King Sambo and Queen Juno

Cribb Island, Myrtletown and Serpentine Creek – places  along the northern Brisbane River estuary that are lost forever. The only remaining natural environment in this part of the bay is a small corner of saltmarsh and mangroves, squeezed between the expanding airport, the Brisbane sewage treatment plant and industrial estates. But this land has a couple of surviving features that I believe were once named after a prominent aboriginal couple with the European names Sambo and Juno - namely SAMBO CREEK and JUNO POINT – though you have to look at historical maps to spot those names.

So let’s see what we can find out about this salty peninsula, its changes over time and the possible relationship to two indigenous persons. I personally believe that the names should be reinstated and promoted while there’s still some nature left in this corner of the bay. 

First let’s set the location in context. The area is on the northern shore of the river mouth, across from the Port of Brisbane. There is no way to reach the land by foot – it is entirely encircled by the airport to the west and the sewage treatment plant to the south.

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The below aerial shows the targets of our investigation. The whole peninsula has often been referred to as Uniacke Point, or Point Uniacke (sometimes spelled with only “k” and without or without the “e”). The name dates from the famous expedition of 1823, when the  land was baptised by John Oxley in honour of his assistant. The precise definition of the “point” varies in historical records, and some sources have it as synonymous with the much smaller Luggage Point.

Luggage Point is the small spur which today contains the sewage treatment plant outfall. The aboriginal name is Boorennba, meaning “Place of Whiting”, which is easy to imagine.  The name Luggage Point was in use from at least 1839. We also see the location of Point Juno and Sambo Creek, and what used to be Serpentine Creek which is now landfilled and covered by airport runways.

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Our First map is from 1840 is based on Dixon’s trigonometrical survey of the bay. The map covers mainly areas south of the river but it does contain the northern shore including Uniacke Point, and (to the south) Bulwer Island which is incorrectly labelled Parker Island. There’s also a marker for the German Missionary settlement at Nundah.

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This 1842 map is very low-resolution but it shows the location of Serpentine Creek. The shipping lane across the river bar was marked with two beacons, and on the other side of the river we see Fisherman’s Islands, which are now covered by reclaimed land and the Port of Brisbane.

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The peninsula is rather shapeless in this 1846 map, and Uniacke Point seems to be referring to the bayside shore. Serpentine Creek is named “Serpentine River” – it was indeed a substantial watercourse which drained much of the current airport area. All of it has now been reclaimed.

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By 1873 the area was properly surveyed with accurate locations for “Uniacke or Luggage Point”, and for Serpentine Creek. Some of the marshy intertidal areas are also marked but we see no trace of Sambo Creek. I can see two possible reasons for this; either the surveyors visited the area at peak tide and Sambo Creek was indistinguishable from the surrounding mangroves, or the surveyors simply didn’t notice this substantial creek (which is 30-50 metres wide for a long stretch). Both scenarios seem unlikely, but perhaps it was a combination of circumstances.

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And here’s the first record I found of Sambo Creek. A military map of 1889 containing great details on the nature of soils, suitable creek crossings, drinking water sources and other particulars relevant to armed forces traversing the land. The recommended crossing across Sambo Creek was marked with an arrow on a tree. Other than the maps, I’ve found occasional mentions of Sambo Creek in newspapers from the 1920s, 30s and 40s, so the name was in use for at least 50 or 60 years.

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This 1892 map refers to Luggage Point and also “Myrtle”, which was a short name for Myrtletown, a little agricultural settlement by the river. This beautiful spot, which was once the site of a small school, vineyards and plantations, is now entirely obliterated by industrial development. Possibly the ugliest neighbourhood in town, the new cruise ship terminal is currently being built right next to the sewage treatment outfall. Welcome to Brisbane!

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In 1925 Luggage Point was marked with the sewage outfall from the wastewater treatment plant which was finished that year – a major piece of infrastructure development comprising 11 miles of sewer from North Quay with two pumping stations along the way, sludge aeration and sedimentation tanks north of Myrtletown and a final channel discharging the effluent at Luggage Point. Airports were still science fiction, and the whole peninsula was marked as a municipal sewage and water reserve. Sambo Creek is again missing from this map.

We mentioned before that the name Luggage Point was used in 1939 and possibly earlier. The origin of the name is unknown. One theory is that the location was used to offload luggage and other cargo for overland transport to Brisbane, presumedly allowing the lightened ship navigate the un-dredged river. And there seems to be something to this story. Brisbane river had two bars – the main bar outside the river mouth and a smaller, inner bar that stretched from Luggage Point in a NE direction. If ships did require unloading before progressing up river then this was the obvious spot. However - there were no roads from Luggage Point to Brisbane at the time, and transport across the sodden mudflats was so difficult that it hindered the development of Myrtletown well into the 1900s. I’ve found no records at all of luggage or cargo ever being unloaded here, and it seems likely that the name was given as a provision for future arrangements which were superseded when the inner bar was dredged in the subsequent decades.

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We’ve now arrived in 1926 and the map has some new points of interest. Most importantly, this is the first mention of Juno Point that I’ve found. As you can see, it’s more of a subtle convexification than a “point”, but it seems to be slightly higher than the surrounding land which presumably places it safely above the high water mark.

 

There are very few mentions of Juno Point in other sources – a couple of newspaper mentions from the 1930s. Clearly the name was rarely used. We can also see that Sambo Creek had changed name to Jubilee Creek by this time. This is the first record I’ve found of the new name, and I haven’t been able to work out its origin. I seems odd that such an out-of-the-way and rarely visited creek would have been named to commemorate any significant jubilee.

 

We also see the name “C. J. Tripcony” appearing at Juno Point, with a small square marking an area of land on the shore. Tripcony was a family with a long and pioneering history of oyster fishing in Moreton Bay and the Pumice stone Passage, and “C. J” and his relative “T. J”. ran an oyster fishery on two banks only a short from the new sewage outfall. The operation was referred to the Commissioner for Public Health in 1928, and was subsequently shut down. It appears that the little square of land was a lease of crown land for equipment used by the Tripconys.

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From 1946 we have the first aerial photo of the area, showing all the points of interest plus some of the intact Cribb Island village (top left corner).

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The below cadastral map from 1959 shows Juno Point (now without the Tripcony lease), Sambo Creek under it’s new name, and the still untouched Serpentine Creek.

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In 1964 Juno Point is still marked, as is Luggage Point and Cribb Island.

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. ..and the final map from 1970. Juno Point remains on some detailed maps even today, but it seems to be otherwise lost from public consciousness.

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I will now be skating on very thin ice, trying to pin down the potential source of the names Sambo Creek and Juno Point. I will be talking about two aboriginal persons who were referred to using English names by the Europeans of the era, and I will talk about them without any real knowledge of their cultural context or personal histories. This narrative is based solely on history documented by Europeans. It is also possible that there were more than one person referred to as Sambo in the region – I don’t believe this to be the case but it can’t be ruled out.

The various records that I’ve found indicate that:

  • Sambo was described as the “heir apparent”, or son, of Toompani of Stradbroke Island. Toompani was considered a leader of the aborigines at Amity, and he was a recognised hero having rescued passengers of the Sovereign wreck all the way back in 1847.

  • In 1881, the Collector of Customs in Brisbane requested funds to supply Sambo, an “aborigine of Moreton Bay”, with fishing gear and a boat. The reason for this is gift is probably documented in the request but further information requires a visit to the State Archives.

  • Memoirs in the Brisbane Courier recollect Sambo as being a “Bribie black”, and the owner of a cast-off boat from the port office, of which he was captain. The whaleboat was fitted with a mast and sails, and the writer claimed that he returned the favour by “saving the lives of more drunken oystermen and others than was generally known.”

  • There are many records of Sambo having a partner called Juno, or “Beauty”.

  • The Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford has a basket from Moreton Bay, woven by “King Sambo’s Queen Juno”

  • There are several records of King Sambo and Queen Beauty/Juno from the Coochin and Caboolture area in the 1880s and 90s.

  • The couple had at least one son (Willie) and a daughter (Kitty)

  • In 1896 a Sambo was trialled for having murdered another aboriginal man with strychnine, in Kedron Park

  • Sambo died in “Cutchie”, in the Upper Caboolture area sometime in the late 1890s

  • In 1899 Juno was recorded at the Durundur Reserve, Woodford

 

This breastplate was held in the Caboolture Shire Council Rooms, and the text appears to say “Cutchie” where King Sambo was reportedly buried. I haven’t been able to find this this location, apparently it was close to “salt shed” of upper Caboolture.

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So there it is - a remnant of nature with two places that (I believe) were named after King Sambo and Queen Juno. Perhaps a search of colonial correspondence can reveal more about this couple and their travels across the bay, and their activities around Point Uniack. I don’t know what the future holds for the land but it seems inevitable that the airport, or the port, or both, will eventually claim it.

Any additional information on this land, and any known associations with Sambo and Juno, would be very welcome. And if you’re planning a boat trip here please let me know, I’d love to have a closer look.

Sources are available on request.

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