Goodenough Bay (1884-1886), Disaster Bay (1896- 1902), Cygnet Bay (1905-1910)

Prepared by: 
Regina Ganter

In the pearling belt on the east coast of Dampier peninsula the mission effort proceeded in stops and starts. The mission efforts along this coast were never German-run, but form part of the Kimberley mission history, with Fr. Duncan McNab at Goodenough Bay (1884-1886), the French Trappists at Disaster Bay (1890, 1896-1904) Fr. Nicholas Emo at Cygnet Bay (1905-1910), and the private ‘mission’ at Sunday Island (1899-1923). The Trappists used Disaster Bay as an outrigger station of Beagle Bay. All of these efforts grafted on to the Latino/Aboriginal communities along the coast including Thomas Puertollano.



McNab at Goodenough Bay

The renegade Catholic Fr. Duncan McNab had already persuaded the Jesuits to establish a mission in the Northern Territory, and felt very strongly about extending the mission effort to the far north, like Bishop Gibney in Perth. He travelled throughout the Kimberley in 1884 and befriended a Bard man called Knife who assisted him in making contact with the local community who had been employed by pearlers. In April 1886 Fr. William Treacy Goodenough Bay (1884-1886), joined them at Goodenough Bay and they erected a church.1


‘With the help of men from Manila I tried to teach the Blacks the use of tools, how to work, to dig and plough, to build houses of bark, of brushwood and of slabs, to fish with nets, and so to catch and cure fish by salting and pressing it for a night and then drying it in the sun.’2


These fishing and processing techniques suggest that the Filipinos contributed much valuable experience. McNab went to minister to the miners at Halls Creek and meanwhile Treacy succumbed to fever and was taken to Derby. McNab found the mission abandoned and himself broke down in exhaustion. His companion Knife took him to Derby from where he was taken to the Jesuits in Darwin.3 Fourteen years later

Bishop Gibney arrived with two Trappists and the locals spoke to him about Fr. McNab, and Fr. Gibney’s diary suggests that they were hoping for another mission. Gibney locates ‘Fr. McNab’s Bay’ as lying just north of Cunningham Point.


Trappists at Disaster Bay

When the first two Trappists, Dom Ambrose and Fr. Alphonse Tachon arrived in Derby in 1890 in company with Bishop Gibney, police trooper John Daly and an Aboriginal tracker led them up the east coast of Dampier Peninsula to Fr.McNab’s abandoned site about 80 km north of Derby. Bishop Gibney had lobbied for the reservation of land in this area4 and there were now two reservations to choose from, one near Disaster Bay and one near Beagle Bay. Bishop Gibney, whose diary documents these explorations in 1890, set his heart on Beagle Bay.


Durack records that Beagle Bay quickly became populated and the Trappists resorted to the Nimanboor land that had been reserved at Disaster Bay in 1888. Fr. Jean Marie Janny moved there in 1896 and two years later the grange housed six children.


The French Trappists reported that they stationed two padres at Disaster Bay, ‘a day’s horseride distant’.5 By 1897 the French padres wanted to abandon their two Kimberley missions and entered into negotiations with the Pallottines in Limburg to take the Kimberley missions over. In a letter from Sept Fons to Limburg, Fr. Marie Bernard wrote:


In Beagle Bay and Désastre-Bay our padres have already rendered a large garden fertile which has earned them much good vegetable and they unanimously say that if the property was properly developed it would earn an enormous amount from the various cultures and the cattle. 6


According to Durack Fr. Jean Marie Janny’s only assistant at Disaster Bay was Thomas Puertollano:


In this enterprise the monks has a staunch friend and helper in Thomas Puertollano, a young Manilaman who had come to Brome as a diver. He had recently married a half-caste girl named Agnes O’Bryan whose Irish father had placed her with the missionaries at Beagle Bay, and the couple now wished to settle down on the land and raise a family. Although small in stature Thomas brought to the task all the enthusiastic faith of his Filipino heritage and worked with tremendous energy under Trappist direction.7



Puertollano at Disaster Bay

Thomas Puertollano’s daughter Theresa told the story of the arrival of missionaries in the Kimberley from her family’s perspective, which sounds significantly different from the Catholic histories.


Her father came as a pearling worker to Broome from Mindanao ‘he was well educated in his country and spoke English well’. He was a community leader of the Broome Filipinos living on a 99-year lease at Fishermen’s Bend outside Broome across Roebuck Bay, where they erected a church.8 Sandy Paddy at Beagle Bay confirmed this: ‘The old church in Broome was built by Thomas Puertollano and his friends.’9


After some time some of these men including Puertollano moved to Disaster Bay:


He wanted to start a new station. He met a lot of Aboriginal people on the way in those days they used to just live in little humpies. So he took them with him and they knew the country, and he brought some of the old men and some of their wives, and they showed him this place, what they call Disaster Bay. He liked the place and that’s where he started to make a station. He had all these Aboriginal people working for him. At that time my mother was only a young one, fourteen or fifteen years old, she was with them, with her mob – my grandparents, I suppose – travelling around in the bush. That’s how he met my mother.’10


They were all carpenters and they built a house for themselves and they lived there or about two or three years. And then there were a lot of other priests, French priests, the Trappist Fathers, they wanted to make a mission. So they came across my father and his Filipino people. So what did he do, he gave up his home, his house, and moved further along the coast. He gave that house up to the priests. He was well established. He had gardens and everything going. He just left it there for them. That’s what was told to me. By this time my mother and him were married.



Theresa’s story of how her parents met differs from the account given by Durack. She says her parents met at Bungadok (five miles inland from Beagle Bay according to Durack – which places it about the centre of the peninsula), and were married by the French Fathers at Disaster Bay. Durack does not specify whether Puertollano was at Disaster Bay before the Trappists arrived, so Theresa’s story is not contradicted. Both agree that Thomas and Agnes Puertollano played a dominant role in the Trappist presence at Disaster Bay. Agnes hand-sewed the bridal dress for Marie Parambor at Disaster Bay. She acted as godmother for 12 catechumens in 1899 and ‘became an outstanding member of the Catholic laity in the Kimberley’.11 Thomas was godfather for the first Aboriginal Christians baptised in 1896 at Beagle Bay.12


When the Trappists withdrew from the Kimberley in 1900 Puertollano was left in charge of the grange at Disaster Bay and engaged with the pearling fleet to help maintain the mission.13 Bishop Gibney in company with his assistant Dean Martelli and Daisy Bates travelled north in August 1900 to try and rescue the mission leases from resumption by the government. They also spent three days at Disaster Bay, which had a 2000-acre lease with thriving gardens of sugar cane, tomatoes, cucumbers, sorghum, rice and arrowroot. The site had a ‘splendid well’ and a corrugated iron chapel, and a residence. Bates noted that the priest had long left for Beagle Bay and the stores had been left ‘unguarded’ for six months but had not been touched.14 (Presumably she meant ‘unguarded by whites’). She also mentioned that Fr. Emo had been performing marriages between Filipino men and Aboriginal women at this place.


While not mentioning Puertollano, Bates’ account gives much credence to the story as portrayed by Theresa Puertollano, that her father was established at Disaster Bay with gardens and a house before the Trappists and permitted them the use of his facilities. Certainly McNab found Filipinos established in the area in 1884.


In 1901 the Pallottines took over Beagle Bay from the Trappists. Fr. Emo wished to stay on in Broome with the Pallottines, and Fr. Jean Marie Janny returned to oversee the handover. Zucker writes that Fr. Jean Marie then spent several years on the coast near Broome in hermit-like isolation, until he joined a new Trappist community formed in 1904 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.15 However, Nailon writes that Fr. Jean Marie returned to Disaster Bay, where he was visited by the travelling inspector of Aborigines Olivey on 14 May 1901, who reported that the mission contained about 35 indigenous people who were given rice three times a day, and that Thomas and Agnes Puertollano worked the station. Thomas had been captain of the Trappist mission boat.16


The Disaster Bay lease was granted to the Pallottines around 1900, and around 1902 Fr. Jean Marie and the Puertollanos together with a number of Bardi and Nimambor people moved to the western side of the peninsula, and established themselves at a place called Lumbingun.17 According to Durack the Pallottines sold their Lombadina lease to Thomas Puertollano. The Pallottines were not interested in Lombadina until 1910. Theresa recounts her father’s movements:


And then he went further up north and he found this place, I don’t know what they called it then, it was only bush and he cleared it up with his Filipino people. And that’s where he started Lombadina.


The Pallottines maintained an interest in Disaster Bay, and conducted extensive boring operations supervised by Br. Henry Krallmann from November 1915 to January 1916.18



Emo at Cygnet Bay

A few years after Fr. Jean Marie Janny and the Puertollanos left Disaster Bay, Fr. Emo, who was attracting the ire of the Pallottine superior Fr. Walter, became naturalised, purchased a boat, and left Broome in 1905 to set up at Cygnet Bay, another busy pearling station. He erected a chapel and then helped the Benedictine Abbot Torres in 1906 to locate the site for a new mission, which became Pago Pago on the Drysdale River (later Kalumburu). Emo was recalled in 1910 when the Pallottines were taking over Lombadina.





1 Harris: 436-439. The details differ in Dampier Peninsula Parish

2 Mary Durack, The Rock and the Sand, 1969:218.

3 H. J. Gibbney, 'McNab, Duncan (1820–1896)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 21 November 2013. and HARRIS :439.

5 Fr. Marie Bernard to Limburg, 10 December 1900, Australien 1900-1907 B7 d.l.(3) ZAPP

6 Fr. Marie Bernard to Limburg, 10 December 1900, Australien 1900-1907 B7 d.l.(3) ZAPP

7 Durack 1969:79.

8 interview with Theresa

9 Sandy Paddy p. 155

10 Interview with Theresa Puertollano, Derby, 29. 8. 1994, in Regina Ganter Mixed Relations: Asian-Aboriginal Contact in North Australia, UWA Press 2006:101-107.

11 Zucker :43, Durack 128.

12 nailon:29.

13 Durack:128.

14 Elizabeth Salter Daisy Bates 1971:223

15 Zucker:48.

16 nailon:29.

17 Durack : 128, 190. Sr Brigida Nailon CSB Nothing is wasted in the household of God – Vincent Pallotti’s Vision in Australia 1901-2001, Richmond: Spectrum 2001:40.

18 Droste diary, November 1915, 20 January 1915.