government. At the very least, however, it could count on being able to mine at St Helena and Green islands and Empire Point until 2011, for the government had committed itself to including those areas in the single licence. As far as the company was concerned it now had all the assurance it needed to press ahead with its plans in the bay. And so it immediately contracted a Cairns shipbuilding firm, North Queensland Engineers and Agents, to build the new dredge and carrier. QCL also decided to resume dredging at Empire Point.[24] This was still a fairly small-scale operation but it helped maintain coral stocks at Darra while the new vessels were being built.

While making preparations to resume dredging at St Helena QCL decided to do something about the mess it had created at Mud Island. It began by removing old dredging piles and cables. It then turned its attention to the impact the rubble ridges around the island had had on mangroves. In early 1989, according to the company’s own account, it observed some recent mangrove mortality that it attributed to “the fairly recent blockage of some drainage channels as a result of a build-up of coral rubble banks around parts of the island due to wave pile-up”. QCL made no mention of the mangrove mortality that Jim Davie and Oceanics Australia had described in 1982-83. What puzzled the company was that some ridges had formed along the northeastern and northwestern shores of Mud Island seven or more years after it had stopped dredging in those areas. Based on a study done for the company by Max Winders, it speculated that dredging at Middle Banks to the north northeast of the island to provide sand for an expansion to Brisbane airport had deepened the waters in that area and so left the island more exposed to waves generated by strong winds from the north northeast. Whatever the cause of the ridges, it decided to remove the blockages. Using an excavator it had barged to the island, in April and May it opened a creek outlet on the eastern side of the island, cut through the rubble ridge on the northern side in two places, and opened the mouth of a creek on the northwestern side. In the middle of 1989 “heavy seas” closed all of these openings except for the one on the eastern side.[25] An aerial photograph taken two years later (Figure 5.2) shows the blockage of the northwest creek as well as the ongoing encirclement of the island by rubble ridges (75 percent by this time).[26]

Figure 5.2 Mud Island in 1991

While QCL was trying to tidy up Mud Island, it was also negotiating with the government about the terms of the new dredging licence. These negotiations coincided with work the government was doing on a draft strategic plan for Moreton Bay. When the plan was released in September it acknowledged the government’s existing commitments in relation to the extraction of coral (and sand) and added that “coral dredging…would be permitted to continue in existing licensed areas”.[27] It did not specify where those areas were but almost certainly the map accompanying the plan reflected the result of the negotiations between the government and QCL. As Figure 5.3 shows, the areas where dredging would be allowed included Mud, St Helena, and Green islands and a large area from King Island south to Empire Point. According to QCL’s account of the negotiations, the company agreed to reduce the area covered by the new licence by 25 percent.[28] Specifically, judging by the map, QCL had agreed to give up its rights to Raby Bay and the reefs off Cleveland Point. The plan expected dredging to be “undertaken in an environmentally acceptable manner” but at no point did it suggest that QCL was not already dredging in such a manner.[29]

Figure 5.3 Areas reserved for coral extraction in the 1989 Moreton Bay Strategic Plan

In addition to reaching agreement in relation to the area to be covered by the new licence the government and QCL had settled on several other key points. QCL agreed to increase the royalty it paid to 68 cents a tonne (to be adjusted in line with the consumer price index). It agreed to contribute $65,000 a year to DPI for research on Moreton Bay. And it agreed to the monitoring program that Oceanics Australia had recommended in 1983.[30] By early November at the latest the government was ready to recommend the licence to the Governor in Council for approval.

Normally, the Governor in Council would have approved the licence a few days later but on 2 November, in preparation for an election on 5 December, the governor dissolved parliament and the government went into caretaker mode, which meant that except in special circumstances it could not send any recommendations to the Governor in Council for approval. It had been a tumultuous few months on Queensland politics. In July Mike Ahern had committed his government to implementing all of the recommendations of a royal commission into corruption but even so the popularity of the National Party plummeted, and in September he lost the leadership to Russell Cooper. As these events were unfolding, the Labor Party under Wayne Goss was promising a range of governmental, economic, and environmental reforms. Despite the malapportioned electoral system Labor won a majority of seats in the election and took power on 7 December. Now that the election was over the new government could, if it so decided, forward the licence to the Governor in Council for approval.

Whether the government would do that was by no means certain, for within Goss’s cabinet were two key ministers who were no friends of QCL. The deputy premier was Tom Burns, who over the years had continued to rail against the company for the damage it was doing in his beloved fishing grounds. In April 1989, shortly after he heard about QCL’s intention to dredge at Green Island, he told parliament that “What that company did around Mud Island was a disaster. What it has done at the back of St Helena Island is a worse disaster.”[31] Living as he did on the Wynnum foreshore, Burns could keep an eye on what was happening at St Helena and Green islands even when he was not out in his boat. Another critic of QCL within cabinet was the minister for the environment and heritage, Pat Comben. Unlike many environment ministers Comben was, as a public servant who worked with him recalls, “a born environmentalist”.[32] As the opposition spokesman for the environment he had frequently attacked the government for failing to stop QCL’s Rockhampton branch from mining the limestone caves at Mt Etna that were the home of a rare species of bat. On one occasion he claimed that the policy giving QCL a monopoly on the supply of cement to all state-funded projects arose from donations the company had made to the National Party in the 1970s.[33] QCL had faced various accusations in parliament for many decades. Now some of the accusers were in power.

For environmental groups the election seemed to herald a new era. Among the groups welcoming Labor’s victory was the Australian Littoral Society (ALS), as the QLS now called itself after expanding its horizons. It immediately began communicating regularly with Pat Comben.[34] One of the matters on which the ALS hoped to influence government policy was the Moreton Bay Strategic Plan. In January 1990 Eddie Hegerl submitted on behalf of the ALS a scathing critique of the draft plan. Describing it as “an unfortunate mixture of ecology and political expediency”, he attacked the plan for condoning the continuation of coral dredging in the bay without bothering to evaluate the impact it had already had on mangroves, wading birds, and marine animals. He called for a moratorium on coral dredging “until such an assessment has been completed and made available for public comment”. After dealing with other aspects of the document Hegerl announced that “we reject the Draft Moreton Bay Strategic Plan”. Both it and a plan for Gold Coast waterways were “unfortunate relics from the latter part of the National Party Government era”.[35]

Coinciding with the arrival of the Labor government was a sharp downturn in building activity. In the second half of 1989 the Darra plant had operated both of its two largest kilns, no. 5 and no. 6, but in January 1990 QCL mothballed kiln no. 5.[36] The plant now had a capacity of 330,000 tonnes of cement a year.[37] The Darra plant had weathered several downturns in demand since 1917 and could expect to do so again. Once business conditions improved QCL could bring kiln no. 5 back into service. The more fundamental question was whether the plant would be able to continue to operate at all for more than a year or two beyond August 1991. That was now in the hands of the new government.


In the first few months after the election the new government appears to have done nothing about the commitment its predecessor had made to QCL in February 1989. Then, in April 1990, QCL wrote to the minister for primary industries, Ed Casey, informing him of the previous government’s commitment to the company and outlining the result of the negotiations that had taken place in 1989. Hoping to resolve the issue quickly, Casey in turn wrote to Pat Comben, who he knew was preparing a new draft strategic plan for Moreton Bay. Comben replied that he too wanted a quick resolution to the issue, but he also emphasized that “there are…significant public expectations regarding controls on extractive industry in Moreton Bay”.[38] In July a newspaper reported that the matter of QCL’s dredging licences had been referred to a committee reviewing the strategic plan.[39]

In June, around the time Comben responded to Casey, QCL commissioned its new dredge, which it named the Amity, and the new carrier, the John Oxley. The two vessels are shown operating next to each other in Figure 5.4. Like the Coral the Amity was a cutter suction dredge that cut its way into the reef by pivoting back and forth on spuds (visible in the photograph). At 79 metres (including the structure at the bow holding the cutter head) the Amity was about 25 metres shorter than the Coral but it had greater dredging power. It could load the 3850-tonne-capacity John Oxley in 2½ hours, the same time the Coral had taken to load the 2000-ton-capacity Cementco. According to an account written in 1993 dredging and loading began at low water and continued on the flood tide. Once the John Oxley’s hopper was full the vessel headed up river to Oxley Wharf, where (like the Cementco and Darra) it opened its hopper doors to drop its load onto the river bed. A big advantage of new vessels from QCL’s point of view was that they could be operated with much smaller crews.[40] By the middle of 1989 QCL again had the capacity to extract and carry the coral it needed to feed Darra’s kilns. But how long it would be able to use that capacity was far from certain.

Figure 5.4 The Amity loading coral onto the John Oxley, 1990

Adding to the company’s woes, a bayside newspaper, the Bay Courier, published an article about QCL’s dredging in Moreton Bay.[41] As well as reporting the ALS’s rejection of the draft Moreton Bay Strategic Plan it quoted a commercial fisherman describing coral dredging as “the greatest blight on the environment of Moreton Bay” and a representative of the Moreton Bay Protection Society (MBPS), Keith Spencer, criticizing the state government for failing to regulate QCL properly. While it also reported that QCL’s assistant general manager, Malcolm MacKenzie, “said changed dredging practices would prevent any further problems”, the overall tone of the article was highly critical. It reinforced its attack on the company by including a photograph showing the barren trunks and branches of mangroves at the blocked creek on the northwest side of Mud Island.

QCL immediately asked Peter Saenger, an ecologist and authority on mangroves at the Northern Rivers campus of the University of New England, to offer his assessment of how much damage the company’s dredging had done. Saenger based his assessment on surveys of corals, seagrass, and mangroves in the areas licensed to QCL that he had conducted on the company’s behalf in 1989 as well as aerial and underwater photographs that the company held.[42] Saenger described the damage to Mud Island as “minimal”, noting that the formation of “rubble banks” (rubble ridges) was “a natural process and the communities affected by it are resilient…to such geomorphological change”. The seabed around Green Island and at Wellington Point, he observed, was mainly covered by various species of algae; there was very little living coral. The algal–coral assemblages at these locations, he concluded, “are depauperate in terms of coral species and abundance when compared with those around Peel Island or near Dunwich [likely a reference to Myora]”, meaning (to give the dictionary definition of “depauperate”) that the coral “[fell] short of natural development or size”.[43] Indeed, he added, “corals within Moreton Bay are generally depauperate due to the periodic influence of markedly reduced salinities”. Saenger suggested that at St Helena and Green islands QCL “should leave a wider shallow margin to dissipate wave energy” and that it would be worthwhile to open more drainage points around Mud Island. These were steps the company was already taking or considering.

By September QCL was becoming increasingly impatient with the government. Less than a year now remained on its licence to dredge at St Helena and Green islands and at Empire Point. Hoping to spur the government into action, Anderson wrote directly to Wayne Goss. QCL, he told the premier, was “extremely concerned about the delay in ratifying the renewal of our coral licences”. He reminded Goss of the commitment the previous government had made and the big investment QCL had made on the basis of that commitment.[44] Accompanying his letter were an account of the company coral licences prepared by Malcolm MacKenzie and a copy of Saenger’s assessment. When no reply came Anderson wrote to Goss again, this time asking to meet with him or his ministers.[45]

Anderson’s pleas to the government coincided with a dramatic change in the ownership of QCL. Up to this point the two major shareholders had been Holderbank and SGIO, which together held about 43 percent of the company’s ordinary shares. Just a few days after Anderson first wrote to Goss, Holderbank launched a full takeover bid of QCL.[46] During a meeting with Holderbank executives in Zurich Goss expressed the hope that QCL would retain at least some Queensland equity.[47] By the end of the year, however, Holderbank had bought up all of QCL’s shares, including those held by the Queensland government.[48] Queensland Cement Limited was now a fully owned subsidiary of a foreign firm.

Just as Holderbank was completing its takeover, QCL started to make some progress in its dealings with the government. Anderson, MacKenzie, and another QCL manager had a meeting with Pat Comben on 15 January 1991. A note hastily scribbled by an official recorded that the two sides had reached a compromise: “QCL to have E side of St Helena and E side of Green Island”. The implication was that QCL would not be getting any other areas around those islands but whether it meant that the company would be giving up other areas it currently held was not clear.[49] Following this meeting were several meetings between QCL and DPI. Although Saenger had confidently described the live coral around Green Island and at Wellington Point as sparse and depauperate, DPI wanted more information about just how much live coral there was in the areas QCL hoped to dredge and what the state of that coral was. By April QCL had agreed to commission a study that would “determine and map the distribution and diversity of live scleractinian corals [see Box 1.2] and other marine benthic communities around Green Island (with special emphasis on the eastern side of the island) and the Wellington PointEmpire Point Region”. It would also assess the importance of the live coral in those areas by comparing it with the coral around Peel Island.[50] Notably missing from the study objectives were the areas around Cleveland Point that had been licensed to QCL (Figure 3.5). By the time DPI defined the objectives the company had, so it appears, agreed to give up its rights to those areas. In any case, the expectation was that once the government had the results of the study it would finally be able to decide what to do about QCL’s licence.

QCL commissioned Saenger and two of his colleagues at Northern Rivers, Peter Harrison and Nick Holmes, to conduct the study. Harrison was part of a new generation of scientists who were revolutionizing understandings of the taxonomy, reproduction, and ecology of corals. Holmes was an ecologist specializing in coastal ecosystems. During May and June the three scientists conducted underwater surveys along 22 transects around Green Island, 8 in the Wellington PointEmpire Point area, and 2 at Peel Island. The transects had a total length of 18.9 kilometres. Harrison, Holmes, and Saenger also conducted visual surveys along most of the outer edge of the reef at Green Island, visual surveys of areas of the reef at Green Island that were exposed at low tide, and visual surveys at three points along the outer edge of Peel Island’s reef.

The surveys yielded some surprises. Edward Lovell had concluded that the 1974 flood had killed off all the coral along the western shore of Moreton Bay (Box 4.1). Harrison, Holmes, and Saenger found some coral colonies as large as 1.7 metres in diameter both in the Wellington Point–Empire Point area and along the eastern edge of the reef around Green Island that were possibly more than a century old.[51] They also found more species than Lovell had recorded before the flood. Charlie Veron of the Australian Institute of Marine Science had recently demonstrated how a particular species could take on different forms in different environments. Even so, Harrison, Holmes, and Saenger (who turned to Veron and another expert, Carden Wallace, to help them identify coral samples) were confident that there were now more than twice as many coral species in Moreton Bay as there had been before 1974. In particular, there were more Acropora species. That discovery raised the question of where the new species had been recruited from. The likely source seemed to be Flinders Reef off the northern tip of Moreton Island (very close to the Cementco’s final resting place) but some of the new species were not found there. This observation suggested that some coral larvae had come from as far away as the southern Great Barrier Reef. Reefs were biologically interconnected. That was why, the scientists argued, the coral communities of Moreton Bay “cannot be managed in isolation”.[52]

The scientists’ identification of the coral species they had found at the three survey sites led them to a further observation: the coral communities at the sites “contain an unusual combination of tropical, sub-tropical and cold-water species”. This observation in turn led them to revise Saenger’s earlier view about the “depauperate” nature of Morton Bay’s coral communities. These communities, they now concluded, were “not depauperate versions of tropical coral communities”. They were instead “different types of communities characterised by extensive biogeographical overlap of tropical and southern species”.[53] Suddenly, as portrayed by the scientists, Moreton Bay’s coral communities were no longer inferior versions of those found elsewhere but special in their own right.

Harrison, Holmes, and Saenger went on to note that at the time of their survey the abundance and percentage of coral cover at Green Island and in the Wellington Point–Empire Point area were “generally low”. This confirmed what Saenger had observed. But, as the scientists now saw it, what they had observed in the bay was “typical of coral communities in the early stages of recovery from a major natural disturbance”:

With continued growth and recruitment, the abundance, diversity and percentage cover of corals at these sites will increase. Clearly therefore, the significance of these coral communities cannot be assessed simply on the basis of the present density and percentage cover. Other factors such as species richness, diversity, and presence of rare or unusual species, and the potential for future coral regeneration and growth must also be taken into account.[54]

Whereas floods disrupted regeneration temporarily, Harrison, Holmes, and Saenger continued, “human-induced disturbances may create long-term changes in the environment which can slow or prevent recovery”. The greatest of these disturbances was dredging. Dredging removed living coral. It killed nearby coral by covering it with sediment and reducing the amount of light it received. And, by removing the reef, it “reduced the availability of hard stable substratum suitable for larval settlement and recruitment”.[55] Dredging made it difficult or impossible for coral ever to regenerate.


On 2 July, as Harrison, Holmes, and Saenger were completing their report, DPI held a “consultation meeting” with various community and professional groups such as the MBPS and the Queensland Commercial Fishermen’s Organisation (QCFO) to discuss QCL’s coral licences. It seems likely that the participants were given a summary of the findings on that occasion, since letters written a few days later by the MBPS and the QCFO refer to the study.[56] Both organizations were appalled by QCL’s plans. The QCFO believed that it would be acceptable for QCL to dredge at Mud Island until its licence to dredge there expired in 2006. But, it argued, the government should not extend QCL’s licence to dredge at Green Island and Empire Point. It could extend QCL’s licence to dredge at St Helena until 1999 but only if the company gave up its licence at Wellington Point and if any extension to its St Helena licence was made subject to an environmental impact study “assessing plume effects on coral communities within Moreton Bay, particularly Green Island”. After highlighting Harrison, Holmes, and Saenger’s key findings, the MBPS asked the government to “urgently move to create Marine Parks with Habitat Protection Zoning over Green and Peel Islands” because of their “unique overlay” of tropical and temperate coral species. It called on the heads of the relevant departments to visit the sites where QCL wanted to dredge, preferably at low tide so that they would be able to view live coral for themselves. And, so it appears, it unleashed a flurry of letters from concerned members of the public advocating the creation of marine parks. Most of these letters began with the statement that “it has recently been established that significant areas of live coral exist in Moreton Bay”.[57] Harrison, Holmes, and Saenger submitted their written report to QCL and the government in August, but by early July their work was already reshaping debate about QCL’s future operations in the bay.

Over the course of July, as time was running out before QCL’s existing licence for St Helena and Green islands and Empire Point expired, the company and the government continued their negotiations. By late July QCL had made a wide range of concessions. Specifically, it offered to:[58]

  • exclude many areas that it now held from the new licence. It was willing to give up all of the areas south of Green Island, namely, the broad band of coral deposits from around Wellington Point south to Cleveland Point. It agreed to exclude the western side of St Helena and Green islands from the licence. And at the request of the government it agreed to exclude from the licence the northwest quadrant of Mud Island, where the government had issued oyster licences.[59] Excising this area did not affect QCL, since it had already removed almost the entire reef flat in the northwest.
  • “accept a buffer zone of 150 metres from the mangrove line for all areas”.
  • “accept the right of the Director-General to intervene and require corrective action for any adverse environmental impact of their dredging”. This was a significant concession, since unlike its predecessors the Labor government showed every sign of enforcing environmental regulations.
  • accept a proposal by the government that any dredging along the eastern side of Green Island be subject to an environmental impact study. This too was a big concession, because it raised the possibility that once it had considered the environmental impact study the government might not grant QCL a licence to dredge at Green Island. If this were to happen, the company would only have access to Mud Island (where an estimated 1½ years’ reserve of coral remained) and the eastern side of St Helena (where an estimated 6 years’ reserve remained). QCL would then have to prepare to close down the Darra plant and accelerate its plans to expand at Gladstone.
  • pay half the cost of the environmental impact study. This was from QCL’s point of view a reasonable offer, since the government usually met half the cost of environmental impact studies. The government had, for example, paid half the cost of Oceanics Australia’s environmental impact study on dredging at St Helena Island.
  • pay a royalty of 74 cents a tonne on the coral it dredged and pay DPI $65,000 a year for research and monitoring in Moreton Bay. This was in line with the agreement QCL had reached with the previous government except for the increase in the royalty from 68 cents to 74 cents a tonne on coral. The royalty would be subject to increases according to the consumer price index and the payment to DPI would be reviewed every five years.

QCL was prepared to do all this but it insisted that the government drop a condition that “no live coral be taken” during dredging and replace it with a condition that “no significant quantities of live coral be taken”.[60] This was a tacit admission that QCL had taken at least some live coral during its dredging operations over the decades. It was in fact impossible to take dead coral without removing whatever live coral might be at the surface of the reef. Now that the government appeared to be serious about enforcing environmental rules it was essential from QCL’s point of view that the wording “no live coral be taken” be dropped.

On 5 August cabinet finally made a decision about QCL’s operations in the bay.[61] In nearly every respect the decision reflected the result of the negotiations that had taken place over the previous few months. If QCL were prepared to give up all its existing licences in the bay it would be issued with a single 20-year licence to dredge around Mud Island (except in the northwest quadrant) and along the eastern side of St Helena Island. QCL could dredge no closer than 150 metres from the mangroves. It would have to pay royalties at the rate of 74 cents a tonne and make an annual payment of $65,000 to the Fisheries Research Fund. And QCL would have to “abide by sound management and environmental practices as required” by the director-general of DPI. Though not mentioned explicitly in the cabinet decision, the supporting documentation makes it clear that QCL’s dredging operations would be subject to some sort of monitoring program to ensure that the company did in fact abide by such practices. But the government acquiesced to the company’s insistence that it replace “no live coral” with “no significant quantities of live coral”. Again, it would be up to the director-general to determine what constituted “significant quantities”. As for QCL’s proposal to dredge the eastern side of Green Island, that would, as the two sides had already discussed, be subject to an environmental impact study. QCL would have to complete the study within two years so that “the matter [can] be referred back to Cabinet for determination”. According to the decision, DPI and the Department of Environment and Heritage (DEH) would “oversight the preparation” of the assessment, though it did not indicate what that might mean in practice. All of these points were consistent either with understandings QCL and the government had already reached or with requests that QCL had made. Cabinet’s decision differed from what the two sides had already agreed to or QCL had asked for in only one respect: the government would expect the company to bear the full cost of the environmental impact study. QCL would have to accept this unless it was prepared to abandon all hope of gaining access to Green Island.

Immediately after its meeting on 5 August cabinet sent the decision to the Crown Law Division to prepare “the instrument of licence”. Once the licence was prepared it would be recommended to the Governor in Council for approval. In the meantime, it was agreed, the government would make no announcement about cabinet’s decision. During this period when people outside the government had little or no idea what it was planning to do about Green Island[62] the government faced mounting pressure to block QCL’s proposal. On 7 August Goss received a letter from the QCFO warning him that “if you agree with QCL’s proposal to mine Green Island and Wellington Point Reef you will be condemned, not only by the boating fraternity but by the general community as well”.[63] The next day, 8 August, ABC TV broadcast a report about the damage dredging had already done, particularly at Mud Island. Eddie Hegerl pointed out the almost vertical wall just below the waterline where the dredge had cut into the reef, and Keith Spencer showed the damage that coral loosened by dredging had done to mangroves, while the reporter commented that the issue of coral dredging could become a “political hazard” for the government.[64] Behind the scenes the Crown Law Office completed preparation of the licence and soon it was approved by the Governor in Council. It was to come into effect on 1 September, just in time to allow QCL to continue dredging at St Helena Island. A few days later Casey made the decision public in a press release. As well as explaining that “the amount of live coral behind Green Island had been central to the renegotiation of QCL’s future dredging rights in Moreton Bay” Casey praised QCL for “voluntarily relinquishing [its] rights” over so much of the area it had previously held.[65] Presumably, however, it knew it had to make big concessions if it was to have any hope of gaining the ultimate prize, the eastern side of Green Island.

The new licence fell well short of what the previous government had promised QCL. Nevertheless, the licence would at least enable QCL to feed its kilns at Darra until it submitted the environmental impact study and the government decided what to do about Green Island.


In September Pat Comben released the revised draft Moreton Bay Strategic Plan.[66] Unlike the draft produced by the previous government the revised draft referred to the damage dredging had done to mangroves and the threat the turbidity it caused posed to live coral and seagrass. Accompanying the revised draft was a revised zoning map. The map described both the eastern side of St Helena and the area around Mud Island (including a spot where the Port of Brisbane Authority dumped dredge spoil) as “port and industrial”. The categorization of the reef off the eastern side of Green Island was less straightforward. DEH took the view that the habitat all around Green Island should be protected, but it especially wanted to protect the reef on the eastern side of the island, for it “contained the areas of greatest conservation significance on the whole reef”.[67] At the same time it could not pre-empt the study that was about to be done regarding QCL’s proposal to dredge there. The map reveals how DEH artfully resolved this problem. The entire reef was (along with many other areas of the bay) coloured green to indicate that it should be subject to “habitat protection” but on the eastern side of the island the green was overlain with hatching indicating that it was also a “special management” area “where specific issues, uses or activities can be examined and controls applied”. Specifically, so the main text of the plan explained, “Provision is made to enable extraction of coral limestone (if approved) after completion of an environmental impact assessment”.[68] Much hinged on the words “if approved”.


[1] J.A. Ware, “An economic study of the Queensland cement industry”, Institute of Applied Environmental Research, Griffith University, Nathan, Queensland, July 1988, p. 21 (Hegerl Collection (QCL)).

[2] N.J. Turner, minister from primary industries, submission, 5 July 1985, in Decision No. 46532, 9 July 1985.

[3] Anderson, The Hands That Made the Cement, p. 26.

[4] Tony Grant-Taylor, “Grim outlook forces QCL to resort to redundancies”, Australian Financial Review, 13 March 1987.

[5] QCL, Annual Report 1985, p. 9. The report refers to the cessation of dredging in the southern leases but does not give a date. I base my “July 1985” on Turner’s submission of 5 July 1985. QCL had been required by its licence to undertake at least some dredging in its southern leases. Turner was willing to waive that requirement and cabinet did not object.

[6] QCL, Annual Report 1985, p. 9.

[7] I thank Barry Neden (email messages, 21 and 22 September 2020) for telling me about the agreement with the Seamen’s Union.

[8] Grant-Taylor, “Grim outlook”; David Fagan and Derek Hanaghan, “Hard times, market wipe 175 cement jobs”, Courier-Mail, 13 March 1987.

[9] Grant-Taylor, “Grim outlook” (quoted words about “Sir Joh’s team”); Fagan and Hanaghan, “Hard times”. For how the South Australian government blocked QCL see Paul Syvret, “Cement shake-up”, Australian Business, 8 June 1988, p. 31.

[10] QCL, Annual Report 1988, p. 12. The Darra was still operating in 2022.

[11] M. MacKenzie, “QCL’s coral licences in Moreton Bay” [1990], pp. 2, 3 (F180); Moreton Bay Seminar: Summary of Papers (Brisbane: Office of the Lord Mayor and Town Clerk, July 1989), p. 20 (Michael Pinnock).

[12] Turner, submission, 5 July 1985.

[13] MacKenzie, “QCL’s coral licences in Moreton Bay”, p. 3.

[14] LDM, Review of Monitoring Program on Dredging Effects in Moreton Bay for Queensland Cement Limited, Brisbane, 18 September 1998, table 1 (Hegerl Collection (QCL)). The table indicates QCL dredged 30 hectares between 1981 and 1987 but it also gives a rate of 5.3 hectares a year for that period. I base my figure of “8 or 9 hectares a year” on the assumptions that the 30 hectares is correct and that QCL dredged at St Helena for about 3½ years.

[15] I thank David Neil for helping me to interpret the photograph. Phone conversation, 20 October 2020. The “roughly 900 metres” is my own estimate.

[16] I am grateful to Keith Boulton (email messages, 19 September 2020) and Barry Neden (email messages, 21 and 22 September 2020) for explaining why the Coral would still be at St Helena nearly 9 months after it stopped dredging. The Coral sank off Smoky Cape, NSW, in March 1990 while being towed to Melbourne. Boulton, “When Coral Was ‘King’”, p. 20; Jack Loney, Australian Shipwrecks, vol. 5: Update (Portarlington, Victoria: Marine History Publications, 1991), p. 130.

[17] Syvret, “Cement shake-up”, p. 30. For similar statements about QCL’s future see Ware, “An economic study”, July 1988, pp. ii, 21.

[18] QCL, Annual Report 1988, p. 4 (quoted words), and Annual Report 1989, p. 13.

[19] M.J. Ahern, submission, 3 January 1989, in Decision No. 55840, 16 January 1989.

[20] Final approval came with Decision No. 56772, 29 May 1989.

[21] MacKenzie, “QCL’s coral licences in Moreton Bay”, p. 1.

[22] Decision No. 56167, 27 February 1989. See also Decision No. 56100, 20 February 1989. Both No. 56167 and No. 56100 include submissions by Harper. I am grateful to Jonathan Richards and Mike Ahern for discussing the wording of Decision No. 56167 with me.

[23] Harper to Anderson, 27 February 1989 (F180). Supplied to me by the Premier’s Department under the Right to Information Act in December 2020.

[24] Lisa Green, “Dredging move worries Burns”, The Sun, 8 June 1989 (Hegerl Collection (GI)); QCL, Annual Report 1989, p. 13.

[25] MacKenzie, “QCL’s coral licences in Moreton Bay”, p. 2; Connell Wagner, “Bay and Coastal Process Report”, appendix C (for location of excavations), in Connell Wagner, Coral Dredging from Green Island, Moreton Bay: Impact Assessment Study (March 1994), Technical Reports, volume 1, report I.

[26] Allingham and Neil, “The supratidal deposits”, p. 288.

[27] Department of Environment and Conservation, Moreton Bay Strategic Plan: Draft Report for Comment (September 1989), para. 4.4.4(b).

[28] MacKenzie, “QCL’s coral licences in Moreton Bay”, p. 1.

[29] Department of Environment, Moreton Bay Strategic Plan: Draft Report, para. 4.2.8.

[30] MacKenzie, “QCL’s coral licences in Moreton Bay”, p. 1; Edmund Casey to Pat Comben, 21 May 1990 (F180).

[31] QLA, Record of Proceedings, 13 April 1989, p. 4658.

[32] Olwyn Crimp, phone interview, 14 December 2020.

[33] QLA, Record of Proceedings, 9 November 1988, p. 2339.

[34] “Queensland politics and the resource crunch”, Bulletin of the Australian Littoral Society, January 1990, p. 13.

[35] Hegerl, Submission on the draft “Moreton Bay Strategic Plan” (Moorooka: Australian Littoral Society, January 1990). SLQ. For a summary see “The Moreton Bay plan…a pathetic sequel”, Bulletin of the Australian Littoral Society, January 1990.

[36] QCL, Annual Report 1990 and Corporate Review 1993.

[37] Connell Wagner, Coral Dredging from Green Island, Moreton Bay: Impact Assessment Study (August 1993), p. 101 (Hegerl Collection (GI)). Cited hereafter as Connell Wagner, Coral Dredging (draft).

[38] Casey to Comben, 21 May 1990, and Comben to Casey, 8 June 1990 (F180).

[39] Jeanne Henderson, “Coral kills!”, Bay Courier, 17 July 1990.

[40] QCL, Corporate Review 1992.

[41] Henderson, “Coral kills!”

[42] Saenger to MacKenzie, 11 September 1990 (F180).

[43] Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary (1991).

[44] Anderson to Goss, 18 September 1990 (F180).

[45] Anderson to Goss, 27 November 1990 (F180).

[46] Michael O’Meara, “NCL bonanza hangs on Qld Cement bid”, Australian Financial Review, 27 September 1990 ( The third major shareholder was National Consolidated Ltd.

[47] “Meeting notes—overseas visit”, in QLA, Record of Proceedings, 24 October 1990, p. 4143.

[48] Stephen Robertson, minister for natural resources and mines, to Liz Cunningham, MLA, Gladstone, 2 November 2001 (Lucke Collection, E10).

[49] “QCL leases” (F180).

[50] Peter Harrison, Nick Holmes, and Peter Saenger, A Survey of the Scleractinian Coral Communities and Other Benthic Communities around Green Island, Wellington Point–Empire Point and Peel Island in Moreton Bay, Queensland: Draft Final Report (Lismore: Centre for Coastal Management, University of New England, Northern Rivers, August 1991), p. 1. Consulted at the University of Queensland’s Moreton Bay Research Station in Dunwich.

[51] Harrison, Holmes, and Saenger, A Survey, p. 68.

[52] Harrison, Holmes, and Saenger, A Survey, p. 70.

[53] Harrison, Holmes, and Saenger, A Survey, p. 70. Earlier in the report (p. 26) they do refer to the coral community on the northern reef at Green Island as “depauperate”.

[54] Harrison, Holmes, and Saenger, A Survey, p. 72.

[55] Harrison, Holmes, and Saenger, A Survey, p. 73.

[56] Keith Spencer, MBPS, to Peter Neville, DPI, 10 July 1991; Mark Doohan, QCFO, to Peter Neville, 11 July 1991 (F180).

[57] The letters are in F180.

[58] Edmund Casey, Submission No. 01381, 29 July 1991, in Decision No. 01458, 5 August 1991.

[59] As shown in M. White and J. Beumer, Survey and Classification of Oyster Growing Areas 1993-1995, Report 1: Moreton Island, North Stradbroke Island, Mud Island (Brisbane: Department of Primary Industries, 1997), figure 4.

[60] My emphasis.

[61] Decision No. 01458, 5 August 1991.

[62] An article in the Courier-Mail of 9 August (Brian Williams, “Moreton Bay coral sites to be mined”) indicates that the reporter had some idea of what course the government might take but not that it had already made its decision.

[63] Frank G. Bradley, chairman, Region 4 Environment Committee, QCFO, to Goss, 7 August 1991 (date received) (F180).

[64] ABC TV, 7.30 Report, “Coral capers”, 8 August 1991. Video supplied by ABC Brisbane.

[65] News release from the office of Edmund Casey MLA, Minister for Primary Industries, 4 September 1991 (Hegerl Collection (GI)).

[66] Comben released the plan in accordance with Decision No. 01484, 26 August 1991.

[67] Attachment A, accompanying Craig Emerson, director general, DEH, to J. Miller, director-general, DPI of 29 November 1993 (Hegerl Collection (GI)).

[68] Department of Environment and Heritage, Moreton Bay Strategic Plan: Proposals for Its Management (Brisbane: The Department, 1991), pp. 22, 46 (quoted words), and map.

Green Island

In August 1991 the government had given QCL two years to submit an impact assessment study on its plan to dredge along the eastern side of Green Island. But DPI did not start the work of preparing the terms of reference until April 1992 when it asked other agencies whether they wanted to serve as “advisory bodies” in the study. As it turned out, many did, including DEH, the Queensland Fish Management Authority, the Port of Brisbane Authority, and the BCC. DPI finally drafted the terms of reference in July and it released the final version at the end of August. The terms of reference required the impact assessment study to deal with a staggering list of topics.[1] It was to describe the site and the proposed development, examine possible alternatives, describe the existing environment (geomorphology, hydrology, water quality, flora and fauna, ecological relationships, social and economic significance), identify the impact the development was expected to have at Green Island as well as the impact dredging had already had at Mud and St Helena islands, and draft an environmental management plan and monitoring scheme. The terms of reference required QCL to consult with the QCFO, Queensland Sport and Recreational Fishing Council, ALS, Moreton Bay Trailer Boat Club (MBTBC), Queensland Yacht Squadron, and Queensland Ornithological Society. QCL was also expected to invite submissions from the general public and to include the submissions in the final report. Around the time the government released the terms of reference QCL hired a prominent engineering consulting firm, Connell Wagner, as the principal consultant. Connell Wagner in turn brought three other firms—Fisheries Research Consultants, Bio-Track, and Planning Workshop—on board as sub-consultants.

In the months following the release of the terms of reference, as the consultants were planning their work, the Queensland government took a number of initiatives related to the environment, though with what consequences for QCL’s proposal was far from clear. In December 1992 the government joined with the federal government and other state governments to endorse the National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development. Right from the start there were differing conceptions of what ecologically sustainable development meant. For environmentalists it meant blocking any development that did ecological damage or risked doing such damage, while for developers it meant balancing the interests of the environment and the economy.[2] However it was interpreted, it gave environmental concerns far greater prominence than they had often had in the past. At the very least opponents of a particular proposal could now charge a government with hypocrisy when they believed it had failed to live up to its own principles.

Two months later the state government turned its attention specifically to Moreton Bay. One of its concerns was the migratory birds—usually referred to as waders or shorebirds—that spent part of the year in Moreton Bay. The federal government had already given waders some protection by entering into two bilateral agreements, the Japan–Australia Migratory Bird Agreement (1974) and the China–Australia Migratory Bird Agreement (1986). Another important international agreement concerning waders was the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, usually referred to as the Ramsar convention. The primary purpose of the convention was to protect mudflats, marshes, coral reefs, mangroves, and other wetlands that were important habitats for migratory waterfowl. Australia had signed the convention in 1971 but so far no Queensland wetlands were covered by its provisions. As it happened, the election of the Labor government in 1989 had coincided with an upsurge in research on Moreton Bay’s waders, and the growing interest in these birds led to the formation of the Queensland Wader Study Group (QWSG) as a special interest group in the Queensland Ornithological Society in 1992. In May 1992 Pat Comben had told parliament that “very shortly we will have a Ramsar area of the Moreton Bay wetlands”.[3] Now, in February 1993, the Queensland government decided to nominate Moreton Bay for listing under the Ramsar convention. The nomination required the approval of the federal government, since it was Australia’s contracting party under the convention, but the prime minister immediately promised to endorse it. The Queensland government then began the work of preparing the nomination. The nomination had to include a precise description of the boundaries of the site and a great deal of information justifying the site’s listing.[4] The QWSG assisted by supplying vitally important data on wader numbers. One area that the group wanted to have included in the nomination was Green Island’s reef flats.[5]

About two weeks after deciding to nominate Moreton Bay as a Ramsar site the government declared certain tidal waters and lands in Moreton Bay to be a marine park under the Marine Parks Act 1982. The government intended to prepare a draft zoning plan “using the strategic plan as a guide”.[6] Then, two days later, the new minister for the environment, Molly Robson, announced that cabinet had approved the Moreton Bay Strategic Plan. The reef on the eastern side of Green Island was included in the marine park,[7] but since it retained the same ambiguous status in the strategic plan that it had had in the 1991 draft its inclusion in the marine park did not necessarily mean that dredging would be prohibited there. The government was not going to do anything that would preclude dredging until it had decided what to do about QCL’s proposal.

The fate of the eastern side of Green Island depended greatly on perceptions of just how special the island was. For many it was special simply because it had not been changed by dredging. Indeed, except at the northwest tip of the island, where some trees had been cleared for a picnic area (see Figure 6.1), it had been unchanged by any human activity. Strengthening the argument that the island was special and worth preserving as it was, David Neil of the University of Queensland had recently reached a stunning conclusion about the island’s geomorphology. In reaching this conclusion Neil made use of research begun by J.A. Steers as part of the Cambridge expedition of 1928-29. Steers made a basic distinction between “high islands” and “coral islands”. High islands were simply (in the case of the Great Barrier Reef) parts of the Australian continent that had been surrounded by water since sea levels rose after the last ice age. Coral islands, in contrast, were composed of sediments, largely of coralline origin, heaped up by wind and waves to form islands. Steers identified several types of coral islands. The simplest type was the unvegetated sand cay. More complicated was the vegetated sand cay, of which the best known was Heron Island. The most complex type was the “low wooded island”. The typical low wooded island consisted of shingle ramparts (rubble ridges) on the windward side, a sand cay on the leeward side, and mangrove flats in between. All the islands that he identified as low wooded islands were in the northern part of the Great Barrier Reef.[8] The work Steers started continued over the following decades. In 1982 David Hopley published a grand synthesis of the state of knowledge as it stood at the time. He identified four broad types of “reef islands” (as he called “coral islands”), the most complex of which was, as in Steers’s classification, the low wooded island.[9] Several years later, in 1992, David Neil and three of his students conducted a survey of Green Island to find out what changes had taken place since Dorothy Hill and her students surveyed it in 1940. In the middle of the night before they were to embark on their final field trip, as he considered what he had observed at Green Island, studied aerial photographs of the island, and reviewed the literature on the geomorphology of the Great Barrier Reef, it suddenly dawned on Neil that Green Island was a low wooded island. It was the only low wooded island in the bay.[10] Indeed, “given the apparent absence of LWIs in subtropical locations and its location near the southern limits of coral reef growth, Green Island, as a holistic geomorphic and ecological system, may be unique”.[11] The discovery was, he was later to say, as unexpected as if he had found cassowaries on the island.[12] He first presented his findings at a conference titled Future Marine Science in Moreton Bay (at which Robson gave the opening address) in February 1993.

Figure 6.1 Green Island in 1994

Meanwhile, QCL had been getting on with the business of making cement. It had also been making plans for future operations. In December 1991 Jim Anderson announced that the company would undertake a two-stage expansion at Gladstone. As part of the first stage, which was to begin immediately, it would construct a cement mill, allowing the plant to grind its clinker into cement. In the second stage, to be undertaken sometime in the future, QCL would double the plant’s capacity. As soon as the first stage was completed QCL would close its Townsville plant and then supply Townsville with cement shipped from Gladstone.[13] QCL had no plans to close the Darra plant as well. On the contrary, it gave the appearance of having every intention of continuing to operate it for many more years. During 1992 it operated just one kiln, no. 6, but the kiln “was operated at maximum efficiency and best ever production figures were achieved in a number of months”.[14] This efficiency was largely the work of an engineer, Barry Neden, who radically streamlined the way the raw materials were blended before they went into the kiln.[15] In late 1992 or early 1993 QCL began refurbishing kiln no. 5, which it planned to bring into production as soon as demand increased. By this time Anderson had become the company’s chairman and handed over the managing directorship to Jerry Maycock, previously the managing director of a Holderbank company in New Zealand. To Maycock fell the task of leading QCL’s efforts to gain access to Green Island’s coral.


As far as I can determine Connell Wagner and the sub-consultants began their work in the bay in March 1993 when Connell Wagner did studies of the sediment plume generated by the Amity first at Mud Island and then at St Helena. Then in April Planning Workshop put an advertisement in the Courier-Mail informing the public of the study and calling for submissions. The advertisement invited people to put their names on a mailing list to receive copies of a newsletter that Planning Workshop had produced and of others that it would produce from time to time. The first newsletter, dated April 1993, emphasized that the study was being undertaken by “independent” consultants, but it seemed to hint at the direction the consultants might take.[16] It noted how QCL had been dredging in the bay since the 1930s, how Green Island’s coral was “considered necessary” to extend the life of the Darra plant, which directly employed 100 people, and how the bay’s coral was “believed to be the only economic source” of calcium carbonate in southeast Queensland. The newsletter outlined the stages of the study, which it said would take 5 to 6 months, and called for submissions from interested organizations and the public.

Nearly all the submissions highlighted various aspects of the island that in their view made it important. These included its bird life, live coral, seagrass, fish habitat, and status as a low wooded island and the way the reef reduced the impact of powerful storms on the mainland. One member of the public proposed a dredging method that he believed would help to preserve the island (the idea was to leave intact strips of reef radiating out from the island). Otherwise, all the organizations and individuals making submissions had, at the very least, grave reservations about the proposal. Most expressed their implacable opposition.[17] Nearly all of them cited the damage dredging had already done at St Helena Island and particularly Mud Island and noted how QCL had done little to rehabilitate the areas it had damaged. They saw no reason to think that QCL would not wreak just as much destruction at Green Island. The boating organizations worried that the proposed dredging would create navigational hazards and leave the Manly Boat Harbour and Waterloo Bay more exposed to heavy seas; it would also, they argued, put at risk the substantial contribution these organizations had been making to the local economy.[18] The QCFO and the Queensland Sport and Recreational Fishing Council feared that dredging would ruin valuable fish habitats. The ALS pointed to Australia’s obligations under agreements with Japan and China to protect migratory birds. The Queensland Ornithological Society listed the species that frequented the reef QCL wanted to dredge and reminded the consultants of Moreton Bay’s nomination as a Ramsar site as well as of Australia’s obligations under existing agreements. The society warned that QCL’s apparent intention not to dredge closer than 150 metres from the mangroves would do little to help waders, since many of them fed along the low tide line rather than in the upper tidal zone. Several of the submissions made the point that while QCL might claim that it extracted only dead coral it could not possibly extract dead coral without either directly or indirectly killing live coral as well. A few of the submissions wondered whether dredging at Green Island made sense even from QCL’s perspective, since it would have to stop dredging before very long anyway and could so easily expand its operations at the East End mine. Some of the submissions were concerned about how the study would be conducted. The ALS, for example, doubted whether a study to be conducted over 5 to 6 months could possibly provide an adequate assessment of the impact dredging would have in different seasons over the course of a year. And it insisted that the consultants undertake a cost-benefit analysis of the dredging proposal. Collectively, the submissions seemingly left QCL’s proposal in tatters.

Planning Workshop issued its second newsletter in June, as the final submissions were coming in.[19] It reported that all the consultants were very busy. Planning Workshop itself was (“in consultation with QCL”) examining the feasibility of the project and the consequences of not proceeding. The consultants had, according to the newsletter, designed a “modified dredging method”. The next stage would be to assess the impacts of the project. The consultants would then prepare an environmental management plan that “will…include recommendations for the mitigation of any adverse impacts and environmental monitoring over the life of the project”. Implicit in the newsletter was the assumption that the project would go ahead.

Sometime by early August the state government finalized its nomination of Moreton Bay as a Ramsar site. The most notable feature as far as Green Island was concerned was that it did not include the area where QCL wanted to dredge. A QWSG member understood “that inclusion of this area within the Ramsar site was vetoed by the Departments of Primary Industries and Minerals and Energy because of mining interests”.[20] That is possible, but excluding the proposed dredging area from the nomination was also consistent with the position cabinet had taken since August 1991 not to make a final determination about the status of that area until it had decided what to do about QCL’s proposal. In any case, the fact remained that the government had not included the proposed dredging area.

In the middle of August Connell Wagner submitted a draft report (as well as four draft technical reports that I have not seen) to the government. The report stressed just how important it was for QCL to obtain a licence to dredge at Green Island. It provided detailed information about the location, quality, and size of limestone deposits in southeast Queensland but concluded, as Oceanics Australia had in 1983, that none were economically viable. Without Green Island’s coral the Darra plant would have to close as soon as the plant’s kilns had consumed the remaining reserves at St Helena and Mud islands in six or seven years. The consequences would be terrible. Queensland industry would have to rely much more on interstate and overseas imports, creating uncertainties in supply and price. Southeast Queensland in particular would lose “a strategically located, convenient and cost competitive source of cement”.[21] The workers at the Darra plant would lose their jobs, while businesses that supplied goods and services to the plant would lose a major source of income. And, worst of all, QCL would, having lost a big share of its market, lose its ability to generate the capital it needed for its eventual expansion at Gladstone. The long-term success of the company depended on Darra continuing to operate. That in turn depended on obtaining a licence to dredge at Green Island.

There was, as Connell Wagner noted, an alternative to closing the Darra plant when the coral ran out and then letting imports meet the shortfall. QCL could instead undertake an immediate expansion of the Gladstone plant and then close the Darra plant as soon as the expansion was complete. Connell Wagner estimated the cost of doing this to be about $130 million. Expanding the Gladstone plant would allow QCL to take advantage of the latest technology in cement making. But the report argued that excess capacity in the cement industry, the threat of imports from overseas and particularly from southern states, and a shake-up in the structure of the industry would make such an expensive venture far too risky at the moment. It made far more sense to extend the life of the Darra plant by feeding its kilns with coral from Green Island.

Connell Wagner described the damage dredging had done at St Helena Island and especially at Mud Island. It detailed how dredging had brought about the formation of rubble ridges (“shingle beaches”) at both islands and how, in the case of Mud Island, the ridges had blocked drainage and killed mangroves. It also described the effects that the sediment plume generated during dredging had on seagrass and live coral outside the dredged area. The report included many photographs illustrating the impact of dredging. When it described Green Island Connell Wagner tended to downplay the island’s significance. Most notably, it made no mention of its status as a low wooded island. Even so, QCL and Connell Wagner understood that they had to find a way to prevent dredging from damaging Green Island as it had Mud and St Helena islands. Dredging at Green Island required a new approach.

Figure 6.2 Connell Wagner’s Green Island dredging plan, August 1993

Along the eastern side of the island, as can be seen in Figure 6.2, the reef sloped very gently out to the top of the reef slope, generally around the 2-metre contour, where it then sloped much more steeply down to a depth of 6 or 7 metres. The width of the reef flat, specifically, the area from the outer edge of the mangroves to the top of the reef slope, varied between 1 and 1.5 kilometres. According to Connell Wagner, the greatest abundance of live coral was located on the northeastern reef slope. Taking into account these features, Connell Wagner devised a dredging plan that it believed would eliminate or at least minimize the problems caused by dredging up to that time. The plan had three parts:

  1. Previously QCL had begun dredging at various points on the outer reef and then worked its way toward the shore. Connell Wagner proposed that the Amity cut into the reef at the northern end of the eastern side of Green Island to create a 200-metre-wide channel into the reef, but otherwise it would leave the outer reef, and particularly the area believed to have the most live coral, untouched. The channel would enable the Amity to begin dredging at the northern end of the reef and then, loading the John Oxley every step of the way, work its way eastward and southward until it had removed nearly all the reef flat on the eastern side of the island. The dredge would leave the outer 20 metres of the reef flat intact. This “buffer” would help protect the island from erosion and reduce the chances of rubble ridges forming. As well as preserving the outer reef QCL would, just as it had been required to do at St Helena and Mud islands since 1991, not dredge any closer than 150 metres from the mangroves. Connell Wagner expected this too would reduce the chances of rubble ridges forming or at least prevent any ridges that did form from encroaching on Green Island as they had at Mud Island. In total, Connell Wagner estimated in its main report, dredging operations over the course of the roughly ten years of the project would remove about 200 hectares of reef. It referred to the dredged area, which in most places would be 5 or 6 metres deep, as a “lagoon”.[22]
  2. Connell Wagner proposed that QCL “utilise silt containment devices (such as silt curtains or equivalent technology) to minimise silt settlement on the remaining outer reef and reef slope in order to maintain the survival of the live coral and minimise impact on other marine species”.[23] As the wording suggested, it did not have a specific device in mind. But it implied that silt curtains (typically consisting of “a geo-textile sheet attached to floats that are weighed down to the sea floor and anchored in place”)[24] had been used successfully during dredging for the third runway at Sydney airport and at Magnetic Quays near Townsville. Connell Wagner also pointed to “the use of membrane filtration and recirculation of barge overflow water” as rapidly developing technologies that might be used at Green Island. It believed that QCL would be able to come up with an effective silt containment device by the time the Amity began working at Green Island.[25]
  3. Previously QCL’s dredging operations had cut away the reef and left a vertical wall. Connell Wagner now proposed “the creation of final batter slopes of between 1 on 2 and 1 on 4”. The idea was that the impact of waves would be spread over a bigger area and so “further reduce the potential for shingle beach formation”. It would also, Connell Wagner believed, “assist in the recolonisation of corals”, as the profile of the outer edges of the “lagoon” would be more like that of the existing reef slope. The consultant explained that battering would be undertaken every twelve months or so “to suit the dredging program”. It did not explain how it would be done.[26]

Connell Wagner devoted much of its report to the potential impacts of the plan. It conceded that “the mythological significance of Green Island to Aboriginal people may be affected by disturbance to the coral reef”[27], as explained in Box 6.1. And it acknowledged that there would be some adverse impact on the tunnel netters who fished on the eastern side of the island, since they would experience “a change in catch due to the reduced width of tidal flat available for netting”.[28] Otherwise, however, it foresaw no serious impacts. It noted that migratory birds that spent part of the year in Moreton Bay would lose 50 hectares of tidal flats they used as feeding grounds but, it claimed, this loss “is not considered to threaten” their survival. In any case, the government’s decision not to include the area where QCL wanted to dredge in the area it had nominated under the Ramsar convention suggested “that the birdlife in the area was thought not to be significant enough to warrant its inclusion”.[29] Connell Wagner observed that the proposal would remove 20 hectares of intertidal seagrass but added that this represented just 0.1 percent of the total area of seagrass in Moreton Bay. And it commented that the digging of the northern channel into the dredging area “will not result in the loss of significant quantities of live coral nor of coral communities or species of particular ecological or taxonomic significance”.[30] To ensure that the proposal would indeed have as little impact on the environment as possible Connell Wagner provided a rough sketch of an environmental monitoring program. It insisted that its dredging proposal should not be regarded as an extension of the dredging that had taken place at Mud and St Helena islands. It was instead “a distinct new operation conceived in full knowledge of the environmental sensitivity of the area, and subject to rigorous environmental standards and safeguards”.[31]

Box 6.1

Among the people living in Southeast Queensland in the 1990s were a few thousand descendants of the peoples who had lived around Moreton Bay since long before British settlers arrived in the 1820s. To them the reefs that QCL had dredged or hoped to dredge belonged to “Quandamooka”, an expanse of land and water bounded by a line extending “from the mouth of the Brisbane River then north-east to Mulgumpin (Moreton Island), south past Minjerribah (Stradbroke Island) to Southport (Gold Coast) then north along the mainland coast to the mouth of the Brisbane River”.[32] The impact assessment study’s terms of reference required Connell Wagner to identify areas of cultural significance within the study area and how they might be affected by dredging. Connell Wagner subcontracted this work to the Planning Workshop, which in turn hired two staff members at the University of Queensland Archaeological Services Unit, S.J. Davies and J.F. Richter, to undertake the necessary research on its behalf. Their research revealed that Green Island was on the track of the Carpet Snake Totem. The track stretched from Fraser Island in the north south to the northern coast of New South Wales and included the islands of Moreton Bay. Green Island, known to the Quandamooka people by various names including Tangeera, was a significant feature on the track, since it was the totem’s sleeping platform. Although QCL had no intention of altering the island itself (that is, the coral cay and mangrove-covered area), one of the Quandamooka people Davies and Richter consulted, Patrick Jerome, who referred to himself as Djirrippi Warra of the Carpet Snake Totem, was adamant that dredging near the island would destroy the island’s cultural significance. “In respect to a culture which has an history of many thousands of years” he wrote, “the entire area of what is now known as Green Island…must be left untouched for all eternity”.

As Davies and Richter pointed out, it was impossible to know the precise extent of “the entire area”. Did it include the area where QCL wanted to dredge? The two researchers seem to have taken the view that it almost certainly did, for they recommended that “dredging…not occur”.[33] In its own report, written after receiving the results of Davies and Richter’s research, Planning Workshop stopped short of expressing a view about the extent of the area of spiritual significance. Instead, it concluded that “the mythological significance of Green Island to Aboriginal people may be [affected] by disturbance to the coral reef if…the spiritual significance of the island extends to the reef flats”.[34] This was the view that Connell Wagner incorporated into its draft report. Neither Planning Workshop nor Connell Wagner raised the possibility that dredging should not proceed if the area of spiritual significance did in fact include the area QCL wanted to dredge.


Connell Wagner concluded its report by emphasizing the great economic benefits the proposal would bring. It would allow the Darra plant to continue employing its workforce for up to 15 years. Altogether, the plant would every year contribute $25.6 million to the economy and pay $1.5 million in taxes and fees.[35] With that it rested its case.


DPI passed on copies of the report to the advisory bodies but not to any of the organizations that were to be consulted such as the ALS, QCFO, and Queensland Sport and Recreational Fishing Council. Nor did it make copies available to the various community groups such as the Bayside Environmental Network (BEN) that had an interest in the outcome of the study. As it happened, the ALS obtained a photocopy of the draft report from a contact in one of the advisory bodies (which is how, years later, I have been able to read it). This placed the ALS in an awkward position. It was very disturbed by the contents of the report but could not comment on it publicly without revealing that it had a copy. The society’s executive officer, Di Tarte, made many attempts over the next few months to persuade Ed Casey to make the report publicly available, but he would not budge. Nor would he respond to an unrelenting campaign by a Manly resident, Mary Patchett, on behalf of BEN to make the report available. Even an appeal from Tom Burns to release the draft had no effect. It was far from certain whether the public would even be able to read the final report before cabinet decided what to do about the proposal.[36]

Meanwhile, some or all of the advisory bodies responded to DPI’s invitation to comment on the draft report. I have copies of just two of the responses, those from the BCC and the DEH.[37] Both were scathing, for all sorts of reasons. They pointed out conspicuous omissions from the report such as its failure to mention that QCL was wholly owned by Holderbank and its omission of Aegiceras corniculatum (river mangrove) in a list of mangrove species found on the island even though, as an ALS staff member who read the draft put it, “a blind botanist” could find it there. They believed that the report had failed to appreciate the island’s intrinsic value. Green Island, DEH noted for example, “is a low wooded isle of considerable geomorphic significance and may well be unique in being the only such island and reef in a subtropical latitude”. DEH was, at the same time, critical of what it regarded as a basic misunderstanding of the regulatory status of the area QCL proposed to dredge. Neither the Moreton Bay Strategic Plan nor the government’s Ramsar nomination, it explained, could be taken as suggesting that the area was not worth protecting. It was simply that the government could do nothing to protect the area until after it had fulfilled the commitment it had made in August 1991 not to make any decision about its status until after it had received the results of the impact assessment study. In fact, DEH revealed, “it is proposed that, in the absence of coral dredging, the entire reef around Green Island will be zoned as a Conservation Park Zone, thus giving recognition to its important conservation significance”. The emphasis was DEH’s.

The BCC and DEH also questioned Connell Wagner’s rationale for the project. The BCC wondered why it was so important to keep the Darra plant running when Sunstate could import clinker all the way from South Australia and yet still make a profit. Both complained that it was difficult to evaluate either the economic benefits of the project or the basis for rejecting alternatives when the report provided no data in support of its conclusions. Without such data, DEH added, the department would have no way of knowing whether the project was consistent with its mission statement of achieving ecologically sustainable development and the goal of the Moreton Bay Strategic Plan “to provide for ecologically sustainable use of Moreton Bay and the protection of its natural, recreational, cultural heritage and amenity values”. There needed to be a cost–benefit analysis that evaluated the project in relation to all those values.

Both the BCC and DEH had grave reservations about Connell Wagner’s dredging plan. In particular, they noted that it had not identified what silt containment device the dredge would use. They insisted that Connell Wagner and QCL provide this information before the project was approved. They also wanted to know how effective the device would be under different conditions. One reason DEH was so adamant on this point was that it had learned from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority that the silt curtains used at Magnetic Island had been effective only when the chop was less than half a metre. But the BCC and DEH’s dissatisfaction with the dredging plan extended far beyond doubts about silt containment devices: they were convinced that dredging would have devastating consequences even if the plan proved to be as good as Connell Wagner claimed it to be. It would kill at least some live coral. It would remove a feeding ground used by waders. It would destroy about 20 hectares of seagrass, which admittedly would be a tiny loss but which, added to numerous other tiny losses, would contribute to the mounting destruction of seagrass in the bay. And it would, as the BCC put it, “permanently [transform] 115ha or 200 ha (both are quoted in the document) of productive/sustainable reef flat…into a 6m deep, barren, silt-filled basin”. DEH demanded that the consultant add a sentence making the point “that the dredging operation would leave a large crater where there was once a gently sloping coral flat”. There would be no idyllic “lagoon”.

The BCC and DEH had a further major concern. While Connell Wagner’s main report claimed that the dredging plan would “minimise” the formation of rubble ridges, a technical report prepared by Connell Wagner concluded that “it would be reasonable to conclude that rubble banks of about 1.5m height may be formed after dredging”.[38] The BCC regarded the formation of rubble ridges as unacceptable. DEH feared that if they did form they could damage the island’s mangroves. According to DEH, the only way to prevent rubble ridges forming inside the 150-metre buffer would be to avoid dredging anywhere beyond the low-water line. Then there was the question of what to do if any ridges did form. The BCC demanded that QCL be required to remove such ridges and to lodge a bond to cover the cost of rehabilitation in case it should fail to do so. DEH less stridently asserted that, “in the event that coral bunds do form, means to overcome their adverse impact need to be addressed”.

The BCC and DEH covered all these topics and many more. To a very large extent the two critiques overlapped but the BCC had one criticism that is not found in DEH’s response: it regarded the public consultation that had supposedly been an indispensable part of the study as a sham. Public consultation, it complained, appeared to be more for the purpose of disseminating information than for actually responding to community concerns. The consultant did in fact list many of the concerns raised in the submissions, but it then glossed over them with the comment that most were “closely linked to previous dredging operations…when environmental controls and standards were not set as highly as they are in current circumstances”.[39] According to the BCC, the study “should indicate where and whether each of the community concerns has been addressed. This information should also be relayed back to the people who presented those concerns with an explanation of how their concerns have been addressed and reasons why concerns were not incorporated if applicable.” The council also asked that the study and accompanying technical volumes be made available to the public.

It is quite possible that some of the other advisory bodies submitted very different assessments of the study.[40] But the one piece of information I have about the responses indicates that there was a consensus on one important issue: the need for a much more thorough analysis of the various alternatives open to QCL than Connell Wagner had provided.[41] It appeared that one way or another QCL would need to provide such an analysis.

Meanwhile, as the advisory bodies were preparing their assessments, the Darra plant was booming. In November 1993 QCL closed its Townsville plant. By this time QCL had completed construction of a cement mill at Gladstone and so could now supply cement to northern Queensland. It then began shipping less clinker to Bulwer Island, but around the same time as the Townsville plant closed the Darra plant restarted the refurbished kiln no. 5. The plant now had a capacity of 550,000 tonnes of cement a year, which was about half of QCL’s total capacity. QCL’s corporate review for 1993 explained that “the majority of Fine and most special and blended products are now sourced from Darra rather than Bulwer Island”.[42] The Darra plant had taken on a renewed importance.


Up until the end of 1993 organizations and individuals opposed to QCL’s proposal had made submissions to the impact assessment study, written to members of parliament, and made their opposition known to reporters. It seemed from their point of view that they were getting nowhere. Then in early December representatives of a number of organizations opposed to the proposal came together to form a committee to organize public protests. They called themselves the Green Island Anti-Dredging Group. One of its main driving forces was Sunfish, as the Queensland Sport and Recreational Fishing Council now called itself.[43] With around 10,000 members Sunfish had considerable political influence, especially since its membership included people working in various government agencies. Among the other organizations that had some connection with the Green Island Anti-Dredging Group as it began its work were the MBPS, BEN, QWSG, and MBTBC, while the ALS was at the very least keeping itself informed of the group’s work. These organizations did not necessarily agree with one another on every issue. The bird watchers, for example, hardly approved of noisy boats, and conservationists wanted greater restrictions on fish catches than recreational fishers did. But on the particular issue that brought them together the various organizations making up the Green Island Anti-Dredging Group were united.

The group’s first action was to begin planning for a public protest meeting on 5 February 1994. During January, by which time it appeared that the government would make the final impact assessment study publicly available before it decided what to do about Green Island, the group tried to generate as much publicity as possible for the meeting. Publicity about the meeting appeared in the Courier-Mail’s regular fishing column, the Wynnum Herald, and the QWSG’s newsletter.[44] And the Green Island Anti-Dredging Group circulated a flyer urging people to attend the Public “Save Green Island” Meeting, where they would learn that:

  • Coral dredging is set to desecrate the whole eastern side of Green Island in Moreton Bay Marine Park.
  • Coral dredging…destroys everything and wipes out fishing and crabbing grounds.
  • A total ecology system will be lost forever if coral is dredged at Green Island.[45]

The meeting was held in a function room at the MBTBC from which Green Island was clearly visible. It was attended by “at least 200”, including Tom Burns and, it appears, representatives from DPI and Connell Wagner, and it was chaired by David Bateman, the chairman of Sunfish. Sunfish’s environmental spokesman, Jeff Luke, called on those at the meeting to “convince the politicians that their political futures are at risk if they approve the dredging”. The naturalist and underwater photographer Neville Coleman showed slides of photographs he had taken of Green Island’s coral and the destruction at Mud Island. And Andrew Geering, representing the QWSG, described how waders used the bay’s reefs as feeding grounds before flying “to as far away as the Siberian tundras to mate and multiply”. To drive home what he believed was at stake Geering added that if QCL’s proposal were approved “it would take ‘thousands of years and a few ice ages’, for the platforms which dredging would remove to once again build up”.[46]

Either at the meeting or immediately afterwards the Green Island Anti-Dredging Group announced that there would be a “Preservation Cruise” the following weekend. On 13 February a large number of boats—“about a hundred” according to the ABC TV News that night, “more than 200” according to Bateman—sailed past Green Island displaying banners proclaiming (among other things) “Old Coral Lives” and “Coral Not Concrete!” Shortly afterwards Bateman warned that this protest “would pale into insignificance if the Government caved into pressure to mine the island”.[47]

Around the time of these protests the government released the draft Moreton Bay Marine Park Zoning Plan for public comment. Following the principles set out in the Moreton Bay Strategic Plan, the draft categorized Green Island and its surrounding reef as a conservation park zone but set aside the area where QCL proposed to dredge as a “management area”. In this way the government continued to leave open the possibility of allowing dredging there.[48]


In early March Connell Wagner submitted the revised impact assessment study to DPI. The consultant corrected some of the faults pointed out by the BCC and DEH (and presumably other advisory bodies). It mentioned that QCL was owned by Holderbank. It included Aegiceras corniculatum in its discussion of Green Island’s mangroves. It no longer argued that excluding the area where QCL wanted to dredge from the Moreton Bay Ramsar site (now officially listed) indicated that the birdlife there was insignificant. And it acknowledged DEH’s point that “the existence of the Special Management zone east of Green Island was not intended to compromise the habitat value of this area”.[49] Responding to another point made by DEH, Connell Wagner now referred to Green Island as a low wooded island. It described it, however, as but one of three in the bay along with St Helena and Mud islands, casting doubt on its grasp of the concept of a low wooded island,[50] as explained in Box 6.2. And it made only slight changes to the dredging plan. It now proposed that QCL preserve more of the reef flat in the northeast, thereby removing from the dredging area all of what Connell Wagner identified as the “region of dense and diverse live coral”. It also proposed “the creation of final batter slopes of around 1 on 4” (rather than “between 1 on 2 and 1 on 4”) around the edges of the “lagoon”. Otherwise the dredging proposal remained exactly the same.

Box 6.2
The classification of Mud and St Helena islands

As noted earlier in the chapter, Steers made the basic distinction between “high islands” (often referred to as “continental islands”) and “coral islands” (often called “reef islands”). St Helena was a high island, an outcrop of the Australian continent. The extensive area of land visible in figures 4.1 and 5.1 was largely formed of terrigenous materials, namely, rocks and soils, as compared to the biogenic sediments (specifically, calcium carbonate produced by coral and other calcareous organisms) of which Green Island was formed.

Classifying Mud Island was more complicated. The area above high water in the middle of the island was a continental outcrop but it occupied only 0.2 percent of the whole island. Moreover, Allingham and Neil argued in a paper they presented while Connell Wagner was amending its draft report, this tiny area above high water “plays no role in the…development of the island’s reef top geomorphic features”.[51] For this reason Allingham and Neil regarded Mud Island as a coral island. That left the question of what type of coral island it was. It was of course low and wooded but that did not necessarily mean that it was a low wooded island in the specific sense that reef geomorphologists used the term. Allingham and Neil concluded that it was in fact a “mangrove island”, which according to Hopley’s classification was a slightly less complex form of coral island than a low wooded island.

Thus, St Helena was definitely not a low wooded island, while Mud Island was, as Allingham and Neil classified it, a type of coral island but not a low wooded island.


Connell Wagner made a few changes intended to strengthen its argument. Two are notable. First, it now used an estimate that dredging would remove 7 percent of the total coral-based substrate in the bay that some species of waders preferred as their feeding grounds to claim that dredging would at the very most lead to a 7 percent reduction in wader numbers and might in fact cause no reduction at all since the waders could move to other feeding grounds.[52] And, second, it added the following comparison to its assessment of the economic value of the project:

The total estimated value of the recreational and commercial fishing in the vicinity of Green Island including waters outside the extraction area is approximately $1.7 million per year of which only a small percentage can be predicted to be affected by the proposal. This compares to an annual value of the coral limestone extracted of $8.1 million and an annual value of cement produced from the coral limestone produced from the coral limestone extracted from the eastern side of Green Island of $80.7 million.[53]

With this comparison Connell Wagner reinforced its argument that approving QCL’s proposal would do little harm while failure to approve it would have terrible consequences.

Sometime during the months when Connell Wagner was revising its report QCL agreed to commission a separate economic study along the lines requested by several of the advisory bodies. Apparently the terms of reference were drafted by QCL, which commissioned two economists at the University of Queensland to undertake the analysis.[54] They completed the study, titled “The Financial & Economic Costs of Alternatives to Dredging Green Island Coral in Moreton Bay”, in May. Because their report was, and remains, confidential I have not read even a summary of its conclusions.[55] But two documents prepared by DEH in 1995 provide a glimpse of its contents.[56] The economists emphasized that the report was “not concerned with the environmental costs of sourcing limestone from Green Island, but rather the cost in financial, social and regional impact terms of alternative methods of supplying cement to the Queensland market”. Having adopted such an approach and made a number of assumptions about certain economic parameters, the report concluded (so one of the sources relates) that “failure to secure the Green Island limestone reserves would result in significant costs to both QCL and (in the price of cement) to the State of Queensland”. Based on the assumption that the cement market would grow at a little above 1 percent a year, the report also concluded that it would not be viable to expand the Gladstone plant’s capacity “at present”. The report went to DPI and DEH but apparently not all of the advisory bodies, for the BCC did not receive a copy.[57] How those who read it reacted to its conclusions would depend to a great extent on how prepared they were to accept the approach and assumptions underpinning it.


In the weeks after Connell Wagner submitted the final version of its report opposition to the proposal continued to grow. In April Tom Burns presented state parliament with a petition signed by 2584 people “praying for the proposed dredging of coral be effectively stopped from around the areas of Green Island and Moreton Bay”.[58] As the Wynnum Herald pointed out, “Concern is not limited to ‘greenies’ or radicals—it is held by fisherman, sailors, families and academics alike”.[59] As opposition grew so too did calls on the government to release the report. The leader of the Australian Democrats in Queensland demanded that it be released, as did the Wynnum Herald.[60] In June the deputy premier declared in a letter to constituents that he wanted the study to be released because “the release of the document will destroy [QCL’s] case”. Burns’s antipathy towards QCL was deepening. In the same letter he questioned the company’s record as an employer and claimed that the company had pressured its workers into writing letters in support of the proposal. “As a fisherman and a workers’ rep”, he concluded, “I think their application and their tactics stink.”[61] Then, finally, on 20 June, Casey released Connell Wagner’s report, which he announced “will be considered again by the Government, for decision, after allowing time for the views of all interested parties to be taken into account”. The report, he continued, would be available at various libraries and at the DPI and DEH bookshops.[62]

That evening ABC News reported that Burns was on a “collision course” with some of his cabinet colleagues, and the next day the Courier-Mail speculated that the report would “cause a serious rift in the Goss Government”. Goss told the ABC (and apparently the deputy premier himself) that he expected Burns to put his views to cabinet and then accept whatever cabinet might decide.[63] Burns immediately fell into line but during question time on 22 June the recently reunited National–Liberal opposition attempted to drive a wedge between him and his colleagues. When the leader of the opposition, Rob Borbidge, asked Burns whether he stood by a promise Channel 9 quoted him as having made that he would resign from cabinet if the government allowed dredging at Green Island, the deputy premier simply thanked “the honourable member for the question” and declared that “I welcome the release of the statement. It will help to prove what I have been saying.”[64] And two of Burns’s cabinet colleagues easily parried questions encouraging them either to agree or disagree with the stand Burns had been taking on Green Island.[65] Then, early the next day, there was a bombshell. Expressing confidence in the “environmental soundness” of QCL’s dredging proposal but acknowledging “concerns expressed by some sections of the community”, Jerry Maycock announced that the company was “voluntarily” deferring its application while it investigated possible alternatives to the Green Island proposal.[66] He emphasized that “we will not rule out the possibility of re-applying for an additional licence to dredge dead coral limestone in Moreton Bay”. So far, he added, the investigations, which could take as long as two years to complete, indicated that an additional dredging licence was the most viable and indeed the only way to “ensure the long-term continuation of our Darra plant”. “Meanwhile”, the announcement concluded, “the Darra plant will continue to operate normally until early next century utilising existing reserves of dead coral limestone and ensuring continued local supply of quality cement and direct and indirect employment for 500 people”. When parliament resumed that morning, the minister for business, industry, and regional development, Jim Elder, welcomed QCL’s announcement and praised the company for continuing to be a “responsible corporate citizen”.[67]

Opponents of QCL’s proposal welcomed the deferral too but they were also suspicious. They feared that QCL would wait for the opposition to die down and then resubmit its application. Some suspected that the company would reintroduce its proposal when Tom Burns retired from politics, as, according to one report, he was expected to do within the next three years.[68] During an interview shortly after the announcement Eddie Hegerl “said the proposal might still be subject to manoeuvres behind the scenes” and encouraged opponents of the proposal to lodge formal objections right away.[69] Just four days later the Green Island Anti-Dredging Group met to discuss what to do next. As the Wynnum Herald explained, it decided to change tack.[70] It would now lobby the government to “have Green Island and its associated reef areas unconditionally included in the Moreton Bay Marine Park with a marine park zoning which protects the habitat”. The key word was “unconditionally”. The area where QCL wanted to dredge was already included in the marine park. And, as we have seen, the draft Moreton Bay Marine Park Zoning Plan had included it in a conservation park zone encompassing the island and reef. The problem was that the plan had set aside the area QCL wanted to dredge as a “management area” pending the government’s decision on QCL’s proposal. The group wanted the area to be categorized in a way that would prohibit dredging forever.

Either at this meeting or shortly afterwards the Green Island Anti-Dredging Group decided to hold another protest meeting and sail-past. In the weeks leading up to the meeting members of the group experienced great frustration as they tried to obtain copies of Connell Wagner’s report from DPI. By mid July, however, the ALS had obtained a copy “from an alternative source”, while the MBTBC appears to have obtained a copy by unorthodox means as well.[71] The “small but vocal meeting” at the MBTBC on 30 July heard several speakers attack the report.[72] Andrew Geering ridiculed Connell Wagner’s dubious identification of wader species and described the consultant’s argument that a loss of 7 percent of the bay’s coral substrate as a result of the dredging would cause no more than a 7 percent reduction in bird numbers as “deceptive and simplistic”. It was, Geering explained, deceptive because it ignored how much had already been lost and simplistic because the decline in bird numbers could in fact be far greater than 7 percent, since “larger areas support more birds per unit area than small areas”.[73] Geering ended his talk by referring to the government’s recent announcement that Brisbane had won the right to host the next Ramsar conference in March 1996. It had been chosen partly because it was so near a Ramsar site, Moreton Bay.[74] “With the Ramsar conference coming to Brisbane…”, he said, “let’s lobby for inclusion of Green Island as part of the Ramsar site.”[75] Another speaker, Eddie Hegerl, told the meeting that “QCL’s proposed silt curtains…would not stand up to the harsh weather conditions in Moreton Bay” and that as a result Green Island would probably experience the same aftereffects of dredging as Mud and St Helena islands had. The meeting also considered the possible implications of QCL’s deferral. Ernie Stewart of the MBTBC said that contrary to what many people thought “there are no changes in the situation at all”. Those concerned about the future of Green Island would have to continue the fight to make sure the government protected the island.

Following the meeting the Green Island Anti-Dredging Group pressed ahead with planning and publicizing the sail-past.[76] Sunfish in particular played a big part in promoting the event. About 70 boats took part in the “Preservation Day Cruise” on 7 August. After cruising past Green Island, Stewart told the Wynnum Herald, “we went on to have a look at Mud Island and seeing is believing, the devastation there caused by coral dredging is incredible—there is just acres and acres of dead mangroves”.[77] The event did not generate as much media coverage as the one in February but it showed the government that those opposed to dredging were not about to abandon their campaign.

As it happened, the government was changing tack, just as the Green Island Anti-Dredging Group had. It could have waited until QCL had decided what it wanted to do before making any decision about the company’s dredging proposal. Probably in part because of the protests, however, the government informed QCL that despite the deferral “Cabinet would consider the matter in the context of finalising the [Moreton Bay Marine Park] zoning plan”.[78] Because DEH was responsible for administering the legislation regulating zoning the department now assumed the responsibility for collecting and considering responses to the impact assessment study. The day before the sail-past a spokesman for Molly Robson emphasized that “the make-up of the marine park was still being decided” and asked the Green Island Anti-Dredging Group to “make a submission to the department as soon as possible”.[79] Then, on 23 September, Robson issued a press release that explained the change in direction and asked for comments on the impact assessment study to be sent to DEH. The press release listed libraries that had copies of the report and departmental bookshops where it could be purchased. DEH asked for all submissions to be made by 17 October.[80]

Immediately after Robson’s announcement, an editorial in the Wynnum Herald urged the public to submit comments on the impact assessment study. “Pressure must be put on the Department of Environment and Heritage to include Green Island—utterly and without question—in the Moreton Bay Marine Park it is creating”, it declared. “Only apathy will see Green Island destroyed.”[81] In early October Tom Burns told a BEN forum organized by Mary Patchett that so far there had only been 115 submissions and “that the number should be more like 1115”.[82] At some point DEH extended the deadline for submissions to late November. In the end, the department received 147 “written objections” to the proposal, all from members of the public. DEH also received 23 “written submissions” from (as the department categorized them) advisory bodies, “consulted organisations” (namely, the QCFO, ALS, Queensland Ornithological Society, and Quandamooka Land Council), and the public.[83] The public submissions included submissions made by organizations such as the Australian Coral Reef Society (as the GBRC had become in 1988) and the Queensland Conservation Council (QCC), David Neil and Peter Johnson of the University of Queensland, community organizations such as BEN, and bayside residents. In at least one instance there was some collaboration among those making submissions. The BCC based its submission largely on a critique of Connell Wagner’s report that it contracted Eddie Hegerl of the ALS to undertake.[84]

The submissions made a few new points.[85] Neil and Johnson, for example, argued that the sediment stirred up by dredging would be particularly harmful to live coral during the winter when the coral was already stressed by the cold water.[86] But for the most part the submissions elaborated on concerns that had already been raised. None of the submissions regarded Connell Wagner’s discussions of silt containment devices and a possible environmental management plan as adequate. Most of the submissions, including all those from consulted organizations and all the public submissions, rejected QCL’s proposal outright. Many cited the government’s expressed commitment to ecologically sustainable development as a reason the proposal could not possibly go ahead. The submission from the Department of Minerals and Energy, which believed that despite the report’s deficiencies “a reasonable compromise between environmental protection and resource utilisation values may still be achievable”, appears to have been the only one to express the hope that QCL might be allowed to dredge at Green Island.

In addition to all the written objections and submissions there were at least two petitions during this period. Burns presented a petition “praying that Green Island and surrounding reefs be protected from coral mining” signed by 534 people to parliament on 26 October and an identical one signed by a further 749 on 23 November.[87] Altogether the anti-dredging campaign collected 3873 signatures.[88]

During the weeks when DEH was receiving written objections, submissions, and the final two petitions the government introduced into parliament legislation intended to apply the principle of ecologically sustainable development to Queensland, and parliament passed it into law as the Environmental Protection Act 1994. The act had a big implication for QCL. Conducting as it did an “environmentally relevant activity” the company would need to obtain an “environmental authority” from DEH as well as a licence under the Fisheries Act if it were to resubmit its application to dredge at Green Island. It would also need to obtain an environmental authority to continue dredging at Mud and St Helena islands. QCL had a new hurdle to jump over.

The next few months were remarkably quiet. The Amity continued to dredge (at St Helena) and the John Oxley to carry coral upriver to feed the Darra plant, which continued to produce about 500,000 tonnes of cement a year. There were no protests. But time was running out. At some point QCL would have to decide whether to resubmit its application to dredge the reef off the eastern side of Green Island, while the government would have to decide how to zone the reef. According to two sources Robson had promised that the government would make a decision by the middle of 1995.[89]


In May 1995 DEH completed its review of the submissions that it had received at the end of 1994. Its conclusions reflected the view of the majority of the submissions and the position the department itself had taken since 1993. The project would, it concluded, almost certainly cause “major and irreversible impacts on the ecological, cultural and recreational values of Green Island’s reef”. The methods Connell Wagner had proposed to mitigate the impact of dredging were “based on technology unproven under the conditions which occur” at the island. The proposal “could neither comply with the principles of Ecologically Sustainable Development” nor “accord with the principles in the Moreton Bay Strategic Plan”. Moreover, it continued, both the impact assessment study and the confidential economic report had “failed to demonstrate that there would be significant public benefits in approving the dredging of Green Island reef to enable QCL to defer expansion of its Gladstone plant by a 10 year period and retention of Darra until 2010”. DEH therefore recommended “that no coral limestone extraction be permitted from the eastern side of Green Island”. If despite DEH’s recommendation the government decided to approve the proposal, it added, “QCL should be required to submit, as an addendum to the impact assessment study, further baseline information and an environmental management plan…for consideration by DEH and DPI”.[90] Even if all went well from QCL’s point of view, these final words suggested, the company could expect much more “consideration” before it could ever begin dredging.

Over the decades QCL had made a number of bold moves, most notably when it decided to switch from rock limestone to coral and when it decided to open a factory at Gladstone. It now made another bold move. On 7 June Jerry Maycock told K.J. Down, the head of the Office of the Co-ordinator General, “in confidence” that QCL was considering closing the Darra plant earlier than it had planned because of “increasing difficulties in supply from Moreton Bay”. The “difficulties” appear to have had two components. First, it was looking more unlikely the government would grant QCL a licence to dredge at Green Island. And, second, it seems that QCL had recently concluded that there was even less coral in its existing reserves at Mud and St Helena islands than it had previously thought, only enough to last three to four years.[91] In any case, so Maycock explained, QCL would have to bring forward a $200 million investment at Gladstone two to five years earlier than it had planned. In order to do this, however, it needed government support in relation to infrastructure costs, electricity charges, and environmental clearances. Down immediately informed Goss that “My initial assessment is that the issues raised by QCL are capable of being resolved in negotiations with State agencies and with local government”, that he had told Maycock the project would be coordinated by the co-ordinator general’s office, and that QCL would need a decision from the government by the time the Holderbank board met in mid August.[92] Throughout Down’s memorandum is an understanding that the premier would be receptive to some sort of accommodation with QCL. And so it appears he was, for by 14 June QCL had, at the request of the Office of the Co-ordinator General, listed all the things that would have to be done over the next few weeks. The list included “convincing Government to meet costs of any upgrades to physical infrastructure, especially the State roads and electricity grid”, gaining approvals to use state roads to transport raw materials, “obtaining world competitive electricity charges”, obtaining a guarantee that QCL would be able to renew its mining leases at East End, “obtaining best available rates for coal, coal royalties and rail freight”, and guaranteeing there would be no change to environmental licences for the company’s existing operations.[93] There was nothing presumptuous about QCL’s list, for officials were doing everything they possibly could to accommodate the company.

Maycock’s initiative came at a good time for the government. It was coming under renewed pressure from opponents of the project to decide once and for all to protect the eastern side of Green Island from dredging, while its political opponents wanted at least to know when it would make a decision one way or the other.[94] The Green Island issue was not as damaging to the government as the outpouring of accusations in recent months that its plan to build a new highway between Brisbane and the Gold Coast would kill koalas. But resolving it could reduce pressure on the government in bayside electorates in the lead-up to the election it had to call soon. This election would be fought under the reformed electoral system Labor had introduced before the 1992 election.

Then, on 20 June, Goss called an election for 15 July. Just four days later Tom Burns and Molly Robson walked out onto Sandgate pier to make a range of promises about Moreton Bay on behalf of the Labor Party. Two of them directly concerned Green Island. First, the government would if re-elected prohibit dredging at Green Island. Dredging “could cause irreparable damage to the coral reef, seagrass beds and the Bay’s fish stocks”, Robson said. Burns explained that “the Government would work closely with QCL with a possible expansion of their Gladstone plant to replace production lost from the Green Island coral”.[95] He did not mention that the government was in fact already working with QCL. The second promise that directly concerned Green Island was that the government would complete the Moreton Bay Marine Park Zoning Plan, presumably in a way that precluded any possibility of dredging at Green Island. The zoning plan had been the primary focus of the anti-dredging campaigners for the past year.

Soon after the announcement the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) (as the ALS had recently renamed itself), QCFO, and Sunfish issued a joint statement warmly welcoming the commitment Labor had made. Their hope, Eddie Hegerl explained, was that “the policy will become bipartisan so, irrespective of the outcome of the State election, the proposal to dredge off Green Island will be dead and buried for good”.[96] Also welcoming Labor’s commitment, and endorsing Hegerl’s call for a bipartisan approach, was the Wynnum Herald. But it warned:

We must remain wary of the use of such lures on the brink of a State election. People power and potential threats to politicians’ jobs won the battle this time. They must be used again to keep those in power honest when it comes to fulfilling promises.[97]

In the event, Labor won the election by just one seat. It lost several seats to coalition candidates along and near the proposed “Koala Highway”, including Redlands, the only bayside electorate held by Labor that it failed to retain. Among those to lose their seats in this area was Molly Robson. One of the seats outside of southeast Queensland that Labor lost was Gladstone, which was won by an independent, Liz Cunningham, who had been the mayor of the shire where the East End mine was located. When the new Labor ministry was sworn in on 31 July Tom Barton took Robson’s place as the minister for environment and heritage.


By early August QCL had worked out a broad outline of the Gladstone expansion.[98] It would construct a huge kiln on its Fisherman’s Landing site. Using the dry process, in which limestone and the other raw materials are ground into an extremely fine powder before being fed into the kiln, the new plant would be capable of producing 1,600,000 tonnes of cement a year. Once it became operational the existing kiln would be mothballed. In order to produce this much cement QCL would increase its extraction of limestone from the East End mine by about three times, to about 2.5 million tonnes a year. That immediately raised a problem. The pipeline used to convey limestone slurry from East End to Fisherman’s Landing would not be capable of handling the quantities of limestone the plant would now require, and in any case the plant would be using the dry process. The government in particular appears to have strongly opposed transporting the limestone by road, because of the problems that would be caused by a big increase in heavy traffic in the Gladstone area. The solution was to transport limestone to the cement plant by rail but because there was no rail service from the mine to the factory it would be necessary to construct a 12-kilometre line connecting the mine to the North Coast Line and an 8-kilometre line connecting the North Coast Line to Fisherman’s Landing. The scale of the project was increasing, as was the cost. On the railway, and many other aspects of the expansion, QCL would need a great deal of help from the government.

The government, for its part, wanted to help as long as QCL went ahead with the expansion immediately. By this time there was a firm understanding that the company would not resubmit its application to dredge at Green Island and would cease dredging at St Helena and Mud islands and close the Darra plant as soon as the Gladstone project was up and running. The expectation was that the Darra plant would close by 1998. The only manufacturing facility QCL would retain in southern Queensland would be the Bulwer Island plant, which would continue grinding clinker shipped in from Gladstone. And so, on the basis of the understanding the government had reached with QCL, cabinet agreed on 14 August “to a package of support to QCL if they proceeded with the Gladstone package”.[99] Although the details of the “package of support” will probably not be revealed until the relevant documents are released in 2026, the sources that are available indicate that the government would support the project in the following ways:

  1. It would pay for and construct the two new branches off the North Coast Line that QCL would need to transport limestone from East End to Fisherman’s Landing by rail. The government would compensate landowners who would lose all or part of their properties but would not allow negotiations to delay completion of the project.
  2. It would do everything else it could to assure the success of the Gladstone project. On 8 August Minerals and Energy had already assured QCL that when its mining leases at East End came up for renewal the department would renew them provided that the company was meeting all the conditions it was required to meet.[100] The government would make it as easy as possible for QCL to gain the environmental and other approvals it would need to go ahead with the project. It would also accommodate QCL as far as it could when negotiating electricity charges and, of vital importance, freight rates on the rail line from East End to Fisherman’s Landing.
  3. It would, at the same time, not hobble QCL’s operations at Darra or in the bay with any new environmental restrictions. QCL would of course have to obtain an environmental authority under the Environmental Protection Act but there was an understanding that this would not prevent the company from doing what it was already doing.[101]

It appears that at the same meeting cabinet also decided that QCL would have to conduct an impact assessment study of the Gladstone package, as was normal for a project of this scale. The available sources give the impression that the government was unlikely to allow the results of the study to block or delay the expansion. Immediately after the meeting Goss wrote to Maycock outlining the package of support the government was offering QCL, and Maycock wrote back four days later, presumably after a meeting of the QCL board. The exchange of letters began a period of negotiations involving several government agencies including Queensland Rail, the Queensland Transmission and Supply Corporation (responsible for the transmission and sale of electricity), the Gladstone Port Authority, the Port of Brisbane Corporation, Queensland Transport, the Department of Mines and Energy, DEH, the Calliope Shire Council (whose area included East End and nearby communities), and the Gladstone City Council. The knowledge that the Holderbank board wanted to make a decision one way or the other in the near future gave the negotiations an urgency they might not normally have. The Office of the Co-ordinator General, which reported directly to the premier, made sure there were no hold-ups.

Neither the government nor QCL made any announcements about the plan they were working on. But in late August “representatives of QCL and…Connell Wagner”, which QCL had hired to undertake the impact assessment study, “began visiting” landowners near the East End mine “to alert them to a proposed $220 m expansion”.[102] The landowners were furious. They immediately formed themselves into a group they called the East End Mine Action Group. As they made clear at a public meeting at Mt Larcom (the nearest town to the mine) on 21 September they were extremely concerned about further depletion of groundwater in the area. They also raised concerns, so Connell Wagner’s notes indicate, about dust and noise from the mine, resumption of land for the railway, acquisition of land by QCL, and “social and economic impacts”.[103] Immediately after the meeting, so it appears, one of the landowners, Liz Bergstrom, wrote to Tom Burns on behalf of the East End Mine Action Group appealing for his help. Back in 1976, when he was the opposition leader, Burns had supported Bergstrom when she had asked for his help in fighting QCL’s plan to open a mine at East End. Now he simply passed her letter and their 1976 correspondence on to the minister for mines and energy.[104] The East End Mine Action Group now turned to a hydrologist who had represented them in the 1970s for help. The central question was whether the lowering of the water table that landowners had experienced since the mine opened was due to the mine or drought or some combination of the two.

Meanwhile, the groups campaigning to prevent dredging at Green Island were starting to ask what was happening to Labor’s promise to protect the island. When a group of AMCS members met with Tom Barton in early October the minister assured them that the government had no intention of backing away from its commitments. “He seemed quite relaxed about it”, Di Tarte said afterwards. She wanted the government to stop coral dredging at Mud and St Helena islands as well. “But”, she added, “we have to look at it in the context of a gradual phase-out of operations and a relocation of the workforce.” At this point it looked as if QCL would continue dredging at Mud and St Helena islands for several years to come even if the government fulfilled its promise to protect Green Island. Shortly after the AMCS’s meeting with Barton DEH informed the Wynnum Herald that “a plan on the island’s preservation would be submitted to the Premier’s office by October 23” but that “State Cabinet would not look at the zoning plan for the MBMP until about February next year”.[105]

Connell Wagner submitted its draft impact assessment study in the middle of October. The draft concluded that “increasing the rate of mining at the East End mine…would not have a major effect on water resources around the mine site other than in the limestone deposit being mined” but added that where there was an impact “on groundwater supplies as a result of the mine” QCL would restore the supply, as its mining lease already required.[106] Cabinet apparently had a look at the draft or at least was advised of its contents on 23 October when it was “updated” on the progress of the Gladstone expansion[107] and, so it seems, considered the plan to preserve Green Island that DEH had mentioned. Then, at the end of the month, the Office of Major Projects released the draft study for public comment and called for submissions by 12 December. When the Office of Major Projects reviewed the outstanding issues on 1 November, it acknowledged landowner concerns about the depletion of ground water, at least “in the immediate vicinity” of the mine, and about how the new rail line to the mine would cause a lot of noise and split some properties. It expected that the biggest landowner would contest resumption, and it noted that Liz Cunningham “has made the point that landowner concerns need to be handled carefully”. Nevertheless, it concluded, “all action is in hand to deliver the project on schedule. Apart from landowner concerns there are no major issues outstanding. We expect to resolve landowner concerns.”[108] The Holderbank Board was scheduled to make its final decision just two days later. Despite the 12 December deadline for comments on the impact assessment study the government took the view, as Down wrote to Maycock, that the groundwater issue and “any other issues that might arise as a result of the [impact assessment study] will continue to be handled sensitively between QCL and affected communities”.[109] Whatever problems the comments on the draft report might raise, they were not going to delay the decision.

On 3 November the Holderbank board approved the project, and the QCL board ratified Holderbank’s decision on 21 November. The next day QCL announced the package in Gladstone: the Gladstone operation would undergo a big expansion and the Darra plant would close in 1998. More than sixty years of coral dredging was about to come to an end.

The announcement brought a variety of reactions.[110] Ministers were predictably pleased with the deal they had done with QCL. The premier, who was in Gladstone for the occasion, described the package as “a win-win situation for QCL and the state. Not only have we been able to protect Moreton Bay and stop future emissions at Darra but through co-operation with QCL we have helped generate a further $200 million in new investment in the state.” And, acknowledging the community action that had pushed the government to find a resolution, a spokesman for Tom Burns described the announcement as “the culmination of a lot of hard work, most of it by local lobbyists. ‘It may be a while before we see a lot of coral coming back…but the credit belongs to a lot of local people who showed that stopping the dredging was worthwhile.’” Some of the reactions from local people were, as the Wynnum Herald put it, “lukewarm”. A spokesman for the Bayside Action Group[111] “said it was good that QCL had decided to move ‘but it’s a shame it’s not for the right reasons’”. He regretted that QCL had acted, so he said, for purely economic reasons “even though the environment was the winner”. And Billy Greenhill, member of an old fishing family, described QCL’s decision as “the best thing they’ve ever done” but added that “they should’ve done it 20 or 30 years ago”. He wanted QCL to make an effort to regenerate the areas it had dredged by filling in dredging holes and planting seagrass. Whatever doubts they might have about QCL’s motives or anger they had that dredging had gone on for so long, however, bayside residents, fishermen, boating enthusiasts, and environmental groups were delighted that dredging was finally about to stop. They had finally achieved their goal.


Among those pleased that QCL would soon stop dredging was Mike Patchett. A bayside resident and son of Mary Patchett, Patchett worked for DEH and as chair of Moreton Bay Branch of the AMCS had strongly opposed QCL’s plan to dredge at Green Island. Many years later he observed that the Green Island campaign was “a rare occasion” when so many groups who ordinarily might not see themselves as having much in common saw that it was in their interests to work together. “Dredging coral from the bay islands to make cement was easy to understand and oppose. It was easy for different groups from boaties, fishers and greenies to unite on common interests and values.”[112] Remarkably, the package QCL announced on 22 November was in almost everyone’s interests. It was, as Patchett suggested, in the interests of bayside residents, commercial and recreational fishermen, boating enthusiasts, bird watchers, marine scientists, divers, and groups working to protect the marine environment. It was also in the interests of the Labor government, which was eager to solve a long-running political problem and to fulfil its environmental mission with as little economic impact as possible. Most remarkably, it was in the interests of QCL too. The government made it so. The government required QCL to expand its Gladstone plant immediately, but the company was already planning to expand in the not too distant future. It could now proceed immediately as a result of the government’s willingness to construct new rail links and to support the expansion in many other ways. The combined forces of community and environmental groups pushed the government to find a solution that preserved Green Island and yet satisfied QCL.

The only people who viewed QCL’s plans with dread were the landowners near QCL’s East End mine.[113] They knew they had no hope of stopping the expansion. Determined and resourceful though they were, they did not have the numbers, connections, highly placed political support, publicity, and presence on the outskirts of the Queensland capital that those who opposed QCL’s plan to dredge at Green Island had had. Their aim was to get what they regarded as just compensation for the further losses they would suffer because of the mine. Based on their previous dealings with the company they had little hope that would happen, especially since QCL had never accepted their view (supported by various hydrologists) that the depletion of their groundwater was largely due to the mine. And they had little hope that the government would support them. One of the few politicians to express sympathy for their plight was Liz Cunningham. Speaking shortly after QCL’s announcement, she welcomed the expansion but asked that the landowners’ concerns about water supplies be taken into account. Whether that happened or not, their livelihoods and way of life were bound to be further affected.


[1] Connell Wagner, Coral Dredging from Green Island (March 1994), Main Report, appendix A.

[2] On conflicting conceptions of ecologically sustainable development see Drew Hutton and Libby Connors, A History of the Australian Environment Movement (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999), especially pp. 167, 241, 243-44, 253.

[3] QLA, Record of Proceedings, 5 May 1992, p. 4816.

[4] Bob Johnson, “Bay polluters face on-spot fines”, Courier-Mail, 22 February 1993; Paul Keating, “Maintaining our natural advantage: an election statement on the environment”, 9 March 1993 (Parliament of Australia); “Australian Ramsar site nomination guidelines” (Canberra: Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, 2012). I am grateful to Olwyn Crimp, who was the regional manager for coastal management in DEH at the time, for discussing the nomination with me. Phone interview, 14 December 2020, and subsequent email messages.

[5] Andrew Geering, interview, 22 September 2016.

[6] Marine Parks (Moreton Bay) Order 1993, No. 37, 18 February 1993; Planning Workshop, “Green Island coral limestone dredging—socio-economic impact assessment”, p. 10, in Connell Wagner, Coral Dredging from Green Island, Technical Reports, volume 1, report II; Johnson, “Bay polluters face on-spot fines” (quoted words).

[7] I am grateful to Richard Orchard and Michelle Perry of the Department of Environment and Science for supplying me with a copy of the relevant map sheet accompanying Marine Parks (Moreton Bay) Order 1993, namely, sheet 9.

[8] J.A. Steers, “The Coral Islands and Associated Features of the Great Barrier Reefs”, Geographical Journal, 89 (1937), 1-28, and 89 (1937), 119-40.

[9] The Geomorphology of the Great Barrier Reef: Quaternary Development of Coral Reefs (New York: Wiley, 1982), p. 320.

[10] Interview, 28 October 2015, and email message, 4 March 2021.

[11] J.G. Greenwood and N.J. Hall (eds), Future Marine Science in Moreton Bay (School of Marine Science, University of Queensland: St Lucia, 1993), pp. 149-50. Neil later gave a more detailed analysis in “Characteristics and Significance of a Sub-Tropical ‘Low Wooded Island’: Green Island, Moreton Bay, Australia”, Journal of Coastal Research, 16 (2000), 287-94.

[12] Interview, 28 October 2015.

[13] Bob Wilson, “QCL takeover opens doors for high-fliers”, Courier-Mail, 23 December 1991; Ed Southorn, “Closure threat to QCL plants”, Courier-Mail, 23 August 1993. Both in Hegerl Collection (GI).

[14] QCL, Corporate Review 1992, p. 7.

[15] Email messages, 20 and 22 November 2019.

[16] The newsletter is in F180.

[17] All the submissions are in Planning Workshop, “Green Island coral limestone dredging”, appendix 5.

[18] The Manly Harbour Group reported that in 1991 the International 470 Regatta had injected more than $1 million.

[19] The newsletter is in F180.

[20] Andrew Geering, “Green Island—threatened by dredging”, Queensland Wader, no. 9 (Autumn 1994).

[21] Connell Wagner, Coral Dredging (draft), p. 98.

[22] Connell Wagner, Coral Dredging (draft), pp. iv, 92-93, 122-24.

[23] Connell Wagner, Coral Dredging (draft), p. iv.

[24] J.C. Ogilvie et al., “Silt curtains—a review of their role in dredging projects” (published in the proceedings of CEDA Dredging Days 2012, 12-13 December, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates), p. 1. (

[25] Connell Wagner, Coral Dredging (draft), pp. 93-94, 99.

[26] Connell Wagner, Coral Dredging (draft), pp. iv, 92, 99, 122, 123.

[27] Connell Wagner, Coral Dredging (draft), p. 157.

[28] Connell Wagner, Coral Dredging (draft), p. 158.

[29] Connell Wagner, Coral Dredging (draft), pp. 129-30.

[30] Connell Wagner, Coral Dredging (draft), p. 158. Also p. 135.

[31] Connell Wagner, Coral Dredging (draft), p. 149.

[32] Greg Kitson et al., “Crown and Country: negotiating the One Space”, Ian McShane et al. (eds), Remaking Cities: Proceedings of the 14th Australasian Urban History Planning History Conference 2018 (Melbourne: Australasian Urban History Planning History Group and the RMIT Centre for Urban Research, 2018), p. 219.

[33] Their report (dated May 1993) and Patrick Jerome’s letter are in Planning Workshop, “Green Island coral limestone dredging”, appendix 4.

[34] Planning Workshop, “Green Island coral limestone dredging”, p. 57.

[35] Connell Wagner, Coral Dredging (draft), p. 158.

[36] I base these observations on various documents in Hegerl Collection (GI).

[37] John McHugh, acting general manager, BCC, to John Beumer, Fisheries Division, DPI, and “Attachment 1”, 18 October 1993, Craig Emerson, director-general, DEH, to J. Miller, director-general, DPI, and “Attachment A”, 29 November 1993. Both in Hegerl Collection (GI).

[38] Connell Wagner, “Bay and Coastal Process Report”, appendix E, p. 7. I am quoting from the final report but based on the BCC’s response I am confident the same statement was in the draft that the council was referring to.

[39] Connell Wagner, Coral Dredging (draft), p. 90.

[40] I expect them to be released in 2024.

[41] N.M. Dawson, executive director, Land Use and Fisheries, DPI, to general manager, Port of Brisbane Authority, April 1994 (Hegerl Collection (QCL)).

[42] QCL, Corporate Review 1993, p. 17.

[43] Geoff Orr, “Dredge bid ‘appalling’”, Courier-Mail, 10 December 1993 (Hegerl Collection (QCL)).

[44] Geoff Orr, “Island dredging opposed”, Courier-Mail, 4 February 1994 (Hegerl Collection (GI)); “Groups unite to save bay’s unique coral”, Wynnum Herald, 26 January 1994; “Public meeting to discuss dredging”, Wynnum Herald, 2 February 1994; Andrew Geering and Margaret Bernard, editorial, QWSG, Newsletter, no. 8, December [1993].

[45] Hegerl Collection (GI).

[46] Daniel Pedersen, “Coral dredge protest rally”, Wynnum Herald, 9 February 1994; “Coral dredging protest”, Bayside Bulletin, 15 February 1994.

[47] ABC TV News, Brisbane, 13 February 1994; Sunfish, vol. 4, no. 5 [c March 1994], p. 5 (I thank David Bateman for sending me a scan of the relevant page and helping me to date it).

[48] Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage, Moreton Bay Marine Park: Draft Zoning Plan (December 1993), pp. 4, 6, 7, Zoning Map 3, and Schedule 2—Designated Areas.

[49] Connell Wagner, Coral Dredging from Green Island, Main Report, p. 15.

[50] Connell Wagner, Coral Dredging from Green Island, Main Report, p. 21. The report did not cite Neil’s work.

[51] I quote from Allingham and Neil, “The supratidal deposits”, pp. 280-81. The article was a revised version of a paper they presented at a meeting of the Australia-New Zealand Geomorphology Group on 4 February 1994.

[52] Connell Wagner, Coral Dredging from Green Island, Main Report, pp. 137-38.

[53] Connell Wagner, Coral Dredging from Green Island, Main Report, p. 155.

[54] Dawson to general manager, Port of Brisbane Authority, April 1994.

[55] In October 2016 Cement Australia, formed by the merger of QCL and Australian Cement Holdings in 2003, declined my request to read the report on the grounds that it “contains commercially sensitive financial information regarding our business that is still current”.

[56] Department of Environment and Heritage, Proposed Coral Dredging from Green Island Reef in Moreton Bay: Environmental Review Report (Brisbane: Department of Environment and Heritage, May 1995), pp. 10-11, and an undated handwritten note by Ian Gould. The note was included in the scan of the report I received from the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection in 2015.

[57] Eddie Hegerl, “An assessment of the Coral dredging from Green Island, Moreton Bay Impact Assessment Study”, 10 November 1994, p. 28 (Hegerl Collection (QCL)).

[58] QLA, Record of Proceedings, 14 April 1994, p. 7523.

[59] “Release dredging report”, Wynnum Herald, 27 April 1994.

[60] Daniel Pedersen, “Report is ‘withheld’”, Wynnum Herald, 20 April 1994, and “Release dredging report”, Wynnum Herald, 27 April 1994.

[61] Pedersen, “Dredging of coral ‘stinks’”, Wynnum Herald, 15 June 1994.

[62] Office of Edmund Casey, News Release, “Coral dredging study for Green Island in Moreton Bay”, 20 June 1994 (Hegerl Collection (CAG)).

[63] ABC TV News, 20 June 1994; Tony Koch, “Labor row over coral dredging”, Courier-Mail, 21 June 1994.

[64] QLA, Record of Proceedings, 22 June 1994, p. 8384. Borbidge was referring to a Channel 9 Queensland news report on 2 March 1994. According to the report Burns had in fact told his cabinet colleagues that “dredging around Green Island would finish him with the party”. I thank the Archives Division, Nine Network Australia, for supplying me with a copy of the report.

[65] QLA, Record of Proceedings, 22 June 1994, pp. 8387 (Lingard and Elder with interjection from Burns) and 8391 (Slack and Robson).

[66] QCL, “QCL defers application for licence to dredge off Green Island”, Media Release, 23 June 1994 (Hegerl Collection (CAG)).

[67] QLA, Record of Proceedings, 23 June 1994, p. 8515.

[68] ABC TV News, 23 June 1994.

[69] Brian Williams, “Coral protesters urged to keep on fighting”, Courier-Mail, 24 June 1994. For more on reactions to the deferral see Kevin Meade, “Coral dredge plan deferred”, The Australian, 24 June 1994 (Hegerl Collection (GI)): “QCL defers dredging plan”, Redland Times, 24 June 1994; and “Green Island (Moreton Bay) is not yet saved!”, Bulletin of the ALS, August 1994, p. 2.

[70] Pedersen, “Protect reef in bay park”, Wynnum Herald, 29 June 1994.

[71] “Green Island (Moreton Bay) is not yet saved!”; Ernie Stewart to Australian Littoral Society, FAX, 22 July 1994 (Hegerl Collection (CAG)).

[72] Nance Haxton, “Green Is issue not dead yet”, Wynnum Herald, 3 August 1994.

[73] “Speech to public ‘Save Green Island Meeting’ (30 July 1994) by Dr. Andrew Geering, Queensland Wader Study Group (QWSG) representative” (Hegerl Collection (QCL)). The words “larger areas…” came from a document by Wayne Lawler that he quoted.

[74] QLA, Record of Proceedings, 15 June 1994, Estimates Committee D, pp. 322-23 (Robson).

[75] On the government’s efforts to win the right to host the conference see QLA, Record of Proceedings, Estimates Committee D, 15 June 1994, pp. 322-23 (Robson). For more on the importance of the conference to the QWSG see Geering, “Brisbane 1996 Ramsar conference”, Queensland Wader, no. 10, Winter 1994.

[76] “Green Island lobby”, Courier-Mail, 3 August 1994; “NOTICE”, Courier-Mail, 5 August 1994; “Boaties urged to protest”, Courier-Mail, 6 August 1994; “Call to preserve Green Island”, Redland Times, 5 August 1994; promotional flyer, “Green Island Preservation Cruise”. I thank David Neil for the Redland Times article and the flyer.

[77] “Flotilla pushes park message”, Wynnum Herald, 10 August 1994.

[78] DEH, Proposed Coral Dredging, p. 2.

[79] “Boaties urged to protest”.

[80] Media Statement, Hon. Molly Robson, minister for environment and heritage, 23 September 1994 (Hegerl Collection (CAG)).

[81] “Public must act quickly on proposal”, Wynnum Herald, 28 September 1994.

[82] Pedersen, “Bay is under threat: Burns”, Wynnum Herald, 12 October 1994.

[83] DEH, Proposed Coral Dredging, appendix B, gives a total of 28 written submissions but for some reason includes in that number 5 submissions it apparently was expecting to receive from various advisory bodies and consulted organizations but in fact did not. Like other land councils the Quandamooka Land Council represented the Indigenous people of the region it covered.

[84] “An assessment of the coral dredging from Green Island, Moreton Bay, Impact Assessment Study”, ALS, 10 November 1994 (Hegerl Collection (QCL)).

[85] The main points of the submissions are in DEH, Proposed Coral Dredging, appendix A.

[86] I thank David Neil for giving me what appears to be the penultimate version of his and Johnson’s submission. A shorter version appears as “The Green Island dredging impact assessment statement:—some limitations and deficiencies”, Bulletin of the Australian Littoral Society, 14(4) (October 1994), 6-8.

[87] QLA, Record of Proceedings, 26 October 1994, p. 9949, and 23 November 1994, p. 10671.

[88] DEH, Proposed Coral Dredging, appendix B, gives a total of 3174. My total includes the three petitions presented to parliament by Burns that I have mentioned and another (with 6 signatures) presented by Ed Casey on 13 April 1994.

[89] Daniel Pedersen, “Countdown to decision on Green Island’s fate”, Wynnum Herald, 21 June 1995; QLA, Record of Proceedings, 15 June 1995, p. 12593 (Joan Sheldon).

[90] DEH, Proposed Coral Dredging, p. 11.

[91] This is the estimate Maycock gave in Ella Riggert, “Fishing bans to save Bay”, Sunday Mail, 25 June 1995. It is consistent with statements in other sources dated between mid 1995 and late 1996.

[92] Down to premier, 7 June 1995 (Lucke Collection (E13)).

[93] Paul O’Callaghan, QCL, to Bill Upton, Co-ordinator General’s Office, 14 June, 1995 (Lucke Collection (E13)).

[94] Pedersen, “Countdown to decision on Green Island’s fate”; QLA, Record of Proceedings, 15 June 1995, pp. 12593-94 (Joan Sheldon, Wayne Goss).

[95] Riggert, “Fishing bans to save Bay”.

[96] Daniel Pedersen, “Ban on dredging”, Wynnum Herald, 28 June 1995.

[97] “Decision welcome”, Wynnum Herald, 28 June 1995.

[98] My main sources about the expansion are Connell Wagner, Gladstone Expansion Impact Assessment Study (Brisbane, 15 December 1995), pp. 1-2, 24-26, and QLA, Record of Proceedings, 14 November 1996, p. 4132 (Doug Slack, introducing the Transport (Gladstone East End to Harbour Corridor) Bill).

[99] Bill Upton, memo, “QCL expansion, Gladstone”, 1 November 1995 (Lucke Collection (E13)).

[100] Ross Williams, Department of Minerals and Energy, to Maycock, 8 August 1995 (Lucke Collection (E13)).

[101] As Barton’s successor was to explain, the government agreed “to maintain the status quo with environmental licences for the company’s existing operations as a precursor to closure of the Darra cement plant and cessation of dredging in Moreton Bay”. Brian Littleproud to Keith Spencer, 12 August 1997 (Hegerl Collection (CAG)).

[102] Lucke, Road to Exploitation, p. 85.

[103] Connell Wagner, Gladstone Expansion Impact Assessment Study Draft Report (27 October 1995), p. 181.

[104] Lucke, Road to Exploitation, pp. 29-31, 89-90; Burns to Bergstrom, 26 September 1995 (Lucke Collection (E15)).

[105] Daniel Pace, “Plans to protect Green Is”, Wynnum Herald, 11 October 1995.

[106] Connell Wagner, Gladstone Expansion Impact Assessment Study Draft Report, p. 56. My guess is that 27 October was the date Connell Wagner expected the report to be released rather than the date it submitted it to the government but only a close look at the documents to be released in 2026 will reveal the precise chronology of events.

[107] Upton, “QCL expansion, Gladstone”.

[108] Upton, “QCL expansion, Gladstone”.

[109] K.J. Down to Maycock, 1 November 1995 (Lucke Collection (E13)).

[110] Peter Morley, “$200m move to save the bay”, Courier-Mail, 23 November 1995; Gary Kemble, “QCL quits dredging”, Wynnum Herald, 29 November 1995.

[111] This is the only reference to any group by this name in the 1990s that I have come across. In 2018 the Bayside Action Group fought Anglicare’s plan to build high-rise apartment towers around historic Lota House overlooking Manly Harbour.

[112] Mike Patchett, email message, 11 September 2017, and interview, 23 June 2017.

[113] Morley, “$200m move to save the bay”; Lucke, Road to Exploitation, chapters 12 to 15 and epilogue.


The deal QCL had done with the government gave it just over two years to construct a huge new kiln at Gladstone, expand mining operations at East End, and close the Darra plant. In the meantime it was essential to keep the Darra plant running smoothly, which in turn meant continuing to supply it with coral. The plan was to build up the coral stockpile over the course of 1996 and then at some point reduce the dredging rate and start drawing down the stockpile in anticipation of closing down the plant. QCL aimed to bring the new plant at Gladstone into operation and close the Darra plant by early 1998. According to one official, who probably relied on the company for his information, early 1998 was “when existing licensed reserves run out”.[1]

In the two or so years before it stopped dredging the Amity could extract as much as 2 million more tonnes of coral from St Helena Island. One of those alarmed by this prospect was David Neil. As he told the Wynnum Herald in February 1996, he was worried that dredging was reaching a “critical depth” at St Helena, meaning that the island and its mangroves would become increasingly exposed to the full force of heavy seas as dredging removed more and more of the reef. The “trouble is that a lot more damage can be done in just a few years”, he said. He called on the government to stop dredging immediately.[2]

In accordance with the Environmental Protection Act QCL submitted an application for an environmental authority on 16 February.[3] The only way the government could do as Neil wished was to reject the application. Having just negotiated a grand deal with QCL, the Labor government was extremely unlikely to do that. Before it got around to considering QCL’s application, however, there was, just three days later, a change in government after Labor was defeated in a by-election and Liz Cunningham threw her support behind the National–Liberal coalition led by Rob Borbidge. Borbidge appointed his National Party colleague Brian Littleproud the new minister for environment.

By coincidence, the change in government took place just a month before the long-planned Ramsar conference. The conference gave those who had been campaigning to stop coral dredging an opportunity to put pressure on the new government. “Only Third World countries continue to mine coral reefs when alternative sources of rock limestone for cement are easily available,” Neville Coleman told a reporter on the eve of the conference.[4] Then, in the middle of the conference, a group of protesters gathered on the Manly foreshore holding placards demanding, among other things,

Dept. of Environment

Change your name to Dept. of Dredging

and David Neil explained to reporters how dredging was affecting bird communities and had changed the shape of Mud and St Helena islands. “This is inappropriate and should not be allowed,” he said. “We don’t allow anything like this on the Great Barrier Reef, which is a marine park just like Moreton Bay.” The protesters had planned another flotilla, this time to sail past St Helena, but because of “rough weather” only one boat made its way out to the island, where the Courier-Mail photographed Barry McIntosh of Sunfish holding an anti-dredging placard as the Amity loomed in the background (Figure 7.1). That night ABC TV carried a report on the protest.[5]

Figure 7.1 Barry McIntosh of Sunfish protesting dredging at St Helena Island, 24 March 1996

Littleproud was sympathetic to the protesters. “I would like to see an immediate end to the dredging”, he told a reporter on the day of the protest.[6] The government was not going to do anything that would immediately force the Darra plant to close down. That would be a complete betrayal of the deal QCL had done with the previous government. It would also violate the government’s own principles. The government did, however, hold discussions with QCL to see what could be done “to accelerate the cessation of mining of dead coral from Moreton Bay”. In particular, the discussions examined the possibility of obtaining an alternative source of limestone for the Darra plant. But the government soon agreed that there were no viable alternatives. Responding to a question from Tom Burns in May, two weeks before Burns retired from politics, Littleproud told parliament that “while the Government seeks the earliest possible cessation of coral dredging, the available information shows that this cannot be realistically achieved any sooner than QCL’s current planned completion date in early 1998”.[7]

In July, as a consequence of its discussions with QCL, the government issued QCL with the environmental authority it needed under the Environmental Protection Act.[8] Its main features were as follows:

  1. The authority covered the same area as the licence QCL had received under the Fisheries Act in 1991. Like the 1991 licence it required the company to dredge no closer than 150 metres from the outer edge of the mangroves. And in keeping with the 1991 cabinet decision it demanded that the company “not take, damage, or destroy any significant quantities and/or area of live coral”.[9] The authority did not define “significant quantities”.
  2. There was no limit on the amount of coral the company could extract, but it was understood that QCL would not take any more than it needed to feed its kilns at Darra.
  3. The authority required QCL to cease dredging “within three months of the successful commissioning of cement clinker production” at the new plant at Fisherman’s Landing. It defined “successful commissioning” as occurring once production had reached a certain level and rail transport was delivering a specified amount of limestone to the factory.
  4. The authority required QCL to “monitor the effects of the dredging activities on the littoral and supralittoral communities 150 metres seaward of the Mean High Water mark” of the islands and report the results of the monitoring to the Department of Environment (DoE) (as the coalition government had renamed the Department of Environment and Heritage). Monitoring, it continued, “must include but be not limited to” determining (a) “the stability and height of the existing coral rubble banks on the foreshore” and (b) “the health and height of the mangrove communities on the foreshore and in any streams affected or potentially affected on the islands”. The authority apparently left it to QCL to determine what additional monitoring it would do. Monitoring was to begin within 6 months of the issue of the authority (therefore by January 1997). QCL was to monitor the islands at 6-monthly intervals thereafter as long as dredging continued and two more times after the cessation of dredging.
  5. While QCL was expected to monitor the rubble ridges and the mangroves on the foreshores, the authority did not require it to undertake any rehabilitation.[10] The absence of any such requirement almost certainly originated from the commitment the previous Labor government had given to QCL in 1995.

Littleproud informed parliament in August that the DoE had issued QCL with an environmental authority but did not reveal its contents.[11]

The government’s main challenge was to construct as quickly as possible the two branches of the North Coast Line needed to connect the East End mine to Fisherman’s Landing. According to the deputy opposition leader, Jim Elder, who had been heavily involved in negotiating the deal with QCL, the government “could be forced to subsidise additional transport costs of about $4.5 million a month” if it failed to complete the project by December 1997.[12] The biggest threat to meeting this target came from a few landowners who refused to sell their land to the government, most notably 81-year-old Mary McInally, who had lived on her property since birth. In response, the government introduced a bill in November that allowed it to acquire the land it needed immediately and denied landowners the right of judicial review. Jim Elder and particularly Liz Cunningham expressed deep concerns about the bill but following the government’s assurance that it would “err on the side of generosity” in its dealings with landowners the bill was passed into law as the Transport (Gladstone East End to Harbour Corridor) Act 1996 on 29 November.[13] The government could now proceed with the rail project without any threat of legal delays.

Meanwhile, QCL was powering ahead. Over the course of 1996 the Amity and John Oxley built up the coral stockpile at Darra and the plant’s two kilns, no. 5 and no. 6, operated at full capacity, “achieving the highest [production levels] on record for a two kiln operation”. Since the arrival of Sunstate QCL had stopped publishing production figures, but the corporate review for 1996 did report that during October the plant produced a record 50,000 tonnes of clinker, which if sustained over a full year would have yielded over 600,000 tonnes of cement and consumed roughly 840,000 tonnes of coral. Despite consuming so much coral the Darra plant still managed to build up its stockpile during 1996. Then, in early 1997, by which time QCL was making rapid progress on its Gladstone expansion, the company halved the Amity’s dredging rate and the plant started to draw down the stockpile. In what appears to have been a carefully managed scaling down of operations “several employees accepted redundancy” as dredging operations decreased.[14] In response to questions from Labor, Littleproud told parliament in late January 1997 that there was no reason that the 1998 deadline for the end of dredging would not be met. He also revealed some details of the environmental authority his department had issued the previous July.[15]

An important component of the authority was the requirement that QCL undertake regular monitoring of the impact of dredging at Mud and St Helena islands. The company had hired an environmental consultancy firm, LeProvost Dames & Moore (LDM), to undertake the monitoring on its behalf. In January 1997 LDM completed its first survey of the state of rubble ridges and the health of mangroves on the islands. It planned to use the results of the first survey as a baseline. It would then measure whether there had been any changes by the time of the second survey, in July, and so on until the end of the monitoring program.

The sites LDM was monitoring were undergoing constant change as a result of dredging.[16] This was particularly the case at St Helena, where QCL had concentrated its efforts since 1993. Since 1993 the Amity had operated first off the northern tip of St Helena and then at various locations off the southeast side of the island. Between 1993 and 1996 the Amity removed about 8.6 hectares of reef flat each year before cutting its dredging rate to about 4.3 hectares a year early in 1997.[17] As the dredge moved generally southward, removing more and more of the reef as it went, the rubble ridges that had formed as a result of dredging before March 1987 (Figure 5.1) moved closer to shore and consolidated into an almost continuous ridge that grew longer and longer. According to LDM’s figures the ridge had already become about 1.66 kilometres long by March 1996.[18] A big part of LDM’s work would be to ascertain what, if any, impact these developments were having on the island’s mangroves.


Over the decades QCL, as a company document put it, had developed an “unenviable reputation with respect to environmental management”. In an effort to improve its reputation QCL had by 1997 begun pursuing a “triple bottom line” approach in which the company aimed to place “equal emphasis on the economy, the environment and the community”. QCL therefore responded enthusiastically when, in May, the AMCS contacted the company for information, apparently in relation to its operations in the bay. The AMCS was the only group that had campaigned to end dredging that QCL had a fairly good relationship with. It had, for example, worked with the AMCS (when it was the ALS) when it removed coral rubble from the mouths of creeks at Mud Island. The AMCS had, for its part, tried to focus on the specific problems at hand rather than attacking the company. As a result, according to the company document, QCL had been able to build with the AMCS “a history of trust and cooperation, which in general was non-existent” with the other groups fighting to stop dredging.[19] And so in May QCL staff addressed an AMCS meeting, at which members of the society were “encouraged by [the] company’s attitude to an information sharing process”.[20] The meeting led to another meeting that apparently involved a number of other organizations and this in turn brought about the formation of a body known as the Community Advisory Group (CAG), which held its first meeting on 13 August. As QCL saw it, the group provided “a proactive way of confronting and addressing past actions and perceptions, and minimising further damage”.[21]

The composition of the CAG largely reflected its origins in discussions between the AMCS and QCL. Representing the AMCS at its first meeting were Eddie Hegerl and Mike Patchett, who was appointed the group’s chair. Representing QCL were Paul O’Callaghan, the general manager for the company’s operations in southern Queensland, Stuart Ritchie, who was the company’s environmental superintendent, and Anne Gambling. Also attending the first meeting were Mel Holz of Sunfish, Keith Spencer of the MBPS, Peter Johnson of the University of Queensland, Dave Lennon, whose company Green Marine International (GMI) made concrete reef balls that served as artificial reefs, and Rob Hilliard of LDM.[22] The composition of the CAG made it in many ways the ideal forum for the exchange of views among the different groups with an interest in the manner of QCL’s exit from Moreton Bay.

During the meeting QCL’s representatives announced that the company was now aiming to stop dredging by December. They also continued to show the company’s willingness to share information. In particular, they summarized LDM’s reports on the surveys it had conducted in January and July, noting that there had been little change in either the rubble ridges or the health of mangroves between the two surveys, and they made the reports available to the group. The community representatives welcomed the reports, but they wanted QCL to provide more information, even if it meant going beyond the requirements of the environmental authority. They asked LDM to examine much more closely how the rubble ridges had altered drainage at Mud Island and how changes in the frequency of inundation had affected the health of mangroves. They also called for “biological subtidal monitoring” and monitoring of the impact violent storms could have on the rubble ridges. But the big question was what, if anything, QCL would do about the problems that these investigations might reveal as well as the ones that were already apparent. The community representatives wanted QCL to commit itself to rehabilitating Mud and St Helena islands, though they had different ideas about exactly what the company should do. Mel Holz, for example, told the meeting QCL should “establish a Trust Deed/fund for 5-10 years to rehabilitate dredged sites”, while Keith Spencer recommended the construction of a timber wall to prevent coral rubble ridges from encroaching on the mangroves. For its part, QCL, while willing to take some steps to accommodate the wishes of the community representatives, did not want to tie itself up in years of expensive rehabilitation work, whatever form that might take. As O’Callaghan put it, it was from the company’s point of view essential to “draw a line in time”. For the moment, however, the differences between the community representatives and QCL on this issue showed no sign of derailing the CAG’s work. The meeting ended after Mike Patchett and Eddie Hegerl “spoke of the proven record of co-operation between AMCS and QCL as confirmation of both parties’ commitment to the process”.

For its part, QCL moved immediately after the meeting to deal with one of the concerns raised by the group by hiring another consultancy firm, Lawson and Treloar, to examine the stability of the openings in the rubble ridges at Mud Island. Everyone attending the meeting understood that the free flow of water through the openings as the tide rose and fell was vital for the health of the mangroves. Based on a review of aerial photographs, existing reports, and a field trip, Lawson and Treloar quickly submitted a preliminary report on the stability of Mud Island’s rubble ridges. It noted that, in general, rubble ridges break down under the pounding of heavy seas but observed that the upper portions of the ridges were in fact stable. It attributed their stability to the cementing effect of coralline particles and sand. At the same time, according to Lawson and Treloar, a great deal of loose rubble remained on the exposed lower portions of the ridges. For that reason, it concluded, “in extreme wave climate conditions, at least temporary closure of openings is still considered likely”.[23] For some reason the preliminary report made no mention of the rubble ridge along the northwest side of the island.

At the CAG’s second meeting, held on 8 October, Stuart Ritchie, who had become QCL’s spokesman in the group, tabled recommendations from the preliminary report for future discussion. He also announced that as a result of discussion at the previous meeting QCL would now include the impact of storm events in its monitoring program. The meeting continued the earlier discussion about the possibility of monitoring subtidal areas. There was also a great deal of discussion about the question of rehabilitation. The community representatives wondered if the licence QCL had received in 1991 under the Fisheries Act might allow the minister for primary industries to direct the company to undertake remedial work in the interests of preserving fishery resources. Commenting that “monitoring does not mean a thing, it doesn’t mean fixing”, Mike Patchett called for “a trust fund to be provided by QCL for rehabilitation”. Ritchie responded that it was impossible to talk about rehabilitation when the CAG had not yet decided exactly what its objectives and priorities were. Patchett said that the community representatives would do so at a meeting at the AMCS later in the month. During this discussion Ritchie announced that a “working group” made up of DPI, DoE, and QCL had met the previous day and that it would be “happy to receive input from the CAG”. The Working Group was, Ritchie said, “the appropriate decision-making forum” when it came to rehabilitation. One possible way to help rehabilitate Mud Island was to install reef balls in areas where the reef had been removed. Dave Lennon told the meeting that reef balls (hollow concrete spheres, about a metre in diameter, with lots of holes in them) would replace substrate removed by dredging, help to stabilize the coral rubble, and reduce “wave attack”. In response to a question from Hegerl he said that as few as ten reef balls could make a big difference. It was agreed to consider them further at a later meeting. The meeting ended with discussion of a suggestion by QCL for a trip to Mud Island to study the drainage issue there. Hegerl would take a party of five out to the island in the AMCS’s boat on 14 October.[24]

The first two meetings of the CAG put the community representatives in a quandary. On the one hand, as they acknowledged, QCL had shown that it was willing to share information and prepared to do at least some of what they wanted it to do. On the other, however, QCL appeared unwilling to undertake any significant rehabilitation. Moreover, the community representatives had discovered that the power to influence important decisions really lay with the Working Group, which included QCL but no community representatives. And so, on 5 November, in an effort to make direct contact with the government, the AMCS, Sunfish, the QCC, GMI, and the Moreton Bay Marine Association (MBMA) (which employed young people to undertake rehabilitation work in the bay) wrote to Brian Littleproud and the minister for primary industries, Trevor Perrett. After cataloguing all the damage caused by dredging, the community groups expressed dismay that “it appears QCL may not voluntarily repair very much of the damage before the company ceases operations in the Bay”. They argued that QCL’s 1991 licence and its 1996 environmental authority gave the government the power to instruct the company to repair the damage it had done. They then listed the tasks the government should require QCL to do:

  • accurately assess extent of damage to the inter-tidal and sub-tidal wetlands of Mud and St Helena islands….
  • clearly identify and mark reef pinnacles [outcrops of undredged reef] that pose navigational hazards to boating
  • assess the extent of subtidal habitat and fisheries loss…
  • assess the feasibility of creating artificial reefs…. Establish the artificial reefs as directed.
  • re-establish shoreline stability through appropriate coastal engineering
  • stabilise the massive coral rubble banks…and ensure tidal flow is not impeded in island wetlands
  • restore and stabilise the mouths of mangrove drainage channels….
  • remove remaining dredging infrastructure [such as piles, anchors, and cables]
  • prepare and conduct an agreed rehabilitation plan for damaged areas, in consultation with the community

After highlighting the “co-operative relationship” that was developing between community groups and QCL, the letter urged the government to include a CAG representative in the Working Group. “A co-operative relationship on this matter would serve all our interests”, it concluded.[25]

On 4 November, just as the community representatives were finalizing their letter, QCL told the CAG that, after carefully examining its coral stockpile at Darra, it would stop dredging in the middle of November.[26] Just eight days later, on 12 November 1997, the Amity loaded the John Oxley for the last time and the carrier made its final trip up the river to Oxley Wharf.[27] After more than 60 years dredging had come to an end.

Two days later, on 14 November, Littleproud announced the Moreton Bay Marine Park Zoning Plan,[28] which apparently had been completed with little further public consultation after the National–Liberal government came to power.[29] Green Island and its reef out to a depth of 2 metres became, as proposed in the draft zoning plan, a conservation park zone. Unlike in the draft zoning plan there was no caveat allowing for the possibility of dredging. The areas around Mud and St Helena islands were zoned as habitat zones (a purpose of which was “to maintain the productivity and diversity of ecological communities within the marine park”) out to a depth of 2 metres and as general use zones (providing “for the general use and public enjoyment of the zone in ways that are consistent with the conservation of the marine park”) beyond that depth.[30] The zoning plan explicitly allowed QCL to dredge in the areas where it was licensed to dredge, but Littleproud was confident it would stop by Christmas. He was apparently unaware that dredging had already stopped. QCL was moving at great speed.

In the lead-up to the end of dredging the organizations that had written to Littleproud and Perrett on 5 November became increasingly worried that QCL might exit the bay without repairing the damage it had caused. On 21 November they released a press statement highlighting the main points of their letter to the ministers, using in places stronger language than they had used in the letter. They emphasized QCL’s foreign ownership and the enormous profits the company had made from the bay’s coral over many decades. They also claimed that at meetings of the CAG “QCL officials have denied that QCL has any responsibility for the rehabilitation of subtidal areas (coral reefs) damaged by its mining operations”.[31] The cooperative relationship was being tested.

Nevertheless, on 17 December Ritchie forwarded a copy of Lawson and Treloar’s final report to Hegerl for his comments.[32] Lawson and Treloar identified three main creeks on Mud Island—the eastern,[33] southern, and northwest creeks—and reported that together they accounted for most of the drainage on the island. It concluded that the eastern and the northwest creeks needed to be opened to ensure adequate flow into and out of the mangroves. It proposed excavating the rubble ridge obstructing the entrance of the eastern creek. In the case of the northwest creek it recommended construction of a groyne using coral rubble from the area. The groyne, it argued, would prevent powerful waves from piling up coral rubble at the creek mouth. Lawson and Treloar believed that the groyne would work for up to ten years.

At the same time that QCL was trying to exit Moreton Bay as expeditiously as possible, work on the Gladstone expansion was proceeding at breakneck speed. Unencumbered by legal challenges from landowners, Queensland Rail completed construction of the two new branch lines needed to transport limestone from the East End mine to Fisherman’s Landing (Figure 7.2). And QCL completed construction of the new kiln at Fisherman’s Landing in just 22 months, “one of the fastest large kiln projects ever constructed in the world”. According to the Corporate Review, “the new dry process kiln line successfully produced first clinker on 19 December 1997”.[34] It soon became apparent, however, that the new plant was in fact not fully operational. This created a problem for the company, for it would still have to close the Darra plant as soon as it ran out of coral. As it happened, the Darra plant was consuming its stockpile of coral at a rapid rate. Having broken the annual clinker production record in 1997, it set “an all-time monthly clinker production record in January” 1998. Then, on 12 February 1998, the staff shut down the kilns and closed the plant.[35] Suddenly, Barry Neden later recalled, the Darra plant had a ghost-like feeling.[36] The new kiln at Fisherman’s Landing was officially opened by Rob Borbidge on 10 March, but it did not operate at full capacity until the second half of 1998 and as a result the company experienced a temporary drop in profits.[37] Otherwise, the transition from Darra to Gladstone had from QCL’s point of view gone remarkably well.

Figure 7.2 QCL’s limestone supply line from late 1997


Meanwhile, back in Moreton Bay, the great question facing QCL, the government, and the CAG at the start of 1998 was how much the company should do about the damage caused by dredging before it fully extricated itself from the bay. An answer seemed to come in early January when the acting director-general of DoE, Michael Whittaker, wrote to Eddie Hegerl responding to the CAG’s letter to Littleproud and Perrett two months earlier.[38] Whittaker assured Hegerl that QCL had begun removing all the “piles, cables, anchors, and other debris” the company had left at Mud and St Helena islands over the decades, using a “comprehensive survey” conducted by the Department of Transport and DoE as its guide.[39] QCL would also conduct an underwater hydrographic survey to “detail positions and the extent of remaining coral outcrops within the dredged areas” and then, with the relevant departments, publish a brochure informing boaters exactly where the outcrops were. But aside from removing debris, he wrote, there was no need to rehabilitate dredged areas, since conditions showed every sign of improving without any intervention. The sediments churned up by dredging “have, in general, cleared. The coral rubble banks are breaking up in many places on Mud and St Helena Islands and coral-sandy beaches are forming.” The “tidal lagoons and shorelines” formed by dredging “have promoted active sea-grass beds and banks which appear to be used by Moreton Bay wader birds”. Tidal flows had improved at Mud Island since QCL reopened creeks there (in the early 1990s). And mangroves “were growing in most areas”. Whittaker acknowledged that, although “no significant storm-surges from the north have occurred for about three years”, a powerful storm could at any time close gaps in the rubble ridges and block creek mouths. For that reason DoE would continue to monitor the island and if necessary QCL “will take corrective action”. For the time being, however, the ridges and creek mouths could be left as they were. So too could the areas all around Mud Island and along the eastern side of St Helena where dredging had removed the reef. He explicitly rejected any need to install artificial reefs (such as reef balls) in these areas. “The edges of the cut-coral dredged are to be left to round-off with wave and tide action”, he told Hegerl. “It is expected that more coral-sand beaches will develop. In fact, algae and soft-corals already appear to be returning.”

The letter came as a big disappointment to the community representatives. Hegerl complained to Littleproud that whoever “framed the Department’s letter has an inadequate knowledge of the extent of damage that has occurred and is continuing”. To fully understand the damage done by dredging, he wrote, it was just as important to examine the interior of Mud Island and subtidal areas as it was the shoreline and northwest creek mouth. He offered to take the minister on a tour of the islands to see the damage for himself.[40] On behalf of the community representatives Hegerl also wrote to the newly appointed minister for primary industries, Marc Rowell, asking him for a reply to the letter the community representatives had sent to his predecessor in November.[41] And he wrote a long letter to O’Callaghan cataloguing the damage the company had done and listing the remedial measures the community representatives had asked the government to require the company to undertake. He appealed to QCL to live up to its own professed commitment to protecting the environment.[42]

While Littleproud gave the CAG a glimmer of hope by accepting Hegerl’s offer to see the damage for himself, Rowell and O’Callaghan did little to alleviate the community representatives’ concerns. A DPI official who replied on Rowell’s behalf praised QCL for its monitoring program and informed Hegerl that “no further rehabilitation measures are proposed, given that the monitoring of the coral rubble levees has indicated that these have attained stability”.[43] For his part, O’Callaghan emphasized that, committed though QCL was to environmental excellence, “we must always acknowledge the role and expertise of government in setting the direction and determining what is best in terms of the strategic management of areas such as Moreton Bay”. QCL would therefore take its lead from its discussions with DoE and DPI rather than, so he implied, the CAG. He rejected the suggestion that QCL had ignored subtidal areas. After all, he argued, QCL had commissioned the study by Harrison, Holmes, and Saenger in 1991. Since that study had “recorded an improved diversity of coral species…despite the occurrence of dredging”, and since dredging practices had not changed since then, it could be assumed that the trend had continued, as in fact had been confirmed by recent “sub-tidal visual assessments” QCL had conducted at Mud, St Helena, and Green islands. Exactly what the assessments found in dredged areas around Mud and St Helena islands (neither of which was surveyed by Harrison, Holmes, and Saenger) he did not reveal. He concluded by announcing that “at the request of the CAG” QCL had formally surrendered its dredging licence and environmental authority.[44]

There followed, on 29 June, three days after Labor regained power in Queensland, a testy meeting of the CAG attended by Patchett and Hegerl of the AMCS and Ritchie, Gambling, and Amy Hogan of QCL.[45] Patchett and Hegerl kept pressing QCL to do more. They wanted the company to come up with a solution that would keep the northwest creek open at least 20 years, to remove cables still found on Mud Island, and to give the CAG a say in the scope of LDM’s final report due after it conducted its final monitoring in July. The meeting then turned to the surrender of QCL’s licence and environmental authority. According to Patchett, the CAG had “wanted [the] licences to be kept for legal liability on rehabilitation”.[46] Now that QCL had surrendered the licences, Patchett and Hegerl feared that QCL might be able to exit the bay without doing much to fix the damage it had done. While insisting that the CAG “had promoted QCL to surrender its licences”, Ritchie assured them that the minister for primary industries retained broad powers for 3 years after the surrender of the 1991 licence. Patchett replied that the CAG had contacted the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) for advice on this question. At the end of the meeting Patchett and Hegerl expressed their disappointment with what they regarded as the cursory nature of O’Callaghan’s response. In particular they wanted to know exactly where QCL had conducted its “visual assessments” and what it had found. Ritchie promised to provide that information quickly.

It turned out, as Ritchie explained in a letter to Hegerl, that LDM had made “a relatively brief series of observations” along subtidal transects.[47] From these it had concluded that since 1991 “there had been little, if any degradation of the hard corals around Green Island”. This was taken as evidence that the sediment generated by dredging at St Helena had caused “no damage to surrounding reef communities”. This chain of reasoning clarified the point O’Callaghan had apparently tried to make in his letter to Hegerl: QCL was simply claiming that its dredging at St Helena had done no damage at Green Island. QCL was now using the 1991 report, which had warned of the damage that would be caused by dredging along the eastern side of Green Island, to defend its operations at St Helena Island.


A short time later, in September 1998, LDM submitted its review of the monitoring program. The review traced in great detail the movement of rubble ridges (which it referred to as “rubble banks”) since monitoring began. At Mud Island, where dredging had ceased altogether in 1994, the only linear extension of the rubble ridges had been a “minor lengthening of the tail of the rubble bank near the north-west creek”. In contrast, along the southeast side of St Helena, where the Amity concentrated its efforts in the final phase of dredging, the rubble ridge had extended a further 0.74 kilometres from March 1996 until dredging ended in November 1997. There had been no major landward movement of the rubble ridges at either island in areas where dredging ceased several years earlier. Again the recently dredged area along the southeast of St Helena provided a sharp contrast: there the rubble ridge moved landward 8 to 20 metres between July 1997 and February 1998 (three months after the end of dredging). But the landward movement already showed signs of slowing. Between February and July 1998 (when the final monitoring took place) the rubble ridge along the southeast of St Helena moved landward just 2 to 3 metres. LDM expected the landward movement to continue to slow now that dredging had stopped.[48]

Under the terms of QCL’s environmental authority LDM had to determine whether the extension or landward movement of rubble rudges had undermined the health of the mangroves along the foreshores of Mud and St Helena islands. It concluded that the “managed operations” introduced in 1991 “had led to very few and essentially negligible additional mangrove effects”, largely because the rubble ridges remained at least 100 metres seaward of the mangroves and creek mouths .[49] LDM acknowledged that there was still a potential for the rubble ridges to produce ponding “unless breaks (both natural and artificial) remained open in key places in the perimeter walls”. In particular, a storm of far greater magnitude than any that occurred during the monitoring period—what LDM called “a major atypical metocean event”—could in the future close creek mouths or drainage gaps. LDM therefore “considered that a need exists to maintain an appropriate level and frequency of surveillance” at key locations.[50]

As part of its review LDM commented on the report Lawson and Treloar had submitted at the end of 1997. LDM did not endorse Lawson and Treloar’s recommendation that a groyne be constructed to prevent the northwest creek from being blocked. It argued that a “heavy engineering” solution would be “highly costly and unaesthetic”, adding that even “if the north-west entrance was reconfigured and protected by two groynes, these could be expected to be outflanked within ten years”. It did not offer an alternative. It observed that “minor deepening” of the drainage channel near the east creek “would probably increase its longer term ability to remain open” but stopped short of actually recommending such action.[51]

Because of concerns raised in the CAG QCL had asked LDM to conduct a supplementary survey of the mangroves in the interior of Mud Island. In their study of the island’s geomorphology Allingham and Neil had observed that a large swale had emerged in the northeast sector of the island by 1972. The swale, which can be seen in figures 3.6 and 5.2, was a slight lagoonal depression where mangrove dieback had occurred. Allingham and Neil attributed the swale to “damming by the adjacent shingle ridge”.[52] When LDM staff “ground-truthed” the area in February 1998 they found “several groups of shorebirds and water birds…feeding and/or loafing on the lagoon”, including 200 to 300 curlew sandpipers. The mangroves surrounding the swale were “in reasonable condition”. LDM was not convinced that the swale had been caused by the development of rubble ridges. It argued that it could just as likely have been caused by “temporary” blockages of the northwest and eastern creeks. Only a much better understanding of the island’s drainage, it concluded, could reveal the cause.[53]

As part of its effort to be as open as possible QCL immediately forwarded a copy of LDM’s review to the CAG. The community members were far from satisfied, as they made clear when the CAG met on 19 October.[54] As they had from the beginning, they criticized the monitoring program for being so narrowly focused. They also wanted QCL to do far more than it appeared willing to do. Patchett in particular kept pressing the company to acknowledge the damage it had done and to do everything it possibly could to rehabilitate the islands’ reefs and wetlands. QCL was prepared to keep an eye on the rubble ridges and creek mouths to make sure that tidal flows were maintained. Its assessment was that the northwest creek mouth “is currently the only area showing a tendency to change” but it hesitated to construct a groyne or any other structure, because, Ritchie warned the meeting, “the unintended consequences may be greater than any possible good”. The minutes suggest that Hegerl was willing to leave the ridges and creek mouths as they were for the moment. But he believed that it was essential to continue monitoring them. And he called for a trust fund to “be established for the opening of creek mouths over a 10-year period”. Even if QCL accepted such a proposal, however, it was still unwilling to do anything to restore the reefs it had removed over the decades. Patchett expressed “disappointment in QCL’s lack of eagerness in gaining details on artificial reefs”. On behalf of LDM Hilliard responded that artificial reefs worked well as a recreational feature (such as a diving site) but did little to improve the ecology. Hegerl then “commented that slope is returning [as the ridges gradually round off] and habitat is expected to increase”. Patchett did not question that observation but he wanted immediate action. The minutes recorded that “MP requires QCL to recognise and accept rehabilitation proposal”. At the end of the meeting the community members agreed that the CAG would launch another round of appeals to the government expressing their concerns and that the “CAG will push for restoration of wetlands and reef habitat”.

On the day of the meeting the EDO wrote to the CAG with its advice on whether QCL had violated the terms of either its licence under the Fisheries Act or its environmental authority. One of a number of possibilities the EDO examined was a violation of section 126 of the Environmental Protection Act. According to section 126, “a person must not cause or allow a contaminant to be placed in a position where it could reasonably be expected to cause serious or material environmental harm or environmental nuisance”. Had QCL violated section 126 by allowing coral rubble to fall into the sea as it dredged? Could it have been reasonably expected that the rubble would be heaped up by powerful storms to form rubble ridges that damaged mangroves? The EDO concluded that “it is possible that QCL may have breached” section 126 but emphasized that it needed more evidence before it could offer a definitive opinion.[55] Inconclusive though it was, Hegerl included copies of the EDO’s advice when, in December, he wrote to various ministers on behalf of the CAG about the rehabilitation of Mud and St Helena islands.

The most important reply came from the minister for environment and heritage, Rod Welford.[56] It was an updated version of the letter Whittaker had sent Hegerl a year earlier. DEH was “working closely with QCL” to ensure it removed all the debris remaining at the islands. DEH would monitor the rubble ridges if there were a “significant storm surge” and QCL would take “corrective action” if necessary. At DPI’s request QCL had agreed to “maintain a watching brief” on the islands for two more years. QCL had apparently not yet begun the hydrographic survey of coral outcrops but (so Welford implied) would do so soon. Otherwise, there was little to be done. As for the EDO’s letter, it was, Welford wrote, “useful as a general discussion” of the legal issues associated with the environmental impacts of coral dredging but failed to “provide any specific information which would warrant investigation” by DEH. Welford’s letter ended much as Whittaker’s had:

…it would appear that there is no need for construction of artificial reefs or further rehabilitation of the Islands. Wave and tidal action will smooth the edges of the dredged coral reef in time, and coral-sand beaches will continue to develop. I am confident that the plant and animal communities will also re-establish themselves.

And so ended QCL’s time in Moreton Bay. As far as I can establish, the CAG never met again. According to the company’s own account of its involvement in the CAG QCL had gone out of its way to accommodate the concerns of the CAG and had continued to work with the community groups even though, as QCL saw it, progress had at times been “laborious”. On many occasions it had “voluntarily committed to going beyond” its environmental authority. QCL had demonstrated its commitment to the “triple bottom line”.[57]


In 2003 QCL amalgamated with Australian Cement Holdings Ltd to form Cement Australia. Cement Australia continues to operate the plant at Fisherman’s Landing and to mine at East End. QCL’s six decades in Moreton Bay now look like but a phase in the cement industry’s never-ending quest for sources of calcium carbonate. In 2008 Cement Australia applied for a lease over more of the East End limestone deposit. It also applied for an amendment to its environmental authority to allow it to mine the lease. A 2014 report noted that “the existing mine currently produces approximately 2.5 million tonnes a year…of limestone and clay” and estimated that the additional lease would give the mine an overall life of 55 to 70 more years. As they had on previous occasions, the local landowners objected strongly to the proposed extension of the mine. An environmental risk assessment of Cement Australia’s applications acknowledged that “the one high risk identified for the mining operation was mine pit dewatering, impacting on surrounding landowner’s groundwater supply through groundwater drawdown”.[58] Nevertheless, in June 2021, after considering objections from the East End Mine Action Group, the Queensland Land Court recommended that Cement Australia’s applications be approved.[59] And by November 2021 the relevant departments had approved both the mining lease and the environmental authority.[60]

Viewed at the global level, the cement industry’s greatest environmental impact arises not from limestone mining but from the actual production of cement. A cement plant releases large amounts of carbon dioxide. It is released as fossil fuel is burnt to heat the kiln, as limestone breaks down in the kiln to form calcium oxide (see Box 1.1), and as fossil fuels are used to generate the electricity needed to grind raw materials, rotate the kiln, and grind clinker into cement. Cement Australia and other cement companies have reduced carbon dioxide emissions in two broad ways. First, they have reduced their consumption of fossil fuels and generally worked to improve fuel efficiency. And, second, they have reduced the amount of limestone needed to make a given amount of cement by using fly ash and slag (both of which have cementitious properties) to supplement clinker.[61] The cement industry may be able to continue reducing its consumption of fossil fuels. But it cannot significantly reduce the amount of limestone needed to make a given amount of cement. In the long term the only ways to dramatically reduce the consumption of limestone are to improve the durability of concrete structures (by for example using polymer rather than corrosion-prone steel reinforcement) and to develop alternatives to Portland cement.[62] In the meantime, the cement industry will continue its quest for new limestone deposits.

Back in Moreton Bay, the areas that QCL dredged still show the signs of their exploitation. In particular, rubble ridges still encircle most of Mud Island and run along the eastern side of St Helena as well. They appear to be doing no further harm to the islands. They are no longer moving landward, encroaching on more mangroves. And there are enough gaps in the ridges to allow water to flow relatively freely in and out of the mangroves as the tide rises and falls.[63] At the same time, the ridges provide the mangroves some protection from the onslaught of heavy seas much as the reef flats once had before dredging removed them.[64] But the fact remains that the reefs that once surrounded Mud Island and stretched out from the eastern side of St Helena are now almost entirely gone, replaced by a deep muddy seabed. While isolated colonies of hard coral have established themselves on the seaward slopes of the ridges, there is little prospect of corals establishing themselves in the dredged areas, both because corals cannot attach themselves to the muddy bottom left by dredging and because the combination of greater turbidity and water depth as a legacy of dredging reduces the amount of sunlight reaching the seabed. The “excellent and quite extensive masses of growing coral” off the southern end of Mud Island that Henry Richards described in 1932 are long gone and unlikely ever to return.

[1] Upton, “QCL expansion, Gladstone”.

[2] Kerri Elgar, “Dredging ban plea”, Wynnum Herald, 21 February 1996; David Neil, email message, 30 March 2020.

[3] R. Wolff, regional manager-environment, Southeastern Region, DoE, 8 July 1996, forwarding environmental authorities, one for the Darra plant and one for QCL’s operations in the bay. The environmental authority for the company’s operations in the bay was Licence No. 5080000239, 8 July 1996. I thank the Public Register, Department of Environment and Science, for supplying me with copies of these documents (30 April 2020).

[4] Leisa Scott, “Activists drown out wetlands delegates”, The Australian, 19 March 1996. Contrary to the impression given by the headline the report makes no mention of anyone being drowned out.

[5] ABC TV News, 24 March 1996; “Bay coral mining gets a blast”, Courier-Mail, 25 March 1996; Daniel Pace, “Call for end to dredging”, Wynnum Herald, 27 March 1996. I thank Mike Patchett for identifying Barry McIntosh for me. Just when the “rough weather” occurred is a mystery. There is no sign of rough conditions either in Figure 7.1 or in the ABC TV report, which includes video taken from the boat that took McIntosh and others out to the Amity. Nor do data provided by the Bureau of Meteorology indicate strong winds at any of three nearest weather stations (two at Brisbane airport and one at Redcliffe) at any of the times they recorded the wind speed on 24 March. The highest wind speed recorded by any of the three stations was 12.1 knots at noon.

[6] “Bay coral mining gets a blast”.

[7] QLA, Record of Proceedings, 16 May 1996, pp. 1269-70.

[8] Licence No. 5080000239, 8 July 1996. Also useful were QLA, Record of Proceedings, 30 January 1997, pp. 302-3 (Littleproud responding to a question from Lucas), and Amy Hogan and Stuart Ritchie, “A Managed Approach to Exiting Coral Dredging Operations in Moreton Bay” ( Hogan and Ritchie, who were QCL staff members, appear to have written “A Managed Approach” in 1999.

[9] I assume that the phrase “not take, damage, or destroy any significant quantities and/or area of live coral” was in the 1991 licence but have not been able to obtain a copy of the licence.

[10] As Littleproud acknowledged in a letter to Keith Spencer, 12 August 1997.

[11] QLA, Record of Proceedings, 8 August 1996, pp. 2287-88 (responding to a question from Fouras), and 30 January 1997.

[12] Bob Wilson, “Railway land grab hurts pensioners”, Courier-Mail, 28 November 1996 (Lucke Collection (E25)).

[13] QLA, Record of Proceedings, 29 November 1996, pp. 4703-9, and Votes and Proceedings, 29 November 1996, p. 402; Lucke, Road to Exploitation, chapter 17.

[14] QCL, Corporate Review 1996, p. 17 (quoted words); QCL, Corporate Review 1997, p. 21; Paul O’Callaghan, GM—South Queensland Cement, to Eddie Hegerl, 28 May 1998 (Hegerl Collection (CAG)).

[15] QLA, Record of Proceedings, 30 January 1997.

[16] LDM, Review of Monitoring Program, pp. 3-6, table 1, figures 3 and 4b, and aerial photographs in QImagery.

[17] According to LDM, Review of Monitoring Program, table 1, dredging removed reef at the rate of 7.5 hectares a year between 1993 and 1997. I calculated a rate of 8.6 hectares a year for 1993-96 by assuming that the Amity operated at a fairly steady rate during those years before halving the rate in the final year.

[18] According to LDM (Review of Monitoring Program, p. 5) the ridge was 0.73 kilometres long in 1987 and became 0.93 kilometres longer by March 1996.

[19] Hogan and Ritchie, “A Managed Approach to Exiting Coral Dredging”.

[20] CAG minutes, 13 August 1997 (Hegerl Collection (CAG)).

[21] Hogan and Ritchie, “A Managed Approach to Exiting Coral Dredging”.

[22] CAG minutes, 13 August 1997 (Hegerl Collection (CAG)).

[23] Neil Collins, Queensland Manager, Lawson and Treloar, to Stuart Ritchie, 7 October 1997 (Hegerl Collection (CAG)).

[24] CAG minutes, 8 October 1997 (Hegerl Collection (CAG)). My account of reef balls relies in part on Dave Lennon, GMI, to Mike Patchett, fax, 21 October 1997 (Hegerl Collection (CAG)).

[25] SUNFISH, MBMA, AMCS, GMI, Department of Geographical Sciences and Planning (University of Queensland), and QCC to T.J. Perrett and Brian Littleproud, 5 November 1997 (Hegerl Collection (CAG)).

[26] Paul O’Callaghan to Mike Patchett, 4 November 1997 (Hegerl Collection (CAG)).

[27] Michael Whittaker, acting director-general, DoE, to Hegerl, 7 January 1998; Paul O’Callaghan to Eddie Hegerl, 28 May 1998. Both in (Hegerl Collection (CAG)).

[28] Brian Littleproud, media statement, 14 November 1997 (

[29] Hegerl to Mike Patchett, fax, 3 May 1998 (Hegerl Collection (QCL)), includes a draft letter to Littleproud criticizing the government for a lack of community consultation.

[30] Marine Parks (Moreton Bay) Zoning Plan 1997, Subordinate Legislation 1997 no. 385. Notification of the plan appeared in the Queensland Government Gazette, no. 66, 14 November 1997, pp. 1164-65. Accompanying the plan was a series of 19 maps showing the various zones. The map showing the zones around Mud, St Helena, and Green islands is Moreton Bay Marine Park Zoning Plan MP3, Map 7 (Luggage Point to Wellington Point). I am grateful to Michelle Perry of the Department of Environment and Science for sending me a scan of this map as well as of Map 8 (Wellington Point to Point Talburpin).

[31] Media Statement, AMCS, GMI, MBMA, SUNFISH, QCC, 21 November 1997 (Hegerl Collection (CAG)).

[32] Ritchie to Hegerl, 17 December 1997, forwarding Lawson and Treloar Pty Ltd, “Report on investigation of possible stabilisation works for Mud Island rubble works”, prepared for Queensland Cement Limited, Ashgrove, December 1997 (Hegerl Collection (CAG)).

[33] Referred to as the “North-East Creek” in the report even though the accompanying map (figure 2) shows it on the eastern side. The creek is clearly visible in figures 3.6 and 5.2.

[34] QCL, Corporate Review 1997, p. 8.

[35] QCL, Corporate Review 1998, p. 8.

[36] Interview, 28 October 2015.

[37] QCL, Corporate Review 1998, p. 4; Louise Brannelly, “Delays with Gladstone clinker plant hits QCL’s FY profit”, AAP, 21 April 1999 (Factiva).

[38] Whittaker to Hegerl, 7 January 1998 (Hegerl Collection (CAG)).

[39] The chart for Mud Island, dated November 1997, is ITM891402.

[40] Hegerl to Littleproud, 26 March 1998 (Hegerl Collection (CAG)).

[41] Hegerl to Marcus Rowell, 27 March 1998 (Hegerl Collection (CAG)).

[42] Hegerl to O’Callaghan, 25 March 1998 (Hegerl Collection (CAG)).

[43] Littleproud to Hegerl, 2 April 1998 (Hegerl Collection (QCL)); Michael O’Neill, senior ministerial policy advisor, DPI, to Hegerl, 5 May 1998 (Hegerl Collection (CAG)).

[44] O’Callaghan to Hegerl, 28 May 1998 (Hegerl Collection (CAG)).

[45] CAG meeting, 29 June 1998 (Hegerl Collection (CAG)).

[46] The community representatives’ letter of 5 November 1997 to Littleproud and Perrett argued that QCL’s legal “obligations need to be determined and met before [it] surrenders the environmental and coral extraction licences”. Hegerl’s letter to O’Callaghan of 25 March 1998 made the same point. Three weeks later, on 16 April 1998, QCL surrendered its licence under the Fisheries Act. Jo Bragg, Environmental Defenders Office, to Hegerl, 19 October 1998 (Hegerl Collection (CAG)).

[47] Ritchie to Hegerl, 26 July 1998 (Hegerl Collection (CAG)).

[48] LDM, Review of Monitoring Program, pp. 5, 12, 19.

[49] LDM, Review of Monitoring Program, p. 10.

[50] LDM, Review of Monitoring Program, pp. 18-19.

[51] LDM, Review of Monitoring Program, p. 14. Like Lawson and Treloar, LDM referred to the creek on the eastern side of the island as the “north-east” creek.

[52] Allingham and Neil, “The supratidal deposits”, p. 283.

[53] LDM, Review of Monitoring Program, pp. 15-16.

[54] CAG meeting, 19 October 1998 (Hegerl Collection (CAG)). In preparation for the meeting Patchett faxed a critique of the review to Hegerl, Craig Balmanno, and Barry McIntosh on 15 October 1998 (Hegerl Collection (QCL)).

[55] Bragg to Hegerl, 19 October 1998 (Hegerl Collection (CAG)).

[56] Welford to Hegerl, 5 February 1999 (Hegerl Collection (CAG)).

[57] Hogan and Ritchie, “A Managed Approach to Exiting Coral Dredging”.

[58] Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) Assessment Report under the Environmental Protection Act 1994: East End Number 5 Project Proposed by Cement Australia (Exploration) Pty Ltd and Cement Australia (Queensland) Pty Ltd (Brisbane: Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, 2014), pp. 2, 38 (for all quoted passages); Alec Lucke, email messages, 4 June 2020.

[59] Cement Australia (Exploration) Pty Ltd & Anor v East End Mine Action Group Inc & Anor (No 4) [2021] QLC 22.

[60] The relevant approvals are ML80156 and EPML00658113. I thank a Department of Resources staff member for showing me how to find the approvals online.

[61] Cement Industry Federation, Australian Cement Report 2020 (

[62] For a popular introduction see Courtland, Concrete Planet, chapters 9 and 10. See also Beyond Zero Emissions, Zero Carbon Industry Plan: Rethinking Cement (Fitzroy: Beyond Zero Emissions, 2017) (

[63] At Mud Island, while a ridge appears to be partially blocking the mouth of the eastern creek, the mouth of the southern creek remains open and the mouth of the northwestern creek is no longer blocked. See the satellite imagery in Queensland Globe (

[64] I thank Richard Orchard for this observation.

Notes on figures

1.1       My sources for the rail lines are maps A and B in Atlas of Queensland Electoral Maps (Brisbane, 1931), which the SLQ has made available online. Figure 1.1 shows only the main rail lines and the branch lines relevant to chapter 1.

1.2       Redrawn from a blueprint supplied to the Queensland government by QCL and filed in ITM315185. The documents in this file do not indicate whether QCL took soundings to map the 10-foot contour or relied on an existing hydrographic chart. I have added the low-water mark (taken from the chart used to prepare Figure 2.1). Otherwise Figure 1.2 reproduces the features in the blueprint.

1.3       Based on Ian McLaren, “The location of cement plants in Queensland: a study of market orientation”, unpublished MA thesis, University of Queensland, 1970, p. 168, and various sources from 1932. I have no information about the precise track of the proposed coral slurry pipeline. The track shown approximates that of the conveyor belt built in the 1960s.

1.4       “View of coral reserve storage (25,000 tons)”, photograph 31, UQFL477, Fryer Library Photograph Collection, University of Queensland. I thank the Fryer Library for supplying me with a copy of this photograph.

2.1       Redrawn from a section of a hydrographic chart enclosed in ITM315185. Except for “Land above high water” and “Outer edge of mangroves” and the conversion of fathoms into feet all the labels are as they appear on the chart. The details about where QCL was dredging and had driven in piles were not on the original chart but were inserted by Harbours and Marine.

2.2       Adapted from a section of a hydrographic chart enclosed in ITM315185. This chart shows the low-water mark and the 1, 3, and 5 fathom contours. The 10-foot contour shown in the figure is about halfway between the 1 and 3 fathom contours shown in the chart. Along the west, southeast, and northeast sides of the island (where the 5-fathom contour is roughly parallel to the 3-fathom line) the 25-foot contour shown in the figure is about halfway between the 3 and 5 fathom contours shown in the chart. Elsewhere it is at best a crude approximation.

2.3       Based on information in D.S. Geary, manager, QCL, to under secretary, Premier and Chief Secretary’s Department, 15 February 1950, and under secretary, Treasury, to under secretary, Chief Secretary’s Department, 27 March 1950 (ITM315185). Geary enclosed a blueprint showing QCL’s revised proposal. This blueprint is not in the file but the combination of Geary’s letter and the memorandum by the under secretary, Treasury, makes it clear what QCL was proposing. The contours in this figure are the same as those in Figure 2.2.

2.4       Based on information in E.C. Fison, chief engineer, Harbours and Marine, to under secretary, Treasury, 15 August 1955 (ITM315185). The contours in this figure are the same as those in Figure 2.2.

3.1       Redrawn from Department of Harbours and Marine, “Coral Deposits—Moreton Bay—Exploration Area” (ITM886406). There is no date on the chart but according to the QSA catalogue ( the chart is dated 25 July 1963. I have left out some details shown on the original chart and made a few other minor changes for the sake of clarity. The bearings shown in the figure are true bearings.

3.2       This figure is adapted from a section of Ground and Marine Geophysics Limited, “Moreton Bay Coral Survey: Queensland Cement and Lime Company Limited”, 24 December 1964 (ITM887289).

3.3       Based on Gordon W. Chalk, submission, 7 March 1966, paragraphs 1 and 6, in Decision No. 8702, 8 March 1966. Figure 3.3 follows the wording of Chalk’s submission. The wording would seem to indicate that the exploration area included land (such as Coochiemudlo Island and the northern tips of Macleay and Perulpa) that was above high water. A Harbours and Marine chart titled “Coral leases Cleveland to Lamb Island, Moreton Bay” dated 25 July 1966 (ITM886458) appears (despite its title) to show the exploration area approved by cabinet in March 1966. It clearly excludes all land above high water but in every other respect conforms to Chalk’s wording.

3.4       Redrawn from a copy of Department of Harbours and Marine, “Moreton Bay—Southern Portion, from Pile Light to Southport, 1962” in ITM957429.

3.5       This figure is based on information in Department of Harbours and Marine, “Moreton Bay—Southern Portion, from Pile Light to Southport, 1962” (in ITM957429); Oceanics Australia, Coral Dredging in Moreton Bay: Impact Assessment Study (Oceanics Australia, 1983), figure 1.1; and Gutteridge, Haskins & Davey, Coastal Management: Queensland—New South Wales Border to Northern Boundary of Noosa Shire (Brisbane: Co-ordinator-General’s Department, 1975), vol. 4, sheets 32, 33, and 34. These sources are not entirely consistent with one another. I have taken the chart in ITM957429 as providing a definitive delimitation of the 1966 Empire Point licence and followed Oceanics Australia’s depiction of the northwestern boundary of the area in the southern part of Raby Bay licensed to QCL in 1974 as coinciding with the southern boundary of the 1966 Empire Point licence. I have relied entirely on Gutteridge, Haskins & Davey’s maps for the boundaries of the Wellington Point licence area and the areas around Cleveland Point and off the eastern side of the point.

3.6       Based on aerial photographs in QImagery (, particularly QAP2469059, taken on 2 July 1972 (© State of Queensland). The low-water line is taken from a section of a hydrographic chart enclosed in ITM315185.

3.7       QCL, Annual Report for the Year Ending 31st July 1969. I am grateful to Cement Australia for permission to reproduce this photograph.

4.1       The image is extracted from QImagery, QAP4269017, an aerial photograph of the island taken on 29 August 1983 (© State of Queensland).

4.2-4.5 These photographs are held by BMT’s Brisbane office. I thank Craig Morgan, a consultant at BMT who worked for Oceanics Australia before it became part of BMT, for permission to copy and use these photographs.

5.1       Based on QImagery, QAP4621118, taken on 3 December1987 (© State of Queensland).

5.2       The aerial photograph has been extracted from QImagery, QAP4953126, 17 June 1991 (© State of Queensland).

5.3       This figure is based on Department of Environment and Conservation, Moreton Bay Strategic Plan: Draft Report for Comment (September 1989), figure 4.1 (“Preferred uses map”).

5.4       QCL, Annual Report 1990. I am grateful to Cement Australia for permission to reproduce this photograph.

6.1       Based on QImagery, QAP5252064, taken on 28 May 1994 (© State of Queensland).

6.2       My main sources are Figure 5.1, “Final dredged plan”, in Connell Wagner’s draft report and the actual text of the report (especially pp. iv, 93, 95, 122-24). The figure differs from the text in some respects. Where they are inconsistent I have chosen to rely on the text.

7.1       Photograph taken by Grainger Laffan on 24 March 1996. The photograph appeared in the Courier-Mail, 25 March 1996. I thank Newspix for permission to use the photograph and for providing me with a high resolution image and detailed caption.

7.2       This figure is based on Australia Pacific LNG Pty Limited, Australia Pacific LNG Project, Volume 1—Overview Environmental Management Plan, LNG Facility (22 November 2010), figure 5.3 (Extractive resources) and aerial photographs of East End and Fisherman’s Landing in QImagery.



Note of thanks

Like other historians I am heavily indebted to the various public institutions that store, catalogue, and make available the records of our past. I am grateful in particular to the Queensland State Archives, the State Library of Queensland, and Trove, the National Library’s extraordinary online collection of Australian newspapers and other treasures. I thank too various repositories at the University of Queensland, namely, the University of Queensland Archives, the Fryer Library, and the library used by staff at the Moreton Bay Research Station in Dunwich. I am extremely grateful to the ABC (Brisbane) for providing me with copies of news reports about Green Island that it broadcast during the 1990s. And, as I acknowledge in my notes, I greatly appreciate the numerous Queensland government departments that responded to my queries over the years I was researching coral dredging.

Two private collections contributed immensely to my understanding of the final years of coral dredging. During his long association with the Queensland Littoral Society/Australian Littoral Society/Australian Marine Conservation Society Eddie Hegerl collected many thousands of letters, flyers, newspaper articles, reports, and minutes related to the society’s campaigns and filed them in boxes according to various topics. I am extremely grateful to Eddie and to Di Tarte as well for allowing me to consult the three boxes relevant to my research. The other private collection that helped me understand events in the 1990s was Alec Lucke’s collection of scans of documents he obtained from the Queensland government on behalf of the East End Mine Action Group under the Freedom of Information Act. They proved particularly useful for tracing the dramatic resolution of the Green Island issue in 1995. I thank Alec both for sending me scans of documents relevant to my research and for answering various queries I have had about the East End mine.

It was my good fortune to talk or correspond with many people who were involved in the events I write about. They include (listed roughly in the order I first got in touch with them) Viv Lovejoy, Craig Morgan, Max Winders, Barry Neden, David Neil, Molly Robson, Andrew Geering, David Bateman, Mary Patchett, Barry Wilson, John Page, John Dobson, Mark Pillsworth, Eddie Hegerl and Di Tarte, Stuart Ritchie, Mike Patchett, Peter Harrison, Malcolm MacKenzie, Mike Ahern, Jim Davie, Graham Carter, Noel Dawson, and Olwyn Crimp. Many of them endured follow-up questions and a few (notably Craig Morgan, Barry Neden, and David Neil) patiently answered my questions over the duration of my research. I have not always cited the people I talked or corresponded with, but they all contributed to my understanding of the story of coral dredging. I thank them all.

I am grateful too to the many people who responded to specific queries, supplied me with copies of sources I was looking for, suggested contacts, and generally helped to educate me. Among them are Simon Baltais, Justine Bell-James, Keith Boulton, Richard Brown, Vic Bushing, Greg Chaikin, Iona Cominos, Peter Davie, Sandra Davis, Marion Diamond, Howard Dick, Roland Dowling, Albert Folmer, Jill Greenhill, Jack Greenwood, Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Kate Harbison, Bruce Ibsen, Mal Jones, Emma Kennedy, Nick Knight, Ted Lefer, Miles Lewis, Jennifer Loder, Polly Lowing, Alec Lucke, Peter Ludlow, Michael Lusis, Jock Mackenzie, Tim Moore, Richard Orchard, David Paxton, Michelle Perry, Giselle Pickering, Jean-Baptiste Raina, Bob Reece, Jonathan Richards, John Siemon, Keith Stebbins, Andy Stephens, Jessica Stroja, Kathy Townsend, Simon Walker, Gregg Webb, Tony Weber, and Martin Wynne.

Rachel Atanacio prepared the 21 figures in this book. In the midst of the pandemic and typhoons she somehow transformed my often complicated, and sometimes unclear, instructions into neat illustrations. I thank her both for the figures and for the fun I had working with her.

I owe a special debt to my old friend Bruce Cruikshank, who was the first person to read the manuscript of this book. On several occasions he picked me up on things I had thought I could get away with, while on other occasions he spotted problems I would never have noticed myself. I have not always done full justice to his criticisms and suggestions, but the book is very much the better because of his thorough and perceptive reading.

I am extremely grateful to David Neil for reading passages dealing with coral reef science and his personal experience. I have rewritten several of these passages in light of his criticisms and in a few places from chapter 1 right up to the final paragraph of the final chapter have adopted wording that he suggested. Since my pigheadedness occasionally stopped me from taking full advantage of his suggestions the blunders that remain are entirely my own.

I thank Craig Morgan for reading chapter 4 and several other people I interviewed for checking passages where I relied on information they gave me.

Aside from everything else he did to help me Craig took my wife Lorena and me on a day-long boat tour around Green, St Helena, and Mud islands in October 2015. The tour gave me a far greater appreciation of the impact of coral dredging than I would have had if I had relied entirely on documents and interviews. I will be forever grateful.

I thank Cement Australia for permission to use two of the photographs in this book (Figure 3.7 and Figure 5.4).

My thanks too to Lee Massimino for miraculously (so it seemed to me) melding the 41 files that originally made up The Coral Dredgers to create the document that I submitted to the Moreton Bay Foundation for consideration.

I very much appreciate the comments of the two readers who read the manuscript on behalf of the Moreton Bay Foundation. As well as making encouraging assessments of the general approach that I have taken, both asked that I give more consideration to certain topics or bring into the story various topics I had not considered at all. I could see the merit in all of their suggestions. In the end, however, I decided to leave the text pretty much as it was, partly in the interests of keeping the narrative as tightly focused as possible and partly, I admit, in the interests of wrapping up a project I have been working on for over seven years. I hasten to add that I have corrected the glaring mistakes one of the readers pointed out. I am sure I would never have spotted them otherwise.

Also spotting mistakes—spotting them by the bucketful—was Colleen Foelz, who meticulously edited the manuscript on behalf of the Moreton Bay Foundation. Since I have not always followed her recommendations the problems that remain are entirely my own doing. Once I had incorporated the changes arising from Colleen’s editing I handed the manuscript over to Gail Cartwright, who expertly formatted the book, designed the cover, and prepared the index. I am grateful to both Colleen and Gail for their exceptional professionalism.

I am extremely grateful to the Moreton Bay Foundation for its willingness to publish my manuscript. I owe special thanks to Tamara Homburg for so enthusiastically supporting The Coral Dredgers, presenting it to the Foundation’s board, and guiding its transformation from manuscript to book.

Finally, I thank Lorena. In some ways this book is as much hers as mine. She took part in many of the interviews I conducted, shared the joys of visits to the bay, and, most important, somehow kept us going the past few years.

About the author

After graduating from Brown University with a concentration in mathematics, John G. Butcher served two years in the US Peace Corps in Sabah. He then completed a master’s degree in rural sociology at the University of Wisconsin and a PhD in history at the University of Hull. He taught Southeast Asian history and other subjects at Murdoch University between 1977 and 1978 and then at Griffith University until he retired in 2011. His historical research has encompassed British colonial society in Malaya, revenue farming in Southeast Asia, the marine fisheries of Southeast Asia, and Indonesia’s campaign to gain recognition as an archipelagic state. The Coral Dredgers is his first historical work on Australia. He is a fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities.