Hilliards Creek History


Main Points




Topography and Soils

Contaminated Land


Land Use

Cleveland Industrial Estate

Open Space Recreation

Aboriginal Cultural Heritage

Redlands Cycling and Pedestrian Strategy

Open Space Plan

Sport Recreation Study

Action/s: Catchment Description- Identification of historical sites (6.1), Historical sites tenure and management (6.2), Community awareness of historical sites (6.3), Historical sites and recreation (6.4)   

Maps 6 (a) and (b) – Historical Landscape



Hilliards Creek and its catchment have provided people with resources for thousands of years.  Bora rings and scar trees along the Creek near Weippen St are some of the surviving physical evidence left behind by early indigenous users.  The local clan was the Koobenpul, who spoke the same language as the Gorenpul of Dunwich.[1]



The first surveys


The first surveys of Hilliards Creek and surrounds were carried out in the early

1840s.  Surveyor James Warner surveyed the Creek up to approximately Boundary Rd, Thornlands, commenting that the creek was “navigable for boats about six miles and at the head is a lagoon of good water.” [2]   On a subsequent plan Warner noted the mouth of the creek contained a “foul rocky bed.” [3]


Surveyor Robert Dixon is credited with bestowing some of the district’s first non-indigenous names on various places, including Hilliards Creek. [4] The Creek is believed to have been named after Lieutenant Hilliard, an ensign in the British 28th Regiment of Foot, which was stationed in Moreton Bay.  In 1839 Hilliard was briefly in charge of the penal settlement between Commandant Cotton and Lieutenant Gravatt. [5]


Although it was named Hilliards Creek in the early 1840s, in 1859, when Captain Louis Hope was working on his sugar plantation at Ormiston, the creek was referred to as Wogan Creek. [6]


First settlers

The first non-indigenous settlers began to seriously impact on Hilliards Creek from the late 1840s, mainly through small industries and particularly farming.  As a result, the Creek was used as a transport route, a water source and a drain.


Creek crossings

Even before the first land sales in Cleveland and surrounds [7] in the early 1850s, settlers were crossing Hilliards Creek.  Warner’s 1841 surveys noted two roads or dray crossings, one (1 on map) near current day Industry Court/Enterprise St in Thornlands and another (2) between current day Finucane Rd and the Cleveland Cemetery.


New crossings came into use after Cleveland’s first land sales.  One of the routes many settlers took is the one still used at Sturgeon St, Ormiston.  Accounts can be found of early settler families getting bogged in the Creek virtually where Sturgeon St is now.


Industries on the Creek




The Creek played a major role in the establishment of industries in the area.  The first known industry was a brickworks set up about 1852 by James Maskell on his land on the eastern bank of Hilliard’s Creek near the Cleveland cemetery. [8] This was most likely a very small enterprise and its precise location is not known.  Maskell’s bricks were most likely used to build structures on Cleveland Point, which was being developed as the potential Moreton Bay port at the time.




One of the earliest activities on the Creek was Thomas Blacket Stephens’  fellmongery, or wool scour (wool wash) near today’s Sturgeon St (3).  Stephens operated the wool scour from 1853, initially under the management of a Mr Beattie, [9] until the early 1860s when he moved his operations to Ekibin Creek near South Brisbane.  As this was the period when efforts were being made to establish a port on Cleveland Point, it is quite possible that Stephens set up on Hilliards Creek to service the wool trade expected to travel from Ipswich to Cleveland Point.


Although Stephens pulled out in the early 1860s, it is not known exactly when the Ormiston fellmongery ceased operations; it may have continued until the late 1860s under the management of long-time Cleveland resident Andrew Holden, who originally worked at the fellmongery for Stephens. [10]


Either way, the fellmongery was operating in late 1861 when, in what must have been one of the Creek’s first near fatalities, the son of one of the workers at the fellmongery nearly drowned when he fell into the Creek.  The Creek was 12 feet deep at that spot. 


The boy was saved when his mother leapt into the Creek and kept them both afloat until somebody came along and pulled them out. [11]  A second fellmongery was set up on the site (lot 4 section 100) by Thomas Alford

about 1894. [12] This one was first approved in 1894 with Alford the owner and operator. 


This operated until the early 1920s, and seems to have been a slaughter yard as well as a fellmongery as he also had a butcher’s licence.  Alford also built a dam across Hilliards Creek in 1901. [13]


Fellmonger Park on Sturgeon St is named after these activities.  The brick foundations in Fellmonger Park are most likely the remains of Alford’s operations rather than Stephens’.




Another industry was tried in the 1850s by sugar grower Captain Louis Hope. 


During the early years of establishing his sugar plantation around Ormiston House, Captain Hope took advantage of the tidal flow to establish a saltworks on the banks near the mouth of the Creek.




The most significant 19th Century industry along the Creek was Gilbert Burnett's sawmill.  In 1875 Gilbert Burnett took out a seven year lease on all of Ormiston sugar grower Captain Louis Hope’s land on the western side of Hilliards Creek.  Burnett carried on in the sugar industry with the assistance of kanaka labourers. [14]  


By the mid-1880s the sugar industry was in a slump and Burnett turned his attention to the timber trade.  He converted his sugar crushing plant into a sizeable sawmill (4), with steamers carrying the logs up Hilliards Creek to a wharf (5) and from there to the sawmill.  Burnett also built a causeway (6) across the mudflats of Reserve 244 and surrounds, the remains of which can still be seen.  The South Sea Islander-built causeway was designed to transport sugar and/or timber, but it seems that it was never used for this purpose as Burnett had the mouth of Hilliards Creek deepened and he used his wharf in the Creek instead.  Burnett also promoted the use of this jetty as an entry point to the district.  Burnett’s sawmill and other enterprises are credited with jump-starting the subdivision and subsequent development of this part of Wellington Point and surrounds. [15]  




The Creek also serviced a number of slaughteryards over the years.  One was operated by Cleveland butcher JP Engelmann in the early 20th Century on land just behind where Ormiston College is today (7).  This was quite a large operation, with cattle, sheep and other livestock arriving by train at the Ormiston Station and being driven down to the slaughteryard.  Tallow was made onsite, skins were dried and sold to tanneries, and bones were sold for fertiliser. [16]  


Another slaughteryard is believed to have operated on the western bank of the Creek approximately opposite Oak St (8). [17]


Yet another slaughteryard may have operated on a land parcel straddling the Creek in what is now Thornlands (9) (portion 117, from Redland Bay Rd to near Kinross Rd).  This parcel was selected by Cleveland butcher Tobias Walter in 1883 and remained in the family’s hands until 1928.  In 1912 it was leased to John Patrick and James Engelmann for six years. [18]


Gravel extraction


Gravel extraction was another industry that was conducted along the Creek.  The Tingalpa Divisional Board (later Tingalpa Shire Council) [19] resumed several small parcels for gravel extraction for road purposes from the 1890s on.  Several parcels were near the headwaters of Hilliards Creek behind Sheldon College, although their precise locations are not known (10).




Despite the various industries along the Creek, farming and grazing were the dominant activities along Hilliards Creek for about 100 years after the first settlers arrived.  The first crops included cotton, sugar and rice, with sugar by far the most common.


One of the earliest was Joseph Clark.  From the early 1850s Clark leased 25,000 acres of land from Ormiston to the Logan River and ran cattle on the land.  He relinquished his lease in the late 1850s and took up land near the Cleveland Cemetery.  His descendants still live in the Redlands. [20]


Sugar was a major crop from the 1860s until the 1880s.  The best known sugar grower was Captain Louis Hope, who bought his Ormiston land in about 1853.  He developed his sugar plantation and built Ormiston House (11) during the late 1850s and early 1860s.


In the 1870s Gilbert Burnett took over much of Hope’s sugar interests, and went on to establish a major sawmill (see above). During the sugar days, two bridges were built over Hilliards Creek linking Ormiston with Wellington Point.  As well as being used by plantation workers travelling between the areas, school students at the northern end of Ormiston used these crossings to reach Wellington Point School, which was closer than the Ormiston School.  One bridge

was near the end of Hilliards St (12) and the other crossed near Oak St (13).  The Oak St bridge also serviced a slaughteryard on the west bank of Hilliards Creek. [21] Both were most likely built by South Sea Islander (Kanaka) labour.  The remains are still in place.



Hilliards Creek was also important for recreation and for many years it was used by local residents for swimming and boating.  Some residents built small jetties along its banks.


The area now known as the Geoff Skinner Reserve (14) was declared a reserve for public recreation in 1888.  This site again has links with Gilbert Burnett and was the site of a tramway on a causeway between Burnett’s mill and a jetty that stretched from the mangroves to the low water mark.  This causeway was constructed in 1884 and was designed to transport sugar and/or timber.  It is highly likely that if the reserve had not been created, the remains of the causeway would have disappeared long ago.


Water supply


Hilliards Creek was also canvassed as a water source for the district.  In 1888 the Cleveland Divisional Board asked the Secretary of Lands to set aside land on either side of Hilliards Creek as a catchment area “in view of that creek being made available to supply Cleveland with water by means of pipes.” [22]


Water Reserve 251 now extends along the western side of the Creek from Finucane Road to South St.


The weir across the Creek just south of the Sturgeon St, Ormiston, (15) crossing was built in 1948 by the Department of Irrigation and Water Supply, partly prompted by the lobbying of local strawberry grower Charles Hoffman (Hoffman subsequently established the Ormiston cold store on Gordon St).  The weir incorporated part of the stone foundations of the original bridge in Capalaba over Tingalpa Creek, built in 1874. [23]




During the 1860s Hilliards Creek also became an important transport route.  Captain Hope built a wharf near the mouth of the Creek (16) to service his sugar mill.  By the 1880s the establishment of Burnett’s timber mill saw another wharf (5) built further upstream to receive the logs that arrived by steamer from around Moreton Bay.  Burnett had the mouth of the Creek deepened in the 1880s so the steamers could get up to his wharf.


A local story states that a rock bar in the Creek close to Armagh St, was the source of a dispute between neighbours some time before the 1930s.  One of the affected parties decided to settle the matter once and for all with some dynamite.  As a result the rock bar was transformed into the jumble of rocks that is now exposed at low tide. [24]




The second Cleveland cemetery (17) was proclaimed in 1873, precluding many activities in this section of the Creek.


Rifle ranges


Two rifle ranges (18) have been built at the end of Weippin St, one during World War I and one during World War II.  Both involved the shooter firing from near Weippin St at targets on the other side of the Creek. 


The first range was built by the Redland District Rifle Club, formed in 1914 under the Defence Act.  The range was officially opened on 3 July 1915.

After the War, Club membership declined.  At the Annual General Meeting in August 1921 presided over by Club Captain C Robins, the Club decided to disband and the rifle range was abandoned.


The second Cleveland Rifle Range


The second rifle range was built close to the original range in 1943 by volunteers of E Company 4th Battalion Volunteer Defence Corps.  The volunteers cleared the bushland manually with axes and cross cut saws.  The range was officially opened on 30 October 1943.


A memorial with a flagpole and a plaque was erected on the site commemorating the efforts of the VDC. The range was well used by the Australian Infantry Forces, the Volunteer Defence Corps, and the US army.  After the War, it was used by various military groups and a new Redlands Rifle Club, formed in March 1947.  This Club also took over the range’s maintenance.  However, by the 1960s interest had again waned.  In July 1968 the range was declared unsafe and the Club decided to close it.


The final shoot was held on Sunday 7 July 1968, with the last shot fired by Club founder Mr J Robins.  For a few more years, a small section of the range saw some activity by the Small Bore Rifle Club, but the days of the well patronised Cleveland Rifle Range were over.


Industrial estate


As early as 1964 land near South St, Thornlands, had been earmarked for an industrial area to cater for the expected increase in population after the Leslie Harrison Dam was built. [25] However, no work was carried out until 1980, when the Qld Lands Department announced it planned to build an industrial estate on the South St site.  State Member for Redlands John Goleby said the site was ideal for an industrial estate because it was central, close to infrastructure such as water treatment plants and electricity and well away from residential development.  Work began in November. 


In August 1985 the Cleveland industrial estate on Wellington and South Sts was officially opened by the Minister for Industry, Small Business and Technology, Mike Ahern.




The Thornlands section of Hilliards Creek appears to have been offered for selection between the 1860s and 1880s.  Along Hilliards Creek, Abraham Street took up 200 acres (19) (por 89) in 1899 and established a property called Kinross [26]  which remained in the family’s hands for many years. [27] Kinross Rd runs through the property it was named after.




The area containing the headwaters of Hilliards Creek was also offered for selection. The western side of Taylor Road (10) (por 108) was part of a 670-acre selection by Arthur Rupert Pontifex in 1887.  It is not known what the land was used for or the exact conditions of the selection.  It is likely agricultural, and it would have been subject to the usual conditions.  This land was subdivided into large acreages, maintaining that pattern of subdivision for the next 50 or so years.  Given that the land on the ridges east of the Creek was generally not very fertile, it is likely that any farms established would have been only marginally profitable.  This area needs further investigation for a clear picture to emerge.


History – recommendations


The Hilliards Creek catchment has a significant history and contains, perhaps, the greatest collection of historical sites of early European development in the Redland Shire.  Much of the history and historical sites remain a mystery to most of the Shire residents and to visitors alike.


The majority of the historical sites are intimately linked with the opportunities

or challenges that the creek itself presented – wharves, bridges and wool scours – and, consequently, have a lineal relationship that allows them to be joined together while following the course of the creek.  This presents a significant opportunity to develop an historical trail from Sheldon in the upper catchment to the mouth of the Creek.  A trail of this kind, perhaps known as the Hilliards Heritage Trail, would reveal much of the history of the catchment, the Redland Shire and the broader region of south east Queensland and would create a recreational and educational drawcard for the people of the Redlands, the region and beyond.


While a trail of this kind presents opportunities there are challenges to its realisation. 


These concern the tenure of land in the upper catchment and the need to safely crosstransport corridors including the railway line adjacent to Beckwith Street.  Nonetheless, given time and foresight, none of these challenges are insurmountable and the following recommendations seek to address the feasibility and implementation of such a project.


Author: Tracy Ryan, Local Historian RSC







  1. John Steele, Aboriginal pathways, Brisbane: University of Queensland Press, 1984, p112.

  2. James Warner, c.1841, Plan of coast survey between Kings Point and Point Henry shewing Cleveland and Hilliards Creek, NA24.  Copy in Redland Shire Local History Collection.

  3. James Warner, 1841, Plan of two creeks, M1076 46A.  Copy in Redland Shire Local History Collection.

  4. Robert Dixon, 1842 Map of Moreton Bay, Redland Shire Local History Collection.

  5. File note, RSC Local History collection, Historical Folder: Place names, river and stream names, creeks and waterways, HF 13.4 RSH-Vic.

  6. Moreton Bay Courier, 26 February 1859, p2.

  7. Ormiston and Thornlands were part of Cleveland until the 1890s and early 1900s respectively.

  8. MBC 18 Sept 1852.

  9. Moreton Bay Courier, 3 September 1853.

  10. Morrison, W Frederic (Comp), 1888, Aldine history of Queensland, Sydney: Aldine Publishing Co, Vol 2.

  11. North Australian? 8 October 1861.  Copy in RSC Local History collection.

  12. CDB minutes, 30 June 1894.

  13. CDB minutes, November 1901.

  14. Mary Howells ‘ A History of Fernbourne Precinct’ PG Diploma Thesis, UQ 1997 p.p. 13-15.

  15. Howells, Mary, 2000, Wellington Point history, unpublished manuscript held in RSC Local History collection.

  16. Harry Clark, interview 22 April 1994.

  17. Information supplied by Alec Morris, February 2005.

  18. Further research is needed to establish the activities of the Walter and Engelmann families on this parcel.

  19. In 1949 the northern part of the Tingalpa Shire merged with the Cleveland Shire to form the Redland Shire.

  20. Harry Clark oral history interview, 22 April 1994.

  21. Information supplied by Alec Morris, February 2005.

  22. Cleveland Divisional Board minutes, 4 August 1888, p255.

  23. Howells, Mary, Living on the edge: along Tingalpa Creek, Cleveland: Redland Shire Council, 2000, p73.

  24. Information supplied by Alec Morris, February 2005.

  25.Redland News, 3 April 1964.

  26. Osmond, Thornlands State School.  Mrs Street was the daughter of the Laird of Kinross, Scotland.

  27. CSC rate register, 1899 and 1931-35.