MYRTLE sounds a less than romantic place name but in 1888, it was a far preferable choice for the good citizens of Boggy Creek reflecting as it did, the groves of myrtle trees growing in the area.
By 1928, the name had morphed into Myrtletown and that’s precisely where I found myself after setting out to follow the Brisbane River as far as I could towards its mouth.
Actually, these days there’s not much town, or even any myrtles, but the place is compelling and, like a ghost town, sits at peace with a glorious past.
I’d never even heard of it until my river mouth quest, when I set out to drive east, keeping the river on my right, until I couldn’t go any further and land, hopefully, on the shores of Moreton Bay.
I set out along Kingsford Smith Drive, under the huge spans of the Gateway Motorway, past streets of industrial buildings and on to Pinkenba which, despite being only 20km from the CBD, is like a little country town. (That’s another story)
The river remained the compass as the road rolled out like a ribbon with airport hangars and jets on one side and the port and ships on the other.
It’s not a green and pleasant land but that doesn’t detract from its value – there’s an allotment with a high pile of old rubber tyres and a couple of yards for removal houses that have known a better life and are waiting for a new one.
On it went, down Main Myrtletown Road, on to Main Beach Road (an ambitious name), past the Luggage Point Sewage Treatment Plant and finally to a little dirt road that ended at the river with views south to Port of Brisbane.
And that’s it, that’s as far as you can go. A sewage plant and a river bank.
On my return, while exploring another side road heading towards the river, I chanced upon Myrtletown Reserve, an oasis in an industrial desert with spreading fig trees, beautiful river views, picnic tables – and, interestingly, a couple of old bunker-like buildings.
It’s quiet, almost eerily quiet, it’s green and it’s interesting. A signboard in the reserve details fascinating elements of Myrtletown’s past.
This area beside Boggy Creek was gazetted as a reserve for recreation in 1885. A second reserve was located further north and they were amalgamated in 1925 to create 3.55ha at Myrtletown Reserve.
So, about those buildings and scattered foundations.
In February 1943, the Royal Australian Navy’s Station 9 was established as part of the city’s defence.
An “indicator loop” was placed between RAN9 at Myrtletown and Fisherman’s Island to detect enemy submarines entering the river.
(The loop relies on the production of an induced current in a stationary loop of wire when a magnet moves overhead. Submarines have sufficient magnetism to produce a small current in the loop.)
A photo electric beam was also installed across the Brisbane River from Fisherman’s Island to Myrtletown Reserve. The light beam detected the presence of any surface vessels entering the Brisbane River.
The building we now see closest to Boggy Creek was the control building where the loop cables terminated and instrumentation kept. The observation window allowed it to receive the transmitted beam.
The second building contained the generator while other foundations scattered in the park are all that remain of the living and eating quarters of Navy personnel.
The indicator loops were removed in 1945 and RAN Station 9 was heritage listed in 2008, as a naval station for submarine monitoring at Myrtletown Reserve.
Wander down to the water’s edge and, if the tide is out, there’s another remnant of history – the rusted remains of what is believed to be the SS Koopa, a steamer once touted as The Queen of Moreton Bay.
Koopa, the aboriginal word for Flying Fish, was built in Leith in Scotland for the Brisbane Tug and Steamship Company, launched in October 1911 and arrived in Brisbane on Christmas Eve.
She was 58.7m long and 8.5m wide and licensed to carry 1153 passengers with a dining saloon for 100.
For 31 years the Koopa carried holidaymakers between Brisbane, Redcliffe and Bribie Island.
In 1942, she was requisitioned by the Navy as a supply ship in New Guinea and didn’t return to her holiday trade in Brisbane until February 1947.
She was decommissioned in 1953 and then in October 1960, was towed into Boggy Creek and dismantled with a rusting hulk the only reminder of her existence.
Myrtletown is 5km east of Pinkenba but struggles to retain a separate identity.
It’s hard to imagine this industrial zone with large undeveloped blocks and few houses was once a prosperous agricultural district but a 1928 report described it as “a progressive settlement notable for its vineyards and market gardens and as an important contributor of grapes and vegetables to the Brisbane markets” with cosy homesteads and a population of at least 250.
Today, it’s more like the tidal swamp that the hard-working settlers found in the 1880s but old Myrtletown, or even Boggy Creek, is a worthy adventure.