Saturday, 5 December 2015

Bribie's Coungeau House 100 years old

Barry Clark- Founder Bribie Island Historical Society

October 31st marked the Centenary of Bribie Island's most historic building, which once again created an opportunity for the Bribie Island Historical Society to showcase the rich history of the Island.

Coungeau House 2015
Coungeau House today, raised up, enclosed and wheelchair friendly.
Photo: Barry Clark
Coungeau House at No. 36 Banya Street was one of the first houses built in Bongaree in 1915 when the island had just become 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.
Coungeau House c1920-1930
Coungeau House built in Banya Street in 1915.
Photo: E. Gobolos

Emily and Norm Coungeau had both led interesting lives and ran a popular "Continental" Cafe in Brisbane for many years, visiting Bribie frequently by steamship before to moving to their magnificent retirement home here in 1919.  Business success had enabled them to become patrons of the Arts and donors to many charitable causes. Emily was a prolific writer of poems and songs, many of which were published around the world. Indeed she wrote the words of Australia's first Opera.


They lived a relaxed social life here for 20 years as participants in many aspects of the small community, when the resident population was only about 50 and the holiday visitors numbered in the thousands.  Holiday makers camped in canvas tents along the foreshore, but several Guest houses started up on the island, especially in Banya Street.  Today it is a divided and tree lined road, but in those early days it was just an overgrown sand track, and a long hard walk carrying a suitcase from the Jetty.  Life on Bribie was very special, far away from city life and creating a unique and close knit community.

As old age and ill health caught up with them by 1936, during the great Depression, they decided to gift their magnificent home to the Church of England, when it became a holiday retreat for Clergy and families for the next 40 years.

During the 1940s War years most Bribie residents were evacuated, and the house was occupied by American and Australian Commanders of the Toorbul Point Military Training Camp, located on the site of the new Sandstone Point Hotel.

In the 1970's the House was sold to the Toc-H movement who make it available for people in need and with disabilities to stay, and many local groups to use the hall underneath.  The Toc-H movement was itself established 100 years ago in 1915, in the heat of WW1 battles in Belgium, by an Australian Chaplain "Tubby" Clayton.

On October 31st 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.


Centenary Team
Rear L to R: Jenda Jacobs, Ray Geise, Lynne Hooper.
Front: Barry and Faye Clark
Photo: Barry Clark
Many long term Bribie residents, with personal connections to Banya Street, and representatives of local Community and Service Groups were invited to celebrate the Centenary. Over 120 invited guests, many dressed in period costume adding greatly to the atmosphere of the event, were taken on a fascinating journey through 100 years of local history.  The  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. Jenda Jacobs and her Voices Choral Group began the afternoon singing one of Emilys songs titled "Aurelle" to convey the style of her writing. The long term caretaker of Coungeau House, Jan Cleaver, recited one of Emily's poems written in the house in 1919, titled "Evening at Bribie Island". Guests were surprised to learn of such rich culture existing on little old Bribie island.

Historical Society President Lynne Hooper gave a very well researched presentation on the life of the Coungeau's, showing historic photos and documents capturing the remarkable life of these important, but little recognised early residents, 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 and the challenges faced during those dark days of WW2.  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 who was the Training Camp Commander. She had not been back since those days.


Another special guest was Mike Harris whose wonderful story about his Grandmother, Nan Bowles, living on Bribie as a small girl in the 1890s was published in last month's Bribie Islander.

Barry, Theresa and Mike Harris
Barry Clark with Theresa and Mike Harris,
whose Grandmother's story was published last month.
Photo: Barry Clark
Other long term Bribie families representing the early days were the Kling's who ran the Bakery, Tesch who operated the Cinema, Winston who had the Store, Sked who had been Postmaster, and Mullen who had the pharmacy.  Apologies had been received from much respected early residents and community leaders including Dorothy Shirley, Joyce Voysey, Jaquie Hammond, Jean Britnell, Ted Clayton, and historian author Warwick Outram.

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.

A commemorative bronze plaque was presented by the Bribie Island Rotary Club to record the Centenary, and 110 years of Rotary International. The plaque will be mounted on the outside of the building as a visible reminder of its history.

Rotary Plaque Commemorating 100 years
Rotary President Mary Grant presents plaque
to Toc-H Director Ray Geise
Photo: Barry Clark
The Bribi Island Historical Society presented a framed photo of Coungeau House in the 1920s, to be hung in the house as a reminder to visitors of its historic significance.

The crowd enjoyed fine food and drink afterwards sponsored by Busy Fingers and old and new friends enjoyed lively conversation.  Historical Society founder Barry Clark reflected on the successful event and 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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