A recent email conversation between the Bribie Island Historical Society's secretary and past president Lynne Hooper and Jon White led to Jon writing up his memories from 1961-1963 when he worked on the barge between Toorbul Point and Bribie Island. Thank you Jon.
MEMORIES OF TOORBUL POINT 1961-1963
As a young teacher at Toowong State School in Brisbane I met a senior teacher named Snowy Drennan who among many other things was the owner of the Bribie Barges. He wanted casual workers and invited me to work on Sundays at the Toorbul Point terminal for 4 pounds a day. I was to arrive early at Snowy's Queenslander in Lutwyche and travel in his salmon pink Morris Isis with his wife/cook Molly and dog Paddy who stood on Snowy's lap and barked at any and everything through the open window all the way to Toorbul Point.
On arrival Molly went into the house, which had been relocated from Brisbane by another of Snowy's connections, and put on the mutton chops for lunch. Snowy took me round introducing me to the job and the personnel. I subsequently met other casuals and regulars Jack, Rex and Mick. Jack and Rex lived in humpies on the Toorbul Point side and Mick lived on the island, which made it handy for days when the barges ran both ways at first light.
|1960. Barge loading point at Toorbul Point.|
Jon may be the bloke in the white shire walking towards the barge.
Source: MBRC Library P1265
Toorbul Point was nothing flash, unlike the early Gold Coast to which I was accustomed, but it had a country feel about it and when the barges were working and the weather was fine it was something special. The Passage was like a broad river and the whole atmosphere could be likened to a small river town. Facilities were crude and there was only a small caravan park kiosk run by the Do family of Chinese descent. I reckon Tony Do would still be around as he would be about 80. Snowy would then roar at someone about nothing and go inside to reconcile the week's takings or chat to a waiting driver. I was put to my first job which was to grind the words PROPERTY OF QUEENSLAND EDUCATION DEPARTMENT from the ends of a full carton of toilet rolls (this made them difficult to unroll) that somehow mysteriously appeared in the workshop.
|1960. A classic view of the barge arriving at Bribie Island.|
Source: Baldwin family photo collection, BIHS.
The barges were a legacy of U.S. Army WW2 activities in the area and obviously well used. I guess the crossing points were left over from those days. Snowy never mentioned teaching on the island so I know nothing about that but if true it would help to explain his connection to the barges. (Snowy also had connections to U.S. troops in Charleville where the famous Norden Bombsight was being developed). The barges were initially powered by port and starboard V8 petrol engines and were most uneconomical. The law required a permanent engineer on craft of 60 h.p. and above so Snowy had the motors replaced by a pair of Southern Cross diesels made in Toowoomba and detuned to guess what? 59 hp! This only required an annual inspection so each Christmas holiday the engineer would camp at Toorbul Point with his family at Snowy's expense. This detuning left the barges severely underpowered so when the tide and wind were unfavourable the barges struggled to operate and this happened regularly. Storms would blow down the passage and could be quite dangerous. I was in a hire tinny one afternoon and was heading up the Caloundra end when a huge blow caught me and overturned the boat, petrol tank, oars, me fully dressed all floating about. The one-eyed Dutchmen proprietor of the boat hire had me in sight through his binoculars and rescued me in his powerboat.
|1950s. Barge on the sand at low tide, Bribie Island.|
Shows both propellers and rudders allowing for differential steering.
Source: MBRC Library P1683
It was Rex who taught me how to operate the barges: start the motors with use of decompression valve, wind ramp up and down load vehicles including backing on caravans and trailers and of course, drive to and from the island. I became a casual barge driver without any qualifications, exams, tests, or certificates. I hate to think what insurance problems could have arisen. All vehicles were backed on preferably by staff and all passengers to exit vehicles. There was an extensive ticket system approved by the Caboolture Shire and included car, trailer, boat, caravan, motorbike, truck, bicycle, foot passenger, you name it, it was there. Snowy told me he had applied tongue-in-cheek, tears dripping off the page and much to his delight all was approved. I forget most of the fees but a car one way was 10 shillings and foot passengers 2 shillings. Super ripoff!
The heaps of photos sent to me by Lynne Hooper of Bribie Island Historical Society made it easier for me to recall much more detail about those years. I spent many months over the years camping both in a civilian and military situations and Toorbul Point to me was similar to the basic life that the barge people led. Some people waiting to cross, who missed the last barge, would sleep in their cars or annex. Others I guess would go home to Brisbane, we would not have known. Life was just like camping or living in a primitive caravan park except for the singularity of the reason for being in the queue to cross to Bribie (or return). Now when people cross the bridge, any bridge for that matter, how many of them look down to the little towns, kiosks and caravan parks along the banks when they are anticipating the next stage of their journey or in the case of Bribie their imminent arrival. The barges, LCVP (Landing Craft Vehicle & Personnel), the dirt roads the breakdowns and the waiting on the Toorbul Point side are not part of today. I thank you for receiving my fractured memories and hope you can make a little use of them.
I would like to finish with a couple of anecdotes.
Annual Supply of Diesel Fuel.
Each year one of the barges would go down to the Brisbane River and from some warehouse to collect approximately 100 x 44 gallon drums of diesel fuel approx 200 kgs each. My job was to help unload and place them on the beach at an angle with the 2 bungs horizontal to prevent contamination by the elements. Also to be set at angle to allow drain off. The theory was fine. We arrived one Friday evening and there was the barge at high tide, door down and a great array of drums standing upright waiting for unloading to the sand dune. We put boards down to roll the drums on, two men to a drum we tipped them and rolled them almost horizontally to the beach stood them up and maneuvered them into correct position then headed off to get the next one. Snowy promised a full day's pay (4 pounds) to finish by midnight with a pound bonus for every hour before that. After a while we noticed we were pushing uphill and suddenly realised the tide was going out tipping the barge aft lower. Not only that we were stuck high and dry. Snowy was furious jumping up and down and waving his arms around and screaming obscenities: in fact having a ball! We had to prise the barge off using boards and now the barge was well below us and well out of reach. More and more boards and pushing and shoving uphill. We convinced Snowy to leave the barge where it was as it kept getting stuck. We eventually finished at 4.00 a.m. the next morning with the rotten stinking barge coming in on the high tide. As for the bonus, Snowy was no fool he knew it couldn't be done and even threatened a penalty for slack work!
Getting the Sack
Mick was to start the service from the island side one Sunday morning during a holiday when I was working full-time and I was to collect the fares from the Toorbul Point side. I slept in and was woken by the crashing of the door boards on to the ramp and the sound of cars racing off in to the distance in a cloud of dust. Mick laughed and told me five cars had got away. Snowy arrived about 10.00 a.m. and did his usual pantomime and roared at me that I was sacked. I handed him the money bag and ticket board but was told to finish the day. About 3 o'clock he told me I was reinstated. He was busting to tell me how he knew about it and said that one of the drivers went straight to his house to tittle-tattle and Snowy hit him for the fare! He reckoned that was a huge joke.
|1960. Loading cars at the Toorbul Point barge point.|
The man in the white hat may be Snowy.
Source: MBRC Library P1468
One sleepy Sunday afternoon a green Rover 90 pulled slowly in and from the back seat window an arm appeared with a 20 pound note in hand. I recognised the driver as Sir Henry Abel Smith and assuming the wife and Lady-in-waiting as the others. Having only just read the Barge Constitution, as laid out by the good citizens of Caboolture, blah blah I informed the lady that the Governor and his entourage were exempt from paying and must be rendered due deference etc etc, whereupon the driver's window went down and I got a handshake from the Man himself.
I know of two barges sinking but there were probably more. The simplest way to sink one was to tie up at low tide with no slack in the ropes so as the tide rose the barge didn't. A storm sank another. No real damage, just pump it dry at low tide.
|1962. Bribie Island. View towards bridge construction.|
Photo: Rosemary Beattie
Barge damaging bridge construction
When the bridge structure was well under way in late 1963 a barge supposedly tied up on the island side got away and damaged the bridge causing small damage. Imagine that!
The fate of the barges
As the barge service was soon to be wound up Snowy looked for buyers. I know of one starter who made an interesting offer that I might have become involved in had I not been committed to the Army. A Pacific Island businessman wanted the barges, plus experienced drivers. Job: pick up and deliver full and empty trailers to shuttle timber between island forests and sawmills. He was talking big money and intended to fit out the rear of the barge with a proper cabin, kitchen, bathroom etc and company to cater for all needs. I do not know if any of this occurred.
|1968. Barge point at Toorbul Point no longer in operation.|
Showing crooked piles and messy pile of empty drums.
Photo: Rosemary Beattie
We thank Jon White for kindly allowing us to put his story on our blog.
Photos from Moreton Bay Local History online
Photos from BIHS Historical Database
Photos from Rosemary Beattie website