About History

The History of Rosemary Island


Foundation Club President Carl Georgeff had many friends. They included Commodore Bill Marks, Naval Officer in Command W.A. In the early 1960’s Georgeff accompanied the Commodore on a navy vessel (Diamantine) to the north west and a study was made of the Dampier archipelago seeking a suitable place to establish a club house for Nor-West Game Fishing Club Inc. Carl liked Rosemary Island and the choice was made. Another of Carl’s close friends was Brigadier Hunt, G.O.C. Western Command. Terry Quartermaine was Commander, Royal Engineers, Western Command.

A meeting was held in 1964 between Georgeff, Hunt, Marks, Quartermaine and the Director of the Government Meteorological Service. The Government wanted a meteorological station in the Pilbara but had no funds. Georgeff wanted to establish a fishing shack on Rosemary Island and was happy to include the meteorological station. Quartermaine’s engineering troops were putting in trig points as part of the national mapping programme in the east Pilbara. The officer in charge of the construction troops wanted a rest and recreation site for his troops in the Pilbara but there was no accommodation available. At the meeting Georgeff agreed to provide an R and R venue on Rosemary Island and to provide tents, food, transport and refreshments for the troops in return for the labour necessary to construct the Club House. He had the foresight to devise a way of meeting the needs of all who were involved.

Georgeff knew of Bill Miller who had a fishing business operating out of Miller’s Landing at Port Samson. Bill Miller Drive which leads to the Port Samson harbour is named after him. Miller arranged to provide a 40 foot work boat and skipper to take Quartermaine, Hunt and Marks to Rosemary Island where Georgeff had already selected a spot for the establishment of the shack. Quartermaine thought the original site was too exposed and selected an alternative site where the shack was subsequently built. On the return trip to Port Samson, Archie, the skipper, who had neither chart nor compass, lost his way in the dark and the boat was anchored for the night. Next morning it was realised that the boat was in reef country and one engine had failed. Miller sent out other boats to look for the group which had then been absent overnight.

Terry Quartermaine drew up the plans and specifications for the Club house which were checked by the Commonwealth Department of Works cyclone expert. Materials for the structure were prefabricated by Sandovers in Jolimont. At that stage Garrick Agnew had a shipping business and he agreed to transport the package as deck cargo on one of his freighters. Miller arranged for one of his boats to meet the freighter off shore and the materials were off loaded with ship’s gear and transported to Norbil Bay on the lighter. This work was carried out by a group of Bill Miller’s men.

To arrange for the construction of the shack over a number of months groups of soldiers were taken to the island on R and R leave. They were transported, accommodated, fed and refreshed under arrangements which had been made by Georgeff. The first task was to pour the slab. This was done by forming up road base material and mixing a special type of cement with sea water which was then poured over the road base material to form the slab. A special run of cement was made by Swan Portland Cement to accomplish this task. Because salt water was used in the mix the reinforcing steel was double galvanised then coated with a bitumen emulsion.

Between June and December 1964 a succession of groups of 12 or so of Quartermaine’s soldiers visited the island and the shack was slowly constructed. It was reported that there was a big lift in the morale of the troops after a week of fishing, swimming and recreational pursuits along with construction activities.

Somehow or other the media got hold of the story and queried why soldiers were being used to build a fishing shack. The Club employed one “Chooky” Fowler to manage the island and operate the weather station which was established at the shack. Criticism of the project was silenced by explaining that the major purpose of the structure was to provide a much needed weather station in the area.

Bill Miller provided much valuable assistance in the early arrangement for the construction of the shack.

Kendrew Island and Lady Nora Island were named after the then Governor Sir Douglass Kendrew and his wife Nora. Brigadier Island was named after Brigadier Hunt. Georgeff Reefs were named after Carl Georgeff. Point O’Keefe was named after Kevin O’Keefe who was one of the original members. Elphick’s Knob was named after Bill Elphick who was a partner in Muir and Williams. Miller Rocks were named after Bill Miller. Nelson Rocks were named after Jack Nelson who was one of the original members. Gordon Point was named after one of the early skippers. Chooky Bay was named after Fowler.

The airstrip was built by members dragging a length of railway line behind a tractor to level the ground. Chooky Fowler did a lot of the early work in the construction of the airstrip. It was very rough and was only used a few times, mainly by country members who owned their own aircraft.

Ivan Quartermaine went up in the second team which visited the Island. He is 94 years of age and the oldest member. He is also a Life Member.

These notes were taken by me in 2009 during an interview with Ivan and Terry Quartermaine.

Attached is a list of Members extracted from the 2nd Annual Report of the Club in 1964. It will be noted that the Honorary and Special Members included the Governor Sir Douglas Kendrew, Brigadier Hunt and Commodore Marks. Also included in the Members were such well known professional and business men as Frank Boan, Gavin Bunning, Geoffrey Cohen, Carl Georgeff, Mick Hungerford, Bill Leslie, Charlie Merry, Duncn McPhail, Bertie Nairn, Jack Nelson, Kevin O’Keefe, Ivan Quartermain, Dick Reilly, Gra Rosser, John Seward, Gordon Smith, Sir Thoms Wardle and AGR Whittaker.

There was a close friendship between Carl Georgeff and Bill Leslie who at that time had the lease of Karratha Station, the homestead of which was situated about 20km south east of the present Karratha town site. In those days there was no Dampier, no Karratha, no iron ore industry, no gas industry and no salt industry and all the islands of the Dampier Archipelago were vacant crown land. The name of the town Karratha in fact came from Bill Leslie’s station where Carl Georgeff was often the guest of Bill and his wife Normana. In case you had ever wondered where the name Norbil Bay came from it is a combination of the names of Normana and Bill Leslie. They both visited the island frequently taking their elder daughter Tish with them. Both Tish Point and Tish Reef are named after Tish Leslie whose married name is Tish Lees and who recently published a book about her early life on Karratha Station.

I met Tish Leslie whilst I was at University more than 55 years ago and these additional notes were made during an interview with her some weeks ago.

Whilst there are numerous shacks on other islands nearby they are all occupied under licences which are terminable at will and offer little security. By way of contrast the Club has a lease which together with the option to renew gives it security of tenure until 2030. The only other island leases are to operators of iron ore and salt enterprises.

No doubt much of the early history of the Club can be derived from a perusal of the minute books and more recently the newsletters which I have published over about the last 10 years. However, if older Members have reminiscences of early days it would be beneficial for the Club if they could record them and forward them to the Committee.

Ross Chappell
February 2011