Monday, 18 January 2016

Fascinating Bribie History Revealed

The following article was published in The Bribie Islander, issue 18, January 2016, page 12.

Fascinating Bribie history revealed
Barry Clark - Bribie Island Historical Society & U3A Tutor.

Bribie Island has some quite remarkable and often surprising secrets to reveal ….
if you know where to look. 

Bongaree Foreshore in the 1960s
Source: Postcard folder kept by Ethel Smith.
Crowds awaiting bay steamer -
Steamship arriving at Bongaree Jetty 1930s
Source: Robertson family photos R10_08
   When James Cook sailed past, far off the coastline in 1770, he observed the far away volcanic outcrops and named them the “Glasshouses”, as they reminded him of the Glass making Factories in his distant homeland.
   When Mathew Flinders and his aboriginal companion Bongaree came to explore this Bay almost 30 years later in 1799, he was the first European to set foot on what is now Bribie Island. He explored and mapped Moreton Bay but failed to find the Brisbane river . He did row a small boat up what he named the Pumicestone river, and climbed one of the Glasshouse mountains.
   After that the first white people to actually live here came 24 years later in 1823, when 3 castaway convicts lost in a huge storm out of Sydney, were eventually washed up weeks later on Moreton Island. They were very lucky to be alive at all, and with considerable help from the native people they walked for months around the Bay and eventually lived for many months on Bribie Island island before being rescued.
   They were found almost a year later by those sent in search of a site for a new Penal Colony in Moreton Bay. The worst of the worst convicts from Sydney were initially sent to a small Penal Settlement at Redcliffe in 1824, which was relocated after a few months to what is now the city of Brisbane.
   The Penal Colony was closed after a few years and Queensland was opened up to exploration and free settlement.

The new State of Queensland
Archibald Meston
Archibald Meston did not think much of Bribie in 1891
Source: John Oxley Library, StateLibQld_1_53084
   In 1859 Queensland was established as a new and self governing State of Australia, separated from NSW.
   Within just a few years the extensive Aboriginal population of Moreton Bay had been reduced to just a few.  To protect their declining numbers Queensland’s first Aboriginal reserve was established in 1877  here on Bribie Island at Whitepatch. It lasted only a short time, as did the Aboriginal School at Mission Point in 1891.
In 1891 Bribie Island was briefly visited by Archibald Meston, an Explorer, Author and Politician, and an official “Protector of the Aborigines”. He made this comment…...

Bribie Island is one of the meanest piece of country in Australia……a howling desert of tea-tree swamps, rank aquatic vegetation and unimaginable cussedness.” Archibald Meston.

Hall & Bestmann Store -
The only shop on Bribie in the 1920s
Source: John Oxley Library, Mbrc_P1675
   It is therefore quite remarkable that just a few years later the Directors of the Brisbane Tug & Steamship Company decided to invest tens of millions of pounds, building a steam ship and leasing large areas of the Island, to turn Bribie into Australia’s first Island holiday destination.
In 1912 they built a Jetty at Bongaree, the steamship "Koopa" was steamed out from UK to Moreton Bay to start regular "Excursion" trips from Brisbane via Redcliffe to Bribie Island.

The next 20 years saw Bribie develop as a destination for mass tourism, with many thousands of visitors coming by steam ships every weekend and holiday, to enjoy a cheap and healthy holidays here.

Bribie Jetty - Huge crowds swarm off steamships in 1930s
Source: Robertson family photos R10_09
   At Christmas and Easter holidays there were more people camped along the foreshore at Bongaree than lived in the entire Caboolture Shire at that time.

Boom and Bust
   These “boom” years for Bribie tourism were interrupted in the 1930’s by the “Great Depression”, and soon after that came World War 2. These events led to great changes on the island as the Military moved in , most residents were moved out, and Bribie Island became a strategic training and defence location throughout the War years.
Banya Street in the 1940s with cows wandering about.
Source: Postcard folder, Murray Views.
   The “excursion” trade resumed again after the War, but by now the Motor Car was becoming the favoured form of transport, and more people braved the long and bumpy road trip to bring their car by ferry barge to the Island.
   By 1963 a bridge had been built and the Island was joined to mainland Australia.
   Looking back over those years since the first people came here, the Island has experienced some remarkable events, many of which often surprise residents and visitors.

Some things that may surprise you about Bribie are …

- There are over 50 Aboriginal sites officially gazetted on the Island, representing  occupation over many thousands of years.
- The Water Tower in the Caravan Park at Bongaree is on the site of a large Aboriginal shell midden.
- In the early days this area was known as “the Hill”, and was the highest point on the Island, before it was levelled.
- “Red Beach” is a name carried over from the War Years when Australian and US troops practiced beach landing craft training.
- Australia’s first Opera was written by Emily Coungeau in her grand home built in 1915, still standing in Banya Street, Bongaree.
- In the 1960’s an Ionospheric Research Centre was established by UQ on Bribie Island to study the behaviour of Radio signals.
- In 1968 the former operator of the Bribie car ferry service was required to pay $500,000 for unpaid back taxes.
- When the Bribie Island Bridge was officially opened to traffic in October 1963 a grand Ball was held at Bongaree.

Bribie Island is wonderful place to live, and has always had strong sense of community and a desire to preserve the unique nature of "Island Life" which may be in danger of becoming lost in our greater Regional structure .

Over the years the residents of Bribie Island made three very determined, but in each case unsuccessful, attempts to break away from Caboolture Shire and establish Bribie Island as its own Shire. These attempts at secession were in 1914, 1932 and 1967, reflecting various periods of significant growth and change over the years.

Sunshine Coast Historian and Journalist Stan Tutt made this comment about the area:

 “It might not be too much to claim, Pumicestone Passage and Bribie Island, contain more history, written and unwritten, than any other place in Queensland.” Stan Tutt.

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