Saturday, 3 September 2016

Article September 2016

Historical Society plots Island's past
by Barry Clark
This article was published in RSL Beacon no. 182, Sep 2016, page 8.

WHEN Matthew Flinders and Bongaree first set foot on Bribie Island in 1799, they established the "Cradle site of Queensland.  Many years passed before anyone else came here, but three castaway convicts from Sydney ended up living with the Aboriginal people on the island and helped John Oxley find the Brisbane River in 1824. A penal colony was initially established at Brisbane, but when that closed and land was opened up to settlers, they progressively spread north and inland. 

It was not until 1859 that the State of Queensland was established and separated from NSW with its own governor. Very few others came to live on Bribie Island until the early 1900s, and even then they were just grazing cattle, cutting timber and gathering oysters. Despite the establishment of the first Aboriginal reserve on the island in 1877, by 1897 the last of the Aboriginal people, who had been numerous when Matthew Flinders arrived, had died. Bribie Island was regarded as “the meanest pieces of country in Australia”, according to a respected politician and explorer who visited briefly in 1891.

A fish cannery established at Bongaree at 1910 was the first real business enterprise here and it employed the few tough men who lived here. That fish cannery was established by a lady, Mrs Sarah Balls, who operated it for four years until 1914 when the resident population was less than 40. By then Bribie Island was being opened up to residents and visitors by the Brisbane Tug & Steamship company, which built a jetty at Bongaree and started regular trips by the steamship Koopa from Brisbane in 1912.

So … it is only just over 100 years that everything that you now see here on Bribie Island has been created.

The Bribie Island Historical Society was established by Barry Clark eight years ago in an attempt to capture the rich history of the island from some of the old timers and to share these fascinating stories and images with residents and visitors. He initiated a number of heritage plaques and signage along the Bongaree foreshore and has produced brochures and informative maps to showcase some of the heritage sites around the island.

In recent years the Historical Society has organised commemorative events and erected informative plaques to commemorate the centenary of the Bongaree Jetty and steamship era and the establishment of the township of Bongaree in 1912.  In 2013, they commemorated the 50-year anniversary of the building of the Bribie Bridge in 1963 with the erection of two plaques. In 2015, the centenary of Anzac was remembered with two commemorative plaques at the First Avenue memorial to those men from Bribie Island who “answered the call” in both world wars.

Barry Clark, also a Rotarian, is researching a number of signs to be installed at Rotary Park in Woorim to provide information about the remaining World War II structures and the strategic role of Bribie Island in the defence of Brisbane and Australia.

Bribie Island Historical Society will be holding its monthly meetings in future in the Anzac room of the RSL Club on the second Wednesday of each month, at which they have a variety of fascinating presentations on aspects of Bribie history and visiting guest speakers on a range of interesting topics. Guests, visitors and new members are always welcome.

The Historical Society committee, from right, Nancy Cameron
(treasurer), Barry Clark (founder), Lynne Hooper (president)
and Don Mullen, Bribie's pharmacist for more than 50 years.
Photo: Barry Clark
At the club’s recent annual general meeting, Lynne Hooper was elected president for a second year, Nancy Cameron back as treasurer and a new Secretary Jeanette Saviane. Past presidents Barry Clark, Graham Mills and Donna Holmes remain on the Committee.

Although it is little more than 100 years since people first settled here, the things that have happened, or have been proposed to happen, on Bribie Island are often quite surprising. 

A plaque in Brennan Park tells of a few people who had lived on the island for 50 years or more, and another on a rock in Fairweather Park tells of the 21 years spent in his grass hut by the internationally recognised recluse artist Ian Fairweather.

Members of the Historical Society and Toc-H at last year's
Coungeau House Centenary Celebration.
Photo: Barry Clark
Last year the society commemorated the centenary of Bribie’s most historic building, Coungeau House in Banya Street, and many dressed for the occasion to reflect on its 100 years.

The Historical Society has been creating a comprehensive database of all known Bribie Island history records and is always keen to hear from anyone with documents, photos or personal memories of times gone by.

You can talk to the Historical Society team most Tuesday or Thursday mornings at the Bribie Library or contact them on or view extensive information on

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