Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Fishing Shack on Bribie

Article published in The Bribie Islander, issue 20, March 2016, page 18.

A Fishing Shack on Bribie
by Lynne Hooper, 
President, Bribie Island Historical Society

By the early 20th Century Brisbanites wanted to escape the summer heat and looked to both ships and trains to get them to destinations where they could enjoy clean air, the sun, the bush, and a chance to forget their cares.

Many came to Bribie Island to appreciate the recently discovered joys of the beach.  The beach had come to symbolise the Australian way of life, with its freedom and pleasures of swimming and fishing.

With the purpose-built excursion steamship Koopa arriving in 1912, Bribie Island became a ‘mass experience’ style of holiday destination.  The shores of Pumicestone Passage became a virtual city of white tents as many thousands of campers disembarked for their weekend, Easter or Christmas holidays.

For many, the camping crowd was the attraction with its close quarter socialising but for some having their own private weekender became more than a dream.

Bribie Fishing Shack
Fisherman standing outside a
fishing shack at Bribie Island ca 1925

Photo source: John Oxley Library
While the wealthy always had the means to maintain substantial holiday houses, the middle and working class also saw the benefits of having their own home away from home.   Under many guises, beach shacks, weekenders and holiday cottages began to dot the Australian coast line.  Having your own beach shack gave an independence to the holiday experience.  No longer did you have to put up with intrusive camping neighbours or any larrikins who might upset a peaceful holiday.

A fibro or wooden shack didn’t imply social distinctions, there usually were not many extras, but it was your own place. There were many such shacks built on Bribie Island, though not many are left now, but one little fishing shack in Bongaree has the distinction of still being owned by the same family.
The cottage - circa 1940s
Robins cottage Toorbul street circa 1940s
Photo source: Robins Family collection

William (Bill) Joseph Robins built his fishing shack on Toorbul Street around 1912. The land was purchased in November 1912 for £6.10s when the land in the Bongaree Township was first offered for sale.

Bill constructed a shack consisting of only one room, with a covered cooking area outside, but over time it became a cottage as it was extended to include two bedrooms and sleepout, a bathroom and a tiny kitchen.

William Joseph Robins
Photo source: Robins Family collection

Bill was born in Cleveland in 1867 and he began his association with Bribie Island when he was employed by James Campbell & Sons at their sawmill at Campbellville.   The sawmill was established in 1881 on the banks of Coochin Creek and the milled timber (from the Blackall Ranges) was rafted down the creek to the Bribie Passage then taken firstly by sail-boat and by 1883 by the steam-boat Mavis to Brisbane.

Bill met his future wife Florence Assen at Campbellville.   His future father-in-law Frank also worked at the Mill and had a leasehold property at Coochin Creek.  In 1890 they married at Caboolture and moved to Stoneleigh Street, Albion to be near his employers who had relocated the Campbellville mill, the same year, to Albion.  The ever-expanding railway had changed the way timber was transported and Campbellville was abandoned.

Bill, Charles, Rita & Sally Robins
Bribie Island circa 1940
Photo source: Robins Family collection
James Campbell & Sons leased 12 acres of land at Bongaree and became co-directors of the Brisbane Tug & Steamship Company who bought the Koopa, built the jetty, and opened Bribie Island to tourism.  Bill, as an employee, obviously took the opportunity to come to Bribie Island with his family on holiday excursions.   Two of his near neighbours on Toorbul Street were from the Campbell family.

Bill was employed by Campbell’s Sawmill for some 50 years and the missing fingers on his left hand was a silent reminder of the hardships of the day working in a sawmill.  His son Charles (Chick) continued the family tradition of working at the Mill and when he retired after 41 years of service it ended almost 100 years of the Robins family’s association with the company -  not counting his maternal grandfather’s (Frank Assen) employment at Campbellville.

The little fishing cottage is still in the Robins’ family having passed to Chick who left it to his two daughters – Rita and Joan.  Joan remembers her mother Sarah producing hot chicken dinners with all the trimmings on the wood stove in the cottage, with a hot plum pudding produced at Christmas.

Sarah Robins washing clothes at the Toorbul Street cottage circa 1948
Photo source: Robins Family collection
Joan also recollects her mother Sarah boiling the holiday sheets and towels in the copper and rinsing them in a tin basin as the washing had to be dried before returning home on the Koopa.  "Holidays were never boring on Bribie," said Joan, "we had great fun meeting up with the children from the camp sites and Bongaree was our playground."

Robins cottage, Toorbul street, Bongaree, 2015
Photo source: Lynne Hooper
Both families love Bribie Island and spend as much time as they can at the family cottage.

Joan and husband Jeff Barber carry on Bill & Chick’s love of fishing bringing home many a catch that leave other fisherman shaking their heads in disbelief.

Thank you to the Robins family for allowing their memories to be shared in this article.

No comments:

Post a Comment