Saturday, 5 December 2015

Bribie Island's Most Historic House is 100 years old

Barry Clark- Founder Bribie Island Historical Society

Bribie Island Historical Society aims to raise awareness and interest in the rich history of Bribie Island.  Historians recognise that Bribie Island contains more history, written and unwritten, than any other place in Queensland.

Coungeau House 2015
The still grand Coungeau House today, raised up,
enclosed and wheelchair friendly.
Photo: Barry Clark
October 31st marked the Centenary of Bribie most Historic House, one of the first houses built in Bongaree, in Banya Street in 1915.  Although 216 years have passed since Mathew Flinders set the first white foot on Bribie Island, it is little more than 100 years since the Island became a destination for holiday makers and pioneer residents.

Building the Jetty, bringing Steamship excursions and making land available at Bongaree in 1912 was the start of it all.  Norm and Emily Coungeau were among the first to buy and build a house in Banya Street in 1915. They had both led interesting lives and ran a popular "Continental" Cafe in Brisbane for many years, visiting Bribie regularly, prior to moving to their retirement home here in 1919.
Coungeau House c1920-1930
Coungeau House, built 1915, when
Banya Street was just an overgrown sand track.
Photo: E. Gobolos

Their commercial success enabled them to become patrons of the Arts and donors to many charitable causes during their 20 years living in their Bribie Home.  As old age and ill health came upon them by 1936 during the great Depression, they decided to gift their magnificent home to the Church of England, and it was then used it as a retreat for Clergy and families for more than 40 years.

During the War years, when most Bribie residents were evacuated, the house was occupied by the American and later the Australian Commander of the Toorbul Point Military Training Camp,located on the site of the new Sandstone Point Hotel.

In the 1970s the House was sold to the Toc-H organisation who have since then made the house available to people in need and with disabilities to stay, and many local groups to use the hall underneath. Toc-H was itself established 100 years ago in 1915, in the heat of WW1 battles in Belgium, by an Australian Chaplain "Tubby" Clayton.  On the last weekend in October 2015 the Bribie Historical Society hosted a significant event to celebrate and recognise 100 years years of both Coungeau House, and the Toc-H movement.


Attended by 120 invited guests, including many long term Bribie residents and people with personal connections to Banya Street, plus representatives of many   Community and Service Groups and supporters or users of the Toc-H facilities. Many of the guests dressed in period costume which added greatly to the atmosphere of the event, taking people on a fascinating journey through 100 years of local history.

The commemorative programme for the event had been designed to capture the spirit of this special "home" used by a variety of people over the years.  Barry Clark, founder of the Historical Society, welcome the assembled crowd, many of whom had taken a tour of the old house in their splendid costumes.  During the course of the afternoon he introduced many special guests in the context of their historical connection with the House and the Street.

The original owner Emily Coungeau had been a prolific Poet and Libretist and Jenda Jacobs Voices Choral Group began the entertainment by singing one of Emilys songs titled "Aurelle" to convey the style of her writing. The long term caretaker of the Coungeau House, Jan Cleaver, recited one of Emily's 1919 poems, written in the house, titled "Evening at Bribie Island".
Centenary Celebration Team
Rear L-R: Jenda Jacobs, Ray Geise, Lynne Hooper.
Front: Barry and Faye Clark
Photo: Barry Clark

Recently elected Historical Society President Lynne Hooper gave a comprehensive presentation on the life of the Coungeau's, showing many historic photos and documents that captured the remarkable life of these significant, but little recognised, Bribie Islanders and the community in which they lived..

Barry Clark reflected on the War years on Bribie with stories of its military occupation by both American and Australian officers, when there had been a large Training Camp on the site that is now the new Sandstone Point Hotel.  He then introduced a very special guest, Gretel (nee Gehrmann) Quin, who had been a tiny new born baby living at Coungeau House in 1944 with her mother Gabrielle and father Lt.Col. August (Gus) Gehrmann.


Another special guest was Mike Harris who had contacted the Historical Society with a wonderful story of his Grandmother, Nan Bowles who had lived at Poverty Point on an Oyster lease with her family as a small girl in the 1890s.  Other long term Bribie families from the 1940s and 1950s included the Kling family who ran the Bakery, Tesch who operated the Cinema, Winston who had the Store and grew Tobacco, Sked who had been Postmaster, Hammond who built an Ice works, and Mullen who was the pharmacist.

A few very special people from the 1920s and 1930s had been invited, but due to ill health were unable to attend. These included Dorothy Shirley, Joyce Voysey, Jaquie Hammond and Jean Britnell, whose mother Bobby Britnell was a founding member of Toc-H on Bribie, and her father was manager of the Bribie Island Bowls Club after the war. Other important residents from the 1960s and 1970s unable to attend were Ted Clayton, and historian author Warwick Outram.

During the course of the afternoon the audience enjoyed a moving experience covering 100 years of island history.  The event concluded with an informative presentation by Ray Geise OAM ,Director of Toc-H Australia, outlining the history the movement from its founding in 1915, and the significance of Coungeau House as the only property owned by Toc-H in Queeensland.

The afternoon ended with everyone singing a unique Coungeau House version of "This Old House" led by the Voices Choral Group.  Food and drink was sponsored by Busy Fingers and MBRC and there was much excited conversation as new and old friends reflected on what they had heard.

Organisers were very pleased with the event, recognising the importance of showcasing local history and paying tribute to some important "characters" who made Bribie what it is today, and whose contribution is often forgotten.  Historical Society founder Barry Clark said "There is clearly a growing interest in Bribie's rich history, and to appreciate the people, places and events that took place here just a generation ago. Only a few of these special people are still with us today, so we must respect their contribution and capture their stories before they are lost forever. The commercial future of Bribie Island may well lie in effectively showcasing this history as one of our main attractions".

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