The first recorded European history within the Wolston and Centenary catchments dates back to December 1823 when John Oxley first explored upstream as far as the present day Priors Pocket and Goodna.
Oxley is credited with discovering the Brisbane River which he named in honour of Sir Thomas Brisbane, Governor of the colony of New South Wales. Oxley had been on an expedition with instructions from Governor Brisbane to assess Port Curtis, Moreton Bay and Port Bowen as sites for convict settlements. It was as a result of this trip of Oxley’s that it was decided to establish a settlement at Moreton Bay.
Oxley returned again to explore the Brisbane River the following year, in September 1824. On that occasion, accompanied by the botanist Allan Cunningham, the exploration continued upstream to beyond present-day Kholo.
Both trips recorded general descriptions of the land form, vegetation and botanical discoveries as part of a survey of the course of the river. While some stops and the survey stations were accurately recorded, some descriptions and botanic references cannot be precisely pinpointed. Nevertheless, useful background material can be learnt about pre-European vegetation from the logs, journals and reports from these two expeditions and from Edmund Lockyer’s trip in 1825 and Charles Fraser’s in 1828, all as detailed in Steele (1972).
John Oxley – 1823, 1824
Oxley’s expedition first passed along the Brisbane River in this area in December 1823. His field book description on the reach at present-day Mount Ommaney was “fine forest land both sides. Timber, chiefly eucalypt and apple tree” (‘apple tree’ refers to Angophora species). Upstream at Westlake (Pullen Reach) was described as “good forest flat on both sides, hills low”.
Oxley went ashore at upstream end of Popes Reach, near Birkin Road, Moggill. His field book records in part “… ascended the bank. The country was very open and generally to be called quite level … The soil a rich, sandy loam; gum and apple trees”.
The chart drawn by Lieutenant Stirling to accompany Oxley’s report to Governor Brisbane in January 1824 clearly shows the confluence of Pullen Pullen Creek with Pullen Reach of the river, though neither was named then. The map’s annotation in this vicinity, on the Westlake-Wacol side, was “Fine open country; gentle hills and vallies (sic)” while the opposite side bore the description “rich flats of land”.
The term ‘forest’ used by Oxley and other explorers of this time is distinguished from their description ‘brush’ or ‘brushes’ which they used for what we now describe as ‘rainforest’ or ‘closed forest’ (refer Young in Davie et al (1990)). Brushes (or rainforest) were recorded in Oxley’s field book (of the 1823 trip) downstream at Mermaid Reach (southside, vicinity Centenary Bridge) and again upstream beyond the confluence of Wolston Creek, but not in the intervening sections, including the study site. However, given references recorded on Oxley’s 1824 trip, it may be that the term ‘brushes’ was used loosely or not always recorded as such (more probably the latter).
In his field book for the 1824 trip, Oxley makes the reference “the botany of the brushes, etc., was entirely tropical”, referring to the section downstream from Mount Ommaney. Then, on 18 September 1824, proceeding upstream from Mount Ommaney after an overnight camp, Oxley records “The botany of the brushes was examined, and many curious plants found, but all tropical. A species of Flindersia was found (a large tree), but it was not ascertained if it was different from the one already described by Brown”. Cunningham’s journal of the same day infers this to be Flindersia australis, which he described as having a ‘gigantic stature’ measuring some 100 feet (which the party cut down enabling Cunningham to obtain flowering specimens for identification).
Allan Cunningham – 1824
From the Mount Ommaney encampment upstream Cunningham noted a distinct change in the river in that “the primary or upper banks are now frequently open and unencumbered by brushes and beyond, forest Hills appear occasionally, the Soil appears evidently improved … timbered with Apple Tree (Angophora lanceolata). … Hibiscus heterophyllus is very frequent on the immediate bank clothed with a profusion of its specious flowers. Pelicans, Black Swan … and Ducks were very abundant in every reach of the River …”.
The reach westward from Mount Ommaney, Cunningham records, was “alternately concealed by a thick brush wood and open forest land, occasionally showing the prevailing rock formation which is quartzose with a breccia in which quartz is imbedded”. Then, referring to Pullen Reach, Cunningham continues “again the River takes a bend from the Southward, the banks become lower, which abound in Hibiscus heterophyllus and a Casuarina, the Crinum lily observed in the lower Reaches of the River, being here very general on the mud flats on each side which at the present low level of this water are partially dry”.
Edmund Lockyer – 1825
Lockyer on 11 September 1825 proceeded upstream from Indooroopilly to Redbank, commenting on the day’s travel in his journal “… The wood on the banks – Fig tree, Blue gum, Swamp oak, and Ironbark, for the last half distance no Pines, but here and there a solitary cedar …”.
Charles Fraser – 1828
Charles Fraser, also a botanist, travelled upstream on 11 July 1828 from Brisbane to Limestone Station (now Ipswich) in the company of Captain Logan and Allan Cunningham. Fraser’s journal notes:
“The south side of the Brisbane, as far as Canoe Creek (Oxley Creek), is covered with forests of Pine or Araucaria, to a considerable extent. The north bank, as far as Glenormiston’s Range (Taylor Range – Mt Coot-tha, say Toowong), is principally open forest, not reaching far, beyond which it is clothed with pine brushes as on the south …
“Beyond Canoe Creek, the Pine partially disappears from both sides of the river, and its geographical situation is occupied by enormous Figs.
“Following the course (towards Wacol) the banks, which are comparatively divested of thickets, become more open and picturesque, and the nearer the Bremer is approached, the clearer is the country and the more precipitous the banks. These are interspersed with excellent Gum Trees (Eucalyptus species) and occasional patches of Currijong (sic), or Natives’ Cordage Tree (Hibiscus heterophyllus) which again are overhung with a new and beautiful kind of Passion Flower (Passiflora) whose blossum is greenish yellow, while the oval fruit, of which I partook, is produced in great quantities, and affords a great flavour”.
Note: All parenthetic comments within logbook extracts have been added to give present day geographical context.