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Signal Station (former)

  • 601097
  • 25 Dorothy Newnham Street, Moreton Island


Also known as
Former Navy Signal Station Fort Cowan
State Heritage
Register status
Date entered
1 February 1995
Defence: Signals post
5.7 Moving goods, people and information: Telecommunications
7.6 Maintaining order: Defending the country
Construction period
1930–1939, Signal Station (former) (1930s - 1930s)
Historical period
1919–1930s Interwar period


25 Dorothy Newnham Street, Moreton Island
Brisbane City Council
-27.12698967, 153.36525279


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Criterion AThe place is important in demonstrating the evolution or pattern of Queensland’s history.

The Former Signal Station survives as evidence of the role of Cowan Cowan and Moreton Island in the Moreton Bay navigation network, from the mid-19th century when the pilot station was relocated from North Stradbroke to Moreton Island.

Located as part of the former Fort Cowan/Cowan Cowan Battery, this former Naval Signal Station has an association with the defence of Queensland during the Second World War by the Australian Military Force and particularly by the Royal Australian Navy. The former Naval Signal Station is also significant as part of the Cowan Cowan Battery, in turn, part of an integrated series of defence batteries around Moreton Bay.

Criterion DThe place is important in demonstrating the principal characteristics of a particular class of cultural places.

The Former Signal Station survives as evidence of the role of Cowan Cowan and Moreton Island in the Moreton Bay navigation network, from the mid-19th century when the pilot station was relocated from North Stradbroke to Moreton Island.


Erected probably during the late 1930s by the Royal Australian Navy, and acquired by the Queensland Government in 1947, this structure was the second signal station to be used at Cowan Cowan, on the western side of Moreton Island.

During the early period of the Moreton Bay penal settlement, vessels entered Moreton Bay primarily through the South Entrance, which was the passage between Moreton and North Stradbroke Islands. The first navigation aids were placed in Moreton Bay in 1825, and marked the south entrance. A Pilot Station was established at Amity Point on North Stradbroke Island by 1827.

The south entrance proved to be difficult and hazardous for vessels and during the 1830s, consideration was given to the advantages of using the northern entrance into Moreton Bay. Despite the hazards however, the southern entrance remained the main entrance to the Moreton Bay settlement as it better suited the colony, the entrances were already marked, and the pilot station was already established at Amity Point.

Following proclamation of Moreton Bay as a free settlement in 1842, the Regulations prohibiting all but authorised vessels to come to an anchorage at a penal settlement except in cases of distress or necessity, ... were revoked, and shipping activity in Moreton Bay increased. Brisbane was declared a Port of Entry in 1846, and a Warehousing Port in 1849.

By the mid 1840s both the north and south entrances were used by vessels entering Moreton Bay. Captain Wickham and Lieutenant Yule carried out extensive surveys in Moreton Bay in 1846, and buoys marking the northern entrance were laid soon after. Sailing directions for the northern entrance were published in the Moreton Bay Courier in April 1847, in preparation for the closure of the southern passage as the main entrance to the Bay. Following the sinking of the Sovereign in 1847, a harbour master was appointed for Brisbane. Additional buoys were laid to better indicate the northern entrance, and in 1848 the pilot station was moved from Amity Point, firstly to Cowan Cowan then to Bulwer, on Moreton Island. The pilot station marked the first official European settlement of Moreton Island.

The pilot station at Bulwer was closed in 1909, with the exception of the signalman who was also in charge of the telephone station. In 1912 the Signal Station was removed to Cowan Cowan, considered to be more convenient for vessels using the North West Channel which had been declared the safest entrance into Moreton Bay during the 1890s. The Channel ran close to the shore near Caloundra, across the bar in a southeasterly direction towards Moreton Island, and then southwesterly towards the mouth of the river, forming a Z-shaped route. James Palmer, the signalman at Bulwer, was appointed Signalman at Cowan Cowan Point from March 1913. Other signalmen stationed at Cowan Cowan included Charles W Hill, Keeper of the Cowan Cowan light for a number of years, and Harry Wadsworth appointed in 1939. By the mid 1940s, the Signal Station building which had been removed from Bulwer to Cowan Cowan, was in a deteriorated condition, and erosion of the coastline placed the building in danger of falling into the sea.

Fort Cowan, located north of the Signal Station, was completed in the late 1930s (sources differ as to whether this was prior to or shortly after the commencement of the Second World War), and formed part of the defensive system for southeast Queensland. Other fortifications apparent throughout Moreton Bay during the Second World War included Caloundra, Bribie Island [601143], and at Rous also on Moreton Island, which together with the existing installations at Fort Lytton [600248], provided a coordinated series of defensive batteries for the region.

The shipping channels in Moreton Bay simplified the proposed placement of batteries. The major access route into the Brisbane River was still the North West Channel, which dictated the ideal positions for artillery batteries, the most effective sites for guns being the closest points to the channel bends. Fort Cowan took over the role of an Examination Battery from Fort Lytton, and a Port War Signal Station (PWSS), also referred to as the Naval Signal Station, was erected in conjunction with this duty. The Examination Service was staffed by Naval Reserve Volunteers, who had been called up in August 1939. As described in a Navy paper prepared in 1949, the function of the Examination Service was to identify and ascertain the character and intentions of vessels seeking to enter defended ports. This was necessary in order that defences could be made aware of any attempted entry of suspicious or unfriendly vessels. Merchant vessels approaching a port would be met by an Examination Vessel, stationed permanently at the Examination Anchorage near the entrance to the port. If an approaching vessel could not be identified, it was directed to proceed to the Examination Anchorage under the observation of the Examination Battery, and further investigation was undertaken. The major function of the Naval Signal Station appears to have been to receive signals from the Examination Vessels and relay messages to the gunnery, rather than to send signals which would have revealed the position of the battery. Two examination vessels appear to have also been stationed at Cowan Cowan during the First World War.

All PWSSs were closed down after September 1945. In 1946, with its own Signal Station in a state of disrepair, the Department of Public Works in Queensland entered into negotiations with the Commonwealth Disposals Commission, for the purchase of the former Naval Signal Station, mast and a nearby cottage. Although consideration was given to acquiring and relocating the former Naval Signal Station, it was decided that to shift the building to another site would risk extensive damage to the fibro walls and roof, and that the Building in its present position is an ideal situation for Signal Station, with Signal tower mast and flag room close by ...This position has a commanding view of Bay and is more suitable than existing site of old signal station. The former Naval Signal Station, including mast, and a residence were acquired by the Queensland Government in May 1947, for a sum of £1 300.

In 1954 the Postmaster-General's Department (PMG) proposed to establish a radio telephone communication service between Brisbane and Cowan Cowan. The PMG had previously expressed interest in acquiring the former Naval Signal Station to house radio telephone equipment, however it was decided that the building was too large for the PMG requirements. The radio telephone equipment was housed in the Signal Station and maintained by Wadsworth in addition to his signal station and lighthouse duties.

With the advent of VHF radio communication for shipping in the early 1960s, the need for signal stations was reduced, and following Wadsworth's retirement in December it was decided to close the Signal Station (the lighthouse which had been converted to automatic gas light in 1950, would continue to operate unattended).

Wadsworth and his wife Jessie, had acquired land adjacent to the Signal Station in 1952. Following the closure of the Signal Station, the Wadsworths sought to acquire the use of part of the signal station building, and were granted an Informal Lease over the former Signal Station site in 1967.

The Australian Telecommunications Commission (Telecom) removed the radio telephone equipment installed by the former PMG's Department, from the building in 1976.

Harry Wadsworth died in 1979, and Jessie died in 1985. In 1987, the Brisbane City Council recommended that the land be set aside as a recreation reserve and a Reserve for Local Government (Historical Park and Recreation) Purposes was gazetted in 1989, under the control of the Brisbane City Council as trustee.

The timber stairs to the upper level of the structure were removed in May 1990. The radio mast/signal mast was removed to the Enoggera Army Barracks in 1993, as the mast was infested with white ants and one of the stays fallen on to the beach.


Located on the western side of Moreton Island at Cowan Cowan, the two storeyed Signal Station is positioned behind the first dune overlooking the beach and shipping channel. To the north along the beach are the remains of concrete gun emplacements.

A small timber framed building, rectangular in plan, it is mounted on low concrete stumps and clad internally and externally with asbestos cement sheeting with asbestos cement cover strips. On the south east corner a double row of stumps lead to a timber door indicating the former position of the entry steps. This door opens into the lower level which consists of two rooms joined by a connecting door. These rooms have suspended timber floors and double hung timber framed windows which are barred and screened.

The upper level, similarly divided into two, consists of a single room with a hip roof and a roof terrace. This upper level is inaccessible as the staircase, formerly an external stair on the eastern side of the building, has been removed. The room has continuous windows running around the perimeter walls which are interrupted only by the two doorways. A doorway remains which would have formerly been at the top of the stair. Another doorway, in the centre of the southern wall, opens from the room onto the roof terrace.

A number of small concrete slabs and other remains are located in the grass around the Signal Station.

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Location of Signal Station (former) within Queensland
Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
Last reviewed
1 July 2022
Last updated
20 February 2022